When I first heard the term “acid mantle,” I thought, Is that a metal band I have no right listening to? Or a shelf above a fireplace stacked with LSD? Turns out it’s neither. It’s a very fine, slightly acidic film on the top of the skin. It acts as a protective barrier against bacteria, viruses and contaminants that might have otherwise penetrated the skin. It’s made up of the water, sebum and perspiration that our bodies naturally produce.
You’re probably thinking “Why are you telling me this, Allison? I read this blog for product reviews, makeup how-to’s and your brilliant writing, not biology lessons.” I’m telling you because knowing what the acid mantle is and how an unbalanced one might be causing your breakouts, dry skin or skin sensitivity could be helpful to you. Even if you have normal skin, it’s important that you know about the acid mantle, as you are stripping it off every time you wash your face (which I know you now do regularly, as I’ve repeatedly suggested), and that can make you sensitive to products that otherwise wouldn’t irritate your skin.
You know how your skin can feel a little dry and tight after cleansing? That’s the feeling of the acid mantle being stripped away. Your more likely to get that dry, tight feeling–some people call it the “squeaky clean” feeling–when you use cleansers that contact astringent ingredients. A healthy skin has a pH balance of around 5.5, which makes it acidic. When the skin gets too alkaline from being stripped (or from systemic issues), that can cause the acid mantle to thin out. A depleted acid mantle makes it easier for bacteria, pollutants and allergens to penetrate the skin and enter the bloodstream. That means an increased chance for breakouts, allergic reactions and overall skin sensitivity. If you have sensitive skin, there is a good chance your acid mantle is on the fritz. And since a messed up acid mantle can cause breakouts, it’s something to think about if your blemishes seem to be coming from nowhere.
In normal function, the acid mantle rebuilds itself after it has been stripped away, but it takes a little time. That’s why I suggest waiting 15-20 minutes after cleansing before applying most products. Some moisturizers or hydrating masks are fine, but with something more potent like retinol or Vitamin C, you should wait before applying. If you’ve ever experienced stinging or irritation after applying a product, and you’ve applied that product immediately after washing your face, it may not be the product that’s the problem. If you’ve had a major reaction, don’t use that product again, but if it was just minor temporary discomfort and redness, it may be worth trying it again but doing so 15-20 minutes after you wash. (I recommend applying to only a small area so you see if your skin reacts.)
If you wash your face with bar body soap,stop that right now. That stuff is super alkaline and will really strip your acid mantle and dry out your skin. Please switch to a facial cleanser, which will be way more gentle on your skin.
Repeatedly using harsh products and stripping the acid mantle, especially if you then immediately apply a product, will likely set you up for skin sensitivity, dryness and/or breakouts. It’s so easy to not use bar soap and to wait 15-20 minutes to apply products after cleansing. These are pro tips I’ve giving you, folks. I like for people to be able to put their best face forward, and it all starts with skincare. So be nice to your acid mantle! It’s only trying to protect you.
Have a beautiful day 🙂