Skincare Discovery: Why the pH of Your Cleanser Matters

So, in an earlier Randomness post (click here if you are curious) I mentioned I had purchased the Su:m37 Miracle Rose Cleansing Stick, despite the expense and difficulty in purchasing it, because I was becoming more and more engrossed in what role pH can have in your skincare.

This topic is too huge to be addressed in a single blog post, so I will be doing an ongoing series that will address different aspects of it as I collect research and form my admittedly hoi polloi understanding of it.  

I will warn you before I start that this rabbit hole has no end, and therefore I will be glossing over certain terms and topics as well as reducing some explanations down to such a simplistic, generalized form as to trigger fits in any chemist wandering by my blog.  (If that happens, O Chemist, please drop me a line because I have a million questions for you!)

There's a lot of misinformation out there from popular sources like the beauty 'experts' on Oprah's website, who makes claims such as: "Cleansers and toners are alkaline—hand soap typically has a pH of around 9 or 10, for example—because alkaline molecules bind to dirt and accumulated oils you want to wash off." and "Bottom Line: A claim that a product is pH balanced is more marketing tool than useful information."  I admit I used to think this way, until reading a post from Skinandtonics on the acid mantle, which blew my mind.

So, I started to research and test it for myself, and hence me sharing the fruits of my labour with you today.

Included in this post:
  • What is pH, I need a refresher?
  • The pH of your skin, and does it matter?
  • The pH of your cleanser, and does it matter?
  • The claim that alkaline pH = efficacy, is it true?

Before we get into the pH details of cleansers, let's do a quick overview of pH in case your pre-high school science recollection is as spotty as mine.

What is pH, I need a refresher?

OpenStax College - Anatomy & Physiology, Connexions Web site., Jun 19, 2013.
source in img title
pH is a chemistry measurement of the acidity vs alkalinity (or 'basicity', technically alkalinity is a combination of bases that- actually, you know what, just google it.  Basicity may be the correct term but it's making my inner spellcheck sense freak out and we're going to be talking about cleansers and their alkalinity so I prefer to use that term) of an aqueous solution, aka a solution of water + something.  

Technically, oils can also have a pH (and in fact the pH testing of oils is necessary in such petroleum products as biodiesel) but that's a whole other topic that I'm certainly not qualified to get into.  

Back to pH: pH 7 is the 'neutral' point, and anything below it is considered an 'acid', down to hydrochloric acid which has a pH of 0, and anything above pH 7 is considered a 'base' (or alkaline) all the way up to concentrated sodium hydroxide which has a pH of 14.  There are substances that are considered beyond the 0-14 measurement scale known as 'superacids' and 'superbases' but since those aren't relevant to skincare, I'm movin' on here.

You can adjust the pH of something by adding a substance that is either more acidic or more alkaline, and they will react to one another.  The final product will land somewhere between the original starting points, but pH is 'logarithmic', which means that each step is 10 times higher or lower than the previous one.  They may also produce other chemicals by doing so, so never try to DIY pH adjust at home, kids. 

This means that anything you put on your skin that is higher or lower than it's natural pH will correspondingly raise or lower the skin's pH as well.  This can either be bad (weakening your skin's defenses) or good (restoring its natural state).  One of the most common 'good' uses is the use of AHA and BHA acids in skincare.  They're popular for a reason!  AHAs and BHAs are another day, though.

Before we go on, let me interject a plea: never use lemon juice on your skin.  Ever.  I know that pinterest and Michelle Phan and a whole bunch of DIY beauty gurus out there espouse the use of lemon juice as an at-home beauty treatment all the time, but please don't do it.  Don't believe me?  Google "lemon juice chemical burn" and have a picture of a bunny nearby for a visual chaser, because you're going to be mentally scarred afterward.

Even more important!  Never use baking soda on your skin.   EVER.  We will go deep into why anything alkaline, or basic, on your skin is a terrible terrible idea.

Interestingly, the pH range of 'healthy' adult skin is actually acidic, not neutral, and this is where all this science magic comes into play. [source: Natural skin surface pH is on average below 5, which is beneficial for its resident flora.]  In fact, healthy adult skin is between 4.2 and 5.6, and men have slightly more acidic skin than women. [source

The pH of your skin, and does it matter?

Yes, it matters.  Specifically, it matters a great deal when it comes to maintaining the health of your skin overall, but also specifically acne.  Brace yerselves for some science!  Note: I have replaced the original citations of secondary sources with links to the actual source to avoid you having to dig through the primary study's bibliography.  You're welcome.

One of the articles I'm going to quote at length is The pH of the Skin Surface and Its Impact on the Barrier Function, which has some excellent information not only on what can change the pH of your skin but also what negative effects it has.  All of the references in this section, and the following section, are from this source unless explicitly stated otherwise.

It liberally uses the term 'syndet' which is a 'synthetic detergent', a modern era invention that does not rely on the functions of traditional soap to uh .. clean things.  Phew.  I was about to get lost on the surfactant/hydrophobic and hydrophilic molecule train but I stopped myself just in time! 
It was a very near thing.  Chemistry is fascinating!  Source in image.
Healthy, acidic skin in a 'good' pH range does all sorts of wonderful things for you, like resisting bacteria, preventing your skin from losing water (called TEWL or transepidermal water loss), resisting disease, and a whole host of other sparkly things that you can read up on, if you're curious.  Because this blog post is about cleansing, I'm going to focus on what cleansers do to skin's pH and fall out as a result.

The pH of your cleanser, and does it matter?
You might think that water, being pH neutral but more importantly the most common thing used in cleansing your skin, is beneficial to your skin or at least, harmless as far as pH goes. However, that's not the case:
Even rinsing the skin with water alone immediately produces a transient increase in the skin pH [source]. Washing the hands with conventional soap causes the pH on the palms to increase by an average of 3 units.  Even 90 min after washing with soap the pH of the hands was not completely normalized.[source]

Ok, so not only does water raise the pH of your skin, if you raise the pH of your skin dramatically enough, such as via soap, it will continue to remain raised afterwards.  In fact, later I am going to cite a study that shows that there is a cumulative long-term negative effect to spiking the pH of the skin during washing even as infrequently as twice a day.

So, what's so bad about raising the pH of your skin? 
Bacteria can grow over a wide pH range, but no microorganisms will grow equally at all pH values [Note: this is important when combined with the information about the 'ideal' range for P. acnes to grow.] Most grow better at a pH around neutrality.  Acidic pH could be bacteriostatic [lit: stopping bacteria reproduction without actually killing them] for some strains.  

In short, bacteria grows better at a neutral pH, but an acidic pH is less bacteria-friendly.  We already know healthy skin is acidic. This becomes very important when it comes to acne, as we're about to see.

The article goes on to cite a study by Korting et al. [source, in full text!] which specifically tested the impact of using soap vs an acidic syndet on inflammatory acne lesions in a 3-month, randomized, open-labeledcomparative trial.  Within 4 weeks, the number of lesions on the soap-using group increased, whereas they decreased in acidic syndet using group.  Korting et al. flat-out states: "The number of papulopustules characteristic of inflammatory acne thus is clearly lower when a syndet bar of the acidic type is regularly used for cleansing the face as compared to a (necessarily alkaline) soap." 

If you're eyes are bleeding, here's the tl;dr: the high pH soap made their acne worse, and the acidic cleanser made it better. 

Just take a minute to soak that in.  Eye the cleansers in your bathroom.  Have you pH tested them?  If not, do you know what their pH is?  Are you putting acne bait on your face errday?

Now just imagine all those people out there doing DIY baking soda masks and scrubs on their faces. D:

Preach.  Imagine the state of their acid mantle.  Shudder.

Still not convinced there's a link to acne?  In Changes in skin pH and resident flora by washing with synthetic detergent preparations at pH 5.5 and 8.5 (full text!) they tested specifically which bacteria were more vs less present while using an acidic (preparation A) vs an alkaline (preparation B) cleanser:
With the propionibacteria [aka P. acnes], however, there was a sharp rise in CFU/ml when the washings with preparation B began, and a sharp fall when the washings with preparation A began. Figures 5 and 6 demonstrate the findings in more detail. At the forehead, propionibacteria were significantly fewer in the presence of the acidic cleansing preparation on day 31.
That's not surprising to me after researching the next point I'm going to discuss. Acidic cleansers don't disrupt the skin's pH like alkaline ones do, and that a low pH is inhospitable to acne (one sources quotes the ideal breeding zone for P. acnes as pH 6.0 to 6.5 but please don't make me go back to figure out which one.)

I've already switched to using just acidic cleansers, with a tearful goodbye to my favourite high-pH foaming cleansers:
Because of their bacteria-regulating properties and favorable tolerability profile, syndets with an acidic pH are now preferred for skin cleansing in patients with seborrheic-type diseases (acne vulgaris, rosacea), atopic skin diathesis, irritant contact dermatitis and ichthyosis. [...] There is good reason to believe that acidic syndets are of value even for persons with healthy skin, for example to prevent rhinovirus transmission and infection.[source]

It still hurts, though.  I love(d) my foaming cleansers:

So long, fabulous bouncy-foam Shiseido Perfect Whip. We had a good run.
For those of you wondering if having a raised skin pH for just a few hours really matters, let's take a look at The Effect of Detergents on Skin PH and Its Consequences, which goes into more detail about the short-term and long-term negative effects of repeated (short duration) use of alkaline cleansers and even cleansers with a 'neutral' pH of 7.

I found this section to be quite interesting about how even short term exposure impacts the skin over a longer period of time, despite the originally held conclusions on effect duration:
[...] initial data from the 1940s were confirmed in the 1960s. Yet, the effect was considered to be short-lasting: about 2 hours after an individual washing procedure. Given that there are two or three such procedures a day, it seems obvious that there should be no profound effect on related parameters. Against this background it has come as a surprise to many that there are also long-lasting effects with as few as two washing procedures of 1 minute each a day, as we demonstrated at the end of the 1980's. According to a randomized open crossover trial, skin surface pH increases on the regular use of a conventional soap and decreases again after the change to an acidic cleanser (of pH 5.5) and vice versa.

You can see why this woman is my skin idol.
As I mentioned in my Skincare Discovery: Cleansing Part II (click) I follow Go Hyun Jung's cleansing method which takes me a hell of a lot longer than 1 minute!  

Then later after explaining the use of alkaline, neutral, and acidic cleansers in their tests, and comparing the results:
[...] there is ample evidence that there is both a short-term and long-term effect on skin surface pH if a cleanser is used whose pH deviates from the pH of the skin surface to which it is applied. In keeping with this hypothesis, so-called neutral cleansers are by no means neutral in a biologic sense.

So even 'neutral' cleansers have the short-term and long-term negative effects.  As I referenced earlier, that includes water.  Anything about pH 5.6, aka the upper range of 'healthy' skin, will raise the skin's pH and cause issues.  They finalize with this statement:
Indeed, a large proportion of the general population-- those with polar constitution of the skin surface that is either seborrheic or sebostatic skin-- might profit from the regular use of an acidic cleanser, and there is no reason to believe that it might be disadvantageous in the rest.

The mention of 'seborrheic or sebostatic' threw me off for a minute, but further investigation revealed that seborrheic= oily, and sebostatic = dry. I suppose asking a scientific source to just plainly say "everyone can benefit from an acidic cleanser, oily and dry skin types alike" just doesn't have the same ring to it?

Here's another study that shows acidic pH cleansers scored lower on an Irritation Index than high pH cleansers, and also discusses how repeated exposure has a cumulative effect and can increase the skin's recovery time: Correlation between pH and irritant effect of cleansers marketed for dry skin (full text) which also supports even short, but repeated, exposures does have a cumulative effect.

The claim that alkaline pH = efficacy, is it true?
Lastly, let's circle back around to Oprah's Beauty Expert and her assertion that cleansers need to be alkaline to cleanse properly.

It appears that there is actually no correlation between efficacy of cleansing and higher pH, according to this study: The effect of an acidic cleanser versus soap on the skin pH and micro-flora of adult patients: A non-randomised two group crossover study in an intensive care unit, where they show the low-pH cleanser was just as effective at cleansing as the high-pH cleanser, but with the added benefit of maintaining healthy skin with the acidic cleanser.

Perhaps she is working off the assumption that cleansers need to be soap-based, unaware that syndets are a different animal and can be formulated to let you have the best of both worlds, effective cleansing and a low pH:
Whereas soap has long been the only cleansing agent, a new generation of cleansers, the so-called synthetic detergents or syndets, has been developed during the last decades. [...] Among the syndets, especially those with a pH of about 5.5 seem to be relevant.[source]

However, a quick googling taught me that syndets have been around since 1916, so I'm not sure what's up with that.  

How to pH test your products at home?
Ah, that will be for another time.  You stare into the pH rabbit hole, the pH rabbit hole stares into you.

Final thoughts:
  • Yes, the pH of your cleanser really does matter.  
  • Your cleanser should be acidic, no more than pH 5.6; anything higher could compromise your skin and worsen acne.  
  • No, a cleanser doesn't need to be alkaline to be effective.  And always do your research. :)
2015 update:  After a year of living the #lowpHlife, I've written a post that explains the relative weight I give pH in my own skincare, and I also teamed up with people who have degrees in Chemistry to explain the actual mechanisms of pH using NSFW examples that would never be seen inside a classroom.  You can check it out here: Mating Habits of Molecules: the Secret Life of pH

And with that, we're done!  If you're curious as to which low pH cleanser I am currently using, you can check out my Routine & Spreadsheet, or just follow me on  Instagram or Twitter!

All the best,


  1. I'll be interested to know if you find an alternative to the cleansing stick. I finished mine a while ago and starting using a sample of a hanyul cleanser i had and broke out horribly >_< i initially attributed it to just being that time of the month but i can see now this is probably another factor. Luckily, i have another cleansing stick i can use while i look for another acidic cleanser

    1. Is it the Hanyul Pure Artemisia Cleansing Foam?

      If so, it has a pH of 8, which is much too high, so per the research, it would be at least compromising your acid mantle and skin barrier. :(

      There is a Hada Labo foaming cleanser that I have not yet tried but has a pH of 5.5:

      Please warned that there are two versions of it, and the one in the tube (aka not the one in the review linked above) is a very high pH. You want the one with the round bottle and a pump, if you end up trying it.

    2. Yep that was the Hanyul one. Wow thanks for telling me. I'll definitely be getting rid of it. It also left my face uncomfortably dry so I'm glad it was just a sample and not a full sized product. I'll look into the Hada Labo one too, thanks.

  2. Thanks for this informative post! Quick question if you don't mind. Say I use a cleanser that's a tad too basic, pH 7-8. If I follow up with an acidic toner straight away, would that repair my barrier immediately, or would it still take a long time?

    1. I would still avoid a high pH cleanser personally, because even if I am repairing things afterward, I still damaged my barrier in the first place by using a high pH.

  3. Really super informative post about PH!! I really had no idea about any of this till I read your post!
    heheh Go Hyun Jung is pretty~
    btw, I'd like to invite you to my giveaway where you could win $90 worth of korean cosmetics!
    I hope you'll check it out & join~
    xx Charmaine

    Charrmyn || Kara Youngji Day&Night Makeup Tutorial || Korean Cosmetics Giveaway

  4. Just found out my new Nourish Organic cleanser (got from Ipsy) is...8.5-10! Eep! I'm so glad I've discovered the world of asian beauty care!

    1. It's so depressing when you realize that one of your favourite cleansers is too high in pH, isn't it? :(

      I have to say though, once I switched to a low pH cleanser I definitely noticed a difference when I went back to my old high pH cleansers to review something.

  5. Thank you very much for all this! It's very informative and well done.
    I have a question: should I ph test my toner, serum, etc. also? Or does only my cleanser matter?

    1. If it's a non-pH-dependent product, I wouldn't be too concerned as long as it's formulated well. It seems that formulating low-pH cleaners is expensive, which is why you see more high pH cleansers as they're cheaper to produce.

      You could test them just for fun if you have the pH strips to spare, but otherwise I would just worry about the products that need to be at a specific pH. :)

  6. Thank you for your post!

    I have acidic skincare stuff (e.g. lotions and creams) and I love it for the great improvements it makes to my skin. However I used to think cleanser doesn't matter that much as it's eventually washed off. I've been using Tony Moly Clean Dew foam cleansers since last summer. Your post and cleanser pH list on /r/AsianBeauty/ have made me change my mind. According to that list said cleansers have a pH of 9, and I definitely want to find something more suitable.

    So would you please answer my questions? Do acidic cleansers increase photosensitivity? And do you know good non-Asian cleansers?

    1. " Do acidic cleansers increase photosensitivity? And do you know good non-Asian cleansers?"

      From my understanding, acidic cleansers do not stay on your skin long enough for positive benefits (i.e. Salicylic Acid cleansers) but at least if they are also low-pH (I would not assume they will be unless you've tested it) they will not raise the pH of your skin.

      I do not use non-Asian cleansers so I can't suggest one but I do know they're more commonly marked with the pH so it should be very easy to find one! :)

  7. Thank you for this post, it's reaaaally useful!
    Btw do you have any idea about innisfree foam cleansers' pH?

    1. I haven't used any innisfree foam cleansers, but if you have the specific name I can see what I can google up :)

  8. This was very helpful but I wonder what can be done about water raising the skin's pH. It seems that even when using acidic cleansers the acid mantle is still under attack.

    1. Well, pH is just one piece of an overall puzzle, so there are lots of things that you can do to keep your skin healthy- healthy skin will re-adjust in around 15-20 min so maintaining a balanced, healthy skin barrier overall will help.

      If your water is high pH, you can look into 'patting water pack' products where you add a tiny amount to your basin of water to adjust the pH and infuse the water with ... stuff. I have never used one, so YMMV.

      Also, if you are using pH adjusting products on your face after cleansing, that will also affect the pH of your skin. You can read more about that here:

  9. Thank's for your post. I have tried lemon for my acne and make it worse, and your post is very useful. Btw, how about skinlife foaming facial wash and secret key snail EGF facial foam?

    1. Lemon is very harsh and should not be used directly on your skin. Unfortunately I have not used either of the two products you mentioned, but I would try to google them to find the pH before purchasing them, if you are thinking of trying them out. :)

  10. Thanks for your post. I guess this is why SebaMed always advertises their products as having a pH of 5.5? :D

    I wonder if you have a list of cleansers that you have pH-tested or a list of cleansers that you know have good pH-track-records (by that I mean around the recommended pH)?
    What about Hada Labo's Tamagohada which contains AHA and BHA? Will the acid content lower the pH of the cleanser?

    Thanks in advance! :D

    1. Yep, if you see advertisements for things being pH 5.5 (or lower) that's why! Also beware of anything that says 'pH balanced' as that doesn't actually mean that it's pH balanced at a 'good' range; always push for a hard number. ;)

      My list of low-pH cleansers is pretty short, but shoot me an email and I can link you to some resources that might help you with more options. :)

      I have heard the Hada Labo Tamagohada has a higher pH but I can't confirm that as I haven't tested it myself, but I do know the Hada Labo Gokujyn Hyaluronic Acid Foaming cleanser in the pump** has a low pH. I've ordered that one and am waiting for it to arrive.

      **not tube version, that on3e has a high pH, so beware.

    2. Someone on AsianBeauty tested it and it came out to 4

  11. Hi Cat, I've read your article before and when I am looking for cleanser, I check it's pH.
    I was curious, what do you think about Sulwhasoo herbal soap? I don't have it yet but I read it somewhere that it has pH 7.5.

    I am curious since Sulwhasoo is a well known brand and their herbal soap is pretty popular too.

    1. I think everyone needs to review the research available and determine what is acceptable to them. :) I personally do not use cleansers over 5.5, but that's a choice I have consciously made after researching the studies out there and assessing my skin.

  12. Hi :) So, first off, thanks so much for your posts, I've been down a really long skincare hole, and you and your posts have been a huge help!!!!!! I wanted to ask though .. I found out my cleanser may have a ph of 6.7, and so I've been looking for a new cleanser, especially considering I have acne prone skin ;^; But for some reason I've been having a hard time finding something??? I don't know if it's because I've reached researching peak, but I thought I might ask whether I could also be linked to some resources to help find something ;^;

    (Also, huge side note, but I was wondering what your thoughts were on a complete actives n00b such as myself using the CORSX BHA Blackhead Power Liquid. I've been thinking of getting it, but I'm somewhat scared of the 8% BHA - not that I would use it everyday, but still)

    Anyway, again, thank you for all your posts, and sorry for the huge ramble

    1. Hi Liz! :)

      You are very welcome, and I am glad you find it helpful! I personally prefer low pH cleansers (for the reasons stated in this post) and finding low pH cleansers can be challenging but it's not impossible. I have reviewed the Su:m37 Miracle Rose Cleansing Stick on this blog, and the Su:m37 White Award Enzyme Powder Wash, both of which are low pH. There is a low pH Missha Bubble Cleanser that I did not like, and there is a Hada Labo Gokujyun bubble cleanser (in the pump, not the tube) that I have but have not yet tried, and people quite like that too.

      As for the Cosrx BHA, it's only 4% Betaine Salicylate, which is very, very gentle and probably closer to 1-2% BHA, if that. I found it gentle enough to use twice a day but my skin is very very congested, and I have been using acids for a looooong time so my skin is very used to it. I would start with just a few times a week, and then work up to more if your skin is fine with it and you feel you need more of it.

      Take care! :D

  13. Wow, I truly can’t thank you enough for this incredibly detailed and informative post… you’re my skin barrier hero!

    I’ve had seborrheic dermatitis (and closed comedones/acne/dehydrated oily but dry skin that came a year after the seb derm) for about 2 years, and consequently went to see a dermatologist about it. My derma recommended Cetaphil (and prescribed the typical steroid creams); no mention of the ‘Double cleanse’, no mention of the importance re ph adjusting toners/actives/hydration—the best thing she gave me was a ceramide cream. I ditched the Cetaphil for a sea salt face washing technique I’d seen that was meant to help w/ seb derm… BIG MISTAKE. Looking at the ph chart/reading the line about acidic cleansers + sebborheic skin in this post *cue skin-changing eureka moment*… I’ve been putting something on my face (w/o using any ph adjusting toner) that could potentially be ph 8-10. I’ve fed the seb derm/acne beast, done my skin ZERO favours—I’m basically akin to a member of the lemon/baking soda basic bitch club and I didn’t even know it! D:

    After feeling really disheartened for 2 years, I want to jump down the Asian Beauty rabbit hole, but I’m having reservations re unknowingly buying things too harsh for my skin. I was wondering if there are any links/posts/products you could recommend that would suit a gentle basic step cleansing routine. Also are there any gentle super hydrating products you could recommend?

    1. I am so sorry to hear about your experiences, especially if you had disappointingly limited information from your derm. :(

      As far as recommendations, because I am not a medical professional, I am not comfortable with giving specific product recommendations but I would consider a basic routine to be:

      -Sunscreen (AM)
      -1st cleanser to remove sunscreen (PM- oil cleanser or cleansing water)
      -2nd cleanser to cleanse the skin itself
      -Hydrating moisturizer

      For product recommendations, I'd try to find a blogger who matches your skin type and see what they use. If you go up to 'Recommended Reading' at the top of my blog, you will see a list of bloggers by skin type and their routine post links if applicable.

      I hope that helps! :)

    2. Thank you so much for your thoughtful reply, Cat. I really appreciate the fact that you mention you’re not a medical professional (a very important point that I totally overlooked). After looking through your blog I ended up finding a link to COSDNA, the AB reddit, and found other bloggers/commenters who also have SD. I found local products I could incorporate into a simple routine, so here’s the routine I ended up with:

      BIODERMA Sensibo Water
      SIMPLE Soothing Toner
      Thermal Water w/ no fragrance (small testers of AVENE/URIAGE/LA ROCHE)
      PHYSIOGEL Calming Relief Cream (still looking for a good sunscreen)

      Alternate between BIODERMA water or a HEMP OIL mix
      LA-ROCHE EFFACLAR foaming gel (not the best, but it’s ph 5.5 + I already had a sample tube of it)
      SIMPLE Toner
      Thermal Water
      PHYSIOGEL (plus sometimes a small amount of Rosehip or Argan oil)

      As far as AB products are concerned, I’m still super interested in adding a super hydrating/acne busting essence/serum/ampoule (plus some kind of AHA/BHA/??? for the comedones), but I’m gonna go slow when it comes to introducing my skin to new products.

      I’ve been using this routine for almost 3 weeks, and so far my face is completely SD free… no flaking/stinging/weeping… nothing! Even my acne has calmed down. Sure, there’s the odd pimple here and there (when they appear they’re much smaller than the cysts I used to get), and some of the comedones haven’t gone, but being SD free has totally boosted my self confidence! You may not be a medical professional, but the studies you’ve cited here are imo completely correct regarding the link between SD/acne flareups and alkaline products. I can’t help but feel pretty cheated re my dermatologist (LOL who is a medical professional), but thankfully there are generous bloggers out there like you willing to share enlightening information like this. I honestly can’t thank you enough for being so thorough with your research/citations! :D

  14. I heard the Benton snail bee steam cream and the snail bee high content essence works wonders for people with SD. I went to the derm yesterday and was told I mild SD and acne too- and I am also looking to use more Asian products as they are less harsh so would also appreciate if anybody could recommend anything for our skin type!

    1. Hi cookiejunkie,

      Due to the potential risks of natural preservatives becoming unstable during hot shipping conditions, I don't personally use or recommend Benton products unless you live close to Korea or are confident that your products are not subjected to heat during transit. Benton has an advisory on their packaging not to subject their product to heat (among other things) so I am heeding that warning. :)

      If you are looking for product recommendations, although I'm not a medical professional and therefore not comfortable with recommending specific products, I do have a list of bloggers by skin type (so you can see what they use) on the Recommended Reading tab at the top of my blog. I'd check that out, and see what your 'skin twin' uses if one of them is a match! :D

      Take care :)

  15. cerave foaming face wash is supposed to be 5.5... I haven't personally tested it. I got the face shop rice water cleanser (newbie) but was not happy when I saw that it was 8! thoughts?

    1. I think it really depends on your skin, but I don't personally use anything over the natural pH of the skin, because I am quite hard on my skin when it comes to exfoliants.

  16. Murad wouldn't disclose the pH of their cleanser, or any of their products for that matter. Has anyone tested the Clarifying cleanser?

  17. Thank you so much for the informative and in-depth post! I have a question for you regarding my skin’s moisture barrier. After using the Aquamoist Foaming Cleanser for 2 years (alkaline cleanser), I finally stopped using it and switched back to the Hada Labo Foaming Cleanser. It’s been about 4 months of using the Hada Labo and I think my random breakouts while using Aquamoist have definitely been decreasing. I think my skin is also starting to become less sensitive when I try new products. However, I remember Kerry saying on Skin and Tonics that the acid mantle can become permanently disrupted and can permanently raise your skin’s pH to 6.0 or higher with continued use of baking soda as a facial scrub. Does this only apply to baking soda or does it apply to other alkaline cleansers like Aquamoist as well. If so, can my acid mantle be repaired at all? I am worried that only my moisture barrier can be repaired and not my acid mantle since I used Aquamoist for about 2 years–It has a really high pH due to the SLS in it. And can actives like BHA or AHA assist in the repairing process, either moisture barrier repair or acid mantle repair?

    1. Hi Harurun93,

      Unfortunately I can't advise you on whether or not your acid mantle is permanently disrupted as I am not a medical professional. :( Have you considered asking a dermatologist on their thoughts on your skin?


  18. Wow ! Great information about pH test strips effectively since they are an over the counter thing and no medicine is required. There are times when individuals will overlook that they have lapse dates and will give them a chance to terminate before use which implies there must be a consistent supply to the individual regardless of the possibility that they don’t test their recommended sum.

  19. Hi I am learning about all this PH level in cleansers, I found the Cosrx Low Ph Good Morning Gel Cleanser and the NEAR SKIN pH BALANCING CLEANSING FOAM with PH 5 but if the water level is 7/8, is this going to affect my PH level? what water should I use to keep my ph level? sorry but my English is not my first language so it's kind of difficult to understand this topic. I have dermatitis in my chin area so I was recommended to wash that area with dead see salt water to calm de redness and the itchiness but I am worried this also is going to affect my PH level. I am not sure how to incorporate this in my skin care routine. Thanks

    1. Hi Audre,

      I actually partnered with someone who has a degree in Chemistry to discuss the impact of water and pH here: Mating Habits of Molecules: the Secret Life of pH (

      Also, I would caution you against getting too anxious about pH; it's just one of many factors to consider when it comes to your skin. The bulk of the research that I included above specifically focuses on the impact of high pH cleansers, which are also stripping the skin of oils, so while that's enough for me make the personal decision to stop using high pH cleansers, but pH alone is not enough to predict how your skin would react.

      In terms of how one would incorporate it into a routine, I just use low pH cleansers. I have a post on the cleansers that I use, which you can find under the Routine & Spreadsheet tab above, but the Cosrx low pH cleanser you mentioned is very popular with people as well!

      Take care

  20. Hello! I just have a few questions: Should I use the konjac sponge with the cleansing oil or the 2nd cleanser? And I have been using the Clinique mild liquid cleanser for roughly 3 months now, and it has been good, but it is supposedly used for dry to dry combination skin, while I have a dehydrated oily combination like you. So after I finished with the mild cleanser, I switched off to their oily liquid cleanser, which is recommended for oily combination and oily skin. However, it has a minty feeling to the face (I noticed menthol in the ingredient list) and my skin is a little bit drier than before, so should I switch back to the mild one? I don't know why everyone is avoiding menthol, but it feels weird to have that after-brushing-teeth on the face. Is it bad for skin? Thank you very much for your help.

    1. I personally use my hands to add water to the cleansing oil on my face so that it emulsifies and rinses off, and I used foaming cleansers on konjac sponges because the sponge helped foam up the cleanser. Low pH cleansers tend to have less foaming action so the sponge helps to foam it up.

      I personally don't like the menthol feeling, but if you like it and it's working for your skin, why not? ;) If you liked the other one better because the new one makes your face feel dry, then you should go with whatever one your skin likes best. :)

      Take care

  21. So what did you end up doing with your high-pH foaming cleansers? I just found out the one I'm using (Shiseido Pureness Foaming Cleansing Fluid) is hella alkaline... I'm not sure if I should just throw it out or what. I've been using it for so long too, it's so hard to part with it. :(

    1. I use them as body wash and brush/sponge cleansers. :)

  22. Hi there!

    Thanks for such a well written, in depth article on this. I never thought pH could be so important. I love the fact you have a whole section of skincare 'nerdiness' and I can totally relate as I love finding more about (and writing about it too) the science behind my skincare, ingredients use and debunking skincare myths.

    I am relatively new to Korean Skincare but I am hoping will soon change as I have an upcoming trip to Seoul in September!

    Thanks to you, I am totally going to purchasing a set of pH strips and seeing where my cleansers sit on this scale.



  23. How low can the pH of the cleanser go? A product that is too basic or too acidic can be bad but I'm not sure at what pH should I stay away from

  24. Just found your blog. I have my degree in biology but have been a chemist most of my professional career. I am eating up every word you've written. I am so impressed and learning a lot. Thanks for your research. I'm converting my beauty routine and you're helping more than you'll ever know!

  25. Hi Cat! Can I say, you're my skin care angel?
    I am a Korean Skin care newbie/convert, and I have acne problems since puberty and now I'm turning 30 in a couple more months.
    Out of desperation, one day I typed "Korean skin care for acne prone skin" in google, and Peach and Lily's website came first on the list. It was a mistake that I bought all the products on the curated routine without doing so much research. And that was the biggest mistake of my life, much bigger than putting lemon juice and baking soda on my skin LOL!! I know, you can slap me by now. So yeah, I was that, I did all the things you've mentioned that can destroy my skin. To add another mistake on the list, I have been reading your post for almost two weeks now, I have read your post about your skin care routine, your skin care closet, how you layer up, where you shop, and even your spreadsheets. But this. I just read this now. (Sigh) So, I am using the Aromatica Tea Tree Balancing Foam Cleanser, and after reading this post, I searched the pH level of my cleanser and found out it is an alkaline. I cried and cried and cried.
    I learned it the hard way.

    BTW, I was the one who asked you about the custom fees upon ordering for Jolse. I want to thank you for educating people like me. More power to you and I hope you don't stop writing. May God bless you even more!



    1. Hi Kaye,

      I am so sorry to hear that your skin is suffering! I hope that things smooth out for your soon and you can get back to enjoying your skincaretainment + happy skin. :)

      I'm glad I was able to help you with your question!

      Take care,

  26. Hi Cat!

    Thank you for writing all of this. I am a recent convert too and I love your blog. How does this pH thing work with double cleansing? I am currently using the Purity Zero that you recommended on your blog for those who are trying to start their skincare routine. I am looking for a second cleanser because I feel like everyone is double cleansing....I guess I have a few questions, do I need to even double cleanse if I don't wear makeup most days? Do you have one that you recommend if the pH of the Purity Zero is too high? And what do you think of using micellar water in particular Bioderma Sebum (blue cap)?

    I am currently in Korea so any of the difficult to find in America options are good for me :)

    Thank you!! You're literally amazing.

    1. Hi Sunshine,

      Double cleansing is best for sunscreen, even if one isn't wearing makeup. Also, oil and balm cleansers like the Banilaco are oil-based and you don't have to worry about the pH. :)

      I use cleansing water on a regular basis, but it's not as effective as a "true" cleanse, although I find it's better than makeup wipes. :)

      Take care,

  27. I love how your posts are all backed up with scientific articles! I've read an article (by a famous family owned bar soap company - Chagrin Valley Soap & Salve Company) saying that the pH value of your cleanser doesn't matter and the 'pH balanced' label is "nothing more than a marketing promotional hype". Funny thing is that I don't see ANY citations or references from ANY scientific researches or experiments in that article. I find it ridiculous to make such huge claims only based on their unorthodox views.

    I'm with you on the importance of pH in your skincare. Whenever I use pH balanced skincare products, my skin improves, feels healthier, more hydrated and less oily. Currently using the COSRX Good Morning Gel Cleanser and I love how it doesn't dry out my skin at all!

  28. Maybe I missed it (am reading this post late at night in bed lol) but I couldn't see where you mentioned what negative effects/damage aside from acne high pH cleansers cause? Just trying to understand fully what the risks are :)

  29. So you have questions for a chemist? Bring em on!

    1. Woo hoo! Can you shoot me an email at snowwhiteandthepear at

  30. Hello! You mentioned that water raises the pH of our skin and it may cause issues?

    What are your thoughts on the Go Hyun Jung's cleansing routine by using 15 minutes to wash her face?

    And also, since acidic is better for our skin, what are your thoughts on the 'water helps wash away bacteria and germs' theory?

    Thank you in advance!

  31. Hello!! i love your blog posts and tips for skin care ! thank you so much for constantly sharing ! I have a question in mind, if oil skin has extremely low pH, then how exactly does bacteria thrive on our skin ? I personally struggle with oily skin, acne and blemishes, although I use a basic 3-step routine, they never seem to be clearing up but just gets less inflamed and red. Any tips to help ?
    Thank you so much in advance !! :)

    1. There are a lot of factors, pH is just one part of the puzzle. Also, most people likely have compromised moisture barriers (due to high pH products, pollution, environmental factors, stress, genetics, etc) not to mention acne as a result of a hormone imbalance or other medical factors.

      Oily skin is also more prone to clogs, in my experience, so it provides plenty of fuel for the acid fire, so to speak. If you find that your products are working well for you, your skin isn't clogged, and there's no other obvious culprits for your acne, I'd check with a dermatologist to make sure there's not something else going on.

      Good luck with your skin journey! :)

  32. Hi! I'm not sure if this blog post is still active! If it is.. I was wondering what your thoughts are on a PH balanced 5.5-7ish moisturizer? Is it still as important to have a low PH in a moisturizer, or mostly just a face wash and toner?

    1. Hi Jaymee,

      Since it's the foaming agents and other cleanser-specific ingredients which make formulating low-pH cleansers difficult (as explained to me, at least!) I'm not as concerned with moisturizers as I've found they tend to have a skin-friendly pH. Also, they don't tend to be packed with surfactants to strip the natural oils from our skin as cleansers are, which makes them more moisture-barrier friendly as well.

      If anything has a crazy high pH, I'd definitely still dodge it, though! ;)

  33. Hi Cat, This is an incredible article and thank you so much for introducing me to this whole new world. But I do have a silly question. If we are rinsing off the cleanser with water, wouldn't that still impact the pH of the skin ?

    1. Hi there! So, according to one study I linked above, water does impact the skin but in a minimal way. The important thing is to keep in mind that the pH scale is logarithmic, so while the pH of water is higher than your skin, the pH of an alkaline cleanser is a LOT higher than your skin!

      Also, think of pH as part of a "balanced diet" for your skin. It's not the be-all and end-all, but it's a healthy habit to have. ;)

  34. Okay, these are crazy well-written articles. So now my question: is there any benefit to using a cleanser with a ph lower than 5.5 or 5? Innisfree has a problem skin cleanser that is supposedly a ph of 3. Is there really any benefit to that?

    1. Aww, thank you! My first thought is: probably not, although not likely any harm as long as it doesn't irritate your skin. Acne bacteria thrives at a higher pH, which may be why they've gone super low for their cleanser. The thing about cleansers is that they spend very little time on your skin, so other than avoiding disrupting the moisture barrier via a high pH, I don't really rely on them to do much except cleanse. :)

      I hope that helps!