Ever spared a thought for your skin’s acid man­tle? It might just be the best thing you can do for your com­plex­ion this sum­mer.

VOGUE Australia - - News - By Remy Rip­pon.

Have you ever spared a thought for your skin’s acid man­tle?

Sex and the City’s in­fa­mous char­ac­ter Sa­man­tha Jones has at one point or an­other been a mod­ern woman’s al­ter ego. For me, it was in sea­son five when the au­da­cious 40-some­thing, in­tent on at­tend­ing Carrie’s book launch, donned bee-keeper-cum-funeral-at­tendee veiled head­wear to dis­guise the fall­out from a par­tic­u­larly ag­gres­sive acid peel. That night, I swapped my al­pha-hy­droxy acids for a calm­ing and gen­tle mois­turiser.

Thank­fully, the Sex in the City era, when heels and hair were lofty and peels were in their in­fancy, is be­hind us. Chem­i­cal peels and acid-in­fused prod­ucts have proven a wor­thy, and nec­es­sary, ad­di­tion to any ef­fec­tive beauty reg­i­men for cleans­ing and slough­ing away dead skin cells. But the new fron­tier in skin­care, which has der­ma­tol­o­gists abuzz, is the skin’s nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring acid “man­tle”: a pro­tec­tive layer on your skin al­tered by pH lev­els (one be­ing highly acidic, 14 be­ing al­ka­line).

The term pH, or “power of hy­dro­gen”, refers to the con­cen­tra­tion of hy­dro­gen in wa­ter. Why should we care? Be­cause our skin is made up of mostly wa­ter and it gets knocked ei­ther north or south on the pH scale de­pend­ing on what you put on it. As it turns out, we want our skin to hover in a mildly acidic state – a pH level of four to six is op­ti­mum – to en­sure the skin’s bar­rier func­tion is work­ing like a coat of ar­mour be­tween you and out­side ag­gres­sors like pol­lu­tion and bac­te­ria. This be­comes more and more dif­fi­cult as we get older, how­ever. “Each decade of life our skin be­comes more al­ka­line, re­sult­ing in a va­ri­ety of un­de­sir­able changes and skin dis­or­ders rang­ing from wrin­kles to pig­men­ta­tion and even acne,” says Richard Parker, founder and di­rec­tor of re­search and de­vel­op­ment at skin­care leader Ra­tionale.

An­other fac­tor send­ing us into al­ka­line an­ar­chy is sun ex­po­sure: it grad­u­ally weak­ens the acid man­tle, there­fore ex­pos­ing the skin to ag­gres­sors (read: dull, pig­mented, acne-prone skin). “The en­zyme phos­pho­li­pase A2 and the pro­tein NHE1 work to­gether to keep the stra­tum corneum [outer layer of the skin] acidic. And they’re both de­ac­ti­vated by pro­longed sun ex­po­sure,” says Parker not­ing sun dam­age – oc­cur­ring as early as our teens – kick-starts this process.

What­ever your age, main­tain­ing a sus­tained acid trip starts with cleans­ing. Parker, who is herald­ing the shift to­wards pH-fo­cused skin­care, rec­om­mends acid­i­fy­ing prod­ucts, like Ra­tionale Cat­a­lyst Cleanser, that are brawny enough to slough away grime and sun-dam­aged lipids and spiked with botan­i­cals to re­bal­ance pH lev­els and bar­rier func­tion. “Acid­i­fy­ing prod­ucts and treat­ments can help to main­tain healthy skin pH and a glow­ing com­plex­ion,” echoes Dr Al­ice Rudd, con­sul­tant der­ma­tol­o­gist at Mel­bourne’s Al­fred Hospi­tal.

Monthly al­pha-hy­droxy-acid-based fa­cials (gen­tle enough to squeeze into a lunch hour) boost over­all skin tex­ture, pump up cell turnover, and keep the acid man­tle in check. I tried the En­zyme Re­ac­ti­va­tion Fa­cial at Ra­tionale’s Wool­lahra clinic in Syd­ney, which em­ploys lac­tic, sal­i­cylic and pyru­vic acids that are di­alled up or down de­pend­ing the client’s needs. In my case, it’s some pesky bumps around my chin that my reg­u­lar cleans­ing rou­tine hasn’t been able to nix for the past week. My fa­cial­ist Emily rec­om­mends a low-strength sal­i­cylic acid (just 12 per cent, but it can be as high as 20 per cent de­pend­ing on your con­cerns), which she paints on my face in long brush­strokes. The only re­minder of its acid­ity is the oc­ca­sional tin­gle, which I in­ter­pret as a gra­cious sign that it must be work­ing. By the end of the week my res­i­dent pim­ples have down­graded to tiny dots and my skin feels re­mark­ably more clear and hy­drated thanks to its new­found acidic state.

As it turns out, the break­outs I had long blamed on hor­monal fluc­tu­a­tions were more likely trig­gered by my skin’s al­ka­lin­ity. Parker notes that al­ka­line con­di­tions har­ness acne-caus­ing bac­te­ria and as al­ka­lin­ity in­creases with age, a com­plex­ion pre­vi­ously un­marred by break­outs might ex­pe­ri­ence prob­lems later in life. More­over, a 2013 study into pH lev­els in read­ily avail­able beauty prod­ucts found that even sam­pled prod­ucts that were specif­i­cally de­signed to com­bat acne had an al­ka­line pH.

To counter the is­sue, seek out prod­ucts that clearly mark their pH level, like Drunk Ele­phant – the Texas-based skin­care line has gar­nered a cult fol­low­ing for both its ef­fi­cacy and clever mix of natural and clin­i­cal in­gre­di­ents. Founder Tiffany Master­ton says pH was al­ways im­por­tant to her. “I think most con­sumers aren’t aware of pH level and if they knew I don’t think that they would buy half the stuff they buy.” The brand’s Pe­kee bar states the pH level of 6.51 clearly on the pack­ag­ing, no mean feat for a bar of soap, a prod­uct that typ­i­cally soars well into al­ka­line ter­ri­tory.

If your ev­ery­day cleanser isn’t so trans­par­ent, in­vest in a pHrestor­ing toner like Obagi Nu-Derm Toner to re­bal­ance lev­els post-cleanse (we de­cant it into a mist bot­tle for easy ap­pli­ca­tion). And while the prom­ise of a clear com­plex­ion is al­lur­ing, when it comes to acid, know your lim­its. Too many acidic prod­ucts will only cause in­flam­ma­tion and ir­ri­ta­tion. A good skin physi­cian or der­ma­tol­o­gist can de­ter­mine where you sit on the scale, nom­i­nat­ing steps to amp up or dial down your pH level – sound ad­vice some­one should have of­fered Sa­man­tha. CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP LEFT: DRUNK ELE­PHANT JUJU BAR AND PE­KEE BAR, $40 EACH; RA­TIONALE CAT­A­LYST CLEANSER, $92; OBAGI NU-DERM TONER, $50.

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