Most of us with oily skin are all too aware of this top layer of oil on our skin. It is, after all, the evil layer that we battled throughout teenage-hood. Stop the grease! Stop the grease! Right? This is what most face-wash ads were telling us to get rid of with harsh soaps and strong facial-wipes. (On the other hand, those of us with dry skin pine for a little more of this slick layer.) I really hate it when misinformation is used to sell products, and in this case, how brainwashed mainstream face-washers have been for decades because companies decided to wage war against natural skin oils. Ugh.
Let me just say this right away. This top layer of the skin is made of lipids from the sebaceous glands (not grease…your skin is not a deep-fryer…OR IS IT?) and yes, sweat, and is NOT dirty. Let’s repeat that: NOT DIRTY. It is, in fact, a beautifully designed self-defense mechanism, vital to your skin’s health. Much like the healthy living things in your gut (which doesn’t sound so sexy, I know), the top layer of your skin is a delicately balanced ecosystem of living cells and ceramides and lipids that, if you could find them in a bottle, you’d pay major money for. Why in the world would you wash it all away!? The truth is that too many people willingly destroy this healthy, protective layer of their skin, then add more and more products to their repertoire to recover some of the skin’s lost function.
This layer is called the Acid Mantle, and it is your skin’s first line of defense against bacteria and infection, against water-loss and against the elements (harsh weather, pollution, etc.). The ideal pH for the Acid Mantle is as you probably guessed, slightly acidic at 4-6.5.
One of the WORST things you can do for your skin is upsetting the pH balance of your Acid Mantle by using products that are too alkaline for the healthy function of skin (hint: most soaps). Although these products initially feel great, with a luxurious lather and make skin feel amazing for an hour or so, it is actually changing the pH balance of the skin, making it too alkaline. This weakens the skin’s immune system, can cause or exacerbate a slew of inflammatory skin diseases and conditions (like acne), and also leads to dry skin. It even leads to the dreaded dry skin AND acne combo that is so confounding. Drying out skin that is oily or acne-prone only makes the sebaceous glands freak out and produce more oil, throwing off the whole fine balance your skin is trying so hard to achieve. Many facial cleansers, and certainly 99.9999998% of what you find at the drugstore, work in this counter-productive way. Giving your skin that squeaky-clean feel and oh-so-smoothness one minute, then that overly-oily feel a few hours later, then what do you know? An acne eruption to boot! This often leads people in a vicious cycle of drying skin out with more cleansers, treating pimples with super harsh topicals, eventually reaching for the cortisone and antibiotics. Rinse, repeat.
So, how can natural skincare handle this so-called Acid Mantle I speak so highly of? Well, for one thing, developing products that are pH balanced for skin. Our White Willow Bark is slightly acidic, normally at around 5 to 5.5 (as with any natural products, batches vary slightly due to the raw ingredients used). This helps keep skin at a healthy acidity. (Which I know feels a little counter-intuitive when we’re told how important alkalinity is for the body…but not the skin, ok? It’s just no bueno.)
This is one reason why I’ll never create a “regular”, soapy, foamy, squeaky-clean-making detergent-based cleanser and why you shouldn’t use one on your lovely visage. Detergents wash away the Acid Mantle, disrupting the skin’s barrier function and permeability, ruining the delicate ecosystem needed for skin to thrive (I’m guessing you caught that point by now, but really just trying to drive it home). Oil cleansing is an ideal way to maintain the health of the skin’s Acid Mantle, as vegetable oils are so similar in structure to the human skin’s lipid layer (like, freakily so). On that note…did you know Prevention Magazine just named our GF as THE balm cleanser everybody should be using? Pretty cool! Balm cleansing, whatever kind you use, essentially uses the “like attracts like” law of quantum physics, just kidding, of basic chemistry, to gently lift excess oils and grime from the acid mantle and replenish them with skin-loving, bio-dynamic plant oils (that are as compatible as a match made in internet dating!).
Have you ever experienced a bad reaction to a harsh facial cleanser? What did you do?