Is your soap mild on the skin? Here’s what you need to know

The Bombay high court recently ruled that while the German personal care brand Sebamed could compare its mildness with that of soaps like LUX, Pears and others produced by Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL), it cannot do that with a detergent soap, which it earlier sought to do in an advertisement.

A soap war had ensued when it was claimed that Sebamed’s soap has a lower pH value as opposed to soaps produced by HUL (and a detergent bar). It led to many questions, with the major one being, as a consumer, what kind of soap is best-suited for the skin, and if we are actually using the right one.

Looking for answers, reached out to Dr Jaishree Sharad, a dermatologist. And here is what she said:

What is pH value?

It basically is a measure of any surface or product to understand how alkaline or acidic it is. According to the Indian Journal of Dermatology, normal healthy skin has the potential of hydrogen (pH) range of 5.4-5.9 and a normal bacterial flora.

Dr Sharad explains if the pH value is high, the product is alkaline and if it is low, it is acidic. If neutral, the product is neither alkaline nor acidic.

Does the pH value matter when we select a soap?

When the Bombay HC ruled that Sebamed can present a comparison in the advertisements, it also mentioned that the pH value alone does not define the mildness of a soap.

The dermatologist explains that the skin has a pH value which is mildly acidic in nature, around 5-4-5.5. Thus, when we use a soap which has a higher value, it can lead to a rise in the pH value of our skin to up to 8, thereby stripping our skin of its moisture. “The skin gets drier as the value increases, and thus, soap bars which are present in the market have the tendency to increase the pH of skin.”

When a bar is mildly acidic, it can protect the integrity of the skin, that is “the lipid barrier or the micro bacterial flora of the skin” explains the doctor.

When the pH value of the skin is compromised, the exposure to free radicals from pollution or abnormal bacteria increases. “Maintaining a normal pH value of 5.3-5.5 is essential, otherwise the protective anti-aging layer of the skin depletes and our skin becomes more prone to allergies and rashes,” adds Dr Sharad.

Representational image. (Photo: Pixabay)

Does the pH value of our skin change every season?

Our skin’s pH value keeps changing. There are also other factors like age and hormones. As we age, our pH increases and our skin gets drier and alkaline in nature, says the dermatologist.

This phenomenon, however, is particularly noticed in females, because as estrogen drops, the skin gets more prone to dryness. Not only that, but external factors also contribute to the same. Dr Sharad says that temperature changes our pH as well — in winters our skin becomes neutral. This is further exaggerated if one takes longer hot showers.

What kind of soap should we use?

When your skin is prone to becoming neutral, opt for syndet bars or shower gels. “Any product which does not have sodium laureth sulfate, is safe to use. These products are milder and do not strip your skin of the moisture,” says Dr Sharad.

When your skin feels dry after using a soap, it is not meant for you. “Especially when you are using cold or normal water and despite that it feels dry,” the dermatologist advises.

How to maintain skin’s pH value?

Dr Sharad stresses on not taking long hot showers or using hot water. Having said that, “soap is only a part of your routine; make sure you do not over-exfoliate yourself and overuse active ingredients such as AHAs, BHAs or retinol”.

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