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Why Your Moisturizer Isn’t Working

4 steps to solve the problem

Are you pursuing a more balanced lifestyle in 2013? Don’t forget to include one of the body’s most important balancing acts—taming your skin. Achieving the perfect pH balance will ease dry winter skin, enhance the effectiveness of anti-aging products, and, according to a recent report, keep wrinkles at bay.

You body operates at a neutral pH balance of 7. But skin is a little different—its protective barrier, composed of dead skin cells, fatty acids, and lipids, works in a more acidic environment, at a pH of 5.5. When the balance is too neutral (at, say, a 6 or 7) that barrier breaks down, allowing allergens, pollutants, and bacteria to enter skin, while letting precious moisture escape. But when skin is at an ideal pH, it’s optimized to retain moisture and protect against environmental threats that can age you prematurely. In fact, a recent study published in the British Journal of Dermatology found that, over eight years, women with more alkaline skin experienced a greater number of fine lines and crow’s feet than those with a more acidic balance.

How can you tell if your skin’s pH is out of whack? There’s no surefire test, but if you’ve got flaky, scaly, or even itchy skin, there might be something amiss. “When your skin is out of balance, it can’t perform normal functions like healthy self-exfoliation,” says Dr. Sherry Ingraham, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in Houston, TX. “Instead of shedding dead skin cells, it goes into protective mode and holds onto them—and that’s the dry skin process.”

If that isn’t reason enough to get your skin in shape, Ingraham says your skin’s pH also affects anti-aging products. “You want to apply your moisturizers to a surface of the right pH so they can actually work,” she says. “Those powerful ingredients won’t have the opportunity to really penetrate the outer layer and can become irritating due to a broken down skin barrier.” Here are Ingraham’s tips to keep your skin’s pH balance in check:

Don’t wash your face with soap. Real soap—think your husband’s favorite green bar—is an alkaline substance that strips the skin of oils, even the good ones. Washing with soap raises our skin’s pH “by at least one point, and can take hours to get back down to 5.5,” Ingraham says. Swap out your basic bar for a non-soap cleanser, a syndet bar (sometimes called a “beauty bar”), or any cleanser without surfactants.

Turn down the temperature. That tightness you feel after a nice long scrub? That’s skin’s response to its protective layer being stripped away. Use lukewarm water and focus on getting a good rinse instead.

Put away the washcloth. “Washcloths are too abrasive for your face, especially the gentle skin on your cheeks,” Ingraham says. Your hands or a gentle cleansing brush work just fine.

Use products with active ingredients. Ingraham suggests looking for clinically proven products that contain vitamins and bioactive antioxidants to promote cell turnover. “Pomegranate, tea, vitamin A—these things simply savage free radicals,” she says. And while such products can often be pricey, we’ve rounded up five plant-powered products that won’t break the bank.


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