What is the Acid Mantle and Why Should You Care About It
Although it may sound like the perfect name for a ’90s grunge rock band, don’t let the legendary name fool you; I swear I’m not trying to inform you why you should care about a ‘90s rock band! Your acid mantle is actually one of the most critical components of your skin’s barrier. As our understanding of skincare and health becomes increasingly more advanced, both researchers and consumers alike have been doing some digging into the skin’s natural shield and what role it plays in our skin’s health, and more specifically, what our skincare rituals are doing to it. (News flash! It’s likely not good!) Let’s chat about what the acid mantle is, and why you should care about it.
- The acid mantle is a thin protective barrier on the skin’s surface that protects it from harmful bacteria, fungi, and viruses to keep our skin functioning properly.
- If you suffer from dry, flaky, or irritated skin, your acid mantle may be damaged, and it could be a result of using over-abrasive skincare products.
- It’s time to ditch your grainy, coarse face scrubs, loofahs, and buff puffs, as these can all destroy your acid mantle. To heal it, avoid these products and be gentle!
What is the acid mantle?
Likely, you probably know the acid mantle exists; you just may not be aware it actually has a name. The acid mantle is essentially a film, or protective barrier, that covers your skin’s surface and is comprised of natural sebum (natural oil) and sweat. Does thinking about having an oily, sweaty film covering the entirety of your body make you want to go take a shower? Me too.
But fear not, as this barrier has a really important job: it keeps the good stuff in (moisture, healthy bacteria) and keeps the bad stuff out (fungi, pollution, viruses.) The term was conceived in the late 1920s by some German doctors that were researching the effects of bacteria on the skin; however, it hasn’t entered contemporary conversations until lately.
Maybe you’ve never heard of it, maybe this is your first time, or maybe you’re an acid mantle pro (Do those exist? More power to you if you are!) Regardless, it could very well be the cunning culprit of all your complexion calamities. If you’re breaking out, suffering from dry skin, or if you have rosacea, they could all be giving you grief because of your damaged barrier.
Partnering with our microbiome, these two components form an intricate matrix that formulates a healthily-functioning skin barrier. Think of it as a *critical* shield; it works like an invisible mask that you don’t even realize you’re wearing! The name “acid mantle” comes from the fact that your skin has an ideal pH that is slightly acidic. A slightly-acidic skin barrier is one that is healthy, complete, and helps to protect against aging (among a plethora of other things!) However, anything too alkaline, or basic, can disrupt its ability to function properly.
A brief note on pH: the pH scale spans from 0 to 14, with 7 being “neutral.” Anything below 7 is considered acidic, and everything above is alkaline. The normal pH of the skin on your face and body fluctuates but is usually between 4.7 and 5.75. Thus, keeping your skin on the slightly acidic side (within the normal range) helps keep your acid mantle A-OK.
How do you know if your acid mantle is damaged?
We’ve established the importance of the acid mantle, but if it’s invisible, how do you know if it's damaged in the first place? Is your skin dry, flaky, red, ultra-sensitive, or aging prematurely? Those signs and symptoms may be a good place to start. Each of these signs indicates your skin’s pH is out of wack; often, this means your protective barrier has been stripped away by an overly-abrasive skincare ritual.
Because the perfect conditions for the acid mantle are slightly acidic, when we use harsh, course products, they make it a challenge for the skin to cling to its ideal pH. Basically (no pun intended), when we make our skin more basic or alkaline, we make it hard for the skin to be able to protect itself and effectively catch moisture.
In turn, a weakened pH also affects the microbiome. When your microbiome is messed up, the metaphorical doors are opened to a wide range of inflammatory skin disorders, including but not limited to eczema, acne, premature aging, psoriasis, itching, burning, or stinging sensations all over the skin. Essentially, when the protective barrier is not intact, it no longer wards off allergens, irritants, and pollutants from invading the skin.
How to repair it
The good news is, that the acid mantle is pretty self-sufficient when it comes to repairing its damages; it’s more about what you ditch from your skincare ritual rather than what you add to it. With that being said, ditch those overly-stripping cleansers that make your skin feel really tight or too clean. There is a good chance you feel too clean for a reason! Those kinds of scrubs can literally destroy your acid mantle. Also, ditch the loofahs or grainy scrubs for your face and delicate areas; the material is too coarse.
Additionally, products containing alcohols or vigorous surfactants (surface active agents that break down fats) can strip and dry out your face and acid mantle. If you are looking to give your skin some extra TLC, ingredients to look out for in your skincare products are hyaluronic acids, probiotics, and ceramides. Most importantly, make sure to moisturize! Each of these gentle ingredients will hydrate your skin and provide it with an optimal time to recover.
To conclude: soaps, sulfates, over-exfoliation, overuse of skincare products, pollutants, and our age all have a direct impact on the state of your acid mantle. As we age, our skin becomes increasingly more alkaline. The pH levels of our skin change and as a result, it becomes more sensitive.
The most important piece of advice I can give you is to simply be kind and gentle and caring toward your skin and, as a result, your acid mantle. It can heal itself on its own as long as you’re there to give it ultimate love, support, and dedication (and by that, I mean to be mindful and intentional about what products you’re using on your skin.)
Hopefully, now, we’re all on the same page about the acid mantle not being a ‘90s grunge rock band. If you didn’t know its name now you do, as it serves a pretty critical function to skin health– primarily protection. Thankfully, taking care of it is as simple as can be. Just be kind to it!
Written by Morgan Taylor