Acid mantle: what it is, why it’s important and how to keep yours in top condition

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Chloe Burcham
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acid mantle skincare

If your skin’s been playing up recently, it could be down to a damaged acid mantle. Here, Dr Ifeoma Ejikeme reveals everything you need to know about your acid mantle, including how to keep it in tip-top shape. 

If you’re suffering from dry, flaky or sensitive skin – a damaged acid mantle might be to blame. No matter how thorough your skincare routine might be, overuse of foamy cleansers and an overzealous exfoliation routine might actually be causing more harm than good. 

The good news is, fixing your acid mantle is totally do-able. And you might already own many of the products and ingredients that nourish and help to repair a damaged acid mantle already. So take note – here’s everything you need to know about your acid mantle (including how to fix it)…

What is the acid mantle?

“The ‘acid mantle’ basically describes the acidic nature of the stratum corneum (the outermost layer of the skin),” explains founder and medical director of Adonia Medical Clinic, Dr Ejikeme. “It serves a crucial part of the barrier function within the skin.” 

“Skin cells and the microbiota (the millions of bacteria, fungi and viruses that live at all times on our skin) all thrive in this acidic environment. It’s an important barrier – preventing pathogens from entering the skin and helping to prevent water loss – locking in moisture and hydration.”

At a basic level – the acid mantle keeps the bad stuff out and the good stuff in. So if your acid mantle is damaged, you might notice skin changes and issues arise. You might notice dry, flaky and itchy skin, or increased redness and sensitivity. 

How can the acid mantle be damaged?

pH changes

The skin’s optimal pH is around 5.5 – which is slightly acidic. Anything that can skew it too alkaline can disrupt its ability to function optimally. “If the pH of the skin rises too much this can disrupt this barrier function. This in turn would potentially increase the skin’s permeability, allowing bacteria into the skin and leading to rapid water loss and skin dehydration,” explains Dr Ejikeme.

Using cleansers that strip the skin

“Using harsh cleansers and some old fashioned very alkaline soaps can also disrupt the barrier function,” says Dr Ejikeme. Look for nourishing, creamy cleansers that don’t leave your skin feeling dry or tight after using. 

Overusing physical exfoliators

“Rough physical exfoliation can also damage the barrier function and acid mantle.” Instead, try chemical exfoliators and remember to always be gentle with your skin. Physical exfoliators (or rough skincare tools, brushes and sponges) could create micro-tears in the skin and damage the delicate acid mantle. 

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What products and ingredients can help to protect and nourish the acid mantle?

Ideally you want to look for products that are pH balanced (around 5.5). “Hydrating ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, panthenol, glycerin and ceramides as well as vitamin C are all great in helping fortify the skin barrier.”

Protect your acid mantle with these nourishing skincare picks

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Main image credit: Getty 


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Chloe Burcham