The Connection Between Acne and the Skin’s Acid Mantle

The Connection Between Acne and the Skin’s Acid Mantle

Acne begins well before a breakout appears, and a variety of factors contribute to pimples. The main culprits are bacteria, excess oil, and pores becoming clogged with dead skin cells, but there’s more to the acne story. If you really want to understand why your skin may be more pimple-prone in comparison to others, let’s talk a bit about chemistry (and the most effective ways to treat acne! And don't worry, there isn't a test at the end of this article.

Why pH matters

pH is one of the first fundamentals you learn in chemistry class, and believe it or not, this indicator of acidity or alkalinity plays a huge role in your skin and the development of acne. (See, there is a real-life application for this subject!) To refresh your memory, the pH scale ranges from 0 to 14. A pH below 7 is acidic, a pH above 7 is alkaline and a pH of 7 is considered neutral. The natural and ideal pH of the skin is 5.5, which is slightly acidic,” says dermatologist Hadley King, MD, adding, “Studies have shown that a higher or more alkaline pH is seen more often in people with acne.”

What is the acid mantle?

“If the acid mantle is disrupted or damaged and loses its slightly acidic pH, the skin becomes more vulnerable to damage and infection—and this could be a contributing factor to acne,” explains Dr. King. Signs of an unbalanced acid mantle include dryness, flaking, redness and sensitivity. A compromised acid mantle also impedes the skin’s natural exfoliation process, and a build-up of dead skin cells makes it more likely that pores will become clogged and lead to an increase in acne breakouts.

The acid mantle is also responsible for maintaining “good” bacteria on the skin, which helps decrease the “bad” P. acnes bacteria that is known to cause acne. Even more, Dr. King explains, “This ‘good’ bacteria increases the skin’s production of ceramides, which promotes a healthy skin barrier.” This benefits acne directly by decreasing the redness and inflammation associated with breakouts and helping to increase the skin’s resistance to the dryness and irritation that can be caused by topical acne treatments.


Skincare products can help—or hurt

Dr. King explains, “According to my own research, the most effective anti-acne ingredients (i.e. benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid) generally have a lower pH than the skin.” If you’ve ever experienced a tight or dry feeling after trying a new face cleanser, that’s because it disrupted your skin’s acid mantle. “Washing your skin with harsh soap or detergents can reduce the effectiveness of the acid mantle,” she says. Alcohol-based astringents have a similar effect—as do other skincare products with especially high or low pHs.

The good news is, “Skincare products and other measures that maintain the pH of the acid mantle can be helpful in the prevention and treatment of acne,” according to Dr. King. AcneFree’s Oil Free Acne Cleanser features benzoyl peroxide to minimize P. acnes bacteria in a sulfate-free formulation that won’t disrupt the skin’s protective acid mantle.

You can get the ideal acne face cleanser, pH-restoring toner and acne treatment lotion in our 24HR Skincare Kits, which are available for all skin types including severe acne and sensitive skin/


Charcoal is an additional skincare ingredient that can help get rid of pimples while keeping the skin’s acid mantle intact. Safe for daily use or as an occasional exfoliating treatment, AcneFree’s Salicylic Acid Exfoliating Facial Scrub is a gel-based cleanser that contains maximum-strength 2% salicylic acid to minimize breakouts, along with natural jojoba and purifying charcoal to care for your skin. Fragrance-free to minimize irritation, this acne cleanser deep-cleans the pores to make them look smaller, reveals a brighter complexion and most importantly, helps get rid of blackheads. For even better results, use it with the AcneFree Acne Clearing Mask twice per week. The NEW & IMPROVED AcneFree Acne Clearing Mask is a therapeutic mask that contains sulfur, a proven and effective acne ingredient. The 3.5% sulfur helps reduce the number and severity of acne. This acne treatment mask with Bentonite Zinc, Vitamin C, and Copper reduces the appearance of large pores, while refining the skin's texture.

Other ways to protect the skin’s acid mantle

There are a variety of other easy ways to protect the skin’s pH and acid mantle. First, avoid over-washing, as too much cleansing is sure-fire way to disrupt your skin’s pH balance (which can make acne breakouts worse). Same goes for over-exfoliating, which physically removes the acid mantle and leads to dryness, flaking, sensitivity and pimples in acne-prone skin.

Dr. King also recommends oral probiotics to help increase levels of “good” bacteria on the skin (and prevent the overgrowth of “bad” bacteria). Dry air due to the climate where you live or artificial heat can also affect the performance of the acid mantle, so using a humidifier in areas you spend a lot of time in (such as your bedroom or office) can have a positive effect on your skin—and your acne—as well.

And as if you didn’t already know you should be eating more fruits and vegetables, these foods tend to be alkaline, so they can help offset the natural acidity of effective acne treatments such as Benzoyl Peroxide and Salicylic Acid as well.

Best of all, these simple steps can help restore the skin’s acid mantle in no time at all—and potentially speed up the results you see from your anti-acne skincare regimen!

Acid Mantle Dr. Hadley King