The Dangers Of Using Soap On Acne-Prone Skin – All About The Acid Mantle

I finally got my skin in order after MONTHS of struggling with the horrible aftermath after experimenting with face oils.

Now, in the dead of winter with temperatures well below zero, my skin is not only clear but it’s also hydrated. There are no flakes in sight!

I’ve never had clear, flake-free skin in the winter – ever.

I can point to ONE thing I’ve done that’s revolutionized my skin: I’ve been cleansing differently.

I wrote a lot about cleansing before, because long ago I recognized how strongly cleansers affected my skin. Some cleansers made my skin tight and dry, some covered my skin in a film that was supposed to moisturize but instead clogged my pores.

Through all my experiments, I settled on really gentle, soap-free cleansers as my go-tos.

But I still wondered about optimal cleansing… Do I need to cleanse once a day? Twice a day? Should I stop using cleansers all-together?

I tried that – I actually did a 30 day ‘water method’ experiment, where the only thing I used on my face was water. That resulted in pretty much the worst skin of my life.

So back to cleansing I went – I cleansed my face twice a day. My skin improved a bit, but it wasn’t great yet… until I stumbled on some game-changing research from the 90s. It’s been around in dermatology textbooks for ages, and I can’t believe that I stumbled on it by accident now.

I think everyone who is suffering from any kind of skin discomfort, from dry skin, to eczema, to acne should know about what you’re about to learn.


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I keep talking about cleansing because it really matters, I knew this from personal experience, but today I’ll back up my understanding with scientific research relating to the skin’s surface and protection mechanism.

We are told by mass media to wash our faces twice a day, and that too much sebum is what causes acne. So we learn to fear sebum, and try to keep our faces sebum-free by obsessively washing it off.

I know I used to think that my face was dirty until I removed every last bit of my skin’s natural oil (sebum). But sebum is our friend.

What Is The Role Of Skin?

Skin is our largest organ, and it’s known as an elimination organ – it disposes of waste through the pores. But it’s also there for PROTECTION.

Think of your skin as a body guard, it protects you from intruders like various bacteria and infection. In order for the skin to be effective in protecting you, it has to be hydrated, soft, and resilient.

Dry or flaky skin will not protect you as well as soft, hydrated skin. Think about how easily you can scratch dry skin vs. hydrated skin.

In the winter, my hands were always prone to scratches because of dryness. Any small knick could make my hands bleed, and you and I both know that open wounds are very appealing to intruders…

Little did I know, our bodies are so smart that there’s actually a way that the skin protects itself by maintaining optimal acidity on its surface through the production of sebum. And it does a pretty great job of it, until we interfere with harsh cleansers.

Sebum is what we know as face oil, it lubricates our skin, making it strong and resistant to damage and bacteria. Sebum is important in maintaining the integrity of the skin. It creates what’s called the Acid Mantle.

What is the Acid Mantle?

The Acid Mantle is a fine acidic film on the surface of the skin made from sebum. The sebum also serves as nature’s moisturizer, and water and weather-proofer. It makes the skin resilient, smooth, soft, and strong against damage and intruders.

The Acid Mantle is about a 4.5-6.2 on the PH scale, which means that healthy skin is acidic.

The PH scale goes from 0-14, 0 is very acidic, and 14 is very alkaline.

The Acid Mantle and PH are very underrated in skincare – it’s not talked about enough, yet it plays an important role in skin function and protection.

Your body produces the acid mantle to protect itself from intruding bacteria and pathogens. Blood is alkaline, so if a bacteria that gets used to your acidic skin gets through to the blood, it isn’t be able to survive in the alkaline environment. Soft, hydrated skin is more resilient than dry, rough skin which is more likely to allow bacteria to get through the cracks.

The reason you might be breaking out is a compromised acid mantle. 

If your acid mantle is compromised you’ll experience:
dryness, tightness, flakiness, overproduction of sebum, dehydration (oily and dry skin), eczema, acne

Now that you know that your skin is actually acidic, let’s get into how we ruin that perfect acidic balance.

How we ruin the acid mantle

Cleansing is the most damaging step in skincare because it has the power to completely strip your face of sebum, and using the wrong cleanser for too long has compounding negative effects on your skin.

Most cleansers on the market are full of soap, which is generally ALKALINE (7+ on the PH scale).

A study was conducted using preparations with a 5.5 PH (acidic) and a 7 PH (neutral) to wash the skin of subjects with normal skin. The preparations were applied twice daily.

It was found that the skin’s PH rose with with the neutral preparation, and that p.acnes bacteria increased. P.acnes decreased with the acidic preparation. (Korting et Al, 1991)

P.Acnes is the bacteria that causes acne in the first place and it loves it when your skin is alkaline! Cleansers that are not the right PH for your skin actually increase BACTERIA on your skin because your skin isn’t able to protect itself with a compromised acid mantle.

When you use a harsh cleanser/soap on your skin, you are slowly stripping your skin, while also increasing its PH. The results are not temporary.

Skin that’s treated this way loses its ability to fight infection and stay soft, smooth, subtle and starts getting dry, flaky, or worse, it starts breaking out.

The same researchers decided to test the effects of PH on acne-prone skin specifically, people with active pimples.

One group of participants washed their face with an acidic cleanser, while the others used an alkaline soap.

This experiment lasted 3 months, and showed that participants using an acidic cleanser had fewer acne lesions after just 4 weeks, while the opposite happened with participants using the soap. In fact, participants washing their faces with soap experienced an increased the number of acne lesions.

Soap made acne WORSE.

Cleansing MATTERS

A gentle cleanser is capable of healing your skin, while a harsh cleanser is capable of destroying your skin. Remember that in this case, an acidic cleanser is gentle, while an alkaline cleanser is harsh.

The state of my skin made it clear to me that I needed to heal my acid mantle. I had regular breakouts, my t-zone would get quite shiny throughout the day, while my skin was actually quite dry and sometimes flaky.

I decided to stop hating on sebum, and use it instead for my benefit.

Cleansing Twice A Day Is Misleading Advice

I started washing my face twice a day, but cleanse once a day. My face was still being cleaned, but less thoroughly in the mornings. I was leaving some sebum on my skin for the first time in a LONG time.

I switched to washing with plain water in the morning and my gentle cleanser at night. It felt weird at first just washing my face with water.

It felt like I was just rubbing sebum around. But I got used to it quickly, and I started to enjoy the simplicity of it in the mornings.

If you properly cleanse your face in the evening, remove all your makeup, impurities, accumulation of dead skin cells, and excess sebum then washing your face with water when you wake up is more than enough.

Before switching to this method, I was experiencing regular breakouts and some flakiness from (what I thought was) Benzoyl Peroxide and a Salicylic Acid toner. But I was wrong.

My skin was dehydrated because of too much cleansing. My acid mantle was out of whack.

I’m telling you, my skin began to improve dramatically once I started cleansing once a day. My face was getting clearer, softer, and more hydrated. I started applying less moisturizer than ever before too, because my skin didn’t need a ton (skin actually doesn’t need gobs of gooey moisture, so don’t use too much).

I use less product all around, and it’s pretty fantastic.

Thinking back to when my skin was driest, I remember that I was using extremely harsh cleansers (like the cleanser) that made my skin feel tight and squeaky-clean.

Say no to squeaky-clean!

If you ever hear a cleanser described as ‘squeaky-clean’ then run! Our skin is not meant to be fully stripped of it’s natural oils, it needs them to SURVIVE and kick bacteria ass!

The only reason we need to cleanse at all is because of the nature of our environment. The skin gets covered in sebum, dirt and grime from pollution, and needs to be cleaned at the end of a long day.

How to heal the acid mantle:

  • Wash and Cleanse (wash your face in the AM, and cleanse your face in the PM)
  • Be thorough when you cleanse at night, make sure to remove ALL makeup, and splash your face with water generously
  • Use a gentle acidic cleanser
  • Moisturize properly
  • Avoid water that’s too hot

Companies write all kind of claims on their packaging to get us to buy their products. The term ‘PH Balanced’ can mean a 7 on the PH Scale, when you really need a 4.5-6 PH. Remember that using anything above a 5.5 is going to make your skin more alkaline, and alkaline skin leads to bacteria growth.

I recommend doing it the good old-fashioned detective gadget way…Yourself. Get some PH strips and start testing your cleansers to see if they’re acidic enough to use. If they’re too alkaline (anything higher than 6, but I prefer 5.5) then don’t even think about using them. Just throw out alkaline cleansers before you ruin your skin.

I’ve hunted down some PH strips and tested ALL THE CLEANSERS…Muahahaha. Ok, just 13 so far. Take a look if your cleanser made the cut here!

In the meantime, try cleansing just once a day, and let me know how your skin feels.


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