Once upon a time, I thought exfoliating with baking soda was a wonderful idea. It’s cheap, natural, and seems to do the job well. Why use anything else?
Then, I got into science. I learned all about ph and the acid mantle, and discovered that something as innocuous as baking soda can actually do a lot of damage to our skin. Here’s why:
What’s the acid mantle, and why is it important?
Our skin has an outer, protective, slightly acidic layer called the acid mantle. Formed by sweat and sebum, and home to harmless bacteria, the acid mantle protects skin by killing bad bacteria before they have a chance to enter our body. It also helps skin to retain moisture and stay soft and supple.
The acidity of the mantle is measured by its ph. Healthy skin has a ph between 4.2 and 5.6. For best results, most skincare products are formulated within this range. Anything about 7, instead, is called alkaline and is bad for skin. Why? Because it can disrupt the acid mantle, leading to all kinds of trouble.
Why you shouldn’t use baking soda to exfoliate skin
A 1997 study found that alkaline cleansers irritate “the physiological protective ‘acid mantle'”, change “the composition of the cutaneous bacterial flora and the activity of enzymes in the upper epidermis” and dissolve fats from the skin surface which may lead “to a dry and squamous skin.”
Baking soda has a ph of 8, high enough to disrupt the acid mantle. This damage is cumulative. The longer and more often you use it, the more damage it’ll inflict to your skin.
But that’s not all. Manual exfoliation (scrubbing dead cells away) is usually harsher than chemical exfoliation (using substances that dissolve the glue that holds skin cells together). That’s because it is easy to scrub too much or for a few minutes too long, removing too many dead cells and irritating skin. If, at the same time, you’re disrupting the acid mantle too, you risk serious damage to your skin.
The Bottom Line
I love a good home remedy, but exfoliating with baking soda is just asking for trouble. Instead, stick to professionally formulated exfoliants with AHAs (if you have dry and/or sun damaged skin) or BHA (if you have oily skin). Your skin will thank you.
Do you exfoliate with baking soda?
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