We all learned about pH levels in chemistry class, knowing if something was an acid or alkaline, depending on where on the pH scale it sat. As a reminder, pH of 7 (the pH of water) is neutral; higher is acidic and lower is alkaline. Keeping our skin’s pH levels balanced is crucial to keeping irritations and issues - from which we all suffer in one way or another - slightly more at bay.
The pH of our skin sits at about 5.5 on the scale, making it slightly acidic. The pH of our intimate skin - is lower, varying between 3.8-4.5 on the scale. Dermatology nurse and aesthetician, Emma Coleman, says that “the acidity levels of our bodies play an important role in preventing the growth of harmful bacteria. When the skin’s pH is at a normal range, it stimulates the production of natural oil and sebum which aid in repair and maintain a balanced state.” Just as your regular skin will suffer from inflammation or acne, your intimate skin needs protection from bacteria and chemicals.
Most soaps’ pH levels are at about 9, with even pH-balanced cleansing gels sitting at a neutral 7. Showering can be thought to interfere with your intimate skin’s pH levels, reducing acidity and disrupting the bacterial makeup of your intimate skin. Dr. Sara Matthews, Femfresh gynecologist and consultant, confirms that “many women were advised by their mothers to only wash the intimate area with water.” Intimate washes are fairly new in the skincare market, and since most personal hygiene habits are passed down from mother to daughter, the older generation had simply been doing what their mothers did as well. “As a gynecologist, I don’t really know why. An intimate wash ensures that skin is properly cleaned, helping to prevent odor, irritation and infection.”
Brands such as Femfresh are at the forefront of pH balancing body washes, as it is specifically designed to be used daily, without negatively affecting the pH levels of your skin. In fact, ingredients such as lactic acid and probiotics in Femfresh help maintain the body’s natural pH levels. Matthews goes on to say “My daughter uses Femfresh wash daily, as part of her routine. I feel reassured that her skin is well looked after and we just need to get the message out there more!” This reinforces the idea that there is little awareness amongst the general public of the importance of intimate skincare.
Matthews believes that “most advertising campaigns concentrate on face and body products”, stating that she thinks there is “a perception that intimate washes are more of a medical subject than a skincare issue.” It appears to be the way forward to preventing skincare problems if using a shower gel with the right pH for your intimate skin was part of every woman’s routine. “Women need to be better informed, which will allow them to take control and decide whether a daily intimate wash works for them.” Matthews reiterates.
It is important to pay careful attention to your skin – if it starts to look red or becomes more sensitive, itchy or irritated in general, it is your body giving you the sign that you’re using a product which is too strong for your skin. Our skin’s ability to fight infection depends on its pH level and good bacteria in the intimate-skin known as lactobacillus regulates this, which helps prevent the growth of harmful organisms.
The danger of not using a pH-balanced shower gel or soap for your body in general, let alone your intimate skin, is that your skin can fast become tight, dry, sensitive and itchy. According to Coleman, “when the acid mantle is compromised, the effects can range from those of minor discomfort such as increased sensitivity, redness, dryness and flaking to bacterial infections, allergies and thrush.” This is due to the quality or amount of lactobacilli (mentioned earlier) falling, which is a consequence of the pH of the intimate-skin changing.
So what exactly is the issue with certain body washes? Coleman reveals that “alkaline chemicals such as sodium laureth sulphate (SLS) are regularly used as foaming agents in body washes as they are cheap to produce and create an impressive lather but they can irritate the skin over time.” However, most body washes and cleansers - even the ones claiming to be better for sensitive skin and respecting the body’s pH levels - have SLS as an ingredient - this is why there is so much importance on the need to use cleansing products with a pH more similar to our sensitive areas and intimate skin. As Matthews states, “problems could be prevented if [a pH-balanced wash] was part of all women’s skincare routine.”
Hypoallergenic and soap-free, this specially-designed formula contains probiotics to help stimulate skin's natural defences and the cranberry and cornflower extracts gently hydrate (pH level 4.5).
Gallinée Cleansing Bar, 45 dhs
Soap-free and gentle to the skin, this bar is full of probiotics and lactic acid, formulated at pH 5.8, respecting the pH levels of your skin.
Despite being a foaming cleanser, this soap-free gel gently cleanses and soothes sensitive skin from irritation. It has a superfatting cleansing base which respects the skin’s pH balance too (pH is 5.5)
AHAVA Moisturising Salt Soap, 38 dhs
Cleanses, calms and nourishes, this soap-free bar is perfect for sensitive skin, with a pH level of 5.5, which is adapted to the skin’s for gentle cleansing and to restore its natural pH.
Tree to Tub Soapberry For Body, 67 dhs
Balances the skin (with a pH of 5.5) with wild soapberry, this body wash is probably better for regular skin but being free from sulphate, SLS, silicones etc., it is perfect for inflamed, sensitive, flaking or irritated skin.
Drunk Elephant Juju Bar, 107 dhs
Slightly higher than the rest in pH level (6.3), this is an ultra-mild cleansing bar which is fragrance and soap-free so it does not strip the skin of its natural protective barrier.