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The Importance of Fatty Acids, pH & the Moisture Barrier: How I Eliminated my Acne & Decreased my Skin Sensitivity

With the exception of one recent breakout (which was the result of excessively sweating in the hot, humid, unforgiving, North Carolina sun), I’ve been entirely acne free for going on 5 months. Not only that, but my formerly very reactive skin has massively decreased in sensitivity. I’m ecstatic about the changes, but it took me a long time to get here. I’m actually a little frustrated with myself because it didn’t have to take so long. The solution was in front of me the whole time, but it wasn’t until 6 months ago that I truly recognized it. I just made a single change to how I thought about my skincare product selection, which I directly credit with the elimination of my chronic, hormonal breakouts and sensitive skin: I started really caring about my moisture barrier.

It’s not that I didn’t care about my moisture barrier before. I just didn’t think about actively nurturing it. The only time I consciously considered my moisture barrier was if it had been disrupted and needed repair. Otherwise, I only acknowledged it by making passive efforts to avoid injuring it. This, it turns out, wasn’t enough. The realization I had was that I needed to vigorously and strategically strengthen that layer of my skin, so that’s what I set about doing. I’m going to talk about what I did and why it worked, but first, let’s talk a little bit about what the moisture barrier is and why it’s so important.

What is the Moisture Barrier?

The epidermis, which is the visible part of our skin, is comprised of multiple layers, with the outermost layer being the stratum corneum. The stratum corneum is the protective layer, and what we also know as the “moisture barrier” or “lipid barrier.” It’s comprised of dead, flattened cells called keratinocytes, which are continuously shed and replaced by newer keratinocytes, and held together by fatty acids, ceramides, and other lipids. Together, the lipids and keratinocytes act as a waterproof barrier that effectively keeps water in the skin and prevents bacteria, irritants, allergens, and other microorganisms from permeating it. The lipids also play a key role in encouraging new cell proliferation in the deeper layers of the epidermis.

Moisture barrier  - skin layers

Source: Wikipedia Commons

When our moisture barrier is compromised, our skin is left unprotected and we begin experiencing trans epidermal water loss (TEWL). This leaves our skin susceptible to dryness, irritation, stinging, redness, sensitivity, and acne. Additionally, moisture barrier damage can also cause an increase in sebum production as the body tries to repair what’s been done. If you’ve ever had skin that’s somehow simultaneously dry and oily (often referred to as “dehydrated-oily skin”), that’s the result of a weakened moisture barrier struggling to correct itself. The most common cause of a damaged moisture barrier is over exfoliation (either manually or chemically), but it can also be a result of sunburn, over cleansing, or using skincare products with a pH that’s too high/alkaline. The pH detail is important, and I’ll talk more about that in just a minute.

The good news is that moisture barrier damage is not irreparable, though repairing it does take time. It can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, depending on the severity of the damage. However, there are active steps that can be taken to assist with the repair process. Remember how the moisture barrier is held together by all those fatty acids and ceramides? Our skin is actually able to effectively make use of topically applied essential fatty acids, such as oleic acid and linoleic acid. Essential fatty acids are found in abundance in many plant based oils, including argan, rose hip, baobob, passionfruit seed, olive, jojoba, and literally hundreds more.

How I Changed my Routine:

In the same way that topically applying oils high in essential fatty acids assist with repairing a damaged barrier, they are also very useful for strengthening a perfectly healthy moisture barrier. I’ve been a champion of face oils for a long time and have used them myself for years, so I didn’t actually have to change much about my routine in regards to essential fatty acids. However, stopping to think about why they work so well has greatly increased my appreciation for what these oils are doing for me on a daily basis, and has made me more aware of how varying levels of oleic and linoleic acids in individual plant oils work with my skin.

Moisture Barrier - Oils

Left to right: Shea Terra Organics 100% Pure African Baobob Oil,  Shea Terra Organics 100% Organic Moroccan Argan Oil,  Tarte Maracuja Oil,  Sunday Riley Juno Hydroactive Cellular Face Oil

For face oils, most plant based oils will work, though oils higher in linoleic acid such as passionfruit seed oil tend to have a better success rate with acne prone skin. A very small sampling of some of my favorite oils includes:

Shea Terra Organics 100% Organic Moroccan Argan Oil ($24)
• Sunday Riley Juno Hydroactive Cellular Face Oil ($125)
• Tarte Maracuja Oil ($46)
• Shea Terra Organics 100% Pure African Baobob Oil ($18)

It’s worth noting that there’s no need to worry about pH where oils are concerned. Only materials and solutions containing water have a pH, so plant oils are neither acid nor alkaline. EDIT 06/01/2014: Plant oils do have a pH, but it’s not easily measurable using a pH strip since the strips can only measure the acidity/alkalinity of aqueous solutions. I’ll be updating with more information about this when I know of a way oil pH can easily be measured at home.


The regulation and role of epidermal lipid synthesis
Advances in Lipid Research, 1991

Barrier function regulates epidermal lipid and DNA synthesis
British Journal of Dermatology, 1993

What is the Acid Mantle?

I think most of us have at least a vague awareness of the importance of pH when it comes to skin health. I talk about pH a lot in my product reviews, but I’m usually referring to an optimal pH for a particular product or ingredient to work effectively. In addition to product efficacy, the actual pH of our skin has a lot of relevance in the overall health of our epidermis.

The outermost layers of our stratum corneum/moisture barrier have an acidic pH that can range from 4.0-6.0, with the average being 4.7. The acidic layers are often referred to as the “acid mantle,” which plays an extremely important role in the condition of our skin. The acid mantle’s low pH serves to stop the growth of harmful bacteria, fungi, parasites, and other pathogens, as well as maintain the durability and structural integrity of the keratin proteins in our keratinocytes. Those with a pH on the lower end of the 4.0-6.0 scale have greater overall skin health.

When we use products with a high/alkaline pH, we are disrupting our acid mantle. Alkaline products cause the keratin proteins to soften, and as they lose their structure, they also lose their protective qualities. When our acid mantle is disrupted, our skin becomes prone to infection, acne, roughness, flaking, irritation, and dehydration. Once the acid mantle has been compromised, it takes somewhere between 14 and 20 hours for the pH to return to normal, assuming you’re vigilant about the pH of your skincare products throughout the healing process. During that time, your skin is more vulnerable to pathogens.

This disruption happens most commonly as a result of using the wrong facial cleanser, as most bar soaps and foaming facial cleansers have a pH of 8.0 or higher. I’ve also seen an alarming number of Pinterest posts over the past year encouraging the use of baking soda as a facial scrub, and I die a little inside every time I see one. The problem with baking soda is that many people don’t see the immediate harm to their skin, so they think it’s fine to keep using it. This thinking is flawed, because even if they don’t see immediate injury, there is cumulative damage that results from the frequent use of such a highly alkaline product. Continued use of baking soda as a facial scrub can permanently raise your skin’s pH to a 6.0 or higher, leaving the skin open to dryness, infection, and damage on a perpetual basis. It’s a bit like smoking in that way – people don’t die because they smoked one cigarette, or a pack of cigarettes, or even several packs. But if they keep on smoking, chances are good they’re going to wake up one day with cancer, emphysema, or heart disease.

How I Changed my Routine:

Even though I’ve never used baking soda on my face, I have been guilty of breaking the pH rule. I have a huge weakness for the rich texture and lather of a creamy, foaming, facial cleanser, so I’ve looked the other way when it came to the high pH. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was paying for it in acne and sensitivity. Eliminating cleansers with a pH of 6 or higher from my skincare universe had a very marked impact on the frequency of my acne. My breakout occurrences decreased tremendously when I became more vigilant about the pH of my cleansers (I aim for 5.5), and none of my breakouts since banning those high pH cleanser were of the cystic variety. I was able to keep one of my old favorites (Cerave Foaming Cleanser) in rotation, but I also had the added joy of discovering 4 new cleansers that I like even more than any of my old cleansers:

Su:m37 Miracle Rose Cleansing Stick  (pH 5.5 | $26)
• FutureDerm Skin Reborn Facial Cleanser 8.31 (pH 5.0 | $39)
• Sunday Riley Ceramic Slip Cleanser (pH 5.0 | $45)
• Biologique Recherche Lait U Cleansing Milk (pH 4.5 | $26)
• Cerave Foaming Facial Cleanser  (pH 5.5 | $10)

Moisture barrier - cleansers

Left to right: Su:m37 Miracle Rose Cleansing Stick, FutureDerm Skin Reborn Facial Cleanser 8.31, Biologique Recherche Lait U Cleansing Milk, Sunday Riley Ceramic Slip Cleanser, Cerave Foaming Facial Cleanser

In addition to switching cleansers, I also added in a dedicated daily acid treatment in the form of an acid toner. I’m currently extremely loyal to Biologique Recherche Lotion P50 (the phenol-free formula) because it has the lowest pH of any of the others I’ve tried, as well as the most visible impact on my overall skin texture, but there are other acid toner options available at lower price points:

• Biologique Recherche Lotion P50 (pH 3.0 | $59)
• Silk Naturals 8% AHA Toner (pH 4.0 | $9)
• Pixi Glow Tonic Beauty Elixir (pH 4.0 | $29)

Moisture Barrier - Acid toners

Left to right: Biologique Recherche Lotion P50, Pixi Glow Tonic Beauty Elixir, Silk Naturals 8% AHA Toner


Natural skin surface pH is on average below 5, which is beneficial for its resident flora
International Journal of Cosmetic Science, 2006

The Concept of the Acid Mantle of the Skin: Its Relevance for the Choice of Skin Cleansers
Dermatology, 1995

Nurturing the Moisture Barrier / Stratum Corneum

It took about month of adherence to the changes I made to see the true impact of my skin’s overall improvement. The decrease and eventual disappearance of my acne was obviously the most visible benefit, but the massive reduction in my skin’s sensitivity was also a key aspect in the improvement of my skin’s health. Strenghtening my moisture barrier helped a lot in terms of keeping my acne away in and of itself, but so did the use of Tretinoin and BHA. The thing is, there is no way I could have used or continued to use the amount of BHA I need if my moisture barrier was in the state it was last year. I would have been far too sensitive and suffered from frequent irritation, especially when using the Tretinoin and BHA together. Because my skin is now more resilient, I’m able to treat it with the actives it needs to keep my hormonally triggered breakouts out of the picture. And when I do have breakout, such as the one I experienced just recently – it’s far less severe, and I’m able to spot treat it somewhat vigorously without worrying that I’m going to wake up with red, rough, peeling skin and an army of cystic volcanoes surrounding it.

Everyone’s skin is different, and acne happens to people in  varying degrees of severity with a broad range of possible causes. A strong moisture barrier alone may not be enough to get rid of very severe acne, but it will most certainly help improve the odds, as well as make skin more resilient to some of the more intense topical treatments available.

If you’re interested in strengthening your own moisture barrier, here are my recommendations:

1. Don’t use skincare products with a pH of 6 or higher. Pay special attention to the pH of your cleanser.
2. Use an acid toner or a daily acid treatment (2%-8% at a pH of 3.0-4.0).
3. Incorporate plant oils containing essential fatty acids into your routine.
4. Don’t over exfoliate, over cleanse, or put yourself at risk for sunburn.

Also, now that you know all of this, don’t be surprised if you find yourself looking at somebody’s clear, dewy skin and thinking, “That is one fantastically functioning moisture barrier! How does she do it?”  I experience this at least twice a day.


EDIT May 26, 2014: I’m getting lots of questions about where to buy pH strips! You can find pH strips at almost any store that sells fish tanks, many drug stores, and big box stores such as Wal-Mart. You can also find them on Amazon. All pH strips are not created equal  – some strips are more accurate and consistent than others. I’ve tried a few brands, and so far these are the best I’ve tried:

SEOH 0-14 pH Indicator Strip ($11 + $5 shipping) – available on Amazon.

Be sure to store your strips in a dry place – any exposure to moisture before using can damage them.


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173 comments onThe Importance of Fatty Acids, pH & the Moisture Barrier: How I Eliminated my Acne & Decreased my Skin Sensitivity

  1. Dianasaur

    Thank you for an insightful and helpful post. I have acne myself and am just beginning to control it by opting not to use a stripping cleanser and toner but products which add moisture. It has definitely been a case of trial and error and I’m glad that it has worked out well for you. How long would you say it took for you to establish your current skin routine and develop “clear” skin? Seeing the results of your hard work will definitely encourage me to incorporate some of your ideas into my routine.
    P.S. I wrote you an email asking for some acne advice and I would love to hear from you soon!

    • Kerry

      Hi Dianasaur! I started to see improvements in the first couple of weeks. By the end of month 1, my acne was almost entirely gone, and nothing new had sprouted either. I also noticed the decreased sensitivity after a month.

      I was afraid the acne would come back as soon as I started testing different products, but it didn’t. I stuck to the principles of using low pH products and plenty of fatty acids, and I stayed clear. I think the pH vigilance made the biggest difference of all.

      If you have a chance, could you send your email again? It may have gotten lost in the chaotic vortex that is my inbox.

      • Dianasaur

        That’s amazing, I hope my acne will clear up that soon too! I have seen a significant reduction in my acne since adopting my new skincare routine but I am dealing with pesky hyperpigmentation marks and scars. Do you have any recommendations in speeding up the healing process? I currently use Benton’s product as well as the O.S.T Vitamin C serum and the O.S.T 9 to 5 crema but wondered if you knew of any other good products.
        I have resent the email to you :)

        • Kerry

          Do you currently have an AHA treatment in your routine? I find that AHA gets rid of my hyperigmentation more quickly on a pretty consistent basis.

          • Marilu

            Hi….Thanks…great information!… If you don’t mind…may i ask which one is better using products in just one product name is a hearsay effective in skin care but i found that you used different brand name in your skin care….is it necessary to stick in one brand name to avoid side effects or not?…

      • Sade

        I remember you saying some time last year that you found that you were sensitive to fatty alcohols and were cutting them out of your routine. I’ve noticed that you’ve tested and have some things in your routine now (I think!) that have them. Can you use them now since your moisture barrier is strong? I see that you said you don’t break out even after testing a bunch of products, so that’s why I’m asking!

        You saw results after a month – is this after using everything above? Did you add everything slowly?

  2. Crystal

    How would one go about figuring out the ph level of their skincare products?

  3. MP

    Thank you for such an interesting post. May I ask, how do you test the pH correctly? Do you need to mix the cleanser with water the way you’d do when you’re going to use it, and then test? Or do you test it straight? I want to make sure I’m getting the correct result! Thank you!

  4. rel_redhead

    First off, I absolutely love your blog, and your recommendations, both in terms of routine and products, have really helped me get my skin into better shape. I have a couple of follow-up questions about the acid toner: do you use it every day, and if so, are you also still using the Paula’s Choice BHA? Also, where in your routine does the acid toner fall?

    • Kerry

      Hi Redhead! I use the acid toner daily, twice a day (morning and evening). The acid toner is the first thing I use after cleansing. Then I apply my BHA or any other acid treatment I might be using, and wait 20-25 minutes before applying the rest of my skin care products. I have more details about how the acid toner I use performs in this post:

      I do still use the Paula’s Choice BHA. I’ve actually tried quite a few of her BHA formulas at this point, and I still like the 2% liquid formula best! :)

  5. This is so interesting–thank you! I’ve started to realize that moisture is so incredibly important for acne care, but I’ve resisted oils despite all of the advice otherwise; this is my breaking point. I must try these!

    Do you have thoughts on things like stronger acids applied less often (basically home mini-chemical peels)? Would they disrupt the skin’s moisture barrier, too, in a similar way as prolonged use of high ph products or can they be successfully incorporated into a routine from time to time?

    • Kerry

      Hey Tracy, excellent question! Yes, stronger acid peel treatments can definitely work without disrupting the moisture barrier. The trick is figuring out what your acid tolerance is, having the patience to build up to it, and spacing the treatments out properly. I have grossly overestimated my acid tolerance in the past. I ended up looking like the Cryptkeeper for about a week.

      • AHAHAH–I’m glad I’m not the only one; I walked around for a week with a peeling nostril-area lol.

        Do you think that a too-basic foam cleanser could be rescued by adding a gel acid to it to bring it to an acidic ph? I’ve ordered test strips and I’m willing to break out my foam favorite, some acid gel, and the mixing bowl, but I’m just wondering about possible consequences that I haven’t anticipated. Any warnings?

        • Kerry

          Hi Tracy! I’m actually not sure. I’d be curious to know if it works, though! What kind of gel acid are you thinking of using?

          • I have a bunch of 20% Salicylic Acid gel here, so I’ll mix that with some pure ghassoul tablets for the sake of not diluting the foam then whip it all together. I’ll let you know if it works!

  6. Cara

    Hmmmm. It’s interesting, because I have seen a difference in my skin since I switched to the Sum rose cleanser, which I also assumed was because it was less harsh. (However, the addition of Omega 3 fatty acid supplements to my diet also deserves a lot of credit.) I want to know, where does the Benton Aloe toner fall on this spectrum? I know it used to be one of your favorites.

    • Kerry

      Hi Cara! I still love the Benton Aloe BHA toner. It has a pH of 4.75-5.0, so too high to qualify as true acid toner, but low enough to be just fine for my moisture barrier. It is still a great anti-inflammatory hydrating toner, which I consider to be an entirely different type of product, and can be used in conjunction with an acid toner.

      If I were using the Benton product in a routine with the P50, I’d apply the P50 immediately after cleansing, then my BHA, wait 20-25 minutes, and then start the rest of my skin care routine with the Benton Aloe BHA.

      • Ami

        So Kerry if i would like to use the p50, bha, and missha first treatment essence. Ill have to wait to apply the first treatment? I really like it and would like to keep continue to use it in my routine but not sure where it falls in. Right now i use it right after cleansing my face. Thx!

  7. Cindy

    Thank you for this article! I’ve been experiencing acne breakouts a lot lately so this article is really helpful. I guess it might just be my cleanser.

  8. Niya

    Hi Kerry, I suffer from genetic/hormonal adult acne and I’m using benzoyl peroxide to combat it. I also have extremely oily skin (I blot every 2 hours, basically), with some dry patches around my mouth so that’s probably a sign of an irritated moisture barrier and dehydrated-oily skin. I used to overcleanse pretty badly, but now I’ve switched to a cleansing balm and I think this is helping. My skin is still pretty sensitive from all the harsh products I’ve used and the benzoyl peroxide, but at the same time I find it difficult to help my skin restore as I am also fighting against my acne.

    After using a cleansing balm I am not so scared of oils anymore, though I am not sure about putting straight oil on my face… I also read on Paula’s Choice that putting oil on your face will never help with your own oil production because that is internal.

    Anyway, after reading your recommendation about the essential fatty acids in oils, I was thinking about the Kiehl’s Midnight Recovery Concentrate. Do you have an opinion on that product?

    (These are the ingredients: Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Dicaprylyl Carbonate, Squalane, Rosa Canina Fruit Oil, Evening Primrose Oil, Jojoba Seed Oil, Coriander Seed Oil, Tocopherol, Lavender Oil, Pelargonium Graveolens Flower Oil, Linalool, Rosemary Leaf Oil, Citronellol, Geraniol, Lavandula Hybrida Oil, Cucumber Fruit Extract, Turmeric Root Extract, Limonene, Citral, Sclareolide, Rose Flower Oil, Jasmine Extract, Sunflower Seed Oil)

    • Kerry

      Hi Niya!

      Paula is correct, but that statement only applies if skin/moisture barrier damage is not the reason for the oil production. If moisture barrier or skin damage is causing increased oil production, applying a face oil will help indirectly by accelerating the healing process so that the skin’s oil production can return to normal.

      The Kiehl’s Midnight Recovery Concentrate actually looks like it could be a nice product, but if you haven’t used oils before, I would recommend starting with a pure, single source plant oil. It’s hard to predict which oils will work best with your skin, and if you use a product like the Kiehl’s Concentrate and it causes a reaction, there’s no way to tell which of the oils is the culprit. If you’re super sensitive and suffer from acne, I would recommend starting with Hemp oil. It has a really good success rate with oily, acneic skin – it absorbs quickly, feels light, has a comedogenicy rating of 0, has a high linoleic acid content (which is good for acne-prone skin), and it’s anti-inflammatory. :)

  9. I never had acne or any severe condition but as I started to take proper care of my skin, now I have that perfect dewy face most of the time. Pure avocado oil is definitely my pick when it comes to facial oils! I had problems with some oils as they were clogging my pores but this one really does wonders. I am guilty myself of using cleanser with a pH around 8. But cleansers with lower pH are so hard to find.
    I’m not using acids on a daily basis though. That’s definitely something I should try now.

  10. This is one of my favourite posts! I will constantly remember to work on my moisture barrier now. Thanks for also including products on the low end side!

  11. Anna

    Hi! I’m so sorry if you get asked this question a lot, I am wondering where do you purchase your pH strips? Thank you for this post, it is very informative ^_^

  12. This is such an interesting and informative post, thank you for sharing! I seriously need to get my act together as my skin is pretty much the definition of oily-dehydrated. How would you find out the pH of a particular product? Thanks!

    Jess xo

  13. This is a great post! I’m actually in the process of changing up my routine to more natural products. I think the chemicals in things have left my skin sensitive. I was curious about how you were testing ph but I saw the link below :)

    • Kerry

      Hi Arielle! Do you have an idea about what you might be sensitive to? I ask mostly because natural products can also be really irritating for sensitive skin due to the plant extracts they contain. :)

  14. Shiro

    Thank you so much for such an amazing & informative post! I am battling with acnes & blackhead for years so I can’t wait to try your tips! If possible, can u plz recommend alternative korean products for each category. Thanks!!

    • Kerry

      Hi Shiro! As far as cleansers go, I’ve only tested the pH of 3 Korean cleansers. Of the 3, the Su:m37 Miracle Rose Cleansing Stick is the only one that has a pH below 6. The others were typical creamy foaming type cleansers (my weakness), and they had a pH of 7-8.

      For a Korean acid toner, you might want to try the Mizon AHA/BHA toner. I haven’t used it myself, but my friend Sample Hime/Tiffany loves it! She has a review of it here:

      For facial oils, I’ve noticed that most of the Korean face oils are blends. I have only tried the Sulwhasoo Ginseng Oil, which I liked, but it’s a bit expensive. I know that Missha, Innisfree, The Saem, and Banila Co. all make face oil blends, and they are on my list to try:

      Missha – Near Skin Real Essential Oil (Argan Oil)
      Missha – Near Skin Real Essential Oil (Jojoba Oil)
      Innisfree – Olive real essential rich oil
      The Saem – URBAN ECO Harakeke Seed Oil
      Banila Co. – The Blacks, Extra Black Sesame Oil

    • Kerry

      Shiro, I just thought of another Korean acid toner you could try. Missha makes an acid toner called Super Aqua Enzyme Peeling Softener that might be worth looking into. I haven’t tried it yet, but I just added to my shopping list and I can’t wait to see what the pH is. :)

  15. Ami

    Kerry, thank you for the awesome post! I knew moisture barrier is important but never thought ph is a playing factor. I work in lab maybe ill order some ph strip and test my products lol. I can’t wait to see your new current skincare routine 😉

  16. Jeannine

    Kerry– Great post and very interesting! I was wondering, as you’ve written several times now that you wait after applying acid products before continuing with the rest of your routine– I’ve been using Paula’s BHA liquid and the weekly resurfacing but her instructions don’t mention anything about giving them time to work before applying anything else… why do you do this? Did you ever not use them that way… and did you see a difference when you started? Thanks!

    • Kerry

      Hi Jeannine! This is such a great question! I actually started off not waiting with the Paula’s Choice BHA, specifically because she has written that wait times don’t make a difference, and that the product will still work as intended. However, it is fact that applying a low pH product to the skin temporarily lowers the skin’s pH, that a lower pH allows the acids to work more optimally, and that adding a product with a higher pH afterward will affect that pH. As such, many other brands with BHA/AHA products recommend waiting.

      When I tried adding in wait times myself, I saw a huge difference in product efficacy – it’s not that they don’t work without waiting, but waiting definitely made the most of my acid treatments. I experimented with different wait times in 5 minute intervals, and 20-25 minutes seems to be my sweet spot. It takes about 30 minutes for an acid’s pH to neutralize on its own.

      Additionally, waiting is great if you want to make sure two products that have conflicting pH needs don’t react with each other. For example, BHA and niacinamide can cause flushing in some people if the pH of the skin is too low when the niacinamide is applied. The pH of a BHA or AHA is also such that it can interfere with the conversion of non-prescription retinoids to all trans retinoic acid, which is how over the counter retinoids work. FutureDerm actually has a great article concerning the use of BHA and OTC retinoids together that explains this in detail:

  17. Would you consider doing an updated post about your regular routine? I wonder how all these things fit together for you (plus other treatments, like weekly ones?) But anyway, this was a really great post. I had never really thought too much about the pH of my cleansers—come to think of it, I only know what it is for one of them! I will definitely take that advice going forward.
    Rebecca B. Bird recently posted…Conscious Box Plus (Vegan Edition) May 2014My Profile

  18. I wish that companies — especially high-end ones — would just list the pH of their products. It’s expensive to purchase something from a non-return friendly place only to test its pH and find out that it would be a bad idea to use it.

    Do you know of any trusted groups that maintain a database of this info? I googled around and didn’t find anything comprehensive/that I knew could be trusted.

    • Kerry

      Tessa, I couldn’t agree more! I really think listing the pH should be a labeling requirement for all skin care products, just like listing nutritional information is for food. I don’t know of any databases that have that information, but if you happen to find one, please tell me about it! What an amazing resource that would be. :)

  19. Anna

    What differentiates acid toners from BHA/AHA products such as Paula’s Choice?

    • Kerry

      Hi Anna! Not much, except that the strength of the acid toners is such that they can be used twice a day without causing issues from too much AHA. The Paula’s Choice AHA products are daily or weekly treatments, so they’re a little stronger. They’re designed to be used once a day or once a week. If someone were using a daily AHA product from Paula’s Choice they probably wouldn’t see much improvement from adding an acid toner – in fact, an acid toner in addition to a daily AHA would be too much for a lot of people (myself included). An acid toner in addition to a weekly acid product would be a nice combination though (that’s what I do).

      The difference between the acid toners and the BHA products is more defined, since AHAs and BHAs work a little differently. BHAs penetrate the skin deeper, and are better for treating oily skin, breakouts and blackheads, whereas AHAs work on the surface of the skin, and are good for treating discoloration, sun damage, and dryness.

  20. charlotte

    Hey Kerry, this is a wonderful article. I literally gave you a standing ovation :-).
    I added Jojoba and Tsubaski oil to my skincare routine cos I saw it in yours…and I saw a great improvement in my skin. And now I know the reason why. But then I just tried MUFE HD foundation and it broke me out, so dealing with that now :-(

    • LHTexas

      Wonderful and highly informative post. I think I may start ph testing all my products. Quick question about P50, did you ever experience any breakouts when first starting it? I just started the p50V w/ phenol on Friday and have experienced a few very small breakouts on my chin area which is an area that is typically clear for me. I have heard of this occurring with some people but wanted to get your opinion on it.

      I second the request for an updated routine. Would love to know what you use and the order/waiting time between products.

      I have tried oils in the past without much like. I usually wake up with oil slicks but maybe I’m just using the wrong ones. Have tried Josie Maran argan both regular and light and clarins lotus which eventually caused breakouts. Maybe hemp would be good?

      • LHTexas

        Whoops meant to create a new comment not reply to Ms. Charlotte

      • Kerry

        Hi LHTexas! I didn’t have any breakouts when I started P50. AHAs are one of the few products that can actually cause purging, though it’s unlikely that’s what is happening with you since purging normally occurs in areas where you normally break out. It could just be that one of the ingredients isn’t agreeing with your skin, or some other external factors such as weather, hormones, etc. Trust your instincts on this one, LH! If the breakouts seem unusual and they don’t let up, take a break from the P50. No one knows your skin better than you do! :)

        As for oils, I think hemp oil is a very good candidate for your skin type! I also think passionfruit/maracuja could work well for you. I can definitely see how Argan could feel heavy for someone with an oilier skin. I haven’t tried Argan Light or Clarins Lotus (though the Clarins oils are all on my wish list).

      • charlotte

        I guessed as much :-)

    • Kerry

      Ugh, so sorry about your breakout, Charlotte! :(

      I’m curious about your thoughts on the Tsubaki Oil. Which one do you have? I really want to try one, but I can’t make up my mind about which one to use.

  21. Kate

    Hey Kerry!

    I was just wondering about acid toners. What are they? Are the St Ives AHA no exfoliating pads an acid toner?



  22. hey girl hey! A few quick questions, 1: when do you use your oils? Do you normally do it day and night? And at what part of your routine? I know oils are supposed to be great for helping oily skin but it’s so freaking humid here that I’m scared to use them in the day time. I used coconut oil (still waiting for my rose hip), and I was insanely shiny all day :(

    2. Do you happen to know the ph for miracle charcoal cleansing stick? I’ve been reaching more for that one lately since my skin is normally a giant greaseball.

    Thanks lady!

    • Kerry

      Hey Sheryll! I use my oils morning and night. In the morning I use them before my emulsion and usually (but not always) skip cream. In the evening I use the oil before my emulsion or moisturizing cream step (I don’t always use emulsion at night).

      I just tested the pH for the Charcoal Cleansing Stick! It was such a pain – I had to do it a few times because the charcoal stains the color of the squares, so it’s hard to see what the reading is. It looks to be somewhere between 5.0 and 6.0, so you’re golden!

  23. That biologique lait cleanser looks interesting! What is the texture of it like

    • Kerry

      Hi Iliana! The texture is very creamy and lotion-like. It emulsifies a bit when water is added, then rinses clean. It’s not filmy and it doesn’t leave any residue. I’ll be doing a full review of the Lait U in the next few days, so keep an eye out!

  24. Antje

    Great article thank you so much! I really enjoy the discussion in the comments, so much good info and great ideas from the joint brain pool. I am really hoping we get an update from Tracy about the BHA gel / cleanser mixing project.

    • Kerry

      Thanks, Antje! I agree – there is some really excellent discussion happening. I am excited to hear how Tracy’s cleanser pH mission turns out too!

  25. Haley

    Hey Kerry,

    Thank you so much for this post! It’s very helpful to so many people. You’re also such an awesome person for simply responding to everyone’s questions. That’s what I love about this blog!

    On the topic of questions, I do have a couple concerning my skintype: I live in the Northeast, and during the winter months, my skin gets quite dry, and rarely becomes oily. However, since the weather has started to warm up (we’re looking at 70s-80s now), I noticed my skin has become a lot more oily. I’m not sure if its because the weather has gotten warmer, and more humid, or if its because I started using Hado Labo’s Hyaluronic Acid Lotion after I wash my face. I’ve also used Paula’s 2% BHA exfoliant through a sample packet, although my usage is very inconsistent, as I sometimes feel too lazy to put it on.

    I guess it could be a combination of all the changes, but in that case, what type of skin do I have (dehydrated oily, oily, or dry)? During middle school I had horrendous acne breakouts, and considered myself to have oily skin, (ended up taking oral antibiotics for the acne), but by high school/college, I seem to have outgrown the acne, other than the occasional pimple, and have skin that’s a lot drier, but with fairly large pores.

    Thanks Kerry! I also have a few other questions, but I didn’t want to clog up your comments section!

    • I also live in the Northeast and notice similar seasonal changes with my skin (especially this last year when I’ve been paying attention more). In high school, I probably had oily skin. At a certain point years later, I struggled with more severe acne, yet wasn’t as oily. Some people think their skin type will always stay the same, but it can change over time. I had watched an interesting gossmakeupartist youtube video about this (he had oily skin for the longest time and it took him a while to accept that his skin became more dry, but once he adjusted his routine, his skin responded better again). I couldn’t locate the link to that video I watched though, otherwise I’d share it.

      Anyway, for me, this last year, my best way to describe my skin type is acne-prone, sensitive to very sensitive (depending on the product), red-prone (possible mild rosacea) and combination leaning oily in the summer, but combination leaning dry in the winter. I tried a moisturizer last summer for the first time by convinced it wasn’t right for me (too heavy), then tried it again when the weather got colder and loved it to the point I may even be able to use it year round if I don’t overdo it in the summer (use a lighter hand when applying). So while there were times I thought I could use a specific skincare routine year-round, I think at the very least I’m going to always want some adjustments to make sure I get extra hydration in the winter.

      You’d probably like the Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Exfoliant this time of year especially. The Hado Labo’s Hyaluronic Acid Lotion sounds nice. I’ve yet to try that. My impression is that you could cleanse, then use the 2% BHA, then the Hado Labo’s Hyaluronic Acid Lotion. I’d be curious if you try that how your skin responds to that routine and if your skin feels any measure of more balanced incorporating both products. I really love Hyaluronic Acid as an ingredient (first discovered my skin liked it a few autumn season’s ago) because I tend to find it soothing and lightly moisturizing, but I currently don’t have a favorite product with this ingredient. Perhaps I’ll try the one you mentioned :)

  26. Erica

    This article has definitely inspired me to change up my cleanser. I have been starting to use more korean products for kicks (but also out of desperation) and as nice as the super foamy cleansers are, they could be contributing to my horrible chin breakout. After work I’m going to target to find cerave foaming cleanser, partially because of how popular it is on here and reddit but mostly because of your article here about pH. Thanks so much for writing this! Fingers crossed that this may help.

  27. Lauren

    Hi, Kerry! I just discovered your website and am loving it. Have been using hemp oil for nearly a year to moisturize and just started w/ the phenol-free P50 a few nights ago.

    I am trying to find the right routine for my oily, acne prone skin. My breakouts are fairly well managed right now, but i do get some small pimples still that crop up daily. I’m using these Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta peel pads every other night (alternating w/ the p50), but supposedly the PH is too high for them to exfoliate effectively… hmm…

    A question: I’m tempted to try out The Paula’s Choice 2% BHA instead, & see that you use it nightly immediately after the P50. But, isn’t the P50 an AHA & a BHA toner? There’s salicylic acid in the ingredients list — is it not at a high enough percentage? Am wondering why you’ve chosen to include the additional BHA…?


    • Kerry

      Hi Lauren! Yes, the P50 does have some BHA in addition to the AHA ingredients. It really performs more like an AHA product though. Adding the additional PC 2% BHA to my routine really helped my skin a lot It’s not necessary for everyone to use both the P50 and the PC 2% BHA, but people who have really acne-prone skin (like me) may find it beneficial to use both.

      • Lauren

        Thanks, Kerry! Great to know. All seems fine right now with my skin, but I definitely have my moments (or weeks, or months!) of bad breakouts — i might be exploring the P’s C 2% BHA in the future.

  28. Kathleen

    Hi, Kerry. Thanks for the really informative post! I was wondering when do you put on the plant oils? After toner and before serum?

    • Kathleen

      Ah, sorry I just read one of your comments to another reader. You said “before emulsion.” Are emulsions after serums?

      • Kerry

        Hi Kathleen! Yes, emulsions come after serums. In general, I think going in order from the thinnest product to thicket product is a good rule of thumb. There are some exceptions, but for the most part, it’s a good guiding principle.

  29. As

    Great post! Would you recommend Josie Maran’s argon oil as well? I have extremely sensitive, acne-prone skin. I have just moved to CeraVe foaming cleanser, use of a clarisonic, and Paula’s choice BHA. Do you recommend a BHA once or twice a day? I’m having a hard time finding a moisturizer that works for my sensitive skin. Most tend to break me out. I’m using Simple Moisturizing Gel which actually does not break me out! But I think it is not moisturizing enough and does not actually help to much with protecting my barrier.

    • Kerry

      Hi As! The Josie Maran Argan Oil is great, but a bit overpriced for what it is in my opinion. It’s a fine choice though (and actually, it was the first Argan Oil I ever tried). For what it’s worth, I like the Shea Terra Organics Argan Oil a more, but it has a slightly different texture and is less refined.

  30. Melissa

    Hi Kerry! I love your blog!

    Do you think you could list the ingredients of the Lait U cleanser if you have them? I can’t find them anywhere online. Thanks!

    • Kerry

      Hi Melissa! The ingredients for the Lait U cleanser are:

      Water (Aqua), Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Squalane, Propylene Glycol Dicaprylate/Dicaprate, Corylus Avellana (Hazel) Seed Oil, Pentylene Glycol, Prunus Amygdalas Dulcis (Sweet Almond) Oil, Triticum Vulgare (Wheat) Germ Extract, Tocopheryl Acetate, Retinyl Palmitate, Ethyl Oleate Ethyl Linoleate, Peanut Oil (Arachis Hypogaea), Ethyl Linolenate, Tocopherol, Caprylyl Glycol, P-Anisic Acid, BHA, BHT, Polyacrylamide, Cetearyl Isononanoate, Glyceryl Stearate, C13-14 Isoparaffin, P-20 Glyceryl Stearate, Ceteareth 20, Cetearyl Alcohol, Cetyl Palmitate, Laureth-7.

      I’ll also be doing a full review for that cleanser later this week. It’s a good one!

  31. M

    How would you compare the Lait U to the VIP O2 cleanser for someone with stress/hormonal related breakouts and PIH prone skin?


    • Kerry

      Hi M! You know, I’m not sure – I’ve only tried a sample size of the VIP O2, and though I liked it, it wasn’t enough for me to be able to fully evaluate it.

      If you contact Rescue Spa or Vicki Morav, they would be able to give you much more information about the differences between the two. They’re both super nice and very knowledgable! :)

      • M

        Thanks for getting back to be Kerry!
        I emailed the ladies at Vicki Morav to ask about it, but was informed that as I was in Canada, they would not be able to ship to me since I “[wasn’t] already a client”. Do you know of any ways to have the cleanser shipped internationally?

  32. Thank you so much for this informative post. I switched up my face oil recently, and I noticed that my skin has been slightly more congested since then. Now I realize that the jojoba carrier oil leans more towards oleic than linoleic, and it’s not right for me. Have you tried watermelon seed oil? It’s supposed to be a highly linoleic, fast absorbing, and non-greasy dry oil. Lina Hanson makes one, but a health food store in my city carries Shea Terra Organics, and they sell it as “Kalahari Ootanga” oil. I picked one up today and I’m pretty stoked to try it out!

    • Kerry

      Hi Katrina! I have the Kalahari Ootanga oil and I love it! It absorbs very quickly and completely and is greaseless. I think it’s a great choice! I’m jealous that you have access to a store that carries the Shea Terra line. I’d love to have one of those locally. 😉

  33. Maggi

    Hi, this article was so informative. I have to admit that I got a little panicked thinking about cleanser ph. Since I don’t live in the states I don’t have easy access to the cerave and many cleansers don’t share their ph level. I am going to order the Earth Science cleanser as they are really good about sharing their ph level. But in the interim I remember seeing Sebamed in the stores here. They are also ph obsessed. I was jst going to get the ph 5.5 face cleanser but then I saw that they had a feminine intimate wash with a ph of 3.8. I assume that lower is better?? In any case I am now using the intimate wash on my face. So far my skin seems really happy. Is that weird? Hahaha

    • Kerry

      I don’t think that’s weird at all Maggi! It never occured to me to do that, but it makes total sense. Feminine cleansers do have a nice, low pH and frankly, if it’s good enough for my lady bits it should be good enough for my face. Lady parts are sensitive! 😀

  34. FANTASTIC post! I think I stumbled up on this info unknowingly. I have lifelong oily skin, and most of my life I’ve been highly breakout prone including bad cystic acne. I finally got my skin – through the use of BPO and various drying treatments to that place where it stayed “mostly clear”, and looked OK but not fab (because it was constantly superficially dehydrated). Then maybe 2 years ago I got in a situation where I had to wear makeup daily and in order to make sure I got my skin thoroughly clean, I used my mom and grandmother’s old trick of using olive oil to take the makeup off. My skin texture improved dramatically and my acne – to my dismay – decreased, and that’s when I became an avid user of face oils. Since doing so I’ve even been able to re-introduce Salicylic back into my routine whereas before using it caused horrible little rash-like bumps on my forehead and cheeks. My skin is in such good condition now, I’m no longer afraid to branch out and try a few other things (like that Lotion P50 you mentioned).

    Thanks again for such a thorough and informative blog. Now to go read your updated skincare routine posts. :)

    • Kerry

      Thank you, Tania! I’m so glad you enjoyed this post! I’m curious about what your favorite face oils are. Any new ones you think I should try?

  35. Hi Kerry, how did you test the ph of your facewashes? With the product straight from the packaging, or did you foam it with water before testing?

    • Kerry

      Hi Lexie! For the liquid cleansers, I just applied the product straight, but for the Miracle Cleansing Stick I foamed it with water before testing. :)

  36. Alice

    Hi Kerry,

    I absolutely love your recent posts on your routine, but especially this blog post. I realized my CVS dupe of the Cetaphil cleanser has too high of a pH, but luckily, I have the CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser to fall back on. I’ve read that the CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser also has a pH of 5.5 like the foaming version. Is there a reason you use the foaming one ( for normal to oily skin) over the hydrating cleanser (for normal to dry skin which you have)?

    • Kerry

      Hey Alice! It’s really just a personal preference. I tried to like the Cerave Hydrating Cleanser, but I really didn’t enjoy the way it felt. It seemed warm and I always felt like there was a bit of a lotiony residue left behind after rinsing. A lot of people swear by it though!

  37. Antje

    My bathroom is littered with ph test strips and my partner thinks I have lost my mind.
    There were a few surprises and a lot of my cleansers have been degraded to hand soaps. I would love to hear what others have come up with as well please report back.
    I am not sure about the exact readings, interpreting the strips seems to be somewhat subjective. However I trust I am able to see what is under 6.
    The good:
    Caolion mool pool deep cleansing (memebox 10)
    Yves Rocher culture bio gel (contains alcohol)
    Missha detox peeling gel
    Does ph matter in micellar water type cleansers? Bioderma and Yves Rocher hydra vegetal both tested under 6
    Items tested over 6:
    Jaminkyung gokmul care creamy cleansing mask ( meme box 9)
    Max clinic caviar massage oil foam (meme box 8)
    Clinique take the day of cleansing balm

    • Maggi

      Thank you for this!

    • Kerry

      Thanks for this list, Antje! This is extremely helpful. 😀 Do you remember what the pH was for the Clinique Cleansing Balm? I’m also curious to know what your favorite cleanser is at the moment! :)

      • Antje

        The Clinique balm is one of my favorite cleansers. It’s easy to use, rinses well and gets the job done. It tested around a ph of 7 which is not bad and I will use up my container.
        I just placed a Missha order for cleansing cream, water cleansers and the acid toner. I will report back as soon as I had a chance to try and ph test them.
        Two more cleansers from my stash that I forgot to include the last time:
        Desert essence age reversal renewing gel cleanser- ph around 5.5
        Neutrogena pore refining daily cleanser – ph between 4.5 and 5
        My favorite was the max clinic oil cleanser and I will finish that even though it is above ph 7.
        The neutrogena could possibly become a new favorite for the second cleanse step.
        When I place my Missha order I noticed an oil massage balm in the ginseng range – Kerry is that the cleansing balm you reviewed recently? The description confused me and I ended up skipping it this time.

        • Kerry

          You know, I wouldn’t worry too much about the Clinique balm cleanser (which I also like) since 7 is neutral and is still in the safe zone (distilled water also has a pH of 7). In general, it seems as though most of the oil cleansers and balm cleansers designed to remove makeup tend to be in the 7 range. The makeup removing cleansing creams I’ve tried have been in the 6-7 range as well. As long as the pH isn’t over 7 for those makeup removers & my second cleanser has a lower pH, my skin stays happy.

          I had the same thought you did about the Missha oil massage balm – I don’t think it’s the same thing, but I plan to send Missha an email just to be sure! :) Since the one I originally reviewed was discontinued with plans to renew, I was expecting the new version to resemble the old one a little more.

  38. Tasnim

    Hi Kelly, I’m in my early twenties and I just started getting serious about my skin care. However the thought of using acids frighten me a bit. There’s just a lot of info out the, about the pros and cons of acids in skincare. I don’t know how to go about it, help!

    • Kerry

      Hi Tasnim! The best thing to do with acids is start out low and slow. The first step is to decide which acid you’d like to try first – BHA or AHA. BHA is better for acne, blackheads, and excess oil, whereas AHA is best for PIH, closed comedones, dryness, and uneven skin texture. Once you’ve chosen an acid, look for a product with either 1% BHA or 5% AHA. Paula’s Choice has some great options. I’d start there! :)

      Also, you’re not alone. A few people have asked me similar questions about acids for beginners. Perhaps I’ll do a post about acids in the near future!

  39. Bebeembop

    Hi, I know this is a late comment but I thought you might find this post about the relationship between AHA/BHA concentration and pH interesting.

  40. […] Secret, a small, independent homemade beauty business located in Ho Chi Minh City. I had read Kerry’s post on how she eliminated her acne and decreased her skin sensitivity, and got on twitter to rant a […]

  41. howonsoul

    can I use extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil on my face?

    • Kerry

      You can, howonsoul! They are both rich in vitamins and essential fatty acids. Just keep an eye on your skin when you start using them – olive oil and avocado oil can cause breakouts in an unlucky few, particularly those who are very acne prone.

  42. Ning

    Hi Kerry! Thank you for this super helpful blog post! I just found your blog when I was doing some research on what Korean skincare to buy since my BF is going to Korea for two weeks. Like most Americans, I just do the cleanse-tone-moisturize routine, but I’m determined to change that now after finding your and other blogger’s posts on skincare!

    After reading your post I decided to pick up the pH strips lol. I tested my cleansers and my toner and they all come out to be acidic (cleanser – 5.5 and toner – 4.0). The toner isn’t an AHA toner though, so does it being acidic still help? Also, I didn’t know you’re suppose to wait after using an acidic treatment. I use the Paula’s Choice 1% BHA Lotion, but I might try the stronger 2%. I also got the weekly resurfacing treatment after reading your post about weekly treatments. Oh, another question – if I use the acidic toner, can I go straight to the Paula’s choice BHAs? Or should I wait 5-10 minutes between the two part of my routine?

    All questions and long rambling aside! Thanks again for the helpful post!!

  43. […] I known about the skin’s mantle, about the moisture barrier, about all sorts of basic skin care tenants…I would have saved myself the embarrassment and […]

  44. Jeannine

    Hi again Kerry!
    I finally caved and got some test strips to ph test my cleansers… thought I would share for anyone else wanting to know:
    Yes to Carrots Daily Cream Facial Cleanser (7) (Not terrible… wouldn’t buy again though…)
    Hadalabo AHA/BHA (6.5) (Nothing special)
    DHC Washing Powder (6) (Love this stuff for years– Can’t recommend it enough…)
    Skin Food Aloe Vera (9)
    Missha fermented Citron (9)
    Shea Terra Acacia Honey and Argan Oil (9) (No surprise there, it leaves your face SQUEAKY!)

    There’s another list floating around on the interweb that has pH values for all sorts of drugstore cleansers on it… many with battery-acid-level low pH’s… cross-reference on Paula’s Choice which of course condemns them all. I think we should all get together and ask the Beautypedia reviews to include pH for cleansers, eh? Who’s with me!?

    Thanks again to you Kerry for all you do… :)
    Oh and OMG I bought that Skinfood Strawberry Sugar mask and WOW! You were darn-tootin’ right that stuff is AWESOME. So thanks for that too!

    • Kerry

      Jeannine, thank you so much for sharing all those pH values! My dream is that someday all skin care products will come with a pH value printed on the packaging as a standard practice. :)

      Where did you find that other list of pH values for cleansers? I would love to look at that one too!

      • Jeannine

        Hi Kerry! The list I saw is here (among other places): . I picked up a couple of the Earth Science cleansers from the list… as well as a couple of Now Solutions ones (not on the list) which all also tested around 5.5-6 (I find it hard to distinguish in that range…) They’re all fine/good/clean your face. Pretty nice ingredients. Crazy cheap. Like, all under $7 for 8oz. I used to think I was above paying a lot for a cleanser given that no actives stay on your face, etc etc… but I have to admit I tried a sample of BR’s Lait VIP O2 Cleansing Milk, and I really, really liked it. But, did I like it because I know it’s super expensive? I’m not immune to such irrationality. Argh… And now I feel a strong urge to try the Emma Hardie cleansing balm– have you used that one?

  45. […] a post I wrote about how to do that). The reason I’m concerned about pH is because I read a post by Kerry of Skin & Tonics about pH levels of products and their impact on the skin’…. I then attempted to adjust the pH of the soap using a pH adjuster, citric acid. The result was […]

  46. Lucas


    I was wondering, if the point of an acid toner is to decrease the skin’s pH, won’t a chemical exfoliant (say Paula’s Choice BHA liquid) or even a L-Ascorbic acid serum do the same thing?

    Thank you,

    • Kerry

      Hi Lucas! Yes, you can certainly use another chemical exfoliant in place of or as an acid toner! I like to use both, but I also have a fairly high acid tolerance. :)

      • Lucas

        Ok! I have rosacea, so the less acid the better. Will a L-Ascorbic acid serum be enough? I can’t tolerate BHA everyday.

        Thank you!

  47. Gabriela

    Hello Kerry, I just started reading your blog and it is helping me out big time. I’m a newbie at skin care.
    I was wondering if high pH levels are related to specific ingredientes on cleansers or other skin products.
    Thank you for such an interesting post.

  48. Do you have any oil based cleansers, e.g. DHC, that you would recommend?

  49. Hannah

    I was wondering about tea tree oil. I’ve been researching it and I’ve heard that its good for acne, but I can’t figure out where it stands on the oleic/linoleic acid thing. What do you know?

  50. Daisy

    Wow! Enlightened, again!

  51. Ami

    For anyone who’s interest in oil. This website carry many organic oils and has the Linoleic % and p.H. level of the oil.

  52. Kass

    Thanks for the post! I found it very informative. I was wondering about your process for pH testing your products. Do you just dab a little of the product on the litmus strip or do you mix it with water first?

    Also is pH important for other skincare products (like moisturizers, creams, masks, etc).

  53. Elena

    Hey Kerry,

    Thank you very much for this detailed insight!
    I’m currently using the “leaders ac stop foam”, do you happen to know it’s ph level?
    Actually I wanted to get the su:m37 miracle rose cleansing stick but after finding out that it had been discontinued I had to find a quick replacement._.
    Do you happen to know a Korean cleanser that is ph balanced? What about the Hanyul Artemisia Cleansing Foam? Or have you by chance tried any of su:m37 ‘s other cleansing products (E. g. the skin saver essential cleansing foam)?

    Thank you so much, really getting a little desperate here x)

  54. Kristin Lowe

    Thank you for this informative piece! Your whole blog is great, I plan on spending some hours today dedicated to it!

  55. Lucas


    I should really tell you how much this has helped me better understand skin care. Reading this something just clicked (!). So thank you for that.
    Since them I’ve been using oils for my very dry skin (Juno is amazing!) and have been reading about different kinds of oils. So, have you ever used pomegranate oil? What do you think of its fatty acid profile?
    It’s supposed to be highly anti-inflammatory, but it also seems viscous and is comprised of mostly punicic acid, which i don’t know much about. How do you think it would work for very dry,, rosacea and acne prone skin?

    I appreciate any insights.

  56. Joyce

    Hi Kerry, Not sure how often you check out your older posts, but I found this post to be fascinating, and so well researched! Not sure why it seems to be such a novel idea to protect your skin’s acid mantle–you would think it would be common knowledge in skin care circles!

    I am in my mid 50’s and would love to get some suggestions from you about my skin. I have mild Rosacea on my cheeks with patches of broken capillaries and my skin has gotten much more sensitive since going through menopause. My Rosacea actually hurts in the summer time when my face sweats–not fun. I ordered the Benton Aloe BHA Skin Toner from your recommendations on a previous post as to its ability to tone skin and decrease irritation, but have not yet received it from Korea.

    The protocols that Dermatologists have for Rosacea are all about not irritating your skin, but they do nothing to improve overall skin texture.

    I live in VA, where it is very humid, much like NC and my forehead still gets somewhat oily, so I feel like I have to treat my skin and my cheeks with different products, but perhaps if I improve my skin’s overall moisture barrier that won’t be necessary? I have very few wrinkles because I have fairly thick skin, but I have lots of Milia deep in the skin of my forehead which makes it look very bumpy if I wear foundation–I don’t know if there is any way to get rid of them short of having them removed by a dermatologist.

    I am going to order the Silk Natural’s Toner tonight because a reviewer on their website said it didn’t bother her Rosacea (!) I have Argan Oil that I use in the winter, but will start using it again.

    I have also starting doing “Lotion Masks” every night with “Hado Labo Gokujun Hyaluronic Lotion Moist” which really does seem to make my skin more hydrated.

    Any suggestions you have for my skin would be greatly appreciated! Thanks!

  57. Melissa

    Hi Kerry,

    I was wondering if trying out too many products at once can distract the moisture barrier? My skin seems like it’s still pretty sensitive since testing out products that ended up making me break out but i’m wondering if it was an allergic reaction or maybe it was because i just tried to add too many products to my skin routine at one time.. When you first started adopting the Korean skincare routine did you slowly incorporate the products in? Or did you just add everything else you were missing all at one time? I was accustomed to the typical 3 step (cleanser, toner, and moisturizer) routine then when I switched to using Faceshop’s rice bright cleansing oil, rice bright milk cleanser, smim toner, and sleeping pack every other day my face got really oily but that phase passed and my skin looked great till I started incorporating other products from different lines. It was like with each new product I tried (starting with the miracle rose cleansing stick) my face would react to it by getting itchy and red. I was told there’s penicillin (which i am allergic to ; maybe that’s why i had such a bad reaction) in skin care products made with fermented ingredients but it’s like all of a sudden my skin is allergic to any new products i’ve tried on my face except the Laniege waterbank cream. Any thoughts? I would appreciate any advice you might have! Thanks!

  58. […] and I’ve read it is acidic to helps to bring my skin’s pH down after cleansing (read here about skin ph).  It is mean to moisturize and prep my skin to better absorb other things instead […]

  59. Amy

    Hi! I love reading your posts and reviews, it is so helpful :) I have a quick question: I have skin that doesn’t sun burn easily. However, when my dermatologist prescribed to me tretinoin, I burn so bad when I was in the swimming pool even though I had sunscreen on (the sunscreen that I had before was the American waterproof kind). Because I love going to the pool, I gave up tretinoin but now that I see your reviews on the benefit of tretinoin, I want to use it again. However, I was wondering if you can become less sensitive to the sun ( and return to original sun sensitivity that I have) if you continue to use tretinoin and sunscreen for a long time. Also, if I start stop using tretinoin after using it for a long time, can my skin become back to the original sun sensitivity or will it stay very sensitive towrd the sun even after giving up tretinoin. Final question is what sunscreen/product do you recommend so that I don’t burn easily in the sun when I’m at the pool. Thanks!

  60. Juliette Hernandez

    Are the acid toners the same thing as exfoliants? I currently rotate between AHA and BHA 2-3 times a week but not sure if either is considered an acid toner.

  61. Jamie

    Just came across your website and it is amazing! Do you know if using the p50 with phenol is low in ph. I already use that so would hate to waste it. Also is using the p50 with phenol ok with the Paula’s BHA? And lastly, which oil would you recommend for oily hormonal acne prone skin.


  62. […] Confession: I don’t have photos of this because I tested the pH of this cleanser and it was around 8.5, which is way higher than I’m using these days. Why the obsessive pH testing? Stuff that’s too high (basic) harms one’s acid mantle, potentially allowing bacteria that’s bad for skin to flourish. Read more about that here. […]

  63. […] pH or lower cleansers–you can read more about why this is a skincare community obsession at Skin&Tonics). This sounds like it would smell so good though…I’m tempted to open it anyway and just […]

  64. Hannie Ta

    How do you figure out the pH level of those products?

  65. Michelle

    Hello! I was wondering if you have tried Alpha-H Glycolic Peel and how does it fare compared to the P-50 and Pixi Glow as an acidic toner? Thanks!

  66. […] to get my old skin back (pun intended), I happened upon a post by Kerry at Skin and Tonics titled The Importance of Fatty Acids, pH & the Moisture Barrier: How I Eliminated my Acne & Decreas…. When I read this part, I knew I was on to something […]

  67. Amanda

    Thank you so much for this post!

    Have you thought about doing a similar post on hair products/shampoos? It seems that there is a lot of information on the importance of low ph products for the head as well, but no lists or suggestions for products with definitively low ph levels…

  68. […] Skin and Tonics – The Importance of Fatty Acids, pH & the Moisture Barrier […]

  69. Stardust

    Thank you so much for this article, I just realized the scrub I use daily is probably contributing to my acne problems.

    Reddit link with a list of skincare products and their pH:

  70. Ori

    Hi, Great writing and very informative.
    About the face oil use, how do incorporate that in your routine?
    I know there are lots of oils that are meant for cleansing and as make up removers (spatially made use in Korean cleansing routine). But to my understanding you are referring to something else. In my routine I use toner, serum and face cream. At what point do you recommend to put on the oil?

  71. […] extra hard work for a cleanser to be that awful for your skin. (For information why pH matters see this post from Skin&Tonics.) Disgusting. I wouldn’t even use this on my […]

  72. I am new to the Asian Beauty skincare regimen, and I’ve been seeing the words “moisture barrier” used without understanding. This was extremely helpful! THANK YOU!

  73. Helen Tiffany

    I have just discovered your blog. I have been longing to find information on the acid mantle of the skin and how to maintain it. Your article is the most comprehensive I have read. I have suffered from hormonal acne since I was 14, I am now 37. My skin looks and feels thin and exhausted. Scarred and still covered every month on cystic acne. I am going to put all your recommendations into place. I live on the UK so hope I can source all the products you recommend.
    Thank you so much for a fantastic article. Your blog is beautiful, and intelligently written. I am so pleased to have stumbled upon it.

  74. […] Skin and Tonics – Introduced me to Biologique Recherche Lotion P50 and her post on the acid mantle is one of the best I’ve read. Definitely check it […]

  75. Annie

    I’ve bought pH strips and tested out my cosmetics and, hopefully, everything seems fine but one day cream and a facial mist. Is it possible to accurately test a cream, if it has oils in it? Do you happen to know any facial mists that are pH 5.5 or lower? Buying them just to test them out and realise they are alcaline doesn’t sound like a good idea and, sadly, there are no shops with korean cosmetics nearby that I could sneak into with a batch of pH strips to spray mists on them out of the tester.

  76. THIS IS SO HELPFUL!!!! Yes. Caps intended. Thank you SO much for all this amazing information!!!!

    Sophie |

    • Helen

      Isn’t it just the best article ever!!!! I am gutted that the blog doesn’t seem to be updated anymore. I think it is fantastic and have read the routines etc over and over.

  77. Diane

    I cannot tell you how obsessed I am with your site!! I have been dealing with horrible skin issues for years,sensitive, aging skin(in my 30s) acne and rosacea , its a nightmare. I am trying to find a routine with a few products and work my way up. Any suggestions for a cleanser, toner, moisturizer and treatment ? My pores are very clogged on my nose and I tend to have oily and dry patches all over along with the acne and rosacea bumps. For the past few days Ive been using LUSH Eau Roma Water/Toner but Im not sure that will cut it. I use Cervae lotion on my face mixed with a little water but I think I need something better. Alos searching for a light sunscreen. Any suggestions will help!! I am trying to work my way up to the full on Korean skincare routine!!

  78. Karin

    This is extremely interesting. I have a similar skin type (oily/dehydrated with hormonal acne, some hyperpigmentation, sometimes irritated) and at 37 I am still struggling to keep breakouts at bay. I like a very simple routine with few products and few ingredients, and I’ve been relying on products that target dehydration and sensitivity rather than traditional acne products for years ( simple milk type cleansers, olive or almond oil with lavender oil sometimes, Eucerin 5% Urea moisturizer which is a godsend for my winter dehydration, various facial sunscreens). A few years ago I started incorporating occasional glycolic acid treatments (Mene & Moy Phytic Cream) which has had a huge impact on my acne and overall skintone, but it never quite cuts it, and my skin is still so irritated around the seasonal changes. I tend to have fairly good skin in midsummer and midwinter, but very irritated, dehydrated skin with more acne than usual in-between.

    I just don’t really know what to do with it when it acts up more than usual, the combination of acne and dehydration is so hard to deal with. This sounds so much both like the kind of issues I’m having, and the few solutions that have actually worked for me. I just haven’t been able to pinpoint why some things work and some don’t.

    I’ve been thinking of switching up my cleansing products, especially, but I can’t spend a lot of money on it and I’m frankly too lazy to use more than a one-step cleanser, a day cream, a night cream, occasional treatments and possibly a toner. Cleansing oils might be the way to go, I suppose, especially considering that I wear water-resistant mascara, with an acidic toner. Any hints would be much appreciated, and I’ll have to re-read this text and your references more closely to make sure I understand the underlying chemistry, too.

    Thank you for writing such an in-depth, informative piece on this.

  79. seppinator1111

    This was such a fascinating read! I recently fell into the black hole known as Korean skincare, and have been devouring blogs like yours, chasing glorious skin. Rock on!

  80. Emma

    Hi!! I love your blog. I am trying to fix my moisture barrier. :/ Do you know of any gentle cleansers in the western market that are good for not having sulfates? I feel like they all dry out my skin. I am really trying to fix my moisture barrier! I am using Hada labo lotion, Clinique DDMG, and Vaseline.

  81. OMG – this guide is amazing. I read up on this about 6 weeks ago and made some significant changes to my routine and my skin is already looking soooo much better. I combatted acne for years, and after switching to a low-pH cleanser and adding face oils to my routine, it’s mostly dissipated! Thank you so much! I was wondering if I could link to this article in a post of my own on my blog? I’m doing a review of the Hadalabo HA Cleanser, and I believe this post is so great at explaining the pH of cleansers that I would love to add it as supplementary reading of sorts. Thank you again!

    • Kerry

      Thanks, BB! I’m glad to hear this has helped you! The pH epiphany was one of the biggest game changers for my skin as well. I really wish it was discussed more! So by all means, please link away. 😀

  82. Tiff

    This has been super educational for me! I’m going to get me some oils ASAP to test out. Do you OCM with them or simply use them as moisturizers?

    Also, would the Silk Naturals 8% AHA Toner be interchangeable with Mizon’s 8% AHA Peeling Serum? Or is an “AHA toner” a totally different thing? Can you use both in the same routine?


    • Tiff

      Also.. Do you have any thoughts on neem oil and evening primrose oil? I hear a lot of people raving about them for acne.

      There’s so many oils! Where to even start..

    • Kerry

      Hi Tiff! I haven’t used Mizon’s peeling serum, so I’m not sure what the pH is for it. But I know that the Silk Naturals AHA toner is not as exfoliating as my other 8% AHA serums because the toner pH is higher, which makes the AHA less effective as an exfoliator. :)

      • Alex

        Yea that makes sense.. I found out that the silk naturals one uses a gentler type of AHA as well, so there’s that.
        Thanks for the clarification!

        Do you think this routine of low-pH cleanser->acid toner (corsrx bha/aha toner)->facial oil covers the bare-bone necessities for a “starter” routine?

  83. Ralitsa

    I’m super confused. So you use a cleanser with a 5-6 pH and then acidic toner.. Doesn’t the toner negate the cleanser?

  84. […] year ago, Kerry at Skin & Tonics posted on “The Importance of Fatty Acids, pH & the Moisture Barrier: How I Eliminated my Acne & Decreas…,” which set off a major change in what many international fans of Korean (and Asian more […]

  85. Aden

    Hey Kerry! I have a quick question for you: I have quite badly sun damaged skin from taking Accutane a few years ago and not wearing sunscreen ONCE throughout the whole course, and I was 16 at the time, attending high school and spending a lot of time in the sun!

    Since then, my skin has completely changed. Accutane apparently works by shrinking your sebaceous glands, which prevents acne, but now my skin is so dry! It’s just so rough! Nothing I put on it, whether it’s a facial oil or moisturiser seems to actually penetrate, instead it just sits on top of my skin. Imagine spreading moisturiser on concrete. The moisturiser just isn’t going to soften that concrete at all. That’s how rough my skin feels.

    So yes, I’ve always thought my skin was just dry, but I’ve recently realised that it’s actually sun damage, which dehydrates the skin, caused skin cells to behave abnormally and the epidermis is thickened, while the dermis thins. This so makes sense! That’s why no product I put on my face works! That’s when I discovered AHA’s and retinol. AHA’s are meant to exfoliate and “thin” the epidermis, which was thickened from the sun damage. Retinol is a cell communicating ingredient that “tells skin cells to behave like younger cells” so by combing these two ingredients, I have a chance of reversing my sun damage, right?

    My question is though, should I use AHA’s in a low concentration daily, in the form of a toner or serum, or should I use a higher % AHA in the form of a peel, maybe once every two weeks (depending on the strength obviously)? It’d be more convenient for me doing the latter so it doesn’t complicate my current skin care routine by having to wait 20 minutes before applying anything else after the AHA.

    Remember, I’m trying to treat and reverse sun damage, so which will give me better results? For instance Person A uses an 8% lactic acid toner a few nights a week, and Person B uses a 40% once every two weeks. Person A and B both have equally severe sun damage. Who’s sun damage will be the most improved?

    Also, once the sun damage is gone, do I need to continue using AHA’s as maintenance? Or, now that my skin is back to normal, can I just continue to use a basic cleanser, serum, moisturiser to maintain my new “healthy” skin?

    And how would I incorporate retinol in all of this? If I’m using an AHA every few nights, is it okay to layer an OTC 2.5% retinol serum on top, or should I save it for the nights I’m not using the AHA?

    Sorry this turned into such a long post. I hope you’re able to answer it though.

    Thanks! :)

  86. Stephanie Oliveira

    Hi Kerry!

    I loved your site and work!
    I’m trying to make a skincare routine and this was a big help. I’m living in Germany (but I’m from Brazil). And this period of my life changed a lot and my skin was one of them. I’ve never been so concerned about my skin and everyday I read a lot of articles about it.
    My skin type is a little bit different from yours (combination-oily, acne prone, sensitive) but yout tipps are universal (I think).
    My question is about acid toners. How can know what type of acid suits well for my skin type? Testing one by one is the only way? And do you have any tipps to discover the best product (i.e. ingredients)?

  87. […] our skin can react in various ways to try to correct it. For some people, one of these ways is producing too much oil to compensate for the imbalance. A good toner used immediately after cleansing can quickly help […]

  88. Duygu

    What do you think of using apple cider vinegar and BHA together?

  89. […] Ever had that squeaky-clean feeling after you cleansed? That’s a sure sign that you’ve stripped the important oils from your skin. Want to learn more? This post by Skin & Tonics goes in-depth about the importance of skin pH. […]

  90. […] year ago, Kerry at Skin & Tonics posted on “The Importance of Fatty Acids, pH & the Moisture Barrier: How I Eliminated my Acne & Decreas…,” which set off a major change in what many international fans of Korean (and Asian more […]

  91. […] more about the moisture barrier check out this post from Skin & Tonics. I’ll think about using this as hand soap? Sorry, not a lot to say here, this isn’t […]

  92. […] the bad idea of testing the ph of this product (for why ph is important you can read this post from Skin & Tonics or from Snow White and the Asian Pear) and it turns out this one has a quite high ph of around 7,5 […]