We’ve all lost our balance at one time or another. Walking across a log stretched over a creek bed, striking tree pose in yoga class, learning how to surf, sheltering in place for eight weeks. You fall, maybe you get wet or you stumble, maybe you catch yourself. Maybe you drink too much wine. No matter what, that moment where you lose your balance is a moment of uncertainty.
The same principle applies to both hair and skin. When the pH of either is out of balance it directly affects the health of each. The trick is always finding the balancing point.
Our Founder, Britta Cox, sat down with Ada Polla, CEO of skincare line Alchimie Forever for a virtual conversation about skin, hair and striking that perfect, healthy balance in caring for both. Here is what we learned from them, about how our self-care habits have an effect on our skin and hair health.
THE POWER OF pH
To find the right balance it’s important to understand what pH is. Those two short letters together, pH, stands for the “potential of hydrogen”, a measure of acidity and alkalinity where a value of 7 represents neutrality. Numbers lower than 7 indicate an increase in acidity and numbers higher than 7 indicate an increase in alkalinity. Tap water in most homes ranges in pH from 7-9+ (San Francisco tap water has a pH of 9.6, NYC tap water has a pH of 7). The high pH of tap water alone can cause hair cuticles to raise, allowing hair to take on water, swell, stretch, and become weak.
ADA on SKIN
“The slightly acidic pH pf the skin is called the ‘acid mantle’ and is necessary to maintain the skin’s healthy barrier function. The goal is not for the skin to have a ‘neutral’ pH, but instead it is to preserve its natural pH levels.”
Skin wants to be at a pH of 5-5.5, so always think about your skin care products’ pH and how that will impact the skin. A product with an acidic pH (lower than 7) will typically penetrate more deeply (think acidic chemical peels for example). A product with a neutral pH will typically not impact the skin’s own pH much. A product with a pH higher than the skin’s natural pH will typically sit on the skin’s surface and not be driven down to deeper layers (like a product with acidic pH will). This is good for products like sunscreens which you want to have sitting on top of your skin and working at the skin’s surface.
A product with a basic pH (higher than 7) will typically strip away the skin’s sebum and natural oils. As such, depending on your water’s pH (typically 7 or higher), cleansing your skin will always have somewhat of a drying effect.
“When your skin’s pH gets out of whack, the way to restore it is to apply a product that is pH balanced to the skin. That is part of the purpose of toners, but a toner is not always necessary after cleansing if your cleanser is not disrupting the skin’s pH (although toners always feel wonderful),” says Ada.
BRITTA on HAIR
“Hair has a natural, fatty lipid layer known as the 18 MEA layer. This layer is what protects hair from environmental stressors and keeps hair healthy and shiny.”
Hair, in its optimal state, is slightly acidic, with a pH between 4.5 and 5.5. Maintaining this optimal pH supports the outer protective layer—the 18 MEA layer—which acts as a natural seal over the hair cuticles, helping them to lay flat and closed, both layers working in tandem to protect the hair's cortex. The natural acidity also helps to prevent the growth of fungus and bacteria and protect hair from environmental stressors. When all is in balance the result is resilient, strong and shiny hair.
We need water to cleanse our hair effectively, keeping in mind that too much water can actually do damage. When hair is submerged in water or stays wet for prolonged periods of time, water penetrates the hair causing it to stretch and swell, raising the hair cuticles and leaving hair vulnerable to further damage. Excessive exposure to water plus overusing shampoo will wash away naturally produced oils, leaving hair stripped and vulnerable. Being aware of how your hair behaves in different scenarios where it is exposed to water will help you find the best balance for your hair.
LESS IS MORE - Skin
“You want to be sure you’re cleansing in a way that is gentle enough that you’re not disrupting the microbiome.” – Ada Polla
ADA recommends choosing a facial cleanser based on how your skin is feeling on any given day and the weather.
There are three types of cleansers:
- Foaming cleansers have a soapy feel and won’t strip skin if well-formulated. They give a squeaky clean feel. Recommended for oilier skin types. Be careful not to over-strip skin or it will overproduce sebum to replace what was removed.
- Cream cleansers are lotion-like, don’t foam, and leave skin cleansed. In cold weather or arid climates, oily or combo skin types benefit from cream-based cleansers.
- Oil cleansers are ideal if you wear a lot of makeup. Oil breaks oil and will remove makeup effectively.
Cleansing in the evening is necessary, during the day your skin has been subjected to sweat, pollution, and makeup. Sweat will disrupt the skin’s pH and the salt from sweat plus sebum can lead to breakouts if not properly cleansed. The face should always be cleansed immediately after exercising. Ada’s personal routine is to wash her face at night with a foaming, purifying cleanser and then rinse her face with water in the morning, with a soft cream cleanser.
When choosing a moisturizer, you want one that features an oil that is as close as possible in chemical composition to human sebum, so your skin recognizes that oil as its own or close to it, without causing breakouts. If you have oilier skin, it will also recognize the oil and help to have a balancing and regulating effect on skin. Alchimie Forever uses jojoba oil in their products as it’s close to human sebum.
“Remember that sometimes the purpose of oils is to have an occlusive effect on the skin. The goal is not always for the oil to penetrate, sometimes it’s actually to sit there as a shield so the moisture in your skin cannot get lost.”
LESS IS MORE – Hair
“Our ingredient philosophy is we want safe and effective products that work while supporting the natural intrinsic strength and health of the hair. We focus on formulations with minimal ingredients that let the hair naturally be and don’t weigh it down.” – Britta Cox
A lot of products provide cosmetic results without really helping your hair. Ask yourself, has conventional haircare worked for your hair? The primary goal of haircare should be to take the best possible care of your hair, and to help it achieve and maintain its healthiest, natural state. The AQUIS Prime System involves making a few simple tweaks to your normal routine. Each step helps to maintain pH balance and prevent water damage to hair, both of which are vital to protect hairs integral strength and natural beauty.
“Most oils sit on top of hair. Coconut oil is one of the only oils with a molecular size small enough to penetrate the hair.”
Simple steps for healthy, happy hair:
- Mist AQUIS Water Defense PreWash before showering, swimming or exercising to help protect hair from water, chemicals, sweat and salt. (Link to sweat effect blog) Formulated with coconut oil to help make hair hydrophobic.
- Washing hair fewer times per week allows the scalp to maintain its optimum pH level, balance natural oil production, and prevent water damage. How often you wash will vary from person to person depending on lifestyle and activities.
- Keep hair up and dry when you step in the shower and wait until the end to wet hair and shampoo, keeping water exposure to a minimum.
- Use an AQUIS hair towel or turban to wick water away from hair quickly and gently, preventing water damage.
- Avoid in-shower conditioners which can trap water in hair causing damage. Use a lightweight leave-in conditioner on damp hair to receive the greatest benefits. For those with curly hair who need a bit more moisture, try using less in-shower conditioner, and supplementing with a lightweight leave-in conditioner on damp hair.
- Use AQUIS Detoxifying Hair & Scalp Wash every 3-4 washes to remove mineral and product buildup from hair.
Keeping both hair and skin at its optimal pH level is vital to the health, strength, and youthfulness of each. In order to maintain a healthy pH, start by taking care of the natural protectants Mother Nature gave you, and choose safe and gentle products formulated to support them.