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What is the Acid Mantle and Why You Should Be using a Sulphate Free Face Wash to Protect It

Did you know that your skin had a protective layer called the acid mantle? The acid mantle is made up of sebum from the sebaceous glands, broken down by enzymes on the skin into free fatty acids, sweat, comprised of lactic acid and amino acids secreted by our bodies, and dead skin cells. All these substances contribute to the moisture barrier of our skin. The acid mantle is, not surprisingly, acidic and has a natural pH of 4.5-5.5.


The job of the acid mantle is pretty simple, protect the skin. The acid mantle provides a layer of the oils and tightly woven skin cells and lipid layers that waterproof the skin, and help the skin retain moisture by providing a barrier that stops moisture from escaping. The acid mantle also protects the skin from bacteria and fungi. This mantle is a delicate balance that can be disrupted by many factors, the most common being pollutants and environmental stresses like cold, wind, heat and commonly used facial products.


Did you know that just washing your face can damage this protective layer? It can. Most face washes and bar soaps contain surfactants. Surfactants provide a few different actions in cosmetics and products, but the most obvious is that they cause your product to foam. But they also break up surface tension, which is the cleansing benefit of the ingredient. 


"The key thing to know about surfactants is that they are chemicals which have parts that are both hydrophilic (water loving) and lipophilic (oil loving). This molecular composition means they have the ability to reduce the surface tension when placed into solutions of oil and water. In fact, the word “surfactant” is a shortened form of the phrase “surface active ingredient.” (1)


By breaking up the surface tension of both oils and water, they break down the dirt and oil on the skin so it can be washed away.  Commonly called sulfates, these ingredients also strip away these natural oils that form the acid mantle.




Most people are washing away these protective oils once or twice every day. But even more damaging is that sulfates are usually alkaline in nature, with a pH of 9-10, a far cry from the skins desirable 4.5-5.5 acidic pH. Once the pH of the skin becomes more alkaline, and no longer has the benefit of the acid mantle protection, one will begin to see the ramifications. The most common is dry skin, but you might also see acne, rashes and even con