Acid mantle: what it is, why it’s important and how to keep yours in top condition

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If your skin’s been playing up recently, it could be down to a damaged acid mantle. Here, Dr Ifeoma Ejikeme reveals everything you need to know about your acid mantle, including how to keep it in tip-top shape. 

If you’re suffering from dry, flaky or sensitive skin – a damaged acid mantle might be to blame. No matter how thorough your skincare routine might be, overuse of foamy cleansers and an overzealous exfoliation routine might actually be causing more harm than good. 

The good news is, fixing your acid mantle is totally do-able. And you might already own many of the products and ingredients that nourish and help to repair a damaged acid mantle already. So take note – here’s everything you need to know about your acid mantle (including how to fix it)…

What is the acid mantle?

“The ‘acid mantle’ basically describes the acidic nature of the stratum corneum (the outermost layer of the skin),” explains founder and medical director of Adonia Medical Clinic, Dr Ejikeme. “It serves a crucial part of the barrier function within the skin.” 

“Skin cells and the microbiota (the millions of bacteria, fungi and viruses that live at all times on our skin) all thrive in this acidic environment. It’s an important barrier – preventing pathogens from entering the skin and helping to prevent water loss – locking in moisture and hydration.”

At a basic level – the acid mantle keeps the bad stuff out and the good stuff in. So if your acid mantle is damaged, you might notice skin changes and issues arise. You might notice dry, flaky and itchy skin, or increased redness and sensitivity. 

How can the acid mantle be damaged?

pH changes

The skin’s optimal pH is around 5.5 – which is slightly acidic. Anything that can skew it too alkaline can disrupt its ability to function optimally. “If the pH of the skin rises too much this can disrupt this barrier function. This in turn would potentially increase the skin’s permeability, allowing bacteria into the skin and leading to rapid water loss and skin dehydration,” explains Dr Ejikeme.

Using cleansers that strip the skin

“Using harsh cleansers and some old fashioned very alkaline soaps can also disrupt the barrier function,” says Dr Ejikeme. Look for nourishing, creamy cleansers that don’t leave your skin feeling dry or tight after using. 

Overusing physical exfoliators

“Rough physical exfoliation can also damage the barrier function and acid mantle.” Instead, try chemical exfoliators and remember to always be gentle with your skin. Physical exfoliators (or rough skincare tools, brushes and sponges) could create micro-tears in the skin and damage the delicate acid mantle. 

What products and ingredients can help to protect and nourish the acid mantle?

Ideally you want to look for products that are pH balanced (around 5.5). “Hydrating ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, panthenol, glycerin and ceramides as well as vitamin C are all great in helping fortify the skin barrier.”

Protect your acid mantle with these nourishing skincare picks

  • Dr Jart+ Ceramidin Cream

    Packed with five ceramides, hyaluronic acid and botanical extracts, this soothing moisturiser fends off itch-inspiring dryness and rough texture for a gloriously smooth and dewy complexion.

    Shop Dr Jart+ Ceramidin Cream, £12 at Cult Beauty

    buy now

  • Marie Reynolds Goji Mallow Cleanser

    Ultra nourishing and kind to skin, this creamy cleanser leaves skin soft, supple and intensely hydrated – while removing all traces of make-up. Genius. 

    Shop Marie Reynolds Goji Mallow Cleanser, £31.99 at Marie Reynolds London 

    buy now

  • Medik8 Hydr8 B5 Intense

    If you’re in the market for a gold standard hydrator, this Medik8 one ticks all the boxes. It’s formulated with glycerin, multiple weights of hyaluronic acid and panthenol to deeply nourish the skin from within. 

    Shop Medik8 Hydr8 B5 Intense £55 at Cult Beauty 

    buy now

  • The Nue Co Barrier Culture Moisturiser

    This clever moisturiser works to help your skin maintain a perfect pH level as well as strengthen your skin’s delicate ecosystem. A great choice for dry, sensitive or spot-prone skin types. 

    Shop The Nue Co Barrier Culture Moisturiser, £45

    buy now

  • Sunday Riley ICE Ceramide Moisturizing Cream

    Packed with strengthening ceramides, this cooling moisturiser enriches your skin with essential hydration while strengthening the skin’s barrier against environmental stressors.

    Shop Sunday Riley ICE Ceramide Moisturizing Cream, £20 at Selfridges

    buy now

  • The Inkey List Hyaluronic Acid Serum

    You don’t have to spend a fortune for good skincare. The Inkey List’s Hyaluronic Acid is one of the best. 

    Shop The Inkey List Hyaluronic Acid Serum, £5.99 at Boots

    buy now

  • Zelens Hyaluron Intense Hydro-Plumping Serum

    Powered by three pure forms of hyaluronic acid, this serum is a dream for dry and dehydrated skin types. Don’t want to splash out? Try the £20 tester vials and see how you get on. 

    Shop Zelens Hyaluron Intense Hydro-Plumping Serum, £20 at Cult Beauty

    buy now

  • CeraVe Your Best Skin AM Duo

    CeraVe are the masters in ceramides and this little duo is the perfect simple skincare routine for anyone looking to strengthen and protect their skin barrier. 

    Shop CeraVe Your Best Skin AM Duo, £22.50 at Lookfantastic

    buy now

Main image credit: Getty 

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