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What is the “acid mantle” and why should you care?

  • 5 min read

The acid mantle is the outermost protective barrier that covers our skin. Without it, your skin is wide open for invasion and dehydration. The acid mantle, is a combination of sebum (oil) produced by your sebaceous glands and amino acids found in your sweat. Combined, they form a thin protective film that’s your first line of defense against harmful bacteria, viruses, fungi, pollen, pollution and other environmental threats. It also helps protect you from trans epidermal water loss, aka skin dehydration.

To better understand how your acid mantle works, we need to first talk about pH. pH is the measure of how acidic or alkaline (basic) a solution is. It’s on a scale from 1 (most acidic) to 14 (most alkaline). A pH of 7 is considered neutral. Skin pH varies person to person, with everyone falling into a range between 4 and 7. Having an acidic pH is vital for proper barrier function. An acidic environment allows the good microbes that make up our skin’s microbiome to thrive, while preventing harmful microbes from infiltrating.

There are numerous threats to our natural pH levels, most commonly soaps and other skin care products that can actually raise your pH and push it out of favorable levels. For example, a higher pH encourages the growth of a bacteria named propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes). And as I’m sure you guessed from the name, this bacteria plays a major role in many forms of acne.

What can damage your acid mantle?

There are several factors that can disrupt your natural pH and the acid mantle. The most common factors are:

Soaps and cleansers: Just by their nature, soaps have a higher pH and can raise skin pH levels. Ever wash with soap and have your skin feel tight and “squeaky clean” after? Damaged acid mantle. Harsh facial cleansers can be just as bad. That super lathery beard wash likely achieves that nice foamy action through ingredients with high pH. It’s important to look for cleansers that include hydrating ingredients such as aloe, glycerin, and moisturizing oils such as jojoba. Our Daily Face + Beard Cleanser is designed specifically to protect your acid mantle and support a healthy microbiome.

Fragrances in skincare: Fragrances are the skincare industry’s dirty little secret. There are thousands of different synthetic fragrance ingredients used in men’s skincare products and they don’t have to tell you what harsh chemicals they’re using to create that fragrance. If you see “fragrance” listed on an ingredient label it could represent five chemicals or 500 different chemicals. Dermatologists have long recommended fragrance-free products to those with sensitive skin and now we’re starting to better understand their negative effects on your acid mantle and microbiome. That’s not to say all fragrance chemicals are bad — some are totally safe — but there is no way for you to know which ones make up that “fragrance” listed on the bottle.

Age: As we age, our skin naturally becomes more alkaline. As the pH level rises, so does the tendency for our skin to become dry and damaged. That’s why it is important to incorporate a daily moisturizer into your grooming routine. 

How do I know if my acid mantle is damaged?

When the acid mantle is damaged, it can allow for harmful microbes to enter the skin and can cause skin dehydration. Common issues associated with barrier dysfunction include:

-Flaky, patchy skin
-Dry, irritated skin
-Premature aging
-Increased acne/breakouts
-Skin sensitivity

Damage to your acid mantle is also partially responsible for acne, rosacea, psoriasis and eczema according to numerous medical studies.

How can I fix/improve my acid mantle?

When it comes to your acid mantle, doing less is more. Our bodies have an amazing ability to self correct if given the opportunity. Just because you used a soap that raised your skin’s pH doesn’t mean it stays at that elevated level forever — over time your body corrects itself. It does become problematic if you consistently throw your pH levels out of whack or consistently use products that send your skin into corrective overdrive.

Here are four simple steps to help rebuild your acid mantle:

Step One - stop using harsh soaps/over washing - Your skin shouldn’t feel tight after washing. If so, the cleanser is too harsh for your skin. And unless your job/environment demands it, you don’t really need to wash your face more than once a day. Preferably in the evening (to wash away the day’s grim), using warm (not hot) water. Our probiotic face + beard wash is specifically designed to treat your skin and acid mantle with the respect it deserves.

Step Two - Don’t over exfoliate. Strong chemical exfoliants and harsh physical exfoliants can further damage your acid mantle. That’s why we designed our probiotic charcoal sugar scrub to have just the right amount of “umph” without being too aggressive. Even with a properly balanced exfoliator, too much of a good thing is bad. If you have sensitive skin, exfoliate once a week. If you have oily skin, don’t exceed three times a week.

Step Three - Moisturize. By nature cleansers are going to temporarily raise your pH and disrupt some of your acid mantle. Applying the appropriate moisturizer after washing helps to seal in your skin’s moisture while sending reinforcements to your skin’s acid mantle. Ideally, apply within sixty seconds of washing/towel drying to really trap the hydration.

Look for a moisturizer that contains ingredients such as glycerin, hyaluronic acid and probiotics. These ingredients can help replenish lost moisture and repair the skin barrier. All of them (and then some) can be found in our new probiotic daily facial moisturizer. You can learn more about it here.

Step Four - Simplify. 10 step skincare routines raise a whole host of problems for your acid mantle and microbiome. Look for high quality, pH focused, multifunctional products.


stubble + ‘stache is a Certified B-Corp™ and service disabled veteran owned small business. All of our packaging is made from recycled plastic and with each order, we remove five plastic bottles from the ocean. While our products are formulated with facial hair in mind, all of our products can be used by all, regardless of gender or beard status. Proudly made in the USA with ingredients responsibly sourced from some of the most exotic places on earth.

*This article is intended to be helpful and educational. It’s not intended to replace treatment from a medical professional. If you have ongoing skin concerns, it is important to see your healthcare provider. Skin issues can have an impact on our mental health and it is important to know there are treatments available for even the most severe cases of acne and other conditions. You deserve to live a happy, healthy life and should never hesitate to seek treatment be it for a skin condition or other physical/mental concern.

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