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What is the Acid Mantle?

By N.M. Shanley
Updated May 21, 2024
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Human skin has an outer, protective layer called the acid mantle. This skin barrier is a thin, acidic film that keeps bacteria out of the skin cells. If the mantle is temporarily removed by harsh soaps or sun damage, the skin becomes susceptible to rashes, breakouts, and infection.

This acidic film is created when the human body combines sweat and sebum, or skin oil. The skin naturally secretes these substances, and the acidity of the mantle is measured by its pH, which is measured on a scale of 1 to 14. Healthy skin usually has a pH between 4.2 and 5.6. Skin pH can vary in different parts of the body, and men generally have a slightly higher pH than women. Substances with a pH of below 7 are acids.

The acid mantle protects the skin by killing bacteria before it can get inside the body. It also helps the skin maintain moisture and combat dehydration.

Strong alkaline soaps, which have a high pH, and excess sweating can destroy the mantle or alter its pH. If the acid mantle is stripped off the skin, bacteria can attack and infection may occur. The removal of this layer also disturbs the dead skin cells found in the top layer of skin, called the epidermis.

While too many dead skin cells on the skin’s surface can dull its appearance, a small amount of these cells play a positive role. Dead cells help keep bacteria away from healthy skin cells. If the mantle is destroyed, it will usually be replenished naturally over time, usually within two or three weeks.

Prolonged skin issues, such as acne, may be caused by an alkaline skin pH or unstable acid mantle. When the skin’s pH is no longer acidic, bacteria can constantly cause pimples. People prone to acne may want to wash with strong soaps, which can make pH levels worse, but acne treatments that focus on restoring the skin’s pH to acidic levels can help alleviate breakouts.

Skin creams are available to create a chemical protective barrier if needed. AcidMantle® is the brand name of a skin cream used primarily to treat skin irritations like diaper rash. People can help maintain a healthy acid mantle by avoiding harsh soaps and using sunscreen. Applying a daily acidic moisturizer can also help, as can using pH-balanced skin care products.

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Discussion Comments

By anon982309 — On Dec 18, 2014

Can acid mantle cream be used if you have psoriasis? Nothing seems to help and cortisone creams don't help. Tar pomade doesn't help except when I get light treatments about every 18 months. My skin is sore over my body and I remembered I used 35 years ago for an bad rash on my forearm and it cleared it up. Thought it might help. Yes or no.

By anon936861 — On Mar 03, 2014

Whether you use soap or a pH balanced syndet, the goal and result is the same - the dirt, sweat, makeup and sebum it is mixed with is removed. In fact, even washing with water alone increases the pH level of your skin and removes part of the acid mantle.

One study done on infants showed the difference in the skin's pH after washing with water, a low-pH detergent bar and soap was statistically significant, but minimal - water increased the pH by 0.19, syndet bars by .28 and soap by .45. A difference, but not a really big difference.

The difference in your skin's pH level when using an alkaline soap bar instead of a pH balanced detergent bar is smaller than the difference in your skin after washing with pure water. Another study showed that detergent degreases the skin more than soap, which means more of your natural sebum and, therefore acid mantle, is removed when using a pH-balanced detergent cleanser.

There are pros and cons to both types of cleansers, so find as simple and natural a product as possible that does not irritate your skin and use as little as necessary to clean your skin.

By anon349345 — On Sep 25, 2013

It's not just a gimmick to sell skin cream or products. In fact, regularly rubbing your face or even touching it with soap (be it chemical or natural, acidic or alkaline) can really screw things up. I had perfect skin back in the day when I never thought about it, I don't even think I washed it in the shower; I would just let the water run over my face from hitting the top of my head. The body releases sebum and sweat to create this acidic layer over your skin to kill acne! By destroying it, you can cause a vicious cycle of sensitive, acne prone skin.

Fortunately, the body is a wonderful machine. With time, the acid mantle can be restored and living without acne can be enjoyed again. Don't listen to all that crap about chemicals making your skin better. Look up some of the chemicals in your facial products online. I'm not just talking about BP and SA. Look up some of the longer names which can get quite difficult just to pronounce.

If you have acne, do yourself a favor and just let your body fight it off. People with oily skin (like me), it’s because you keep washing away your body's natural resources every morning and night. Let it sit for a while and the body will regulate itself in time. For more information, look up things like the "water only regimen" and the "caveman regimen". Also, give a thought as to what you are eating. In most cases, acne can be cured from the inside out. Things like dairy, grains, wheat, gluten, processed sugar (like candy and white breads) all play a huge role in acne.

Good luck to all of you! By the way, if you have a routine that is working for you, keep it! Skin loves consistency, but if you’re constantly getting pimple and after pimple and nothing seems to be working, give all this some serious thought.

By anon315095 — On Jan 21, 2013

I have been aware of this for the past five or six years. I always use pH correct products to be safe. This is not just something to sell products.

By robbie21 — On Jun 20, 2011

@elizabennet - Why can't it be both? If you have good skin, then clearly whatever you're doing is working for you. Skin has an acid mantle, it's not like someone made that up, but I do think there's potential for advertising campaigns to wind up just giving you one more thing to worry about when you didn't need to. For most people, "clean living," as you put it, combined with gentle soap and some SPF moisturizer, will do the job to their satisfaction.

By ElizaBennett — On Jun 17, 2011

I've never heard of this before! Be honest--is the acid mantle of the skin a real thing, or just something that companies talk about to sell skin cream? I mean, I've always had pretty good skin and I had no idea I had an acid mantle. And my regimen is Noxema, a generic version of Oil of Olay with SPF 15, and (probably the most important part), clean living!

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