Sebum, Sweat, Skin pH and Acid Mantle
Sebum is an oily secretion produced by sebaceous glands – tiny ducts adjacent to hair follicles. Sebum is secreted into the follicle, from which it spreads over the hair and skin. The main role of sebum is to waterproof the skin and hair.
Both excess and lack of sebum are undesirable. Excess sebum is associated with oily skin and acne. It is particularly common in adolescents as the increased levels of sex hormones stimulate sebum production. Lack of sebum, which is common in middle and older age, leads to skin dryness and accelerates wrinkle formation.
Sweat is a salty, watery solution produced by sweat glands – numerous microscopic channels opening onto the skin surface. As sebum and sweat mix up on the skin surface, they form a protective layer often referred to as the acid mantle.
The acid mantle has a particular level of acidity characterized by pH from about 4 to 5.5. A pH of 7 is considered neutral, above 7 is alkaline, and below is acidic. The pH of acid in the human stomach, for example, is usually from 1 to 2, which is highly acidic.
The skin, on the other hand, is mildly acidic. In addition to helping protect skin from “the elements” (such as wind or pollutants), the acid mantle also inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria and fungi. If the acid mantle is disrupted or loses its acidity, the skin becomes more prone to damage and infection.
The loss of the acid mantle is one of the side effects of washing the skin with soaps or detergents of moderate or high strength.