Beauty,  Skincare

Your facial cleanser’s pH level: why does it matter?

By Gladys Yeo | UNSW FABSOC

With the rise of exciting new skincare trends (cute sheet masks, chemical exfoliants, and…face rollers?) what you use to wash your face might just be the least thrilling part of your daily skincare ritual.

Unfortunately, dropping all those coins to build your 10-step skincare routine isn’t all there is to achieving that perfect, dewy, acne-free skin. Remember, your cleanser is one of the most fundamental parts of your skincare routine, so get interested! Here’s why your facial cleanser, and specifically its pH level, matters.

Get to know your skin!

The acid mantle, also known as the moisture barrier,  is a thin film that lies on top of your skin and is made out of natural oils, dead skin cells, and sweat. As gross as it sounds, this acts as a natural barrier against bacteria and any other possible contaminants that might harm your skin, so it’s important to maintain it!

However, lots of cleansers on the market are far from that. Because of the desire for that squeaky-clean, post-cleanse feeling (no shame, we’ve all been there!) many cleansers can have a pH of up to 8.5! This is also because of the addition of foaming agents, which create that thick, foamy lather, giving you the illusion that your cleanser is really working.

But what exactly does this mean for your skin?

First of all, it is important to accept that the squeaky-clean feeling is NOT your friend! While it leaves you feeling like you’ve gotten all the gunk and makeup off your skin, what it actually means is that your acid mantle has been stripped away.

With your natural barrier being damaged, this means your skin is now more vulnerable to bacteria, and this can trigger breakouts of bacterial acne. Those with sensitive skin might also observe peeling and redness, as the skin is more easily irritated by external pollutants.

Your acid mantle also helps hold moisture in your skin, and messing it up means your skin loses water more rapidly. This leaves your skin feeling dehydrated and dull and could lead to excess production of oil in the long run as your skin attempts to make up for the lost moisture!

So…what should you use!?

Now that we’ve established the importance of a good, low-pH cleanser, here are some of my personal favourites…and undoubtedly also some popular holy grails among skincare nerds. These are all affordable options, so you don’t have to worry about breaking the bank!

COSRX Good Morning Low pH Cleanser

An all-time K-beauty staple, this COSRX cleanser has a pH of 5.0-6.0 and is a gel cleanser that is gentle, yet effective in removing dirt and grime from your skin. It also contains tea tree oil, making it suitable for acne-prone skin. I would recommend this for oiler skin types, as it is a little on a stronger side compared to the other cleansers in this list!

Etude House Soonjung pH 6.5 Whip Cleanser

For those who can’t let go of a foamy, bubbly cleanser, this is the perfect option! This pH 6.5 cleanser boasts a light, whipped cream texture and contains panthenol and madecassoside to soothe irritated skin, making it especially suitable for those with sensitive skin.

Krave Beauty Matcha Hemp Hydrating Cleanser

This is my personal all-time favourite! One of the staple products from Krave Beauty, a brand developed by Youtuber Liah Yoo, this cleanser has a pH of 5.0-6.0. This is described as a gel cleanser, though it really has more of a dense, jam-like texture. It’s key ingredients are matcha for its soothing and antioxidant properties, and hemp seed oil, which is hydrating and anti-inflammatory.

CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser

This 5.5 pH cleanser is a cult favourite amongst beauty gurus, and contains ceramides, a type of fatty acid that makes up part of the moisture barrier and is essential in restoring and maintaining it.

Glossier Milky Jelly Cleanser

The unique jelly texture of this cleanser has made waves in online beauty communities. This pH 4.5-5.0 cleanser can be used on dry skin to remove light makeup, or on damp skin as a facial wash.


Sebum is a natural component of your skin’s acid mantle, and is there to protect you! Whilst it is good to wash away EXCESS sebum, you should never try to completely strip your skin with a high pH cleanser! Until next time…happy cleansing!

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