What is the Acid Mantle?

What can damage it?



How do we cope with the impact of hard tap water?

Can you get your head around the fact that the thing that protects us from the big, wide world is about 1/3 the thickness of one thin dime. That's it! That's all that stands between you and the vast reaches of space. This tiny barrier is a miracle of nature which can be easily damaged. Our bathing habits and choice of cleaning products in the modern 1st world is totally out of sync with the homeostasis of our skin, and our evolutionary biology.  Washing twice or even just once a day was UNHEARD of until less than 100 years ago, when weekly bathing for the vast majority of Americans became the norm. 100 years before that, even that was not common. Go way back and we have to assume that "bathing" was pretty much unheard of. Add to this the fact that the vast majority of people are now bathing exclusively with synthetic detergents. 

In early advanced civilizations skin cleaning and health was achieved with herbal preparations and soapy natural substances. These practices stood the test of time for thousands of years.  It is true that the introduction of synthetic soap, and the increasing habit of regular hand washing, greatly reduced the spread of infectious diseases right before the widespread use of antibiotics to treat disease. But I do not believe in the myth that before the modern era that everyone's life was misery and pain, brutish and short.  Studies of indigenous people the world over, coupled with ample archaeological evidence proves that many populations of early humans enjoyed extremely strong, healthy, vibrant, glowing skin well into a ripe old age. Along with excellent physical and mental health, and sunny dispositions! 

Our fall from harmony with the natural rhythms of nature has far reaching consequences. But I digress ... back to our skin and how to help it be strong and resilient with NOURISHING SKIN CARE TRADITIONS 

What is the Acid Mantle and How Does it Function

Add the acid mantle to the long list of bodily functions which doesn't receive much attention but which can easily be at the root of skin issues, or be making them worse.   

Our skin is made up of layers. The very top layer, the Stratum Corneum, has a thin, protective hydro-lipid layer on it. "Hydro" for moisture and "lipid" for sebum. This is the Acid Mantle.  This film is created on the very top surface of the skin with excretions from the sebaceous glands mixed with compounds including lactic acid, cholesterol, ceramides and amino acids. The acid mantle is our front line of defense against invading bacteria, viruses, toxins, pollutants, dust, pollen, etc. 

The acid mantle is also where your skin's community of microbes resides; the skin's microbiome.  MILLIONS if not BILLIONS of microscopic creatures perform vital biological functions there. We are just starting to understand the many roles these beneficial creatures play in protecting us from our often hostile environment. Research suggests they play an important role in our immune system. By preserving and nurturing the acid mantle we also nurture our skin's native flora. LEARN MORE ABOUT OUR SKIN MICROBIOME

What can damage the Acid Mantle


over exfoliation

washing with synthetic soaps and cleanser

over use of harsh chemical peels and acids like Retin A. 

Bathing and washing with hard tap water.

If we knew better how the acid mantle functions we would take better care of it!  It's surprisingly easy to damage it. Unknowingly, we do not care properly for this microscopic film. Even just stepping from dry, air conditioned spaces to hot, humid outdoors, or going outside on a cold day in a dry climate can alter skin function for a moments.

Premature skin aging, wrinkles, sun-damage, acne, rosacea, eczema, dermatitis, can all be caused or made worse when you have an impaired acid mantle.  

We are often very hard on our skin. Serious damage can be done by physically over-exfoliating, either too often or with too much force. More long term damage can result from the repeated use of harsh chemical peels. 

Risky practices adopted by those seeking natural alternatives turn to DIY creations which can also be dangerous. Without proper knowledge, formulating something which will benefit, not harm skin, requires more information that most home crafters possess. For instance, baking soda is a real no-no! It has a very alkaline pH, which is very damaging to the acid mantle and will cause harm! Poorly preserved products are also a big issue when seeking natural alternatives from small batch manufactures, due in part to very little over sight of cosmetic safety guidelines. 

Our modern lifestyles take a BIG toll on our skin health. Today we rely heavily on synthetic detergents. Many of which have proven to be quite damaging to the skin. After stripping away the Acid Mantle with SLS containing detergents, it takes our skin much longer to restore the acid mantle then after washing with natural oil soaps, pure seed oils, or old fashion Cold Cream ((I'm not talking about POND'S cold cream!)  Very few people uses these old fashion approaches to cleaning, but they are a good choice if you want to adopt more a natural approach to skincare. 

If we understand the human history of cleaning ourselves and with what, the history of how soap was discovered, and the invention of synthetic detergents we might take a new view of bathing! At the very least, it can inform our decisions about what we use to cleanse, and what techniques and habits will support healthy skin. 


Indoor plumbing, new synthetic "soaps" and new synthetic cosmetics, all introduced after WW1, have transformed the lifestyles, expectations and practices of all Americans -forever. In the 100 years which has passed our habits, expectations have been entirely altered by the explosive growth of the cosmetic, beauty, fashion, hair and skin care industries. Daily bathing and face washing was heavily promoted by marketing executives to sell all the new amazing stuff and continues to do with increasing zeal!

We have been convinced that we must bath at least once a day for proper hygiene and for aesthetic reasons.  Prior to the modern era no one bathed or washed every day!  Considering this all "just" happened, the evidence is mounting that these changes are entirely out of sync with our biology and the list of physical impacts is growing. How do we reconcile our biology and our modern, 1st world existence? Looking to the past we can glean some knowledge.

For thousands of years soap was made mostly at home from oils and fats, the old fashion way, much like your great grandmother did not so long ago! It was rather harsh and was not commonly used for bathing. It was used to clean pots, pans, laundry, and other cleaning chores (and the occasional potty mouth!) 

"Cold Creams" (not the synthetic version POND'S or similiar!) were used for thousands of years for facial care, cleansing and other skin uses. These were made at home if you could afford the ingredients; beeswax, distilled water, maybe vinegar, witch hazel or flower water, emulsified with a fat or oil. A small jar of this magic potion would have been used very sparingly a few times a week at the very most.  It was applied, then removed with a dry cloth. This simple formula not only cleaned, but nourished and maintained our skin. It was said to have been invented in Greece in the second century by a physician, but I suspect it was in use long before that.


The modern era has also brought hard water into our homes. Water containing a lot of dissolved minerals and metals is referred to as "hard water".  80-90% of all homes in America now have hard water flowing from the tap. And that means you are bathing in it, drinking it, washing  your clothes in it, and washing your face and hair in it.  And this can spell trouble for our skin. One because it doesn't rinse well, it leaves behind soap scum on your skin! And two, the affects it's alkaline pH has on the precious acid mantle. 

Human skin can only function optimally when the pH of the mantle is maintained at 4.2 to 5.6. This is slightly acidic. It is an over overlooked and under appreciated aspect of healthy skin, one which is poorly understood by most consumers of skin care products.

Like the name "acid mantle" implies, our skin needs to be in a slightly acidic state to maintain our force field. Impairments to this vital barrier and accumulation of soap scum and residues can lead to, skin disorders such as rosacea, dermatitis, itchy skin, clogged pores, outbreaks and acne. It also exacerbates them by forcing our skin into a constant state of "dis-ease" - leading easily to dry, dehydrated skin vulnerable to acute and chronic inflammation which can lead to more skin problems, and premature aging and disease. 


check this map to see how hard your water is .....

It takes 30 minutes to 4 hours or MORE for the pH to return to a healthy state and full function restored to the acid mantle after washing with any kind of foaming substance in hard or soft water.  How long this takes depends on factors such as skin health, nutritional status and deficiencies, age, what you are cleansing with, and the list goes on. Restoration of the acid mantle is further negatively impacted by bathing in alkaline water.  

In some places the pH of the water is often intentionally increased to prevent corrosive minerals from building up in pipes. The alkalinity of tap water can be as high as 9 in some locations.

Those with skin problems should take special note, because alkaline water will impact skin health and it's ability to heal. When you cleanse with any kind of soap or soapy substance you throw off the pH for a period of time during which your skin is working to restore its' protective barrier. Before the acid mantle is restored, water loss from the skin surface increases, potentially causing dryness and flaking, itching, tightness, redness and sensitivities. In this state the skin is susceptible to eczema, psoriasis, dermatitis, inflammation and acne.  Even those with skin minor issues such as occasional outbreaks or dry skin, people with infants, and anyone over 50, should look into the harness of their tap water. 

We must figure out a way to deal with hard tap water before making major changes to our skincare routines. Because just switching to natural cleansing options and changing our bathing habits might not be enough to support healthy skin or heal from chronic skin problems, which is why many of you are here reading this information!     



Making the switch to some natural cleansing options should be done slowly and with great care!  Those with normal to dry skin, or mature skin, and no major skin problems can easily switch with very little to be concerned about. 

If your skin is inflamed, blemished, irritated or highly sensitive then great caution is advise when making any changes to your routine. Proceed slowly and with caution, armed with knowledge, sound advice and rational expectations! 



For those with healthy skin, our acid mantle is restored faster after washing with pure oil soaps, pure seed oils and old fashioned Cold Creams (NOT PONDS) than with the majority of synthetic detergents. A few of the newer synthetics are quite mild and biodegradable, much better for the environment and less detrimental to the skin. I use them in some my formulas - see ingredients.

Oil soap does impact the acid mantle's pH (remember it's just a very thin fragile film) but it's able to be reestablished quickly (all things held equal). Pure seed oils, nut butters and old fashioned Cold Creams have no pH and therefore no impact on the skin's pH.  These are all good ways to maintain a healthy acid mantle.  HOWEVER, just bathing and washing in hard water will negate some if not all these benefits. Remember too that hard water is not great at rinsing and residue is left behind! This is not good for our skin, period!

So how to cope? Here are ways to help the acid mantle rebound as quickly as possible. 


Splashing and wiping with a soft cloth soaked in steamed-distilled water after washing, or any time your skin comes in contact with tap water, is beneficial for 2 reasons. First, it has a neutral pH of 7 so want disrupt the acid mantle. And second, it has a neutral pH! So using it to finishing rinsing after you wash with anything, will remove residue left by the alkaline water you washed in. These residues can easily lead to irritated skin conditions, removing soap scum will benefit everyone, especially the very young, very old, and those with the worst skin issues. 

Opting for "dry cleansing" with Cold Creams and seed oils (no water is used at all), and reducing how often you wash with ANY soap or detergent will have benefits.

Washing/scrubbing your face with just steam distilled water and a soft rag as often as possible and skipping all cleansers on days you don't wear heavy sunscreen or any makeup is a good habit, as it supports our evolutionary biology the best. It also allows our skin microbes to remain balanced which is very difficult for them to do when constantly being stripped away. Much like out guts, we are healthier when our intestinal microbes are in balance, so too is our skin healthier when the beneficial bacteria can thrive. 


The most beneficial aspect of any toner is the slightly acidic pH. Most often they contain alcohol or alcohol might be hiding in an ingredient in the formula. For this reason I prefer the very mild, nourishing tradition of using 100%, pure plant, steamed-distilled hydrosol waters. You can extract the water soluble compounds in any plant this way, making the choice of hydrosol virtually limitless!  They make, by far, the perfect natural toner: gentle, plant derived, naturally slightly acidic, alcohol free. 

If you love witch hazel for all it's amazing properties then please know that the vast majority of the witch hazel you will find in stores will have an alcohol content even if not listed on the ingredients - some alcohol is created during the process by which commercial witch hazel is made. So for the same reason we should avoid toners with alcohol we want to choose witch hazel HYDROSOL instead. It has zero alcohol content, and hundreds of plant compounds in tiny amounts to condition and nourish skin and restore pH.


It is a good idea to be very gentle with all skin at any age! The acid mantle is a very thin, easily damaged film. Over scrubbing has many downsides, this is just one.  Chemical peels and Retin A damage the acid mantle also. We really don't want to be chemically burning off the top layers of skin without a clear underlying medical reason.   

Skin hydration - How water and osmolytes influence biophysical properties of stratum corneum

DRY SKIN— IT’S A SURE THING: a look at epidermal lipids. Diana L. Howard, Ph.D. . 2005.

Moisturizers: What They Are and a Practical Approach to Product Selection

Natural (Mineral, Vegetable, Coconut, Essential) Oils and Contact Dermatitis

Well folks! That's a pretty good start to understanding how to care for your force field!  

Won't you join the conversation?

If you try any these suggestions or have experience with a damage acid mantle, please share your thoughts!