Understanding the Skins Acid Mantle

A Healthy Acid Mantle = Healthy, Glowing Skin

For those who have studied the skin at a professional level, you will be all too familiar with the acid mantle and the important role in plays in maintaining skin health. However I still find it to be one of the most misunderstood and ignored elements of our skin and in many cases its integrity is destroyed when it comes to treating our skin with professional treatments and homecare products.

We all know the feeling of washing our face with a new cleanser or scrub only to experience a tight dry feeling immediately after use, well this is a prime example of your acid mantle being ‘stripped’ away! Usually when this happens it is an indicator that the product used is not correct for your skins needs, especially when it comes to cleansers, one of the most incorrectly used products in the world of skincare.  From a professional perspective, if a client presents to you with dry, sensitive, inflamed skin well then your first conclusion should be that they have an impaired acid mantle and barrier function. But what exactly is that and how would you treat it?

What is the Acid Mantle?

The acid mantle of your skin is an invisible protective film that sits on the skins surface. It is a slightly acidic film, that’s primary role is to act as the first line of defence in our skins barrier function (it is important to maintain this acidic environment as pathogenic bacteria thrive in alkaline environments). It works hard to keep bacteria, viruses and microbes from penetrating the skin – it is in effect the barrier between your skin and the outside world. Sometimes you will hear the acid mantle referred to as a ‘hydrolipidic film’ which means a film of oil and water. At it’s most simple this mantle is a combination of the secretions of oil from the sebaceous glands and sweat from the eccrine glands.

To break it down a bit further the anatomy of the acid mantle is:

  • Water
  • Lactic Acid
  • Urocanic Acid
  • Fatty Acids (Sebum)
  • Pyrrbidine Carboxylic Acid
  • Amino Acids secreted by eccrine glands

It is the combination of these secretions that enable the acid mantle to function by:

  • Protecting against external environmental factors
  • Secreting enzymes that help breakdown excess sebum
  • Keep skin soft and supple
  • Controls water movement through the epidermis (prevents Trans Epidermal Waterloss/TEWL)
  • Prevents bad bacteria and viruses entering the blood stream
  • Boosts immune system
  • Plays a key role in the formation of Vitamin D. The acid mantle contains a fatty acid substance called 7 dehyrocholesterol which interacts directly with UV rays of the sun to produce Vitamin D.
Source: LiveCrude.com

So you see the acid mantle should not be ignored, as its function is a vital component to not just skin but overall health by keeping many viruses and bacteria at bay and forming essential vitamins. But what should you as a skin therapist look out for to correctly assess the condition of your clients acid mantle? As mentioned above a primary indicator is skin which presents as dry/dehydrated/feeling tight, itchy, inflamed or sensitised.

Key Indicators of an Impaired Acid Mantle:

  • Limited sebaceous gland excretions, skin may be lipid dry or EFA deficient, this is when your skin is literally stripped of the much needed oils and sebum through use of incorrect skincare products and treatments
  • Skin has a reactive/rosacea appearance (there is a direct link between an impaired acid mantle and rosacea)
  • It can appear hot/burning
  • Possibly itchy
  • Shows signs of excess keratinisation
  • Indicates loss of structural integrity
  • Marks and scars easily
  • Chronic alkalisation can knock the acid mantle out of balance which can lead to atopic skin diseases

Immediately you will recognise that these indicators can be common with other skin concerns and for some this is confusing. But common sense should tell you that if your client has inflamed, dehydrated skin, well then the acid mantle is most definitely not healthy and any treatments or products recommended should work to repair and support a healthy mantle. You need build and restore strength, integrity and structure of the acid mantle, before moving onto treating any other skincare issues. If the acid mantle fails to do its job then a domino effect occurs which will lead to more serious skin conditions and complaints.  Any skincare products used at home should always work to support the acid mantle and maintain is health not undermine its integrity.

For these reasons it is important to recognise what can impair the skins acid mantle and barrier function and actively avoid them.  As always educating your clients of the same is a must.

What Impairs the Acid Mantle?

  • Genetics – you could be predisposed to this, however an external factor is more likely in most cases
  • Incorrect products – using products not suited to your skin type is a common cause. T
  • Poorly formulated products – using products packed with cheap fillers and astringent ingredients (denatured alcohol for example) or SLSs (Sodium Lauryl Sulphates)
  • Topical Antibiotics – perhaps you have a chronic skin condition that your doctor has prescribed topical antibiotics/steroid creams for and the result is damage to the acid mantle
  • Soap – please don’t use soap to cleanse your face and if you can avoid it your body too (I am referring to the traditional bars of soap and cheap hand soaps here)

How to Repair the Acid Mantle

To treat an impaired acid mantle, you need to be gentle, really gentle – like you are dealing with a newborn baby. Stop or don’t start any harsh exfoliation. Once you have analysed your clients skin and recognised any issue with the acid mantle, decide on a suitable home-care routine with your client that will allow them to get their skins barrier strong and healthy. In salon recommend a course of calming, nourishing facials that will repair and restore. Realistically it can take anywhere between 14 – 21 days for the acid mantle to repair itself with the aid of correct treatment, so home-care is key. Make sure their home care products do not contain any skin stripping, astringent ingredients and ideally are fragrance (or at the very least synthetic fragrance) free (note if you have skincare products that contain ‘Parfum’ on the ingredient list, bin it). Treat the skin with a nourishing gentle and as natural as possible cleanser and include an EFA rich serums (also look for ones containing cross linked Hyaluronic Acid), followed by a heavy duty moisturiser with occlusive properties (make sure that it doesn’t have comedogenic ingredients such as cocoa butter) that will work to keep moisture in the skin and avoid TEWL, which leads to dehydration. A facial spritz is important for keeping skin hydrated however these products are useless when used alone, you need to layer them. Spray the spritz liberally over the face after cleansing, ensuring it is saturated, follow with an EFA rich serum and finish with  moisturiser – these three steps together are essential to rehydrate the skin, any one step applied in isolation will not only be less effective, but they could exasperate dehydration, by encouraging TEWL.  This routine should be repeated twice daily and needs to be consistent. It can be supplemented with a hydrating gentle, moisturising mask once or twice a week and for those who feel the need to exfoliate, use a warm (not hot) facecloth to remove the cleanser in a gentle buffing motion. Ensure to drink plenty of water to facilitate healthy cell turnover and that the diet is packed with skin loving, naturally occurring, omega rich foods, a good nutriceuatical skin supplement can also be recommended to your client.

The combination of a good routine, using proper skincare products that treat not terrorise the skin and professional in salon treatments will provide amazing results, while ensuring your client has a healthy skin that is more receptive to future skincare treatments to address other concerns – some of which will most likely have been eliminated or diminished through the repair of the acid mantle!


The Naked Chemist


Florence Barrett Hill – Advanced Skin Analysis


  1. Thank you! After the acid mantle is repaired, can you start using a cleaning brush, like the clarisonic, more frequently?

    1. Hi Sheri, thanks for your comment. To be honest I don’t really advocate the use of clarisonic or similar at all. I find them far too abrasive, unhygienic and people tend to overuse them. I prefer to use a microfibre cloth or washcloth as part of a double cleanse at night (on the days I wear make-up) and gently buff the skin in circular motions – I find this a great way to deep cleanse and gently exfoliate. I do use (when I remember) a silicone sonic cleanser, such as the Foreo which I find much more hygienic and effective than traditional brush cleansers. You don’t need to go the expense of Foreo – there are many more realistically priced ones on the market which do an identical job. Hope this helps.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.