You’ve probably heard or seen the term “pH balance” in advertisements for skin care products without ever really thinking about its importance. But if you experience bladder leaks, it’s time to learn! Here’s why.
Your skin is your body’s largest organ. It acts as a protective barrier to the outside world while maintaining fluid levels and regulating temperature inside the body. With such an important job, skin needs to stay balanced and healthy. That’s where pH comes into the picture.
The term pH stands for “potential hydrogen”—a measure of the concentration of hydrogen ions in any substance, which determines how acidic or nonacidic (alkaline) something is. The pH scale consists of 14 numbers, where the lower numbers are acidic and the higher numbers are alkaline. The number 7 on the scale is considered neutral, meaning it is neither acidic nor alkaline.
The outer layer of the skin forms a slightly acidic protection layer known as the “acid mantle.” When it’s on the level, it helps ward off bacterial growth and anything else that can damage your skin. But if it is disrupted, problems can occur. If you’re dealing with incontinence, that means maintaining the right skin pH in your vaginal area is especially important.
Ideally, skin is at its best when there is a balance between its acidity and alkalinity—with a slight preference for the acidic side. In your genitals, a pH level between 5 and 7 typically indicates your skin’s barrier is doing its job. While it isn’t easy to figure out the pH of your skin down there, if something isn’t right, your skin will usually let you know.
For those of us who leak, that can mean anything from minor discomfort to something more serious like incontinence-associated dermatitis (IAD). Excess moisture and prolonged exposure to urine can cause the skin’s pH level to become too alkaline and result in redness, peeling, irritation and greater risk of bacterial infection. Fortunately, the right bladder leak protection products and sensible skin care can help ensure skin is healthy and more resistant.
In addition to wearing absorbent, breathable, comfortable leak protection that quickly wicks moisture away from skin, using specially formulated incontinence products can help to promote good skin health and ensure the pH level is maintained. For example, liners, pads and underwear infused with baking soda offer a safe, natural buffer. As a buffer, it tends to cause acid solutions to become more basic and basic solutions to become more acid. Tests have shown these products can help neutralize the acidity of urea and ammonia in urine—as well as naturally neutralize odor more quickly—and help maintain a stable pH balance.
Then there’s basic skin care. If you’re changing incontinence products often (and you should be!), you’re probably taking special care to also wash the perineal area at the same time. Although frequent washing may seem like a good idea, exposing your skin to alkaline soaps, detergents or products containing alcohol and other harsh chemicals can disrupt the protective function of the skin.
It’s important to choose gentle ways to cleanse and refresh that are specifically designed to protect your perineal and genital skin. Check the labels for ingredients that ensure proper cleansing without causing dryness, irritation or pH imbalance. One option is personal wipes that also offer the natural buffering abilities of baking soda to help prevent urine and sweat from damaging the natural acid mantle.
You may never have really thought about pH before or wanted to learn what it means for your skin health. But knowledge is powerful. Now that you know, you’re better prepared than ever to maximize your care, comfort and confidence while managing incontinence. And that takes living a full active life to the next level!