There are so many reasons to love baking soda. It’s a miracle product that can do so many things. It deodorizes. It cleans. You can mix it with vinegar to clean out a stubborn drain. Plus, it’s really inexpensive!
It’s no wonder that DIY enthusiasts are obsessed with baking soda. This product is the little engine that could.
What can’t it do?
It can’t cleanse and exfoliate your skin.
The Baking Soda Myth
There are so many Pinterest posts and DIY beauty articles that laud baking soda as the coolest thing to come before (or after) sliced bread.
Baking soda is touted as an inexpensive way to take care of your skin. You can mix it with water or your normal cleanser to make an exfoliating paste, or you can mix it with lemon for a “skin brightening” treatment. Sounds great, right?
Except that many of these recommendations ignore the detrimental effects of how baking soda interacts with your skin. Before you decide to slap this paste on your face, you should know the facts.
What is Baking Soda?
First, we need to understand what’s in baking soda (beside fridge smells, if you keep yours in the fridge).
Baking soda is an odorless, white, crystalline powder. It’s a salt composed of sodium ions and bicarbonate ions.
The pH of Baking Soda
Baking soda has a pH of about 8.3, which classifies it as a weak base.
What Does pH Even Mean?
For those of us who zoned out in chemistry class, here’s a quick pH refresher.
- A pH of 7 is neutral.
- Anything below 7 is acidic.
- Anything above 7 is alkaline (also known as “basic”).
What is your skin made of, exactly?
Skin is the body’s largest organ, and it acts as a barrier for everything from temperature and moisture to germs and toxic substances. Every layer of the skin is not created equally. Different parts of the skin perform different and equally vital tasks. There is the epidermis (top layer), the dermis (the middle layer), and the subcutis (the deepest layer)1.
What’s on Top of Your Skin?
Because our skin protects us from so much, we often think of it as our outermost defense. In a general sense, this is true. If we look more closely, though, the skin comes with a couple of its own built-in protective barriers.
The Acid Mantle
The acid mantle is a thin coating on top of your skin that keeps your skin at a slightly acidic pH of 4 to 5. This mild acidity is important because it protects against bacteria (yuck) and promotes healthy flora (sounds yuck, but is really important for maintaining healthy, beautiful skin).2
The pH of the acid mantle can get thrown out of whack. Have you ever washed your face and gotten a dry, tight feeling? What about that “squeaky” clean sensation? That’s a sign that the pH of your skin’s acid mantle has been disrupted.
The Lipid Layer
The lipid layer is another thin layer of protection for skin. Lipids are fatty oils secreted by the sebaceous glands. In addition to its protection duties, the lipid layer also helps you to retain moisture and necessary electrolytes.3
Why Baking Soda is a Huge “No”
When you’re washing your face (or exfoliating– we all have to get our scrub on now and again), the goal is to wash away a day’s worth of dirt, oil and makeup. Baking soda is going to scrub all the way down. That’s what makes it great in unclogging drains. It cleans out all that gunk. The difference is that there is a heck of a lot more build-up to break through in your drain than there is on your face, even though sometimes it doesn’t feel that way if you’re wearing a heavy foundation.
If you use baking soda as a cleanser or an exfoliant, it’s going to go way too deep. Think of Bruce Willis drilling a hole into the asteroid in Armageddon. You don’t want to go that deep. Baking soda is going to scrub past your lovely acid mantle and lipid layers and upset the balance on your face.
Instead of giving you the satisfaction of a deep clean, it will go too far in the opposite direction, making your skin vulnerable and overly dry. The catch-22 here is that when you dry out your skin too much, it tends to kick oil production into high gear to compensate.
This could result one or two things (or both!):
- You could wind up with oilier, blemish-prone skin in the end
- You could be left with red, blotchiness from the irritation of that rough scrubbing.
But the best reason to avoid the ol’ Arm ‘n Hammer DIY beauty treatment is it may speed up aging!
Because, as you know, the best defense against signs of aging is keeping your skin hydrated with a good moisturizer. So, when you reach for the baking soda, you may actually be working to age your face prematurely. Sure, it’s cheap and may be a good substitute for toothpaste when you’re in a pinch, but it’s expensive when it comes to the damage it can do on the face.
What You Should Be Looking For Facial Cleaners
In the age before hi-tech facial cleansing brushes, cleansing was the most boring part of a skincare routine. Now, people have gotten hip to how important a good cleansing regimen is to maintaining healthy skin.
The problem is that many are still chasing that “squeaky clean” feeling that can do more damage than good.
Stinging, burning, and irritation are all ways that your skin tells you that it’s being stripped of necessary oils. Many people gravitate towards a cleanser that foams or creates suds. They hang on to the false notion that it cleans better. This isn’t true, and the surfactants (the stuff that makes the suds) in these cleansers can actually irritate the skin.4
A cleanser should leave your skin feeling fresh and hydrated. Gentle cleansers are designed to remove dirt and pollution, along with built-up grease, and makeup. You should not be left with that tell-tale tight feeling after you’ve rinsed and patted dry.
There Has to Be a Better Way
Luckily, we are living in the age of gentle cleansers. There’s a plethora of options available for every skin type, and they’ll all leave you clean without stripping the dickens out of your skin.
Look for a cleanser without any harsh surfactants – that’s a fancy word for cleansing agent. The biggest lesson we can learn from the baking soda myth is that the ingredients used to clean your house shouldn’t be used on your face. For that reason, it’s best to stay away from sulfates.
If you feel like your face still isn’t getting clean, it’s possible that you’re cleanser isn’t the problem. Watch how much time you’re spending to cleanse your face. Most experts say that it takes a full 60 seconds to cleanse properly. One minute is a short period of time, but when you’ve got your hair pulled back in a scrunchy and eyes closed in front of the sink, it can feel longer than you think.
For exfoliants, look for something with small, even granules. Avoid apricot and sugar scrubs because they can actually cut your skin, and stay away from microbeads, too, because they’re terrible for the planet. Many cities and states are actually starting to ban them.
Drinking Baking Soda in Water?!
Because baking soda has a higher pH, some advocate adding baking soda in your water in order to alkalize the body. Advocates argue that it can neutralize acid in the bloodstream, boost your metabolism, and even help the body absorb nutrients more effectively. Research has not verified these claims.
There are some studies that suggest that alkaline water can be useful in combatting bone loss, though the research is far from definitive.
What About Brushing Your Teeth with Baking Soda? That’s okay, right?
Sorry to disappoint you, but you should probably steer clear of this old wives’ tale, too. Baking soda is a gritty substance that’s too abrasive to use on your teeth. It will scratch up the enamel and leave your teeth vulnerable to even more damage (such as prone to staining!) down the road.
To wrap it up, use baking soda profusely to clean … everything that’s NOT attached to your body.
2Schmid MHC K. The concept of the acid mantle of the skin: its relevance for the choice of skin cleansers. – PubMed – NCBI. Ncbinlmnihgov. 1995. Accessed October 28, 2016.
3Feingold K. Thematic review series: Skin Lipids. The role of epidermal lipids in cutaneous permeability barrier homeostasis. The Journal of Lipid Research. 2007;48(12):2531-2546. doi:10.1194/jlr.r700013-jlr200.
4 Holmes E. The Real Dirt on Face Washing. WSJ. 2013. Accessed October 28, 2016.
5Imam J. Microbead ban signed by President Obama. CNN. 2015. Accessed October 28, 2016.