One of the more popular DIY skin treatments that has been around for several years is to utilize straight baking soda as a cleanser or exfoliator. This one is a mainstay that despite advancements in knowledge about how the skin works, just doesn't seem to fall out of recommendation; You may have even heard it from your own great grandmother.
In our series of DIY Don'ts we cover various fads in at-home skin care and debunk the dangerous, ineffective, and outright ridiculous. But, don't worry: we aren't total killjoys. At the end of this article you'll also find a recommendation for which DIY methods to try instead. So, let's talk baking soda!
Why it sounds good on the surface: The baking soda is supposed to strip away excess oil, making it a popular choice for those with acne or oily skin. As an exfoliator, it's thought that the fine powder will sluff away dead skin more gently than exfoliators with larger particles. It is also rumored to balance skin's pH.
Why it fails: First let's address the oil stripping. If you have oily or acne prone skin, it may be tempting to try to remove as much oil as possible. However, we've learned that stripping oil just encourages the skin to overproduce even more, further exacerbating the imbalance.
In regard to the claims of balancing pH, that's just bad science. You probably recall from school that on the pH scale, 1 is acidic and 14 is alkaline and that things are either more acidic or more alkaline based on their placement on the scale. Skin has a pH of about 4.5 to 5, while baking soda is a 9 (very alkaline).
Appropriate pH is important in skincare because a formula that is too acidic can burn, while too alkaline can disrupt or damage the skin barrier. The skin's acid mantle protects it from bacteria, pollution and damage, and keeps skin hydrated and healthy by keeping water from evaporating away.
Applying a very alkaline product to the skin completely destroys this acid mantle, leaving it raw and more prone to pollution, bacteria, and sun damage.
Baking soda does have its place in some skin care formulas. For instance, it's an absolute must in bath bombs, and we know how wonderful those can be. But it should never be applied or scrubbed directly into the skin full strength - especially on an area so sensitive as the face.
Try Instead: Oatmeal
Those who are drawn to the idea of baking soda as a one-ingredient skin treatment will appreciate that oats are natural, inexpensive, and easily accessible if not already on your kitchen shelf. Oats have the benefit of being very soothing to blemished, easily irritated skin and provide a great natural scrubbing action, without being too rough or wreaking pH mayhem. If a finer texture is desired, this can easily be achieved with a few pulses in a blender or food processor, until the consistency is closer to that of oat flour.