In the past few years, I’ve written posts on Why Baking Soda Should Not Be Used as an Exfoliator, and Why Baking Soda (and Apple Cider Vinegar) are Not Good for Your Hair. In essence, baking soda is very basic — with a pH of 10, which means it’s 1000 times more alkaline than water.
And when you apply a product with a high pH, it negatively disrupts the skin barrier. A study on skin products found that using an alkaline cleanser, even once, can do significant damage to the skin (Dermatology). An alkaline cleanser (like a DIY baking soda blend, improperly pH balanced) disrupts the skin’s acid mantle, and changes the bacterial flora composition on the skin and the activity of the enzymes in the upper layers of skin, as these have an optimal pH level. And the damage is cumulative: The longer you use it, the more damage it does to your skin.
So Why Do Pinterest Boards Advocate the Use of Baking Soda in Skin Care?
Baking soda skin care claims circulating on the internet say that it is a anti-bacterial, anti-fungal agent that may help to alleviate acne, post-sun inflammation, and uneven skin tone (Top10HomeRemedies).
Some companies also claim that baking soda is “natural,” but it is a chemical — it is 100% sodium bicarbonate, which can literally burn your skin if you use it without diluting it properly.
For the claims that do exist, there is also next to no research support backing these claims. For instance, a 2010 study in Pharmaceutical Biology states that a solution containing baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) may help to reduce acne somewhat, but it is primarily a study testing the effects of concentrated mangosteen rinds on acne, not baking soda (sodium bicarbonate).
What if You Want to Try Baking Soda Anyway?
If you insist upon applying baking soda to your skin, then I highly recommend pre-made manufactured products, if for no other reason that you are practically guaranteed that they are formulated in the skin-friendly pH range of 5.5 to 7.0. If you go above this, you can potentially tearing apart your skin’s delicate acid mantle with at-home sodium bicarbonate-based mixtures.
What to Buy #1: Heritage Store Baking Soda Handmade Soap
The packaging looks like this is a blast from the past, but looks aside, this soap has lots of goodies for acne-prone skin. First, you have kaolin clay, which has been shown in studies to be an effective oil absorber (Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics) and non-irritant to boot (European Kaolin and Plastic Clays Association).
Next up, you have a blend of acne-friendly skin oils, like palm oil and olive oil. Some oils that contain chemical components like ricinoleic acid can undergo a chemical process (ozonolysis) to form azelaic acid, a drug proven to treat mild to moderate acne. These oils also are lightweight enough not to upset acne-prone skin.
Lastly, you have a touch (just a touch) of sodium bicarbonate, which, again, is not likely to do much of anything for your skin, but if you want to try it for acne, this is the way to go.
What to Buy #2: Etude House Baking Powder Pore Cleansing Foam
Directly imported from Korea, Etude House Baking Powder Pore Cleansing Foam contains just 0.1% sodium bicarbonate, which, in my opinion, is just about the right amount! It doesn’t have any sensational anti-aging ingredients, but it is a cleansing foam with baking soda in it that will thoroughly cleanse your skin and leave it feeling softer and fresher. Just watch out for the slightly minty, medicinal smell.
There’s no reason to try this product, because it contains a very high concentration of sodium bicarbonate (i.e., baking soda is the first ingredient listed here). This product needs to be properly diluted, or else your skin will end up very dry, reddened, or irritated. I’m not a fan.
Pass By: Biore Baking Soda Cleansing Scrub
I’m not sure why Biore would take a chance on a product that lists sodium bicarbonate as the first ingredient, but they have. It is true that this product contains enough citric acid to make it pH neutral, but there’s also a lack of anything else particularly beneficial for the skin other than panthenol. I’m not a fan. (And, for the record, as a Biore fan since childhood — I love those warming masks of theirs — I am truly disappointed here).
I’m personally not a fan of baking soda skin care, but I also understand that sometimes rumors emerge when a handful of people get results from a home remedy, and then a craze starts. If you want to jump on the bandwagon, make sure you buy a properly-formulated, pH balanced product with baking soda, like Heritage Store Baking Soda Handmade Soap.