Whenever you get a facial in the midst of a breakout, expect to get some very specific advice from your facialist. You should do this; you should stop doing that. That’s why I was shook when, during back-to-back-to-back facials, three estheticians advised me to do the same thing: Mix a pinch of baking soda into a brightening mask such as the Biologique Recherche’s Masque Vivant to purify the complexion and expunge the gunk from pores.
“The Masque Vivant is designed to help purify and brighten the skin with live yeasts and witch hazel that work to keep the skin clear and decongest your pores,” says facialist and skin-care guru Angelina Umansky of Spa Radiance. “Adding baking soda to the mask gives you an extra boost—it’s antiseptic and anti-inflammatory, so it’ll help to calm the skin, fight bacteria, and also help balance the pH of your skin.” Ahem baking soda?
“Baking soda at the same time absorbs oil and gently exfoliates dead cells from the surface of the skin,” explains Joshua Zeichner, MD, a New York City-based dermatologist. “This makes it useful to include in DIY skin-care masks and scrubs.”
Umansky says that baking soda is good for “deep, sub-surface congestion,” which, when used with the mask, works as a spot treatment (though she notes if it’s left on for too long, upwards of 10 minutes, it can be drying).
The thing is, though the kitchen staple can be a gentle exfoliant, derms don’t necessarily recommend it. “I personally recommend avoiding baking soda on the skin because it has an alkaline pH and can disrupt the outer skin layer, which leads to irritation and inflammation,” notes Dr. Zeichner.
Cybele Fishman, MD, another NYC dermatologist agrees: “The skin has a natural pH of about 5.5, which is acidic,” she says. “This acid mantle is vital in maintaining the proper microbiome of the skin, which prevents infection and keeps the skin’s barrier intact.”
She goes on to note that baking soda is basic, which can be irritating to your skin (it skews acidic) and can remove your complexion’s protective oils, so rather than tapping the alkaline end of the scale, she suggests going to the other end of the spectrum and using acids. “Exfoliating with alpha- and beta-hydroxy acids, for example, is a good option, as well as clay masks,” says Dr. Fishman. “I think you should always use things on your face that are acidic like the skin itself—AHAs and BHAs, being acids, of course are.”
Umansky notes that baking soda by itself isn’t ideal for your skin, but the small ratio of a pinch in a mask has great antimicrobial properties. “It can help clean and soothe skin inflammation,” she argues. “If you have thick skin, it can help achieve a healthier, deeper exfoliation of dead skin. But it’s not intended to use on sensitive skin types.”
For those complexions, Dr. Zeichner also recommends exfoliating acids and traditional exfoliators as they’re “much safer and [more] effective on the skin.” If you have thick, resistant skin, though, try out a dash from the ubiquitous orange box—mixed with a mask—for a thorough exfoliation, and make way for a serious glow.
More From Well + Good: