The 'acid mantle' of the stratum corneum seems to be important for both permeability barrier formation and cutaneous antimicrobial defense. However, the origin of the acidic pH, measurable on the skin surface, remains conjectural. Passive and active influencing factors have been proposed, e.g. eccrine and sebaceous secretions as well as proton pumps. In recent years, numerous investigations have been published focusing on the changes in the pH of the deeper layers of the stratum corneum, as well as on the influence of physiological and pathological factors. The pH of the skin follows a sharp gradient across the stratum corneum, which is suspected to be important in controlling enzymatic activities and skin renewal. The skin pH is affected by a great number of endogenous factors, e.g. skin moisture, sweat, sebum, anatomic site, genetic predisposition and age. In addition, exogenous factors like detergents, application of cosmetic products, occlusive dressings as well as topical antibiotics may influence the skin pH. Changes in the pH are reported to play a role in the pathogenesis of skin diseases like irritant contact dermatitis, atopic dermatitis, ichthyosis, acne vulgaris and Candida albicans infections. Therefore, the use of skin cleansing agents, especially synthetic detergents with a pH of about 5.5, may be of relevance in the prevention and treatment of those skin diseases.