Read the given passage carefully and answer the questions that follow.

If you pay close attention to soap advertisements, you may hear of its pH value being claimed perfect for human skin. But is there really such a thing? Let’s start at the beginning. pH (potential Hydrogen) is defined as the concentration of hydrogen ions in a solution. pH value ranges between 0 and 14. 7 is the neutral point, 0 being the most acidic and 14 being the most alkaline. More importantly, your skin isn’t exactly pH 5.5; it falls in a range between 4.0 and 7.0, depending on diverse factors like the body part, age, genetics, ethnicity, and environment conditions.
So, are products formulated at pH 5.5 perfect for skin? The short answer: not really! First, parameters like texture and other ingredients indicate a cleanser’s quality, much better than pH alone. Second, though the skin pH rises slightly immediately after cleaning even with plain water, it reverts to its mild acidic pH in an hour. Healthy skin quickly rebalances the ‘acid mantle’ — a protective layer over the skin — and is unaffected in the long term by the cleanser’s pH. Skin modulates pH, making skin products function optimally. So, why market pH 5.5 products as “perfect”? Well, for certain skin types (e.g., oily skin) and certain skin conditions (like acne), an increase in pH can aggravate these skin situations. This might lead to an interpretation that a skin care product needs to be at a 5.5 pH for optimum cleansing. Hence, skincare experts have expressed reservations about pH being the sole criterion of product safety and ‘acid mantle’ preservation when factors including plain water may contribute to the same. Thus, an ideal product is almost impossible to define. So, look well beyond pH alone.

Question 196

According to the passage, the ‘acid mantle’ refers to:

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