Abstract This review describes the role of pH in cutaneous structure and function. We first describe the molecules that contribute to the acidity or alkalinity of the skin. Next, differences in cutaneous pH among species, among individuals of the same species and within individuals are described. The potential functions of cutaneous pH in normal and diseased skin are analysed. For example, cutaneous pH has a role in the selection and maintenance of the normal cutaneous microbiota. In addition, cutaneous acidity may protect the skin against infection by microbes. Finally, there is evidence that a cutaneous pH gradient activates pH-dependent enzymes involved in the process of keratinization.