Is pH-Activated Makeup Actually Safe To Use?

If you've watched the stars walk the red carpet lately, you might have been in awe over their flawless makeup. Specifically, you might be endlessly guessing how their makeup artists have managed to seamlessly match every cosmetic to their natural skin tone. As it turns out, there's a little secret behind many of the products you see celebrities wearing while out and about.

Cosmetic gurus have caught onto pH-activated makeup, and given the immediate success of many pH-activated products now on the market, the trend seems like it's here to stay. For example, Winky Lux launched its pH-activated Rainbow pH Tinted Lip Balm in 2019, and it's still being lauded by wearers today. TikTok creators have even started using the hashtag #phmakeup, drawing millions of views as they flaunt the products — but how does it work?

In layman's terms, pH-activated makeup is simply makeup that reacts to the pH of your skin. This unit is used to measure acidity on a scale of 1 to 14, with a rating of 7 being considered neutral. "It's just some really clever cosmetics science at play," cosmetics company owner Charlotte Knight tells Grazia. "The product uses dye that reacts to the pH of the surface of your skin, which results in the pigment you see soon after you apply."

Now that we have the science down, is pH-activated makeup actually safe for regular use?

The safety and science behind pH-activated makeup

Generally speaking, the simple answer to whether pH-activated makeup is safe to use is "yes." As cosmetics business owner Charlotte Knight explains to Grazia, the only real drawback is the unpredictability of the final color that develops after the makeup reacts to your skin's pH level. Many people equate pH-activated makeup to color-changing mood rings; they alter in tint and tone, depending on the surface of your skin at any given moment.

Roselin Rosario, an associate principal chemist for L'Oréal, notes that many pH-activated makeup products are tested prior to being sold. "In formula development, the performance of these products is tested by adding an acidic or basic solution to the product to observe how the color changes, and they also are tested on skin to see the intensity of the colors," Rosario told

The surface of the skin usually has a pH level of 5, according to Rosario. The dyes within pH-activated makeup are typically neutral or a bit acidic, which is why these products often look colorless on store shelves. It's only when the reaction occurs on your skin that you see the final color. Additionally, this is also why the hue you develop might be different than the one you see on another person, despite using the same product — different pH levels and reactions result in different colors.

The importance of maintaining your skin's pH level

You might not quite understand the technical details behind the science of pH-activated makeup. However, it can be beneficial to familiarize yourself with the basics of your skin's pH level. This might be especially the case if you use a wide array of skincare products and cosmetics regularly, which often factor in pH levels.

Luckily, many skincare product creators are already aware of the harm that can come from disrupting the skin's natural pH level. That being said, this doesn't mean you can't accidentally disrupt this delicate balance by using products that include certain ingredients. For example, fragrances or alcohol might be in one of your cosmetics, creating skin inflammation without you even knowing the cause.

One way you can ensure that any product you use isn't doing more harm than good is to determine its pH level. A cleanser with a rating as high as 9, for instance, might dry out your otherwise healthy skin. "When your acid mantle and skin barrier is compromised, it can lead to bacteria, which causes acne and dehydration, which leads to wrinkles," Korean beauty website owner Charlotte Cho told Everyday Health. "And when the pH of your skin is normal, it should look smooth and hydrated."

If you're unsure of the pH level of a particular skincare product, pH test strips can be purchased to measure levels at home.