Posted on August 11, 2017

Is pH Testing Your Cleanser the Secret to Better Skin? Here’s How to Do It

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Did you know the pH of your cleanser can make a dramatic difference in your skin — either for the better or for the worse? Here, Editor at Large Jude Chao demonstrates how easy pH testing your favorite cleansers is.

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In a recent article, I discussed the impact your cleanser’s pH can have on your skin. Not every brand lists the pH on the label, however. If some other skincare fanatic hasn’t already tested the product you’re using and posted their results online, you may have to roll up your sleeves and do the dirty work yourself.

 

Luckily, the dirty work isn’t hard at all! Let’s take a look at how to determine the pH of a cleanser.

 

pH testing

 

You will need:

 

1. Water-soluble cleanser

Foaming cleansers are water-soluble, but gel and milk cleansers count, too.

 

2. Water

While pure water is a neutral (7) pH, other substances present in your tap water may affect final pH results, so I like to test from the tap, with the water I’ll be using to wash my face.

 

3. pH testing strips

In a pinch, single-color litmus strips can determine a general pH range and should be fine for simply finding out if your cleanser is below neutral or not. I prefer the four-color strips pictured below, however. These give a more accurate reading. There are also fancier digital pH meters available, but for our purposes, I find them unnecessary.

 

pH testing

 

How to test the pH of your cleanser

 

1. Get a couple of pH strips out of the package and place them within easy reach of your sink.

 

2. Mix your cleanser with water in your hand.

 

pH testing

 

3. Gently press the testing side of your strips into the mixture so that the strips are well saturated with product.

 

pH testing

 

pH testing

 

4. Compare the color of your pH testing strips to the guide on the package to determine your cleanser’s pH.

 

pH testing

 

Is your cleanser’s pH 7 or lower? Congratulations, it’s neutral to low pH and likely to be much gentler on your skin’s moisture barrier than if it is higher than 7!

 

Is your cleanser’s pH higher than 7? Sit back and think hard about whether your skin could do better with a less alkaline product. Low-pH cleansers are especially important if your skin is:

 

  • Dry
  • Dehydrated
  • Sensitive
  • Acne-prone
  • Being treated with strong or multiple chemical exfoliants

 

Having fun yet? pH testing strips are a handy tool to keep around. Now you can test all those cleanser samples I know you have hoarded from your K-beauty hauls!

 

Have you ever pH tested your cleansers? What did you find?

 

Discussion

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Finding slightly-acidic cleansers was the first game changer for my skin. When I started out, I had been using true soap (pH around 8-10!!) to wash my face and thought it was good because it was "natural" and I could make it myself. But I had horrible dehydration and spots. Switching to a gentle, low-pH cleanser probably made the single biggest positive difference!

I was shocked to find out that the two Western brand cleansers I had been using were spot on, pH-wise, but the Korean cleansers were not! The common thread was that the Korean cleansers were made for oily skin and left my skin feeling a little too squeaky clean, while the Western cleansers didn't foam at all but left my skin feeling soft and moisturized.

Yeah, I think "oily skin" cleansers in general are quite stripping!

I remember having a conversation with Cosrx about cleanser pH, and what they shared with me was that Korean consumers (at least at the time--I think this was 2 years ago) still strongly preferred the "squeaky clean" feeling, hence many high pH cleansers. Judging from the number of lower pH cleansers available now, that feeling may be changing, finally!

It can have a huge impact, right? Everyone in my family uses slightly acidic cleansers now!

I usually just look up whatever cleanser I'm using to find pH information, but it may be useful to check it with the water I'll be using at home.

Will you also do a write up about how you test the pH for your exfoliants? :)

Yeah, there will be a pH testing guide coming out that can easily be adapted to exfoliants--basically just dump it right on the pH strip!

pH guide for exfoliants would also be incredibly helpful! Always appreciative of your knowledge and attention to detail, Jude!