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What Is pH Makeup and How Does It Work?

The Lowdown on How pH Makeup Really Works

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Though it's not new in any way, you've probably started seeing some variation of pH makeup on your social media feeds lately. Numerous brands have created products, primarily in the lip and blush categories, that promise to flatter a wide range of skin tones. These shade-shifting products work by reacting to the pH levels in the skin to create a colour custom to each person. The idea is that, because they don't rely on a shade range but rather the skin's pH levels, the formula is truly "one size fits all".

Whether you're a fan of the pH makeup craze or just like exploring different makeup formulas, there's no denying that pH makeup is a fascinating mix of science and beauty that brings a fun level of interactivity to a pretty straightforward category like colour cosmetics, while making it accessible to the everyday user. But we couldn't help but wonder: is pH makeup actually as customisable as it is marketed to be? Cosmetic chemist and TikTok educator Javon Ford breaks down everything you should know about the trend below — including whether it really works.

What Is pH Makeup?

To understand how pH makeup works, you first have to understand what it is. "pH-reacting makeup is essentially just makeup that changes colours depending on pH level," Ford says. Though it is unclear when exactly the category was created — Ford says that formulas for colour-changing lipsticks have been around since the 1930s and have been spotted in the book The Chemical Formulary by Harry Bennett — one of the earliest well-known products to feature this technology were the Avon "Colour Magic" Lipsticks in 1974.

Since then, pH makeup has taken on a life of its own and the formula is primarily seen in the lip and cheek colour categories.

How Does pH Makeup Work?

If you're wondering what exactly is behind the "colour change" in pH makeup products, all roads point to one specific ingredient. "pH makeup uses a class of colours called bromo acid dyes that basically function like pH indicators or litmus paper," Ford says. "When you use this ingredient, the colour of the product it is used in changes depending on a certain pH level."

According to Ford, the specific class of colours used in a lot of pH makeup products today tends to be reds number 21, 27, or 28 — and that's also the reason why these products also tend to provide the same shade across skin tones. "Many brands are only using Red 27, which always shifts to pink," Ford says. If you want some variation, there are other bromo acid that can be used but the options are limited. "There are different shades of red and there's even an orange/yellow one," Ford says.

Do pH Makeup Products Actually Work?

@nicolejxhnson

It changes colour ✨ @Makeup Revolution I find PH recative products so fun just for the joy that I get when it changes colour! I don’t think I’ve ever used an oil as blush before but I really like the texture as it’s not sticky and it gives a very even spread of colour 💖 #lipoil #lipglossaddict #phreactive #colourchanging #pinkaesthetic #makeuprevolution #beautyessentials #satisfyingsounds #asmr

♬ sugardoe - 𝓜𝓲𝓬𝓱𝓮𝓵𝓵𝓮

As for whether or not pH products actually work the way that they are often marketed? Yes and no. These products do work in that they do shift shades, but how they work is not exactly determined by your skin tone. "Skin is typically between 4.5-5.5 in pH and these bromo acid dyes don't shift in colour unless the pH is higher than around 7," Ford says. "It looks different on everyone's skin in the same way that the same lip shade can look different on various skin tones."

In fact, based on the normal range of the pH levels of human skin, there is not enough variance between people to truly cause any noticeable change in the makeup's colour — and therefore for it to be "customised" to each wearer. "Even if someone were to wash their face with a high pH soap, healthy skin would rebalance itself within an hour to the ideal pH environment that can help control pathogens and optimise moisturise barrier," Ford says.

In short: while the bromo acid dye reacts to skin's pH to produce a colour, since everyone's skin is within the same pH range, the colour use in a specific formula will always look roughly the same. Any difference in how pH makeup product shows up on different people can most be attributed to differences in shades of skin, not a person's pH level.

pH Makeup Products to Shop

If you're interested in trying out the trend yourself, there are a myriad of pH makeup products that are universally flattering and just plain fun to play with. Some of our favourites include:

Fenty Beauty Match Stix Colour Adaptive Cheek and Lip Stick


Image Source: Fenty Beauty

Don't let the bright packaging fool you, the Fenty Beauty Match Stix Colour Adaptive Cheek + Lip Stick (£25) is a hydrating multi-use stick that uses color-shift technology to bring out the most flattering universal rosy colour that's suitable for all skin tones. This Fenty staple gives a soft, dewy finish, blends evenly and smoothly and can be layered over makeup for use on the go.

Soap and Glory Spectacu-Lips pH Glow Oil

@nashaatbello

AD Trying out the Spectacu-lips pH Lip and Cheek Glow Oil! It goes on clear and changes to a custom pink shade with a non-sticky finish. I loveeee cute products like this @Soap & Glory

♬ original sound - nashaatbello

The Soap and Glory Spectacu-Lips pH Lip and Cheek Glow Oil (£13) has proved to be a popular pH product this season, thanks to its unique colour-changing formula, that can turn the clear packaged gel into a glamorous, personalised pink. We love a multi-purpose product, so feel free to use this glow oil on your lips and cheeks for a natural, holiday-esque flush. Having tried the oil out for myself, a little bit goes a long way if you'd like to achieve a dewy, moisturised blush and hydrated, glossy lips.

Makeup Revolution PH Bomb Lip and Cheek Oil Universal


Image Source: Makeup Revolution

The Makeup Revolution PH Bomb Lip and Cheek Oil Universal (£5) brings a beautiful, natural rosy flush to your lips and cheeks in seconds using the pH science explained by Ford. For beuaty on a budget, the Makeup Revolution Lip and Cheek Oil is an ideal option, and perfect for getting started on your pH makeup journey, and you'll be greeted by a luscious cherry scent upon using this magic in a bottle.

Lottie London Blush Bestie pH Colour Changing Lip and Cheek Stick


Image Source: Lottie London

Just when you thought they couldn't get cute enought, Lottie London released their Blush Bestie pH Colour Changing Lip and Cheek Stick (£8), a heart shaped pH makeup stick, a creamy product enriched with hydrating jojoba oil to provide a personalised dewy-finish cheek and lip flush. Needless to say, this is a makeup kit must-have, or an adorable gift for your close pal.

Boss Balm: Black Colour Changing Lip And Cheek Balm

@thelipsticklesbians

#stitch with @Mikayla Nogueira We see you @Mikayla Nogueira & the beauty community in the comments ❤️ When we saw this video, we ordered @BossUpCosmetics and just got her in the mail the other day! The Boss Balm has gone viral because appears black in pan but changes color when you apply. This happens because of the presence of certain pigments and ingredients in the formulation. The balm is actually a clear base, so it will never read black on application. It’s a staining effect that interacts with the color of your skin, causing the pigment to shift in color based on your skin tone. What’s really fun is that your specific skin tone will affect the shade outcome too, so it will look unique on everyone! This process is what creates the illusion of a black balm (which is actually just a clear base with a couple drops of colorants usually!) turning into a pink or other colored tint on application. We’ve seen it in lip oils and more recently in @milkmakeup’s Jelly Stick Tints. I think at an $8.99 price point this is a playful, fresh lip and cheek balm that anyone who loves a lightweight sheeny style blush would enjoy ❤️ What do our beauty queens think? 👀 #thelipsticklesbians #beautytok #makeup #blush

♬ original sound - The Lipstick Lesbians

Another viral TikTok favourite, the Boss Balm: Black Colour Changing Lip And Cheek Balm (£8). Influencer Mikayla Nogueira called on the Lipstick Lesbians to break down the science behind this seemingly black blush, which actually transforms to a personalised pink shade once applied to your skin, thanks to the power of pH. The Boss Balm has a dewy, luminious finish so your unique shade of blush provides an enviable glow.

Colourescience Face Shield Flex SPF 50


Image Source: Colourescience

If you're a fan of tinted sunscreen, or are simply on the lookout for a new SPF, then we have the perfect product for you. You might have seen the Colourescience Sunforgettable Total Protection Face Shield Flex SPF 50 (£38) go viral on TikTok and we're not surprised. This lightweight mineral sunscreen features innovative, iron oxide pigments that bloom at your fingertips to deliver a tone-adapting buildable colour, as well as a demi-matte finish.

Haus Labs PhD Hybrid Lip Oil


Image Source: Haus Labs

The Haus Labs PhD Hybrid Lip Oil (£22) is a sheer lip oil that tints according to your pH while delivering lightweight hydration and non-sticky shine with a cushiony feel. It's also vegan and cruelty-free, so it'll be giving you a soft shine without an worries.

— Additional reporting by Lauren Gordon


Lauren Gordon is the editorial coordinator at PS UK, where she creates lifestyle and identity content. Lauren has a degree in journalism from University of the Arts London and previously worked as a showbiz and TV reporter at The Mirror US. Lauren specialises in pop culture, hair and beauty, focusing on trends, sharing in-depth tutorials, and highlighting hidden gems in the beauty industry.


Ariel Baker is the assistant editor for PS Beauty. Her areas of expertise include celebrity news, beauty trends, and product reviews. She has additional bylines with Essence and Forbes Vetted.

Image Source: Fenty Beauty
Fenty Beauty Match Stix Colour Adaptive Cheek + Lip Stick
Fenty Beauty Match Stix Colour Adaptive Cheek + Lip Stick
£25
from boots.com
Buy Now
Soap and Glory Spectacu-Lips pH Lip and Cheek Glow Oil
Soap and Glory Spectacu-Lips pH Lip and Cheek Glow Oil
£13
from boots.com
Buy Now
Makeup Revolution PH Bomb Lip and Cheek Oil Universal
Makeup Revolution PH Bomb Lip and Cheek Oil Universal
£5
from lookfantastic.com
Buy Now
Blush Bestie pH Colour Changing Lip and Cheek Stick
Blush Bestie pH Colour Changing Lip and Cheek Stick
£8
from asos.com
Buy Now
Boss Balm: Black Colour Changing Lip And Cheek Balm
Boss Balm: Black Colour Changing Lip And Cheek Balm
£8
from bossupcosmetic.com
Buy Now
Colourescience Sunforgettable Total Protection Face Shield Flex SPF 50
Colourescience Sunforgettable Total Protection Face Shield Flex SPF 50
£38
from colorescienceuk.com
Buy Now
Haus Labs PhD Hybrid Lip Oil
Haus Labs PhD Hybrid Lip Oil
£22
from sephora.co.uk
Buy Now
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