You might have seen the recent viral video of Bethenny Frankel trying Espressoh's Glassy Blush. In the seconds-long clip, she dabs a little product onto the apples of her cheeks, and the color changes before her eyes in real-time. "When I saw this, my life changed," she exclaims.
Glassy Blush falls into an innovative beauty category known as pH-reacting or color-changing makeup. These products can be a powerful weapon in your beauty arsenal as they use science to achieve a flattering shade on all skin tones. But how do they work exactly? Ahead, we tapped a few experts to discuss the science behind pH, how it works in cosmetics, and a few outstanding products to try.
Meet the Expert
What pH Means
Scientifically speaking, pH stands for potential of hydrogen or power of hydrogen. "It's a measurement of the number of hydrogen ions in a solution," says Nick Dindio, director of research and development at SOS Beauty, a Los Angeles-based beauty incubator that works with brands like Ouai and Patrick Ta Beauty. The amount of hydrogen ions in a solution dictates whether it's acidic or basic. "It's important in chemistry because the pH of a product can affect the reactivity and solubility of certain ingredients," he says.
How pH Changes Color
So how does that translate to makeup? Skin is slightly acidic in pH, says Dindio, and that exact value will vary from person to person. He explains that certain dyes used in cosmetics can vary in color, depending on the pH of their environment. The reaction occurs when the conditions are right. In this case, you need the presence of water in your skin and a pH that allows the vibrant form of the dye to exist. It goes from colorless to perfectly pink when the product hits your skin.
While the presence of water in the skin is vital for the reaction to occur, it's important that pH-reacting cosmetics don't contain water. "Lip products and some blushes don't contain water, generally speaking, which make them the easiest products to maintain as colorless [until they go] on the skin," says Dindio.
Fiona Co Chan, CEO and founder of Youthforia, also notes that other products you wear might also have their own pH, layering on more variability. "If you're putting on a lip product, your saliva has a different pH level, for example," she says. "Your pH can change and react to the pH of different products. You might get slightly different colors if you apply these products over different skincare products and foundations."
Why It Seems Like It's Color Matching
Many brands declare their pH products will color match your skin, but most of that is just marketing, according to Dindio. The makeup looks different on every individual because it depends on the pH of that person's skin—not necessarily the actual product. "Every person has a slightly different pH, and everyone has a slightly different skin tone," says Dindio. "All of these factors can affect the final color the product appears when applied."
He also cautions that pH cosmetics seem to only come in a handful of colors, despite some brands saying the product color matches your skin. "There aren't a ton of options [of pH colors], which is why these color-change products are generally pretty limited to a handful of colors," he says.
What to Look for in pH Products
Dindio says the dyes that create the color-changing effect aren't particularly drying, so they don't really affect the performance of the product. "These formulations generally have to be built around the pH-sensitive dye to maintain a pH that is different from the skin and keeps the dye in its original form," he says.
Co Chan says that while moisturizing pH products are nice, they're not totally necessary. "It's nice for pH products to moisturize because sometimes—when reacting to something very drying—it might appear extremely bright pink," she says, which isn't always the look people are going for.
Expensive doesn't always mean better either, says Co Chan. "With pH color-changing products, cosmetic elegance matters," she says. "Sourcing high-quality ingredients plays a huge part in how good the product's formula will perform."
The Best Color-Changing Makeup
This reactive blush has sold out several times in a row, thanks to a boost from Bethenny Frankel. It claims that "one shade flushes all," pinpointing that perfectly rosy pink. Bonus: it has caffeine, which the brand says boosts hydration.
This color-changing blush oil is made with 20 plant-based ingredients, and it claims that it's so good for your skin that you can sleep in it. In fact, Co Chan herself slept in it for two months straight to prove the point.
Super supple and smooth, this lip balm claims 24-hour hydration. It's available in 15 shades, which the brand claims adjust to your pH for the perfect custom shade. Ninety-seven percent of the ingredients are plant-based.
Yes, that's a real chrysanthemum flower in there. This vegan lip stain is cruelty-free, paraben-free, phthalate-free, and sulfate-free. The pH-matching technology allows this balm to adjust to a flattering pink shade.
A natural flush is easy to get with this cheek tint that can double as a lip tint in a pinch. It's infused with jojoba oil and Vitamin E to nourish and Vitamin C for brightening.
Ph | definition, uses, & facts | britannica.