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August 11, 2017

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

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.



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?


Jude writes as Fiddy Snails at the K-beauty and skincare blog Fifty Shades of Snail and can be found on Instagram @fiddysnails. Named the ELLE Malaysia Beauty Blogger of the Month for June/July 2017 and one of ELLE Magazine‘s 10 Cool Beauty Bloggers to Watch in 2018, Jude loves ginseng, snail, honey, propolis, and tuna fish kimbap, though she generally doesn’t put the kimbap on her face.




Thank you! I just ordered the Cosrx Low ph cleanser. I am curious what it can do for my skin! :)

Jude Chao

Please post about your experience with it! We'd love to hear about it!

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.

Jude Chao

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!

Jude Chao

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? :)

Jude Chao

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!