pH for different actives

Hi Brains! Big fan here. Can we talk about pH? I know you've touched on this topic before in regards to glycolic acid, but I'm wondering about other actives, in particular retinol, sal acid, niacinamide, hyaluronic acid, and L-ascorbic acid alternatives such as sodium ascorbyl phosphate. 

I'm aware that the best pH level will vary for all of these, so what about when the ingredients are all included in one product? Here's an example ingredient list for a Vitamin C Serum I found on Amazon, which I believe has a pH of around 7:

Organic Herbal Water, Organic Aloe Barbadensis Leaf (Aloe), Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate (Vitamin C), Cassia Angustifolia Seed Polysaccharide (Plant Derived Hyaluronic Acid), Hamamelis Virginiana (Witch Hazel), Retinol, Niacinamide (Vitamin B3), CoQ10, Carbomer, (2s)-2-Amino-5-guanidinopentanoic Acid, Triticum Vulgare (Wheat Germ Oil), Wildcrafted Camelia Sinensis (Green Tea), Wildcrafted Resina Propoli (Propolis), Organic Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba Oil), Kosher Vegetable Glycerin, Haematococcus Pluvialis Extract (Astaxanthin), Sucrose Stearate, Polyglyceryl-10 Laurate, Lecithin, Tocopherol, Pentylene Glycol, Phospholipids, Polysorbate 20, Potassium Phosphate, Phenoxyethanol, Ethyl Hexyl Glycerin.

Can a product contain all of these actives and still function at a pH higher than 5 or is there something off about this to you? Thanks!


  • Hey Sloanesssss. The main active ingredient here is the Vit C derivative, Sodium Ascorbic Phosphate. It is also the most pH sensitive. Here's what we wrote about it in a previous blog post: 

    Does it penetrate? There is limited ex vivo animal testing which shows it penetrates.

    Does it convert to Ascorbic Acid? There is no data showing it converts to AA.

    Protects from UV damage: Yes, human in vivo testing shows is protects but less effective than AA.

    Increases collagen synthesis: Yes, in vitro testing only and it’s less effective than MAP.

    Reduces skin pigmentation: Yes, human in vivo testing (but from trade journal only so the data may be less robust.)

    So as you can see, it is stable at the pH 7. However, the data is a it sketchy as to how it works even at its optimal pH. 

    The other ingredients aren't really all that pH dependent. 

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