L’Oreal debuts wearable skin pH tester

Once the sole purview of electronics manufacturers, the annual CES show in Las Vegas has been transformed in recent years as companies across the business world increasingly come to understand the role that tech will play in their business.

That includes the cosmetics company L’Oreal, which on Monday introduced a new wearable device called the My Skin Track pH. According to L’Oreal, the device is capable of tracking personal skin pH levels to create customized product regimens. The product was co-developed with the cosmetics giant’s skincare brand, La Roche-Posay.

So what, exactly, is pH and why should people care? pH stands for “potential of hydrogren,” and is a measure of acidity or alkalinity in the skin. It is measured on a scale of 0-14, with healthy skin pH existing within the “slightly acidic” range of between 4.5 and 5.5.

So what happens if my pH level is off? When that balance is compromised, either through environmental factors or underlying conditions, it can trigger what L’Oreal describes as “inflammatory responses.” These typically manifest as dryness or, in more extreme cases, Atopic Dermatitis (AD)—raw, red, oozing patches of inflamed skin. An estimated 17% of Canadians will suffer from AD at some point in their life according to the Canadian Dermatology Association.

So how does it work? L’Oreal touts My Skin Track pH as the first wearable device capable of measuring individual pH levels. Using something called “microfluidic” technology, the device captures nearly imperceptible amounts of sweat through skin pores through a network of “micro-channels,” providing an accurate pH reading within 15 minutes.

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Okay, that’s the marketing explanation. How does it really work?  According to L’Oreal, users place the tiny sensor on their inner arm and leave it there until two dots on the sensor begin taking on colour (between five and 15 minutes). They then open the My Skin Track pH app on their phone and take a picture of the sensor. The app then reads the pH measurement and the user’s sweat loss and makes a customized product recommendation.

And these are for sale? According to L’Oreal, My Skin Track pH will be introduced through select La Roche-Posay dermatologists in the U.S. this year, with the goal of amassing new research before launching it as a direct-to-consumer product.

So what, L’Oreal’s a tech company now? No, but it is making a big play in the tech space. In November, it launched My Skin Track UV, a wearable sun sensor that measures individual UV levels and comes with a companion app capable of tracking a user’s exposure to pollution, pollen and humidity. The company is also working with a bio-printing start-up called Organovo to figure out how to 3D print living skin that can be tested for toxicity and efficacy.

They say: “Our goal is to use this advanced technology to empower consumers with meaningful information about their skin, so that they can find the products that are right for their individual needs. At L’Oréal, we know that health is the future of beauty and we are committed to leveraging technology to bring powerful insights and solutions to our consumers.”  – Guive Balooch, global VP of the L’Oréal Technology Incubator, a division of L’Oréal’s Research & Innovation Division.

David Brown