Last year, L’Oreal brought a nifty little UV sensor to CES. The idea was it was supposed to help you monitor your UV exposure and tailor a skin care regimen based on environmental factors. And while it worked as advertised, we found it a little lacking in practice. But this year L’Oreal is one-upping itself with a prototype sensor that can measure your skin’s pH levels.
The pH sensor is no bigger than your thumb and quite flexible, sort of like a tiny band-aid with a chic design. In person, I was impressed by how compact yet sturdy the prototype felt in my hand. It’s the type of device you see in the movies when the protagonist of a sci-fi flick visits the doctor.
The sensor works by capturing trace amounts of sweat from your pores using “microfluidic technology.” You stick the sensor on your inner arm and leave it for 5-15 minutes—just long enough for the two center dots to change colors. After, you’re meant to open the accompanying My Skin Track pH app and take a photo of the sensor. The app then reads your skin’s pH levels and analyzes the rate your skin sweats to figure out your skin’s health.
If you need a brush-up on high school biology, pH measures how acidic or basic a substance is on a numeric scale from 0 to 14. Zero is extremely acidic, while 14 is very alkaline—pure water would be smack dab in the middle at about 7. According to L’Oreal, healthy skin is slightly acidic, somewhere between 4.5 and 5.5. An abnormal pH balance could indicate skin conditions like dryness, eczema, and atopic dermatitis.
Like last year’s sensor, the My Skin Track pH is developed with L’Oreal’s La Roche-Posay brand and researchers from Northwestern University. It means any recommended skin regimens will likely be limited to La Roche-Posay products—one of our gripes with the UV sensor. That said, the pH sensor is pretty impressive when you consider measuring skin pH levels is pretty much impossible for consumers outside of a clinical lab setting. That’s because measuring skin pH would typically require lots of sweat, which dermatologists don’t have the means to collect in a reasonable amount of time. The L’Oreal’s sensor could be a game-changer for anyone with difficult-to-treat skin conditions.
While L’Oreal didn’t have a working prototype for me to test out myself, the sensor is still quite promising considering the amount of research going into it. Guive Balooch, Global Vice President of the L’Oréal Technology Incubator, told me that before the device is available to consumers, it’ll go through months of testing to build up an accurate database.
According to Balooch, the sensor will be introduced this year through La Roche-Posay affiliated dermatologists in the U.S. That research is key, as there’s still a lot to learn about how often users should measure their skin’s pH to get the most effective results. While you should sync the UV sensor multiple times a day, Balooch says the pH sensor would most likely be used more periodically—possibly weekly, but more likely on a monthly basis.
Pricing also hasn’t been decided just yet. The sensors themselves aren’t reusable and are meant to be disposed of after each use. The overall plan, however, is to see a direct-to-consumer device sometime in late 2019.
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