pH, Buffering, Compounds and Free Acid

When talking about pH levels, buffering, and free acid values, you’re talking about the difference in quality skin care products versus products that repeatedly fail the general consumer. Platinum Skin Care products are different because they contain quality levels of ingredients that other products on the market do not! Understanding pH levels, buffering, compounds and free acid values will help you choose skin care products that hold true quality and help you achieve the skin care results you are looking for.

PH Levels

pH levels are very important to those who use acid based products like chemical peels as well as other active topical products. Here’s why. Your skin is made up of protein, water and other minor chemicals. Proteins are very complex chains of amino acids and they are very sensitive to the level of pH surrounding them. When the skin's proteins react with an acid in a low pH coagulation occurs.

The acid destroys the existing tissues so that they can be replaced with new structures. The lower the pH - the stronger the acid - the more coagulation you will get - thus the more new tissues. This is a non-reversible reaction where the proteins are basically destroyed. Frosting is what you see when this process is happening. This is the goal of the chemical peel when treating skin.


Anytime the natural pH level of an ingredient or product is altered, it’s called buffering. Buffering can either increase or decrease a pH level when mixing chemicals. Buffered and non buffered products can carry the same percentage of an active ingredient, but the strength of the ingredient will vary greatly.

For example, our 70% glycolic has a pH of 0.6. That’s been chemically altered to be lower than its natural pH of 1.0. This is to give it more action. Our 30% glycolic chemical peel has a pH level of 2.1. It has been chemically altered to give it a higher pH level. This is to give the at-home user a safer peel. The reaction is slower and the coagulation is less than it would be if the peel were unbuffered. A leave-on product, such as our 15% Glycolic and Hyaluronic acid serum has a pH level of 3.4. *(note: you will find many chemical peels on the market with this same pH level). The 3.4pH will allow you to keep this on your skin without feeling a constant irritation while still benefiting from the acid.

Compounds and Free Acid Values

Free Acid Values and compounds are an area where companies can mislead the public with their product's concentrations. Compounds are a mixture of ingredients that include the acid, not just the acid itself. A compound is a mixture of ingredients that contain acids but also water , alcohols, preservatives, etc... which all make up a portion of the "compound". So, their 30% glycolic "compound" is not 30% of glycolic acid.

We can only guess what the actual amount of acid is in that compound, but legally they can state that theirs is 30%. When you shop you need to find out if their product is a compound or Free Acid Value. There is a huge difference. The acids used at Platinum Skin Care are always listed with their Free Acid Values. That means if our packaging states that there is 30% glycolic acid in a product, then our formulation has 30% glycolic acid! 30% is it's Free Acid Value. Platinum Skin Care does not use compounds, only free acid values.

Unfortunately, many companies, even larger ones, do use compounds to save money. When a product states the percentage of "glycolic compound", that percentage is only reflective of the total compound --NOT the percentage of glycolic acid. The acid may be as low as half the total percentage stated. Many companies don’t state this difference and can mislead the consumer to "believe" that they are getting the full percentage of acid that the "compound" states.

Related Information:

Chemical Peel Information Source
Certified Chemical Peels
FAQ's About Chemical Peels

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Platinum Skincare is proud to be cruelty free. Not one of our products are tested on animals and we use no services or laboratories that do animal testing. As members of PETA and Leaping Bunny, we never have and never will.