Talking About Toner
When I first began developing my skincare routine back in my late teens and early twenties, toner was typically something that was astringent, clarifying and rather quite drying. Laden with a high alcohol content, their traditional purpose was to rebalance the skin's pH after cleansing, but looking back, all they did for me was leave my skin feeling stripped and tight. Thankfully, toner has come a long way since then, as has cleanser, which you'll now usually find is properly pH-balanced. Nowadays, toner is considered a catch-all term for anything that's basically a lotion and they have a wonderful range of benefits for the skin including providing hydration and a refreshing pick-me-up, prepping and helping with the absorption of serum and moisturiser, as well as containing active ingredients that fight against acne and the signs of ageing. Some people also argue that a good toner will remove excess makeup residue left over after cleansing, but in my opinion, a good cleansing routine will do this all on its own without the need for toner and if you're finding traces of makeup, you're better off changing cleansing products.
Depending on your individual skincare needs, you'll probably have different toners in your routine to cater for different concerns. Some people don't find toning an essential skincare step, but it's something I enjoy and couldn't imagine my routine without, and in today's post, I've gone through my collection to talk about the toners I own, what they do and why I love them.
While I like to think my skincare stash is relatively streamlined (for a beauty enthusiast, anyway!), cleanser and hydrating toners are the two areas where I'll allow myself to rotate products and have a bit of variety. I know I can get through them all within a reasonable timeframe (before they expire) as they're the only two types of product that I use both day and night, and for that reason, it seems a little bit redundant to me to have more than one of anything else open at a time. For example, I only ever use a vitamin C serum during the day and a retinoid at night (not every day and night either), so I don't find it necessary to have multiples of those.
As I mentioned, I use a hydrating toner every single morning and night. This is applied after cleansing and I'll typically use one after my exfoliating toner too. With my skin being on the dry side, hydrating toners are a fundamental part of my routine as I love how refreshing, calming and soothing they feel, the slip they give when applying my serums and moisturiser, and not to mention, they genuinely do provide a substantial moisture boost.
The Liz Earle Instant Boost Skin Tonic is the longest withstanding toner in my routine (I bought my first bottle back when I first started my blog in 2011!) and I've been using it just as long as I have been their cult classic cleanser. It claims to "refresh, soothe and brighten" the appearance of the skin, though I really wouldn't say it does much in the way of brightening and that's only something I'd look for in my exfoliating toners, anyway.
Gentle and alcohol-free, it contains a host of calming ingredients such as aloe vera, calendula, chamomile, cucumber and vitamin E, as well as having an uplifting botanical scent, which is one of my favourite things about it. In saying that, the fragrance comes from essential oils, which can be highly irritating, so that's something to be weary of if you have sensitive skin. They're at the very end of the ingredients list, so I'm not too concerned (plus, my skin isn't prone to fragrance sensitivities) and for me, this is one of the most beautiful toners I've ever used.
My love for French pharmacy skincare is well-documented on my blog and when Bioderma first released their Sensibio range a couple of years ago, I was keen to try their Sensibio Tonique, which I've since repurchased a few times over. A basic and no-frills formula, it moisturises and improves the comfort of the skin and they also claim it decongests the epidermis, as well as maximising the efficacy of treatments applied afterwards. I've never really noticed a significantly improved difference in the efficacy of my treatments, but it definitely is soothing and comforting, and as it's also fragrance-free, it's perfect for those with sensitive skin. Basically the toner equivalent of Sensibio H2O Micelle Solution (with the similar packaging, I've even accidentally mistaken the two!), this unscented product isn't most exciting nor luxurious toner I've ever used, but it works and similarly to how you always have staples like flour and sugar stocked in your pantry, I'll always have Sensibio Tonique in my skincare stash.
No matter how many years I worked at Myer, I could never go home after the end of a shift without first paying a trip to the Mecca concession. It was during one of those trips that I happened to stumble upon the By Terry Cellularose Hydra Toner and from that very first sniff of the beautiful rose scent, I was in love. Costing a whopping $86, I decided to bite the bullet last year (yay for staff discount!) and although I'm not going to lie and say it was worth it, I nevertheless absolutely adore this toner. Infused with brightening rose extract, it purifies, hydrates and adds radiance to the skin, all while being alcohol-free and smelling like the most stunning bouquet of fresh roses. There's something really nostalgic about the scent too; it kind of reminds me of my childhood and the skincare products my mum used in the '90s, and even though that's totally not relevant to measuring how good a skincare product is, it's still something I really enjoy about it. While the fragrance is definitely my favourite thing about this toner, I can imagine sensitive skin types and those who don't like rose scents not getting along with this product as really quite heavily perfumed and not at all subtle about it either. It does, however, live up to its claims of being hydrating and adding radiance, and upon application, my skin feels totally revitalised. As I mentioned, radiance and brightening properties aren't part of my criteria for hydrating toners, but I definitely notice an added glow with this and for expensive as Cellularose Hydra Toner is, sometimes the mere indulgence you get out of a product is what makes it worth it. Who doesn't like to treat themselves every now and then?!
When it comes to rejuvenating and replenishing the skin, there's nothing quite like a face mist. A few spritzes instantly has my skin feeling calm and cool, and I'll even often use them when I can't be bothered faffing around with cotton pads (they really aren't that much effort, I just get lazy sometimes!). When I ran out of my Pixi Hydrating Milky Mist a few months ago, I decided to replace it with the Saturday Skin Daily Dew Hydrating Essence Mist, and although I've never really taken all that much interest in Korean skincare before (it's hard enough keeping up with Western brands!), it was the cute pink packaging that got me. From my understanding, an essence is essentially a hydrating toner in Western terms and I have to say, I think I prefer this over the Hydrating Milky Mist (I could've lived without Pixi's fragrance and the formulation of Saturday Skin is more gentle). Daily Dew Hydrating Essence Mist has no added fragrance, but the ingredients do give it a subtle herbal/grape scent, which reminds me of the Caudalie Grape Water and Omorovicza Queen of Hungary Mist; two products I've both used and loved in the past. As for what it does, extracts of kiwi and grape deliver nourishment and hydration over and under makeup, and it also helps block free radicals through antioxidants. I love that the Daily Dew Hydrating Essence Mist is reminiscent of one of my favourite luxury toners (the Queen of Hungary Mist is $93 and there's only so much money I have for expensive toners!) and I'd 100% repurchase it.
Rose scents and pretty packaging are the two things I find hard to resist in skincare and when Herbivore first came onto the scene a couple of years ago, I couldn't wait to try their Rose Hibiscus Hydrating Face Mist. With a base of coconut water, it contains hibiscus flower to speed cell turnover and provide a moisture boost, rose to hydrate (it's also high in antioxidants), witch hazel to reduce inflammation and treat discolouration, as well as aloe vera to heal and add further moisture to the skin. As I have enough toners in my skincare routine, I keep this at my dressing table (the bottle is too pretty to be tucked away under my bathroom sink too!) and use it more like I would MAC Prep + Prime Fix+ (also described as a hydrating face mist), which I always apply before my makeup. If things are looking particularly dry or cakey, I'll use it after my makeup too.
Although witch hazel is an astringent that tightens the skin, the formulation is more than gentle enough on my dry skin type and even with its lovely subtle rose scent, there's no added fragrance. I have no qualms with chemicals in my skincare (not all chemical are bad and not all natural ingredients are good), but if you'd rather take the organic route, Herbivore claim to use all-natural ingredients that are plant-based and food-grade too (I consider "food-grade" to be marketing jargon though because as Michelle of Lab Muffin says, "What's good for you nutritionally, isn't the same as what's good for you topically"). I find a little goes a long way with this toner and as it's so beautifully formulated, it's a great one for all skin types.
Unlike hydrating toners, I only ever like to use one exfoliating toner (also known as a chemical exfoliant) at a time in my routine. While you can use exfoliating toners during the day, I reserve mine for the night and as I find my skin doesn't really need it, I don't use it every night either. You can never over-hydrate your skin, but there is such thing as over-exfoliation, so unless you're using individual AHA and BHA toners, there's really no need to have a whole heap of exfoliating products on the go. I've even removed exfoliating masks from my routine just because they always took me so long to get through, coupled with the fact that I've found my holy grail exfoliating toner, I just don't feel the need for anything else right now.
I'd been wanting to try Biologique Recherche Lotion P50 for a long, long time and praised as the be-all and end-all of exfoliating toners, I finally made the splurge last year. Raved amongst beauty aficionados and the like, I can't deny that its elusive mysteriousness, its cult classic status nor the fact that Biologique Recherche are French didn't play their part in my intrigue for this product, but out of all the exfoliating toners I researched and considered buying, this one had the most intelligent formulation and the best ingredients that I knew my skin would love. It gently exfoliates, regulates excess sebum, moisturises and helps maintain the pH of the epidermis, which in turn, brightens, smooths skin texture, strengthens the skin barrier, fights against acne, as well as reduces the appearance of pores, hyperpigmentation and fine lines. In addition, the ingredients used in Lotion P50 prepare the skin and enhance the effects of products applied afterwards. Is there anything it can't do?!
While there are different types of Lotion P50 on the market to cater for different skin types - Lotion P50V for dry/mature skin, Lotion P50W for sensitive skin and Lotion P50 PIGM 400 for hyperpigmentation - I use the standard one for normal skin types (I might try Lotion P50V once this bottle has run out though). It's made up of three of the four types of hydroxy acids, including AHA (malic acid, lactic acid, citric acid, phytic acid), BHA (salicylic acid) and PHA (gluconolactone), which means you're getting a seriously good exfoliation with this stuff, and it also contains a whole host of other wonderful ingredients including glycerin (moisturises), niacinamide (fades discolouration), vinegar (cleanses) and sulfur (an antibacterial that reduces oil production).
In terms of application, the bottle I ordered online came with a directions of use leaflet recommending during the first week of use to moisten a cotton pad with water first before saturating it with the lotion. From the second week onwards, you can use a dry cotton pad and once to twice a week, take it under the eyes as well. I actually didn't end up moistening my cotton pad with water when I first started using Lotion P50, but I also don't have super sensitive skin and as I've used other acids in the past, I knew my skin would be able to tolerate it. Sometimes if I want a lighter exfoliation, I'll dampen a cotton pad then and it actually feels quite refreshing. As I mentioned, exfoliating toners, including Lotion P50, can be used morning and night and every single day, but I really don't think my skin needs that much exfoliation. I think the most important thing to note about application is that it's recommended to press and tap the lotion upwards as opposed to swiping and rubbing it across. Not only will this enhance penetration, but it's also a lot gentler and will help to reduce redness and stinging.
Given the incredible ingredients and all the amazing reviews, I expected nothing less from this "facial in a bottle" and I can safely say that this is the most effective exfoliating toner I've ever used. Last year when I went off the pill and my hormonal acne came back, I suffered from some really bad breakouts, which Lotion P50 would miraculously shrink overnight. For newer ones I could feel underneath the skin, it would stop them from surfacing altogether and I notice a significant difference in the reduction of my stubborn hyperpigmentation and the pores in my t-zone area too. As I'm now back on the pill and my skin is relatively under control again, I love using it as a preventative measure against the signs of ageing and for its general brightening properties.
The one con against Lotion P50 is that it's notoriously hard to find and if you want to actually physically buy it, you'll have to go to a selected spa that specialises in Biologique Recherche products. This could make it almost impossible to get a hold of depending on what country you're from, but I've found it easy enough to buy online here in Australia (there are actually a few Australian websites you can purchase it from) and most spas with an online store will assist you in finding the right type for your skin. I actually appreciate the exclusivity of the brand and the fact that they aren't mainstream (they strongly believe that it should remain a professional brand for spas and aestheticians), and even if you can't just pop into your local Mecca or Sephora, hunting it down is well and truly worth it.
These next two toners are neither hydrating or exfoliating and therefore, don't necessarily have a category of their own. They probably aren't as highly in rotation as the above, but they're nevertheless longstanding products in my routine that I've been using for quite a number of years and they both serve their individual purpose.
My very first bottle of Caudalie Beauty Elixir was bought back in 2012 at a quaint little Parisian pharmacy. A spritz of this reinvigorating mist instantly takes me back to my summer in Europe and I have to admit, the scent is the main reason why I love this toner so much. Like the Herbivore Rose Hibiscus Hydrating Face Mist, I don't use it in the traditional manner after cleansing, but it's one I keep around for a pick-me-up as it's something really therapeutic, yet energising at the same time. While I did use Beauty Elixir as a proper toner up until a couple of years ago, I stopped when I started looking more thoroughly into skincare ingredients and learning just how damaging things like alcohol and essential oils - which Beauty Elixir contains a lot of - can be. Alcohol is a huge no-no for those who are on the drier side and for that reason, I don't feel comfortable applying this to bare, freshly cleansed skin. As previously mentioned, essential oils can also be irritating, but I can't really complain there since I don't have sensitive skin and they're also why this stuff smells so damn good!
Containing a blend of grape, orange blossom, rose, mint and rosemary, I apply Beauty Elixir over makeup or after my whole skincare routine, but I also enjoy simply spritzing it into the air and taking in its refreshing and cooling goodness. It's said to "tighten pores, set makeup and provide an instant shot of radiance to the skin", but I actually don't think it lives up those claims nor do I think it's well-formulated enough to be a traditional toner. Nevertheless, I still absolutely adore Beauty Elixir and it's one I'll always keep on hand at my bedside table or when I'm travelling.
La Roche-Posay Serozinc became a hit during the height of the French skincare craze some few years ago and it's one of my favourite products to use when I'm suffering with particularly bad breakouts. Specifically designed to target the key signs of oily, acne-prone and irritated skin, it's a purifying, soothing and mattifying mist that can either be used as a toner after cleansing or an instant refreshing boost throughout the day. While my skin isn't oily even in the slightest and the term "mattifying" kind of terrifies me (I prefer a dewy complexion), it doesn't make my skin look dry at all and instead, takes away redness and angriness typically caused by breakouts and calms and comforts the complexion. I find it to be a nice product to use during hot weather too, plus it's even recommended for surface irritations like razor burn. Made up of just three ingredients, which are zinc sulphate to heal and regulate oil, sodium chloride for its astringent properties, as well as purified water, Serozinc won't necessarily "wow" you, but it does the job and is a great product to keep around whenever things are looking and feeling a little troubled.
What are some of your favourite toners?