Usually folks try cheaper toners first (similar to cars), and then move on to the Rolls Royces. Whereas I did start off my journey with more reasonably priced toners, it was Yuli’s Panacea Elixir that transformed me into a toner connoisseur (to say so humbly, if I may). For my skincare routine, I rely on not just one, but several toners. I have one to mist my skin before cleansing, another one to use post cleansing to balance skin’s pH, a third hydrating toner to drench my face with immediately before the application of my facial oils, and a final moisturizing mist to seal it all in after the application of the face oils. Oh, and also a separate floral water for mixing my clay masks. Sorry if your head is spinning, but I can explain the benefits of using different toners.
To keep the length of this post manageable, I’ll breakdown this post based on the “type” of toners – This post will cover a couple of toners currently in rotation, and the second part will cover the rest. (Update: Read Part II here)
Warning – This might seem excessive and high maintenance to some of you, but after a lot of trial and error, I am a firm believer of incorporating various types of toners into my routine. Just because this works for me, doesn’t mean it will be the best for your skin. For me, the low maintenance, “quick cleanse, tone and moisturize” approach doesn’t work, unfortunately.
Type 1 – Toner to mist with before cleansing:
Instead of using regular tap water, I use Avène Thermal Spring Water to mist my face before the application of my choice of cleanser. I was lucky enough to buy a couple of big 10.14 oz sizes during my trip to Paris last year (these cost a bomb in the US). I prefer using a thermal water spray because the water is always at the optimum, room temperature, and contains low salt mineral contents that have been long known to have a therapeutic effect on various skin ailments.
Tap water can either be too hot or too cold, and contains way too many impurities; so I try to stay away from it as much as possible (Side note: There was a period when I took to only using distilled water for my skincare routines. The hassle involved led me to abandon the effort after a couple of months). Avène Thermal Spring Water is 100% Spring Water from Avène area in France and has a very soothing and calming effect on my skin. It has a host of other uses — treat your skin post a shave, soothe your child’s rash, spray on anytime to refresh yourself, use it to set your makeup etc. However, I keep it in my skincare basket for this specific purpose and this has allowed me to stretch a bottle for 6+ months (still using the same bottle that I opened in Sept ’14, although I think I might run out of it in another week or two). If you were in a pinch or want to get more use out of it, you could also use this mist to hydrate before the application of face oil.
I love incorporating a little bit of French luxury wherever I can, and when I was in France, it was a real treat to see so many different thermal spring waters at amazing prices in all the Pharmacies (wish the pharmacies in the US were as pretty or interesting…). I am told French women hardly ever let tap water touch their faces.
Buy from drugstore.com ($18 for 10.14 oz).
Caudalíe Organic Grape Water – Pure Grape Water and Grape Juice propelled in a fine mist all over the face with nitrogen; so hydrating, unlike plain mist water. The can has one of the best misting nozzles I’ve ever come across. I have a new bottle that I’ll start on after I’m done with Avène Thermal Spring Water. The only reason I wouldn’t repurchase this would be because I’ve read that Caudalíe is not completely cruelty free, since they also sell in China.
Type 2 – Toner to balance skin’s pH immediately post cleansing:
I like to use a mild exfoliating toner immediately post cleansing to remove any left over cleanser remnants and tap water impurities, as well as to balance my skin’s pH. I saturate a square shaped 100% organic cotton pad (using both sides) with the toner and gently sweep it all over my face and neck a couple of times. I think it’s important to use a cotton pad to really pick up the dirt – Just misting the toner is nearly not as effective.
I’m using Andalou Naturals Aloe + Willow Bark Pore Minimizer ($12.95/6 oz) from their Clarifying range. The packaging is very convenient for my usage – the flip cap top makes it easy to pour some of the toner onto the cotton pad. The pricing is very reasonable for the quantity provided – This is great news for someone like me who’s extremely heavy handed in toner application. I’m down to the last 1/3 of the bottle in a months’ time, after using it every day both AM and PM, but it will probably last you longer if you use less quantity – I pour some on to the cotton pad twice to fully saturate it.
The fruit based enzymes, Willow Bark, Salicylic Acid and Lauric Acid work together to lightly exfoliate and resurface cells. I like to leave it on for a minute or two, to give AHAs more time to work on my skin, before moving on to my Facial Serums and Oils. You can tell this is a really high quality product because it has Certified Organic Aloe Juice (and not plain purified water) as the main base. I’ve seen toners that cost $60+ use purified water as the first ingredient, which is why Andalou’s toner is a pleasant surprise. In addition, the sloughing action of the toner is balanced by the gentleness of Meadowsweet Extract, White Tea Extract, and Hibiscus. It is also slightly brightening, thanks to Vitamin C, and gives a slight tingle (Peppermint oil) when you apply it. The tingling sensation subsides after a minute or so.
Recently, I struck gold and got a boat load of Andalou Naturals toners at a very reasonable price at my local Marshalls store a while ago, and still have many more Andalou toners in my stock. In addition to the Pore Minimizer toner, I am also using their Brightening Clementine + C Illuminating Toner (review to be posted in the next part of this series – stay tuned) for additional moisture, as part of this routine.
For a short while, I used the Holy Grail exfoliating toner from Biologique Recherche: P50 1970, after reading references to it in multiple posts by Caroline Hirons. Due to the Phenol content, the original 1970 formula is banned in the European Union; so you can only get a hold of it in the US at select spas (lucky me!). The version sold in EU is simply called “P50” (no Phenol). Apparently, it’s the Phenol that really lends its magic and makes BR P50 such a good exfoliating toner. This Holy Grail cult favorite is available in three different strengths for people with different skin sensitivities. In addition to Phenol, P50 1970 has Lactic Acid, Salicylic Acid, Niacinamide, among other ingredients.
I started off with only 2-3 drops on a damp cotton pad (I saturated it using Avène Thermal Spring Water), and gently patted it all over my face and neck. After your skin adjusts a bit, you can increase the strength, and eventually, move up to using the product full strength, without wetting the cotton pad with water. Since it’s a strong exfoliant, you should rotate this with a milder exfoliating toner. This product worked really well for a month or two and kept me spot free and helped fade some acne scars, but after a while, my skin got increasingly irritated and red. I think the over exfoliation also caused some breakouts. Also, I noticed that the acids had “burned” some parts of my cheeks. It took a couple of weeks and lots of nourishing facial oils for my skin to be recover. I’ll probably do better with P50V or P50W (milder strengths), but I don’t think I have the courage to experiment anymore, and would rather stick to tried and tested at this point. Plus, it’s a little difficult to get hold of P50, and BR’s policy is to allow only certain authorized spas to sell it. I got mine from Vicki Morav, for around $65 (5 oz).
Part II has been posted here.