Terrific Toner Smack-Down!

Niall | Aug 01

If skin care were a rock band, toner would be the drummer. The one no one sees or cares about, and who never gets his own poster. Many people who are very conscientious about skin care and love to use skin care products, give toner very short shrift. They see its existence as just another way for the vendor to pry more shekels from a young man's clutch purse.

Well, we here at Mantastic! beg to differ. In fact, we are in love with toner. Let's start with its practical benefits. So you wash your face with that carefully chosen soap-free cleanser you saw your favorite movie star using on TV. Then what do you do? You wipe your face with a big dirty towel, leaving tons of microdebris on your face, to mingle there with the hard water residue from your tap. Not a pretty canvas on which to paint with the rest of your regime, is it? This is why we use toner. It removes all such residues, leaving your skin perfectly prepared for whatever comes next. A good toner not only creates that perfectly clean canvas, it also balances the pH of your skin to make your treatment even more effective. Lastly, if you think about it, toner is actually more effective as a treatment than cleanser, since toner, unlike cleanser, actually stays on your face. What is the point of spending big money for the cleanser that is packed with antioxidants, AHA and poppers, when it only stays on your face for two seconds before you wash it off? Toner, on the other hand, doesn't get washed off, making it a much more plausible delivery system for whatever beneficial ingredients it contains.

So we have gathered here a collection of our favorite toners, and some of our not-so-favorite toners, in the hope that we can shed some much needed light on this much neglected product.


PS - Here's a bit of buying advice. If you have dry or sensitive skin, before you buy any toner read the label and be sure it contains no alcohol or alpha-hydroxy acids (like lactic or glycolic acid). Alcohol and AHA's will pucker your skin up like Annie Sprinkle's privates. And will make you red as a lobster. Conversely, if you have oily skin, you will generally want to stay away from any toners containing oils like castor oil.

Erbe Rosemary Toner -
Manufactured by Erbe Dermocosmetica, Rome. Erbe is an Italian line of skin care carried at Sephora (www.sephora.com). 7 fl oz/$15

Ingredients: Rosemary-infused water.

This is without a doubt one of our favorite toners of all time. It is simplicity itself: rosemary extract and water. It contains no alcohol, so it won't dry or irritate your skin. Yet it contains no oils of any kind, so it won't break you out. And rosemary seems to have magical properties on the skin. Wipe a cotton pad of this stuff across your face, and in five minutes it will have a glow and resiliency that is almost magical. Really. And, at this price, it really is a steal.

Mantastic Rating: 4! Our highest possible. Go and buy it with pride and confidence!

Aubrey Organics Rose Mosqueta & English Lavender Herbal Facial Toner - Manufactured by Aubrey Organics, a venerable and extensive maker of herbal skin and hair products. Aubrey's line can be found at Whole Foods, Wild Oats and most other natural/yuppie grocery stores. 8 fl oz/$12

Ingredients: Distilled water; Aubrey's English lavender glycerin; aloe vera gel; witch hazel; rosa mosqueta; rose hip seed extract; and the following blend of hydroglycolic herbal extracts: Rosemary, sage, horsetail, coltsfoot, seaweed complex (laminaria, fucus, seaware); arnica blossoms; calendula blossoms; cucumber; elder; marshmallow, pellitory of the wall; pinetree; lemon peel; camomile flowers; elderberries; comfrey; nettles; blueberry leaves; myrrh and benzoin.

Quite an ingredient list! Yet it creates a toner that is entirely wonderful. It contains witch hazel, which is an astringent, yet nevertheless is very gentle to the skin. It smells like a garden, and leaves my skin feeling fresh and hydrated. I can even use it on the oily areas of my face without fear of breakouts or unseemly reflections at the bar. You get a whole lot of the stuff too for a very reasonable price. It's hard to argue with.

Mantastic Rating: 3 A great basic toner that does no wrong at a reasonable price. Go ahead and spend!

Dermalogica Soothing Protection Spray -
Manufactured by Dermalogica, a Los Angeles-based skin care company that numbers many actresses among its customers. Dermalogica products are available at almost any beauty supply store in LA, and online at www.diamondbeauty.com. 8 fl oz/$25

Ingredients: Lavender extract; butylene glycol; glycerin; lemon extracts; fumaria extracts; fumaric acid; cucumber extract; green tea; chamomile extract; licorice extract; wheat germ; echinacea; raspberry; fireweed; white lily extract; sage leaf; clover flower; oat kernel; lavender oil; dipotassium gylcchyrrizate; PEG-40 hydrogenated castor oil; menthoxypropanediol; sodium palmitoyl proline; phenoxyethanol; methylparaben

This toner is intended for people with sensitive skin that has a tendency to redness. It contains several ingredients, such as licorice and green tea, that are known for their soothing properties. All in all, this is a perfectly satisfactory toner, except for two things. First, it is a little oily. That's great for people like me who have very dry cheeks, but even for me that makes it something for the winter season only. Second, the price. Twenty-four dollars! That's a rather large bottle of Absolut Citron, and, frankly, the Absolut will have a greater effect. There is nothing wrong with this toner, but it is just too pricey and too oily to place it in the top rank. It's like the very, very nice, very, very kind, very, very well-educated boyfriend you dumped a while back. Because, nice as he was, you knew you could do better. Same thing here.

Mantastic Rating: 2 Nice try, but pass the cold cream!

Origins Oil Refiner Skin Purifying Tonic -
Manufactured by Origins, a subsidiary of Estee Lauder specializing in herbal skin care products. They can be found in almost any department store, or online at www.origins.com. 5 fl oz/ $16

Ingredients: purified water; salvia; peppermint; denatured alcohol; butylene glycol; kaolin (clay); acetyl glucosamine; laminaria saccharina (seaweed) extract; tourmaline; clove extract; balsam leaf extract; eucalyptus; sage; manuka (leptospermum scoparium); ylang ylang essential oil; benzalkonium chloride; disodium edta.

This is a toner specifically for oily skin. Most such toners pile on the alcohol, but this one has a wealth of interesting ingredients, like seaweed, clove and the mineral tourmaline. I like this toner a lot for the oily areas of my skin (forehead and nose) during the summer. My skin in these areas becomes quite oily in the summer, but apparently not so oily that I can use a lot of the oily skin products out there, because many of them are so harsh they make me break out, which is very rare for me. Oil Refiner, on the other hand, seems to be just right. Powerful enough to control the oil, but not so harsh that it damages my skin. It leaves my skin perfectly matte without being dried out all day long. I would highly recommend this toner for anyone with an oily T-zone.

Mantastic Rating: 3 Good stuff for oily skin. Go ahead and spend!

La Prairie Cellular Refining Lotion -
Manufactured by La Prairie of Switzerland. La Prairie is the Mercedes-Benz of skin care. It is the highest of the highest end, and one of the most expensive lines. But, unlike some other expensive lines we could name (Sisley anyone?), their products generally are highly effective at what they do. La Prairie can be found at most higher-end department stores (hint: not Target), or online at www.laprairie.com. 8.4 fl oz/$60

Ingredients: Water; propylene glycol; algae extract; oleth-20; PEG-7 glyceryl cocoate; glycoproteins; ginseng extract; horsetail extract; cucumber extract; apple extract; chamomile extract; ivy extract; glycerin; butylene glycol; urea, saccharide hydrolysate; magnesium aspartate; glycine; benzophenone-4; alanine; creatine; PEG-40 hydrogenated castor oil; allantoin; citric acid; tetrasodium EDTA; methylparaben; butylparaben; ethylparaben; propylparaben; chlorphenesin; fragrance; D&C violet #2; FD&C blue #1

Yes, you read the price correctly : $60. That's several trips to the baths or many, many martinis at your favorite watering hole. Is it worth it? Could it ever be worth it? We can answer these questions with a heartfelt Yes! and Hell Yes! Normally we at Mantastic! would never advise anyone to pay more than $20 for toner unless sex was also part of the exchange. But this toner is the only exception to this rule. It is a wonderful potion for the skin, containing a well-balanced set of active ingredients, including soothing herbs (chamomile), toning herbs (horsetail, ivy, apple, cucumber), minerals (magnesium), amino acids (glycine, alanine, creatine) etc. More importantly, it contains no alcohol, witch hazel or AHA/BHAs that can irritate the skin. And, though it contains some castor oil, it does not leave your skin oily or prone to breakouts.

OK, but what does it feel like on the face? In a word: magical. Its effects are clearly multiple. Most toners have one effect on your skin that becomes apparent after it dries (your skin is toned and tight, or smooth and dewy, or whatever). Not so with this baby. After application your skin will intially feel nicely toned and clean, but not overly dry. Then wait five minutes. Gradually, your skin becomes nicely dewy and moisturized without feeling oily. The scent is great and, at the risk of being thought a giddy fag, I have to comment on the lovely, mystical violet color. Yes, it's expensive, but you do get a lot. If you have the money, by all means buy this. If you don't have the money, get a boyfriend and have him buy it for you. It is the touch in your daily regime that will make you feel truly special, which is what high end skin care is all about. You won't be disappointed.

Mantastic Rating: 4! Our highest possible. Go and buy it with pride and confidence!

Clarins Toning Lotion for Dry/Normal Skin -
Manufactured by Clarins Paris. Clarins offers a full line of mid-priced products for the skin, the body, and a make-up line. It is available at every department store in the galaxy.. 6.8 fl oz/$18

Ingredients: Lost the box. Sorry. But it is alcohol-free. And, as you will see below, value free as well.

Let me begin this rant by stating unequivocally that Clarins makes some really lovely products, and at a reasonable price. This, however, is not one of them. I got a bad feeling when I took it out of the box and couldn't help noticing that it's the color of pee after you've taken a multi-vitamin. But I persevered - so that you won't have to. This toner is like a very bad trick: nice and inoffensive at the beginning (even sweet smelling), nice enough to make you overcome your initial doubts, but when it's all over you're rubbed raw in all the wrong places. The toner goes on very nicely and for a few moments you feel that it might be doing someting nice for your face. Then it dries. Really dries. Taking your face with it. The final result, at least for someone with dry skin like me, is the exact same result I would get by pouring a martini on my face. Sandpaper. Gobi Desert. British humor. You get the idea. Being the objective guy that I am, I thought that this might actually work for someone with oily skin, so I tried it on my T-zone. There, it had the opposite effect, leaving me feeling as though I'd slept with a wheel of brie on my face.

You have enough problems. Don't add this toner to the list.

Mantastic Rating: 1 Not on my face! And not on yours either, if you're smart.


take me home, bud!