A brief recap for those of you who are new to this project or blog. My daughter Piper and I are exploring Korean Skin Care and documenting it here. If you are interested in how we got to this point, I recommend checking out these posts. Korean Skin Care Project, Korean Multi-Step Routine and Where to Buy K-beauty Products In this installment we are going to cover another basic tenet of K-beauty, preparing the skin for treatment.
The second step of the Korean skin care routine is toner, you know the step we all skip to save time and money in the US. However, there are no stinging astringent toners in this routine (I’m looking at you Seabreeze). These toners are designed primarily to balance the pH level of the skin to prepare it to accept the hydrating products yet to come.
Some Very Basic Information About pH Levels
Like many others, I have viewed toner as either the throw away step of the skin care routine, or the fast and way to wash my face. Both views are wrong. The primary purpose of toning in the Korean view is to bring the pH level of the skin into balance after cleansing, before adding other treatment products. The term pH stands for potential Hydrogen, which I cannot even begin to explain so for a more complete explanation of pH levels, check out this great post on SoKo Glam’s blog Why the ph of Your Skincare Products Matter
Remember back in the day when all doctors recommended a cleanser call pHisoderm? It came in an acid green bottle, smelled terrible, but worked on the principle of controlling the pH level of your skin. It also contained some chemical that was banned by the FDA and had to be pulled from drugstore shelves and reformulated, but that’s a story for another day.
The very basics of pH are, low pH equals acidic skin which is often oily and blemish prone; and, high pH equals alkaline skin which is often dry and also, sadly, blemish prone. The sweet spot, around 5.5, is where the acid mantle of the skin is adequate to resist bacterial invasion, but neither overly oily, causing blemishes, or overly dry causing inflammation and redness.
After cleansing, the skin’s pH is usually more alkaline (dry) because you have stripped some of the acid mantle when you cleansed away the day’s makeup, dirt and sweat. The right toner will slightly increase the acid level, and should also include ingredients which will nourish the skin.
Toners I Have Known and Loved
The first toner we used in this project was Botanical Nutrition Toner from Be the Skin. This toner has all natural ingredients like Laurus Nobilis Leaf Extract (bay leaf) and thyme, it has a light herbal scent and worked pretty well. It was as advertised, a no frills, all natural toner and I would recommend it for any one starting out.
The price was around $25 which is pretty close to what you will spend for toner, maybe a little high, but not excessively. It is available on Peach & Lilly and Amazon.
Getting a little more adventurous, we next decided to try something with a little more kick. Adding some AHA (alpha hydroxy acid) and BHA (beta hydroxy acid) is generally recommended for acne prone skin, so we chose this Cosrx product which was less expensive and Piper really likes. The spray bottle is a much easier and more efficient way to apply the product. So far her skin has responded well to this toner.
The cost was around $12 and it is available at Yesstyle and Amazon.
I can attest it is a really nice product. It has a light scent and leaves your skin feeling soft and supple. It also has gentle exfoliating agents and hydrating properties so can be used as multi-purpose product. My only complaint, and it is a small one, is that while the packaging is sleek and modern, it pours out awkwardly and often ends up running down the back of my hand. First world problems, I know.
What Have We Learned?
In summary, the toner step is not one to skip. Nor is it a replacement for cleansing when it’s either too late, or too cold to wash your face. Korean toners are not the drying, astringent toners we are used to in the US, they are designed to bring the pH levels of the skin in balance to prime the skin for other products. These toners often have other benefits as well, such as exfoliants or humectants for hydration.
Some helpful tips for using toner:
- Consider storing your toner in the fridge during the summer for a cooling treatment.
- If you pour the toner in your palm and pat it on the face your bottle will probably last longer. Putting it on a cotton ball usually uses more product and you have the added cost of buying cotton balls.
- Leave your skin slightly damp from cleansing rather than thoroughly drying it before applying toner.
- For travel, there are toner products that come as pre-moistened pads in jars, they are slightly more expensive and a bit wasteful, but convenient and less likely to make a mess in your luggage.
Essence- the quintessential Korean product.