A liquid lunch – for your face? Don’t mind if we do...
The conventional skincare wisdom is your mother’s mantra: cleanse, tone, moisturise. But now that we’re savvier about what our skin really needs, the middle man has practically been cut out. “Old formulas were cooling, so it felt like they were doing something to our skin,” says Dr Frances Prenna Jones, cosmetic doctor and skincare expert. “But, in reality, you were either stripping your skin or using something that was like dipping cotton wool into water.” In fact, toner as we know it (high-alcohol astringent liquid or wishy-washy water) is quickly becoming extinct.
In its place? More innovative formulas. “New-gen tonics feed the skin the ingredients it needs, rather than just removing cleansing residue,” says Sarah Brown, founder of sensitive skincare brand Pai. Dr Prenna Jones agrees, after noticing 12 years ago that her clients wanted skincare that would work on all levels: “I wanted to create a one-stop product that would clean, treat and moisturise skin,” she says.
The result was the first super-tonic, Formula, which has evolved since and contains a whole host of active ingredients that, Dr Prenna Jones says, will have you waking up to fresher, clearer skin after just a few nights of using it. It’s packed full of calming anti-inflammatories (that also fend off blemishes) and skin-defending antioxidants, such as tomato and feverfew, as well as glycolic, an exfoliating alpha hydroxy acid (AHA), and salicylic acid, a beta hydroxy acid (BHA). “You should start by using it nightly for a week, then twice a day after that,” she recommends.
The rest of the skincare world has taken note too, with other brands releasing tonics left, right and centre. Used consistently, they can overhaul skin that’s acne-prone, uneven and smattered with age spots. For example, Glossier’s new Exfoliating Skin Perfector, made waves on Instagram when its before-and-after photos showed a vast reduction in spots and surface scarring after four weeks of daily use. It’s thanks to these AHAs, like lactic, and BHAs, like salicylic, that skin can be unclogged, soothed and hydrated on all levels. We also love Ren’s new Ready Steady Glow Daily AHA Tonic, and Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant.
While formulas like these are brilliant for resilient, robust skin, those who are sensitive should tread carefully, because some acids can irritate the skin. Turn to formulas that use more calming botanical extracts, which won’t upset your skin’s delicate pH balance. Pai’s Bio Affinity Tonic, contains mineral and nutrient-rich waters extracted from the lotus plant which, as Sarah points out, is the exact pH of the skin naturally.
Other ingredients, such as chamomile, which is anti-fungal, antibacterial and antiseptic, as well as being an antioxidant, can soothe inflamed skin and help fend off airborne irritants. “Avoid anything with propylene glycol in it, as it’s famously bad for eczema or dry skin,” she says.
And while you’re at it, avoid the typical cotton-wool-pad application method, which results in the pad getting more nutrients than your skin. Instead, spray directly on to your face or swipe over with your fingers.
Photos: David Marquez and Marco Vittur