Why use an acid toner?
I don’t know if you realise that Beauty Markdown is run by two people, one of us is a skincare novice whereas I use a frankly terrifying number of products each evening. I’ve always had okay-ish skin, sometimes it’s a bit dry, sometimes a bit spotty, but the one product that really made a difference to my skin was an acid toner.
If you’ve never done it before I’m well aware that putting acid on your face sounds TERRIFYING.
It was Caroline Hirons that introduced me to the concept, so I’ll leave it to her to explain what different acids do for different skintypes.
I promise you that none of these toners hurt to use, you just wipe them on your skin with a cotton pad after cleansing at night, you might get a slight tingle, but nothing painful.
What am I testing?
The Ordinary is a brand I’ve been meaning to write about for months; and it’s coming, I promise! This particular product is something I’ve been lusting after for ages, but it’s almost always out of stock. It wasn’t even in the physical Deciem shop in Spitalfields!
I’m going to be comparing it to other two glycolic acid products that have a big cult following, Pixi Glow Tonic and Alpha-H Liquid Gold. All of the products featured in this post are cruelty free (to the best of my knowledge), only the Liquid Gold (which contains silk) isn’t vegan.
Pixi Glow Tonic
Price per bottle: £18 (250ml)
Price per 100ml: £7.20
What’s the packaging like? I really like how this looks, and it’s quite practical too. However once I ordered it from ASOS and it had leaked a bit in the post.
My experience using it: This is the second bottle I’ve owned (and I’m nearly done with it). It’s a really lovely product and each bottle lasts about 9 months. It’s 5% glycolic and it has a light scent. It’s gentle enough for me to use every day. I think this is great for anyone starting out with acid toning or those with combination skin because it has lots of skin calming ingredients like witch hazel and aloe.
Aqua, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Hamamelis Virginiana (Witch Hazel) Leaf Extract, Aesculus Hippocastanum (Horse Chestnut) Seed Extract, Glycolic Acid, Ammonium Glycolate, Glycerin, Butylene Glycol, Hexylene Glycol (and) Fructose (and) Glucose (and) Sucrose (and) Urea (and) Dextrin (and) Alanine (and) Glutamic Acid (and) Aspartic Acid (and) Hexyl Nicotinate, Panax Ginseng Root Extract, Phenoxyethanol, Sodium Benzoate, Biotin, Polysorbate 20.
Alpha-H Liquid Gold
Price per bottle: £33.50 (100ml)
Price per 100ml: £33.50
What’s the packaging like? (Disclaimer: I’ve only ever had this as a mini size, so the full size packaging might be different) Underneath the lid you see above it another lid that looks like the sort of thing you get on a shampoo bottle. It works! I’d kind of expect prettier packaging for the product that’s by far the most expensive on this list, though.
My experience using it: Now, this baby stings. It doesn’t say what percentage glycolic acid is in Liquid Gold on the packaging, but the ingredients posted online say it’s 5%, which is the same as the Pixi toner. That really shocked me, as in my opinion these two products are really different. My first thought after looking at the ingredients is that it might be the alcohol that makes this a bit more painful to use, but my pH test (scroll to the bottom) definitely proves otherwise.
This is really strong, and they recommend using it no more than twice a week. I’ve had this half size bottle for AGES because I really don’t like to use it regularly. You definitely get results from it, when you wake up in the morning after using this you’ll have the smoothest feeling skin of your life. But PLEASE use lots of moisturiser and sunscreen the next morning, or you’ll have a sore face 🙁
Aqua, Alcohol Denat, Glycolic Acid (5%), Glycerin, Hydrolyzed Silk, Potassium Hydroxide, Phenoxyethanol, Caprylyl Glycol, Glycyrrhiza Glabra Extract.
The Ordinary 7% Glycolic Toning Solution
Price per bottle: £7 on ASOS, £6.80 elsewhere (240ml)
Price per 100ml: £2.91 if you pay £7, £2.83 if it was £6.80.
What’s the packaging like? When this arrives at your house it comes with a screw on metal lid that is REALLY HARD TO OPEN. In the end my boyfriend bit it off – but I’ve heard people online who’ve had this for months without being able to take the lid off, which is pretty crazy. It does solve the leaking issue I had with Pixi, though. The lid pictured comes with it too, and is a bit like a squirty ketchup bottle top that you screw open/shut. (Hopefully that makes sense)!
My experience using it: As a long time acid toner user I didn’t get any ‘sting’ with this product, despite it being a 7% glycolic product (apparently even higher than Liquid Gold). I found this to be very comparable to Pixi Glow Tonic in how I could use it, it’s definitely gentle enough to be used every day on my acid-hardened skin. If you look at the ingredients you can see it has much more in common with Pixi than Alpha-H, lots of natural extracts, and no alcohol. I’ve been using it on half my face with the Pixi toner and I’ve not noticed a huge difference between them.
Aqua (Water), Glycolic Acid, Rosa damascena flower water, Centaurea cyanus flower water, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Water, Propanediol, Glycerin, Triethanolamine, Aminomethyl Propanol, Panax Ginseng Root Extract, Tasmannia Lanceolata Fruit/Leaf Extract, Aspartic Acid, Alanine, Glycine, Serine, Valine, Isoleucine, Proline, Threonine, Histidine, Phenylalanine, Glutamic Acid, Arginine, PCA, Sodium PCA, Sodium Lactate, Fructose, Glucose, Sucrose, Urea, Hexyl Nicotinate, Dextrin, Citric Acid, Polysorbate 20, Gellan Gum, Trisodium Ethylenediamine Disuccinate, Sodium Chloride, Hexylene Glycol, Potassium Sorbate, Sodium Benzoate, 1,2-Hexanediol, Caprylyl Glycol.
The big pH test
Now, I don’t know if you remember doing chemistry at school, but this is universal indicator paper. The more red the paper turns (and the lower the corresponding number) the more acidic something is; pure water has a pH of 7, battery acid is 0 and bleach is 12.6. As you can see, the percentage of glycolic acid has nothing to do with the pH – from left to right we have the Alpha H (5%), The Ordinary (7%) and Pixi (5%), it’s all to do with the more alkaline additives that are used in the formula.
The only product to give the pH on the packaging is The Ordinary which says it’s between 3.5-3.7, but according to my test that’s not 100% true. I’d place it at about a 5, Pixi at maybe a 5.3 and Liquid Gold at 3 (which is only as acidic as vinegar, don’t be too scared!)
Do I think The Ordinary’s glycolic toner is a good dupe for Pixi Glow Tonic? YES. Despite having a 2% higher concentration of glycolic the pH is really close, and the ingredients aren’t identical but have very similar properties. At better than half the price of Pixi, if you’re already a fan of glycolic toning, it’s definitely worth a go (if you can find somewhere that stocks it, that is).
If you LOVE Liquid Gold and are looking for a much cheaper (more than a tenth of the price) replacement, unfortunately this isn’t it. The ingredients, acidity and results aren’t comparable in my opinion.
All of the products mentioned in the post are really good and I’d definitely buy them all again, but when it comes to value for money, The Ordinary takes the prize.
Everything featured in this post was bought with my own money – even the litmus paper (my GCSE science teacher would be so proud!)