I have a confession to make: I too am guilty of being a card carrying member of the Church of Caroline Hirons. Her wit and guides are a breath of fresh air in the beauty world so I find myself hanging on every word she says. For those who are similar members of this growing cult, you’ll know that Caroline is a huge advocate for: retinols and acid toners. She swears by them and these two product categories are what I would say are the cornerstone of a Caroline Hirons regimen.
The first time I heard acid toners, it just sounded abrasive and reminded me of those astringent toners from yesteryears when I was using strong chemicals to rid my skin of acne. Despite the unpleasant memories, hearing Caroline talk about acid toners made me want to give it a go again. I started my search by identifying the acids: lactic acid or glycolic acid. The first thing I noticed was the prevalence of drying and irritating alcohols that I know do not work with my skin, or the abundance of preservatives. I also didn’t want something TOO abrasive which knocked out Biologique’s P50 toner which contains phenol – yikes! After some meaningful searching, I found Somme Institute’s Transport Pads which had the best ingredients list I found and not to mention are raved about on Into The Gloss ( see here, here, and here).
What it is
An exfoliator/acid toner that purports to unclog blocked pores, and exfoliate dead skin cells with Alpha Hydroxy Acids (Glycolic Acid) while delivering “highly engineered Vitamins” through the patented molecular dispersion technology. Each jar contains 50 completely saturated soft cotton treatment pads.
What’s in it?
Water, Glycolic Acid, Polysorbate 20, Green Tea Extract, Ethoxydiglycol, Ammonium Glycolate, Molecular Dispersion Technology (MDT5), Panthenol, Chamomile Extract, Aloe Powder, Menthol, Tetrasodium EDTA, Methylchloroisothiazolinone, Methylisothiazolinone, Grape Seed Extract, Palma Rosa Extract, Ylang Ylang Extract, Jasmine Extract, Geranium Extract, Lavender Extract, Marigold Extract, Galbanum Extract
As you can see this is not a green product by any means, but compared to everything else out there for acid-toners, this is one of the best in terms of being alcohol-free, contain high levels of acids (glycolic is listed 2nd), and there are pretty good ingredients like Green Tea, the Vitamins, Chamomile, Aloe, Grape Seed, Palma Rose, Ylang Ylang, Jasmine, Geraniu, Lavender, Marigold. Oddly – these pads don’t really smell of anything so I think these extracts might just be that and not essential oils.
The first time I used it, I loved how soft and gentle the pads were (tip: you can cut the pads in half to extend usage because one full pad is MORE than enough for the entire face). I felt little tingling/stinging sensations that were tip toeing around being uncomfortable and entertaining in that “it’s working!” sort of way. The Somme Institute rep told me that skin will purge so I might experience dryness, oiliness or break outs. I’m pleased to say I didn’t experience any break outs or dryness – but I did notice excess oiliness the first few times which indicates “unclogging” of pores. Over time these immediate side-effects subsided and I was able to swipe these gentle pads without really feeling anything.
I think acid toners are beneficial in a routine but unnecessary as an everyday product (unless you don’t properly cleanse – so oil cleanse only fans, look into this!). I spoke to The Green Derm to check this observation and he agreed: “Our skin is perfectly able to naturally turn over cells, exfoliating products are good for helping out but shouldn’t be used more than 1-2 times a week otherwise it’s just excessive and you’re going to have declining returns in results.” Sure enough, I noticed daily usage made me wonder if the pads were losing their effectiveness but following Green Derm’s advice, when used once a week, I always notice a “deep clean” feel and slight tingling indicating there were indeed pores to unclog and dead skin cells accumulated if given enough downtime in between.
For an acid-toner, this was really gentle thanks to the alcohol free formula and inclusion of soothing botanical ingredients. I would recommend this to anyone looking for an acid-toner and fully believe this is one of the best on the market right now.
Somme Institute Transport Pads are apparently the stand out product in the entire line and I think it will be my staple acid-toner. At $58.00 for 50 treatment pads (which can be cut to double the use), I found Somme Institute’s Transport Pads to be a good investment.
Anyone else use an acid-toner in their routine? How often do you use it? Any other products I should also consider?
I’m a member of the Hirons church too. 🙂 When I started reading her blog, I immediately had to have the pixie glow tonic. It was too strong and my skin just didn’t look good. I had a more gentle toner for am. Then I stopped using toner twice a day. It was too much. I don’t know how she does it considering she is using even stronger ones! Anyway, I now use first aid beauty facial radiance pads 5 or 6 nights a week. They are really gentle and the ingredients may be more agreeable to you than this brand. The first aid pads are also faves of hers which surprises me considering she likes some sting-y toners!
Right?! I see her routine of acid toners and retinols which makes me go like “HOW TOUGH IS YOUR SKIN!?” Thanks for the rec on the First Aid Beauty pads, I was eyeing them at Sephora the other day and might have to give it a go!
Nice review. I use acid toners once a week; I really like them. For more clogged days or nose area I like to use salycic acid as it unclogs pores deep down. Rest of my face is treated with glycolic/lactic. I buy paulas choice – her stuff is alcohol free and fragrance free and I wash it off after a few minutes. It’s the only non green product I use and pc is really affordable.
Thanks Laura! Which Salicylic Acid toner do you use? I couldn’t find any without alcohol in it. I think Paula’s Choice has a couple options. A few years ago I remember being told the problem with Paula’s Choice products is that they have good ingredients but in weak concentrations so it’s never as effective as the ingredients list would suggest.
Hello! That is really interesting… I use the 2% salicylic anti redness water. And then the aha – 10% concentration.
If you’re looking for a Salicylic Acid toner without alcohol, you can have a look at Clinique Mild Clarifying Lotion. It is actually mild enough to be used rather often (I use it twice a day – may reduce to once a day after reading your post, though) – and I believe its composition to be quite clean. I’ve been using it for about two weeks, and I really like it!
Hi Florian, it’s great that you’re a fan of Clinique’s Mild Clarifying Lotion. My ears perked up when you associated the Clinique brand with ‘clean’ and alcohol free when in my experience it is the furthest thing from either of those. I did some research and I’m afraid I have some bad news to deliver for you my friend. Here is the full ingredients list:
Butylene Glycol is an alcohol and it is the 2nd ingredient in this toner after water. PEG Soy Sterol has an EWG Skin Deep safety rating of 4 while the rest of the list is rounded out by a silicone, another alcohol, Phenoxyethanol which is not a clean preservative and two artificial coloring ingredients.
However what is important is that you like what you’re using and if it works for you – don’t change it. I’ve worked behind counters for these various brands so reading ingredients lists and discerning long term benefits is second nature at this point. By the way, totally agree that you might want to consider only using this at night as it probably will sensitize your skin to the sun during the day – that’s a lot of salicylic acid.
I want to try these! I wonder if my sensitive skin can handle it?
I’ve recently started transitioning from a hard-core green routine (which made my skin continually irritated) to a sort-of green routine. So these will fit right in!
I think if you don’t use it every day, you should be able to handle it. I use the pads like 2-3 times a week only at night.
I also follow Ms. Hirons and yes, she’s convinced me to get on the acid toning train, too. First I was using First Aid Beauty’s Radiance Pads because they weren’t full of any nasties, but after purchasing them twice I wanted to try something stronger (I found I could use them every day). I’m currently using Peter Thomas Roth’s Unwrinkled Peel Pads, which aren’t green by any stretch, but as you say I was looking for something without drying alcohol and high acid content and these fit the bill. I can only use these a few times a week, and they actually require a rinse off after 60 seconds to up to 3 minutes – they do sting a tiny bit but they make my skin feel lovely and smooth afterward. HOWEVER, these Somme Institute pads sound worth a go! I’m not 100% sold on the PTR ones (mostly due to the ingredient list being a bit suspect in certain areas) so I’ll try to get my hands on these to try next – thanks for the review!!
Thanks for sharing Latoya! I love a lot of PTR products but totally agree that now the ingredients lists look a bit unappealing even for someone comfortable stepping out of the green beauty bubble for a sec.