As I’ve been learning more and more about Asian beauty philosophies and trends, I’ve been really intrigued by the Asian-style toners /r/AsianBeauty raves about. Toners from Korea and Japan are focused on hydration and pH correction, packing a seriously nutrient-rich, hydration heavy punch. I’ve been learning how much my skin loves hydration over the last couples months, so a hydrating toner sounded like an awesome addition to my skincare routine. Plus, I have a ton of awesome water soluble skin goodies in my DIY cupboard, so I figured I should make something in a similar vein—hence this Hydrating Rose Water Facial Toner!
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There’s certainly no shortage of much-lauded toners on the market to check out for inspiration. I dare you to read this thread on toners various AB-lovers rave about and resist the urge to head over to Amazon and buy a couple 😂 Anyhow—western toners are typically more focused on cleansing and tightening than hydrating, and often featuring alcohol fairly high up in the ingredients list. An AB toner is more of a hydration tonic; a thin liquid packed with humectants and other skin goodies for your skin to soak up and revel in. Some AB-ers apply upwards of seven (7!) layers of toner to get positively glowing, dewy skin.
One of the ingredients that I saw in pretty much everything was hyaluronic acid, usually popping up as sodium hyaluronate, which is a more readily absorbed derivative of hyaluronic acid. You’ll also find botanical extracts, humectants like glycerin and sodium lactate, vitamins like C, E, B3, and B5, and essential oils. Basically, as long as an ingredient is good for the skin (bonus if it’s water-soluble), you can probably find a toner on the market that uses it. So… what to use in a DIY?
As I’m a massive sucker for all things including rose hydrosol, I knew I’d have to use some of that. I also included some witch hazel for a touch of astringency, and some Olivem 300 for a hint of emolliency. For humectants I selected vegetable glycerin and sodium lactate; if you really want to steer clear of tackiness I’d halve the amounts of each of these. I find this toner sort of toes the line of tacky, and while I don’t mind it as-is, I figured a warning wouldn’t be amiss.
There’s a bit of a B-vitamin party going on here, with both niacinamide (vitamin B3) and panthenol (vitamin B5). Niacinamide has become a fast favourite of mine in skin care because it is awesome. It helps reduce sebum production and acne, as well as brighten and even skin tone (source, source, source). It can break down into niacin (which can cause facial flushing) in low pH environments, but between 4.5–6, that’s not a concern (source)—and we will be in that happy range. Panthenol is also wonderful, though quite different from its B-cousin. Creams containing panthenol are “associated with sustained and deep skin moisturization” (source) as well as having positive effects on barrier repair (source). It also protects against irritation (source), and has been found to help accelerate epidermal regeneration, with stronger, more elastic skin (source). So, basically, these two B-vitamins are amazeballs for skin, and they’re really affordable! I get both from Windy Point, where 28g of panthenol is $5.50, and 28g of niacinamide is $4.25. In a hobby where many of the much-lauded ingredients can be pretty pricey, these two are super versatile and highly affordable. If you like water-soluble skin goodness, put ’em on your list!
Last but not least, a touch of hydrolyzed silk for awesome humectant properties, and some soothing aloe vera powder. We’ll also buffer the solution down to a pH ~5.5 to make it compatible with our skin’s acid mantle, so you’ll need a bit of a 50% citric acid or lactic acid solution. You don’t have to do the pH adjusting step, but I’d encourage you to read this and some of the linked sources to learn more about the importance of the pH of our skincare products—it’s fascinating!
Since this toner is really just watery things + water-soluble things, it’s very easy to make! There’s a bit of a heated phase, and then we’ll add some cool down ingredients, preserve, buffer, and voila—Hydrating Rose Water Facial Toner! Enjoy 🙂
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Hydrating Rose Water Facial Toner
16g | 0.55oz distilled water
10g | 0.35oz witch hazel
4g | 0.14oz Olivem 300 (USA / Canada)
1g | 0.04oz sodium lactate (USA / Canada)
0.5g | 0.02oz vegetable glycerine (USA / Canada)
2g | 0.07oz niacinamide (Vitamin B3)
0.5g | 0.02oz hydrolyzed silk (USA / Canada) (wondering about substitutions?)
0.25g | 0.01oz aloe vera 200x concentrate powder
15g | 0.53oz rose hydrosol
0.5g | 0.02oz panthenol powder (vitamin B5) (USA / Canada) (Vitamin B5)
0.25g | 0.01oz Liquid Germall Plus™ (USA / Canada) (or other broad spectrum preservative of choice at recommended usage rate [why?])
Prepare a water bath by bringing about 3cm/1″ of water to a bare simmer over low to medium-low heat in a small saucepan.
Weigh the water, witch hazel, Olivem 300, sodium lactate, vegetable glycerin, niacinamids, silk, and aloe vera into a small heat-resistant glass measuring cup. Place the measuring cup in your prepared water bath to heath everything through and ensure all the powders dissolve.
2020 update: There’s no need to use heat here—feel free to just stir everything together at room temperature!
While that’s heating through, weigh 5g (0.18oz) of citric acid and 10g (0.35oz) of distilled water into a small beaker or dish, and heat through to dissolve (10 seconds in the microwave is more than enough).
When all the powders have dissolved into the water/witch hazel, remove the measuring cup from the heat and dry it off. Stir in the rose hydrosol and panthenol, and leave for about 10 minutes to cool.
Once the measuring cup is cool to the touch, stir in the liquid germall plus.
Then, using a pipette and some pH strips, check the pH of the solution, and use the citric acid solution to adjust it down to ~5.5. I used about 1g of the solution to do this.
Transfer into a 50mL bottle (New Directions has finally re-stocked my favourites!), cap, and you’re done!
Shelf Life & Storage
Because this toner contains water, you must include a broad-spectrum preservative to ward off microbial growth. This is non-optional. Even with a preservative this project is likely to eventually spoil as our kitchens are not sterile laboratories, so in the event you notice any change in colour, scent, or texture, chuck it out and make a fresh batch.
- If you’ve got aloe vera juice instead of the aloe vera concentrate powder, just drop the powder and use the aloe vera juice in place of the water
- If you don’t have Olivem300 you can use another water soluble ester instead, but failing both of those, I’d just drop it completely rather than trying to use something like Polysorbate 80 to solubilize in another oil—it’s just such a tiny amount! I also don’t recommend Turkey Red Oil as it is heavy, sticky, and can be irritating.
- If you really want to strip this toner down you can make it from just distilled water, witch hazel, rose water, and vegetable glycerin. If you remove any more ingredients than that you’re basically just putting water on your face 😝