AB New Year Stash Challenge: Toners, Essences, FTEs
Greetings Dewy Fam!
Jane here - and I’m ready to talk toners, essences, and FTEs.
So if it wasn’t obvious, toners are my favorite skincare step. And honestly, I could argue that they’re the 2nd most vital step after your double-cleanse (first would be sunscreen). Today’s post is an entry for the AB New Year Stash Challenge on Instagram, hosted by Amy @peepingpomeranian and Jan @mindyourbeauty. This is an annual challenge in the Asian Beauty Instagram community where we share our current collection of products. (Feel free to check out our other entries and follow the hashtag #ABNewYearStashChallenge on Instagram for more entries!)
Today I thought I’d combine days 6 and 7 of the challenge by sharing my stash of toners, essences, and FTEs. I hate being restricted to an instagram caption and tbh I’d have anxiety trying to cram my full and non-expert opinion of these products in one post. Plus, Elizabeth has been asking about toner recommendations lately, so I figured I’d take this opportunity to bring the #ABNewYearStashChallenge from Instagram to our blog. Ergo, welcome to this dewy/hydrating product super-post.
Side note: I’ve found the #ABNewYearStashChallenge to be totally rewarding. It helped me toward my New Year's resolution to be more organized. I was able to inventory my stash and give myself a visual reminder that I.Don’t.Need.More.Products. (#nobuystrong) I really wish I had the time in January to contribute more to the challenge, but I'm happy with the bulk of products that I was able to share.
Regarding my stash, I’ve opened all of these products except two - my Neogen Dermalogy Real Ferment Micro Essence and a Hanskin Hyaluron Skin Essence (not pictured).
I’ve collected quite a number of toners since my foray into the K-Beauty black hole. I don’t have the driest skin - in fact I’m oily/combo - but I honestly feel like toners make all the difference in hydrating your skin and prepping it for the rest of your routine. It’s like paying a toll before crossing the bridge to dewy, bouncy skin. The toner toll. Here’s my non-expert opinion on the following toners:
Klairs Supple Preparation Toner
Water, Butylene Glycol, Dimethyl Sulfone, Betaine, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Natto Gum, Sodium Hyaluronate, Disodium EDTA, Centella Asiatica Extract, Glycyrrhiza Glabra (Licorice) Root Extract, Polyquaternium-51, Chlorphenesin, Tocopheryl Acetate, Carbomer, Panthenol, Arginine, Luffa Cylindrica Fruit/Leaf/Stem Extract, Beta-Glucan, Althaea Rosea Flower Extract, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Extract, Hydroxyethylcellulose, Portulaca Oleracea Extract, Lysine HCL, Proline, Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate, Acetyl Methionine, Theanine, Lavandula Angustifolia (Lavender) Oil, Eucalyptus Globulus Leaf Oil, Pelargonium Graveolens Flower Oil, Citrus Limon (Lemon) Peel Oil, Citrus Aurantium Dulcis (Orange) Peel Oil, Cananga Odorata Flower Oil, Copper Tripeptide-1
According to COSDNA, the only potential acne trigger is butylene glycol (1). This is used as a moisturizing agent and solvent, which could result in potential breakouts, closed-comedones, or redness. One potential irritant is carbomer (1). These are fairly low on the spectrum and are not likely to cause irritation unless you are known to have experienced a reaction to these ingredients.
Review: This toner is my first love. It’s my go-to when I’m in need a hydrating toner and it’s usually the first one I suggest if someone asks me for a recommendation who is either a) new to K-Beauty or b) has a dry skin type. The reason I suggest this toner is because I really think it embodies a Korean toner and provides a clear distinction from Western toners. This is considered a hanbang (traditional Korean herbal/medicinal) type of toner, so it has an herbal scent which I actually love. It has a low pH and does not contain alcohol. It’s viscous but absorbs easily and effectively preps your skin for absorption of the rest of your skincare layers. Plus, it just feels luxurious and soothing on your face; I love that it contains lavender to calm skin. I think its wholeness and versatility is why it’s so universally loved.This toner can be applied directly onto the face by patting or with a cotton round using gentle, upward swipes. However, since it does contain essential oils, those who react poorly to them should not use this toner. Those with oily skin type on the extreme end of the spectrum may also find it pore-clogging (again, I’m oily/combo but I love it).
Best for: Dry skin types, those looking for hydration, 7 skin method.
Don’t use if: You are sensitive to fragrant essential oils, butylene glycol, or anything else in the ingredients list.
Where to buy: Wishtrend* - $19.79 for 180ml
Pyunkang Yul Essence Toner
Astragalus Membranaceus Root Extract, 1,2-Hexanediol, Butylene Glycol, Bis-PEG-18 Methyl Ether Dimethyl Silane, Hydroxyethylcellulose, Carbomer, Arginine
This toner has far fewer ingredients than Klairs. According to COSDNA, the only potential acne trigger is butylene glycol (1). One potential irritant is carbomer (1). These are fairly low on the spectrum and are not likely to cause irritation unless you are known to have experienced a reaction to these ingredients.
Review: This is another popular hanbang toner, like the Klairs Supple Preparation Toner. I find these two to be very similar in scent, texture, effect, and consistency. However, the PKY toner has a little more slip than Klairs. Plus - it only has 8 ingredients and is less potentially irritating, especially since it doesn’t have essential oils like Klairs. I would also really recommend this toner for those looking to add more hydrating layers.
Best for: Dry skin types, those looking for hydration, 7 skin method.
Don’t use if: You are sensitive to butylene glycol or anything else in the ingredients list.
Hylunia Colloidal Silver Mist Toner
Colloidal Silver, Lavandula Angustifolia Flower Water (Lavender)
According to COSDNA, there are no potential irritants or acne triggers.
Review: This is not an AB brand but I received this toner recommendation when I had my first ever facial at the Face Haus in LA last year (read about our experience here). It contains just 2 ingredients: natural lavender and colloidal silver. I love that it comes in a mist and it feels very nice and therapeutic upon application - the lavender is very calming along with being anti-inflammatory. The silver brings antimicrobial and healing properties to the skin. This is my go-to in the morning when I’m in a rush to get out the door. I do seriously love this toner, but for the price and ingredients it seems more cost-effective to make a DIY version, or go with a cheaper version such as Mario Badescu’s lavender spray (doesn’t include silver but does have other calming ingredients). I haven’t pH tested it but I usually like to layer another pH balancing toner on top. Another con is that I’m not sure where else it could be purchased other than directly from their website (I bought mine at Face Haus).
Best for: Sensitive skin, acne-prone skin, oily skin.
Don’t use if: You are sensitive to lavender or colloidal silver.
Where to buy: Hylunia - $34 for 150ml
MISSHA Near Skin Mist Toner
Water, 1,2-Hexanediol, Butylene Glycol, Chondrus Crispus Extract, Saccharum Officinarum (Sugarcane) Extract, Caprylyl Glycol, Carbomer, Tromethamine, Peucedanum Graveolens (Dill) Extract
Review: Another mist toner, this time from MISSHA’s Near Skin line which caters to sensitive skin. This toner is an odorless, fine mist that looks and feels just like water. It provides ample hydration without causing any irritation, but it’s very mild as far as toners go. It’s a nice size for travel and for providing a hydration boost at any time of day, but I don’t notice any particular effect other than hydration.
Best for: All skin types - especially sensitive or dry skin types, hydration on the go.
Don’t use if: You are sensitive to butylene glycol or anything else in the ingredients list.
Where to buy: SOKOGLAM - $15 for 80ml
ACWell Toner Licorice pH Balancing Cleansing Toner
Water, Glycyrrhiza Glabra (Licorice) Root Water, PEG-6 Caprylic/Capric Glycerides, PEG-7 Glyceryl Cocoate, Dipropylene Glycol, 1,2-Hexanediol, Poloxamer 184, Phenoxyethanol, Rheum Palmatum Root Extract, Psidium Guajava Leaf Extract, Rosa Hybrid Flower Extract, Camellia Sinensis Leaf Extract, Perilla Ocymoides Seed Extract, Poncirus Trifoliata Fruit Extract, Citrus Aurantium Bergamia (Bergamot) Fruit Oil, Sodium Citrate, Disodium EDTA, Citric Acid, Tocopheryl Acetate, Glycyrrhiza Glabra (Licorice) Root Extract, Paeonia Albiflora Root Extract, Cimicifuga Dahurica Root Extract, Pueraria Lobata Root Extract
According to COSDA there are no acne or irritant triggers in this toner.
Review: This toner is unlike any of the toners mentioned thus far, with its formulation focused on brightening and cleansing as opposed to just hydrating and balancing. However, I would argue it does all of these things. I haven’t consistently incorporated this in my routine, so this is more of a first impression for now. The consistency of the toner is very lightweight and runny; placing it in your palm may cause it to slip around wildly if you aren’t careful. (Note: this is the opposite of the viscous texture of the Klairs and Pyunkang Yul toners.) However, this is another hanbang toner just like Klairs and PKY so it has an herbal smell - I can definitely pick up the licorice root scent as well. I notice a brightening effect when I use this toner thanks to the licorice water and licorice root extract, plus my skin feels soothed and sanitized. I enjoy using this when I feel in need of a deeper cleanse from my toner, or when I’m experiencing a breakout. I love layering this on as it feels quite nourishing despite its light consistency. One thing to note is the bottle is smaller for the price point. With the consistency being as it is, I imagine it would be quit easy to run through this. Plus, it's so popular that SOKOGLAM is always selling out!
Best for: Sensitive skin, acne-prone skin, oily skin.
Don’t use if: You are sensitive to licorice root/extract, fragrant essential oils, or anything else in the ingredients list.
Where to buy: SOKOGLAM - $18 for 150ml
Son & Park Beauty Water
Water, Rosa Damascena Flower Water, Hamamelis Virginiana (Witch Hazel) Water, Butylene Glycol,Propanediol, PEG-7 Caprylic/Capric Glycerides, Pentylene Glycol, Citrus Aurantium Dulcis (Orange) Fruit Extract, Xylitol, Citrus Aurantium Bergamia (Bergamot) Fruit Oil, Olea Europaea (Olive) Fruit Oil,Citrus Aurantium Dulcis (Orange) Oil, Citrus Grandis (Grapefruit) Peel Oil, Lavandula Angustifolia (Lavender) Oil, Cedrus Atlantica Bark Oil, Pelargonium Graveolens Flower Oil, Carica Papaya (Papaya) Fruit Water, Jasminum Officinale (Jasmine) Oil, Illicium Verum (Anise) Fruit/Seed Oil, Artemisia Absinthium Extract, Rose Flower Oil, Ferula Galbaniflua (Galbanum) Resin Oil, Thuja Occidentalis Leaf Extract, Eucalyptus Globulus Leaf Extract, Lavandula Angustifolia (Lavender) Flower/Leaf/Stem Extract, Melaleuca Alternifolia (Tea Tree) Leaf Extract, Melissa Officinalis Leaf Extract, Mentha Piperita(Peppermint) Leaf Extract, Mentha Rotundifolia Leaf Extract, Mentha Spicata Flower/Leaf/Stem Extract, Origanum Majorana Leaf Extract, Origanum Vulgare Leaf Extract, Pelargonium Graveolens Extract, Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary) Leaf Extract, Thymus Vulgaris (Thyme) Leaf Extract, Glycerin, Decyl Glucoside, 1,2-Hexanediol, PEG-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, PPG-26-Buteth-26, Sodium Chloride, Ethylhexylglycerin, Sodium Citrate, Citric Acid, Octanediol, Copaifera Officinalis (Balsam Copaiba) Resin, Protease, Alcohol Denat., Alcohol, Phenoxyethanol
According to COSDNA, there are 2 potential acne triggers and 1 irritant. The acne triggers are butylene glycol (1) and Olea Europaea Fruit Oil (2), the irritant is denatured alcohol (5).
Review: When I first discovered this cleansing water/toner multi-tasker, I was obsessed. It was one of my first K-Beauty purchases and being the lazy girl that I am, I loved that it was able to cleanse, tone, and exfoliate all in one. Nowadays, I prefer to actually do the individual steps by using a different toner and a chemical exfoliator so I hardly touch this water but I still think it’s a solid product. This is one of the only toners I’ll apply by dispensing the product onto a cotton round and swiping it onto my skin. I find it leaves a very gentle yet effective clean and I use it mostly around my chin and jawline area - the place where I tend to get hormonal acne breakouts. It contains witch hazel, willow bark, and papaya extract which is great to keep acne at bay and provide mild exfoliation. It has a bit of a citrus-y smell and chemical smell. One pro is that it comes in a huge bottle so it’s a great value for the price. I really think it works well as either a triple cleanse step or a toner, rather than a first cleansing step. It takes a lot of soaked cotton rounds to remove foundation, so it’s best for no make-up days. One major con is that it contains alcohol, so you do get that clean feeling that can be a tad bit drying for drier skin types. Overall, I think it’s worth a try and great for targeting specific areas of your skin that typical cleansing can’t reach.
Best for: Lazy days, mild exfoliation, all skin types - especially acne-prone or oily skin types.
Don’t use if: You are sensitive to alcohol, butylene glycol, essential oil, or anything else in the ingredients list.
Heimish Refresh Water
Water, Butylene Glycol, Propanediol, PEG-7 Caprylic/Capric Glycerides, Pentylene Glycol, Rosa Damascena Flower Water, Citrus Aurantium Dulcis (Orange) Fruit Extract, Xylitol, Citrus Aurantium Dulcis (Orange) Peel Oil, Lavandula Angustifolia (Lavender) Oil, Amyris Balsamifera Bark Oil, Pelargonium Graveolens Flower Oil, Citrus Paradisi (Grapefruit) Peel Oil, Litsea Cubeba Fruit Oil, Eucalyptus Globulus Leaf Oil, Melaleuca Alternifolia (Tea Tree) Leaf Oil, Mentha Arvensis Leaf Oil, Phenoxyethanol, Glycerin, PEG-60 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Decyl Glucoside, 1,2-Hexanediol, Sodium Chloride, Ethylhexylglycerin, Sodium Citrate, Citric Acid, Octanediol, Ethyl Hexanediol, Centella Asiatica Extract, Boswellia Carterii Oil, Citrus Aurantium Bergamia (Bergamot) Fruit Oil, Juniperus Mexicana Oil, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Myristica Fragrans (Nutmeg) Kernel Oil, Tagetes Minuta Flower Oil, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil, Moringa Pterygosperma Seed Extract, Lupinus Albus Seed Extract, Origanum Vulgare Flower/Leaf/Stem Extract, Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary) Extract, Thymus Vulgaris (Thyme) Extract, Aesculus Hippocastanum (Horse Chestnut) Bark Extract, Alchemilla Vulgaris Extract, Echinacea Purpurea Extract, Juniperus Communis Fruit Extract, Melissa Officinalis Leaf Extract, Saponaria Officinalis Leaf/Root Extract, Thymus Vulgaris (Thyme) Flower/Leaf Extract, Salicylic Acid, Maltodextrin, Tocopherol, Lavandula Angustifolia (Lavender) Extract
According to COSDNA, the only potential acne trigger is butylene glycol (1).
Review: This is a pretty basic toner/cleansing water, in fact, I’d say it’s really similar to the Son & Park Beauty Water. The ingredients lists match up quite nicely, however, the biggest thing to note is the absence of alcohol in the Heimish Refresh Water. There is also the absence of witch hazel as well. I would consider this a dupe for Son & Park’s Beauty Water and if you’re not willing to shell out the $30 for a full-sized BW, this one does a decent job at a fraction of the price. (Son & Park breaks down to $2.61/oz vs Heimish breaks down to $1.78/oz). I ordered a travel sized bottle from Oh Lolly, and it’s nice and handy to bring on trips since it’s less than 3 ounces. You can also decant this into a spray bottle and use it as a mist!
Best for: Lazy days, all skin types - especially acne-prone or oily skin types.
Don’t use if: You are sensitive to butylene glycol, essential oil, or anything else in the ingredients list.
This is a product category that tends to confuse people. Is it a toner? An essence? What order should it be applied, and when should I use it?
My answer is this: let the viscosity of your first-treatment essence dictate where it falls in your routine. The key to K-Beauty is to build up layers of hydration, so the thinnest layer should come first. Typically, FTEs are made of ingredients that are a byproduct of fermentation, such as fermented yeast or rice, which causes it to be very light, fluid, and water-like in consistency. For these FTEs, I consider them true FTEs and use them as a first hydration step after cleansing and before toning. I absolutely love using these FTEs after taking a warm shower, as I feel a lot of moisture is drawn out of my skin due to steam and it feels really nice to just drench my face in the liquid.
Naruko La Creme Face Renewal Miracle Essence
There are A LOT of ingredients in this one, so please reference the handy COSDNA link here for the full list.
The only potential irritant is the presence of Papain (1-3), an enzyme that also acts as an exfoliator.
Review: Like any good FTE, this essence contains a high concentration of fermented ingredients - in this case it’s 94.9% yeast extract from fermented rice (Oryza Sativa Lees Extract) aka the same ingredient found in rice wine. It also contains a whopping 60 different types of natural herbal extracts. (Since yeast extract makes up most of the formulation, these are likely found in trace amounts.) Now, I have to admit, it does smell strongly like sake. But it’s sake for your face - and my skin literally drinks it up. It gives my skin the radiance, hydration, and vitality that is unique to an FTE due to the amino acids, vitamins, and minerals present in the formula. I haven’t tried the SKII or MISSHA FTE, so I can’t compare the two at the moment, but I’m toying with the idea for a future post since I do have small samples of both (as well as Neogen’s Real Ferment Essence). Compared with the COSRX 95 Galactomyces Essence, it definitely has a lot more slip and is quicker to absorb into my skin. Again, I love drenching my skin in this after a hot shower. It provides intense hydration and boosts that lit from within glow after consistent use. I can’t say one way or another how this stacks up to other popular FTEs.
Best for: All skin types, mature skin, 7 skin method.
Do not use if: You are sensitive to Papain, Yeast Extract, or anything else in the very long ingredients list.
Where to buy: Naruko US - Retails for $90 but they run a lot of sales. As of this post it’s 58% off - $37.50 for 150ml.
Essences are another K-Beauty routine staple, however, I have not built up a very large collection of them since I have not strayed from what’s worked. I’ve reviewed these two products in the past, so I’ll keep it brief.
COSRX Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence
Snail Secretion Filtrate, Betaine, Butylene Glycol, 1,2-Hexanediol, Sodium Hyaluronate, Panthenol, Arginine, Allantoin, Ethyl Hexanediol, Sodium Polyacrylate, Carbomer, Phenoxyethanol
According to COSDNA, the only potential acne trigger is once again, butylene glycol (1). The potential irritant is carbomer (1).
Review: This essence is a holy grail product for me. I think it’s a great introduction to snail mucin, which is packed with nutrients that brighten, repair, hydrate, and tone your skin. This is one of those products where you’ll see results after consistent, long-term use. Honestly, I can’t describe what it does on a daily level, but over time I’ve seen my skin condition improve greatly. This was one of the first K-Beauty products I purchased and when I introduced this into my routine I saw a noticeable difference in my skin’s plumpness and vitality - it just looked so much more healthy and youthful. It also works well for healing acne scarring and lightening dark spots. This formula is amazing because it doesn’t contain oil and it goes on like a lightweight gel. I can get away with not applying moisturizer after using this, but still opt to in order to seal everything in at the end of my routine. Overall it just makes my skin feel more balanced and comfortable. I will definitely be repurchasing when I’m done, as I’ll always want to have it on hand.
Best for: All skin types.
Don't use if: You are sensitive to snail mucin, butylene glycol, or or anything else in the ingredients list.
Nature Republic Bee Venom Essence Mist
Water, Phytosqualane, Glacier Water, Bee Venom, Honey, Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate, Phosphate, Salicylic Acid, Butylene Glycol, Citrus Nobilis Fruit Extract, Gardenia Florida Fruit Extract, Angelica Archangelica Leaf Extract, Houttuynia Cordata Extract, Acorus Calamus Root Extract, Fennel Fruit Extract, Artemisia Princeps Extract, Cinnamomum Cassia Bark Extract, Cnidium Officinale Root Extract, Chamomilla Recutita Flower Extract, Viscum Album Extract, Camellia Japonica Flower Extract, PEG-60 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Tocopheryl Acetate, Phenoxyethanol, 1,2-Hexanediol, Caprylyl Glycol, Tropolone, Disodium EDTA, Olea Europaea Fruit Oil, Cananga Odorata Flower Oil, Rosmarinus Officinalis Leaf Oil, Lavandula Angustifolia Oil, Pelargonium Graveolens Flower Oil, Pinus Sylvestris Leaf Oil, Melaleuca alternifolia leaf oil
According to COSDNA, there are 2 potential acne triggers. The acne triggers are butylene glycol (1) and Olea Europaea Fruit Oil (2).
Review: Another holy grail product for me. My skin LOVES anything with bee (bee venom, propolis, honey) so this works amazingly for me. The mist comes out as an very fine, even layer and the combination of bee venom along with salicylic acid make this a superstar acne fighting product. My skin feels ultra-clean, protected, and sanitized from bacteria and acne. It also really calms my skin down and minimizes redness, similar to aloe. Overall, I will continue to buy this essence as it is so quick, convenient, and effective. I have no cons about this product whatsoever.
Best for: Acne-prone skin, oily skin.
Do not use if: You are sensitive to bee products, salicylic acid, essential oils, or anything else in the ingredients list.
Where to buy: Nature Republic - $10.90 for 50ml
This concludes my quick (lol) overview of my current stash of toners, FTEs, and essences. Do you see any products you love or want to try? What’s in your stash?
Let me know in the comments! Thanks for reading!
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