The controversial Toner our Founder is Obsessed with
"You know it's like, really bad for you, right?" said Emily, our head of strategy, over FaceTime from Tokyo. "I thought you knew this - it's super intense."
These were the words uttered to me after finishing a monologue on the benefits I'd already experienced after using P50, a famed French toner in bathrooms worldwide. Known at base as "The P50" and manufactured by fancy brand Biolologique Recherche, many iterations are banned across the globe and most, obviously, are banned in Canada (more on why later). P50 acts as a preparatory step between cleansing and further treatments (like serums, masks and moisturizer), acting on the principle that the epidermis is a complex, ever-changing organ which must be assessed and understood by those who are trained to do so.
In that vein, the purchase of any P50 product requires a consultation of sorts - known by BR professionals as "The Skin Instant." Products can only be found at one spa in Toronto, with exclusivity like this mirrored around the globe. To this, the draw isn't only in the efficacy and potency of the products, but in the highly-methodological approach each esthetician takes to your skin. Biologique Recherche states that:
one needs to take a closer look at the epidermis to create a surface for youth and radiance. This approach to observe how the epidermis is constantly interfacing with the skin's deeper structures is known as "interface cosmetology." It enables an understanding of how cosmetic active ingredients can act perfectly from the moment they make contact with the epidermis without needing to go through it.
The skin is looked at more like a house than a singular sheet with pores; "if the roof is built badly and cannot guarantee protection against external aggressions, everything inside is subjected to stress and becomes vulnerable." Word.
So, why the controversy? Though P50 now comes in many iterations, the first and original 1970 formula contains phenol; a chemical that works to preserve the tissue of the skin. This, along with ingredients of sorrell, onion, myrrh extract, and myrtle, cultivates a particular smell some beauty influencers coin as "trash face." According to the environmental working group, Phenol is commonly used as an Antimicrobial Agent, Cosmetic Biocide, Denaturant, Deodorant Agent; Exfoliant, External Analgesic, Fragrance Ingredient, Oral Health Care Drug and Preservative. There aren't any outright health risks, but a lot of unease comes from the lack of data available.
Phenol is banned in Canada and Europe (so do your research before buying, as you don't have to purchase P50 with phenol), but this doesn't mean we should assume the worst. According to skincare professional Diana Yerkes, "phenol is an antiseptic that also preserves the tissue of the skin, therefore making it super important for acne prone skin, aging skin, ANY skin! It is not the phenol that you read up on when you google it. It is formulated in France and it really does everything: tones/exfoliates/hydrates/balances the pH of the skin." Frankly, phenol draws to mind medical slabs and mummification procedures (Halloween appropriate!) so it's important that you're ingredient-aware.
If you're leery about putting something this controversial on your face for long periods of time (one bottle of the OG before switching to something milder is absolutely fine, say Biologique Recherche pros), have no fear - all other non-1970 versions do not contain phenol, and still promise targeted, skin-specific results. Speaking of all other versions, P50 itself contains relatively recognizable, potent extracts - I myself use a P50 for my skin type, and I think it's one of the singular reasons I'm able to keep a consistent glow.
So, how to use? For the first week after cleansing, pat a water-soaked cotton round with two drops of the toning solution. Tap the cotton onto the face - don't swipe - morning and night. As you ease into the second week, you're free to eschew water and add the product to a dry cotton round as your skin acclimatizes to the effects. Follow up with essences, serums and moisturizers as normal - the addition of the P50 will allow for further product penetration and an overall amazing glow.