The Matte-Skin Staple You Didn't Know You Needed

Facial toners, the watery kind you use right after cleansing, have had a bit of a resurgence lately thanks to the increased availability of gentle, non-astringent, hydrating formulas and the popularity of the now-famous multistep Korean skin-care regimen. With this increased consumer interest and the multitude of toner options available, it was only a matter of time before someone tried to hack the category...and that time has come. Not surprisingly, it’s South Korean beauty brands that are leading the innovation: Meet the powder toner.
Powder toners are liquids (stay with me here) — available in both traditional toner-bottle format and as facial mists — with “powder” mixed in to the formula. They all look rather sludgy in the bottle, with clear liquid on top and a white, thick layer on the bottom. When you shake them, they turn a cloudy, milky color.
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After three of these curious products crossed my path within two weeks, I knew it was time to investigate. Charlotte Cho, the founder of Korean beauty e-commerce site SokoGlam, confirmed my suspicion that this product is up-and-coming. (She’s tried several.) “It's basically a way for oily skin types to stay hydrated — hydration is one of the main tenets of Korean skin care — all while minimizing pores and shine,” Cho says.
Pause — a liquid that contains powder, which can both decrease oil and increase moisture? Is this miracle even possible? I did a little research on the current best sellers in Korea and then gave a test-drive to the formulas that made their way Stateside. Click on to find out more.
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Photo: Via Amazon
The powdery ingredients common to these types of toners include some form of zinc and also clays like kaolin, otherwise known as magnesium aluminum silicate. (Sexy fact: Kaolin used to be the main ingredient in Kaopectate, a nausea and anti-diarrhea drug.) They also contain glycerin, oils, or plant extracts to provide hydration. Zinc isn’t soluble, which is what gives these toners their cloudy appearance and separation.

Like any topical product, though, you can’t expect miracles. “Zinc is known to inhibit an enzyme that aids in the production of sebum. Therefore it's theoretically possible that topical zinc could reduce oily skin,” says Randy Schueller, a cosmetic chemist and the co-founder of The Beauty Brains. “Water [in the toners] would evaporate, which means it would leave behind a film of oily materials as well as the powders. My guess is these products apply a coating on skin that helps mask the appearance of oil, but unless I see some data to the contrary I doubt they provide much reduction in sebum.”

Naturally, the beauty world is trying to make clay sound exotic, which is why a lot of the products you're about to see (this one included) have words like volcanic stamped on their label. Nothing makes you feel like your pores are clean quite like volcanic ash, right?

The Face Shop Volcanic Clay Powder In Toner, $44, available at Amazon.
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Photo: Courtesy of Lancôme
As someone with an oily T-zone, I was happy to try Lancôme’s newly launched Tonique Pure Focus Matifying Purifying Toner, which is one of the few non-Korean brands offering a product like this. The first rule of powder toners is always shake well, otherwise you won’t get the effects of the powder. Now, I’m not going to sugarcoat this — the cloudy look of these products is slightly off-putting.

The results, though, were impressive. The toner dried instantly on my skin without leaving a white residue and without tightness, and it left my face feeling silky without any stickiness or tackiness. That said, I still got a bit oily as the day progressed, but my nose, the ground zero of my facial oiliness, stayed impressively matte.

Lancôme Tonique Pure Focus Matifying Purifying Toner, $25, available at Lord & Taylor.
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Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Jart
The Dr. Jart toner comes in an opaque bottle, so you’re not confronted with that milky appearance (though it might be nice to see the actual product as a reminder to shake before you use it). The good thing about the powder-toner concept as a mist is that you can use it both pre-makeup as a toner and post-makeup as a setting spray. Dr. Sung-Jae Jung, Dr. Jart’s chief dermatologist, tells me, “Unlike hydrophilic [water-loving] ingredients, powder ingredients absorb sebum to mattify your skin.”

This product goes on a bit cloudy, but there was no residue when it dried, and my makeup still looked perfect. Dr. Jart’s promotional materials even claim you can skip the translucent powder step, which is actually a great option if you have an issue with powder settling into fine lines or you just don’t like how it feels. This toner dried down to a soft, matte finish that wasn’t too velvety.

Dr. Jart Pore Medic Pore Minish Mist, $30, available at Sephora.
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Photo: Via Holika Holika
Holika Holika’s spray also went on a bit cloudy at first, but it dried invisibly and had a similar effect as the Dr. Jart version. If scent matters to you, Dr. Jart’s was fresher and lighter, and the Holika Holika version is inspired by cotton candy, which should give you a sense of how it smells. No stickiness like its inspiration, though.

Holika Holika Sweet Cotton Sebum Clear Powder In Mist, $8, available at BeautyNetKorea.
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Photo: Via Innisfree
Though it’s still a bit hard to find here in the U.S., this toner has garnered great reviews online. However, Innisfree is owned by Korean cosmetic giant AmorePacific, so don’t be surprised if you see more of the brand here over the next few years.

So, will powder toners ever be as big as, say, BB creams? Probably not, but they do provide an innovative way to get rid of some oil, at least temporarily, and offer a shot of facial refreshing during the day for those of us who fight off those greasy demons on a daily basis.

Innisfree Jeju Volcanic Pore Toner, $25, available at Amazon.
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