Does This $40 Exfoliating Toner Actually Rival P50?

Everyone, with the possible exception of my mother (who doesn't even wear night cream) and my ex-boyfriend (who still uses Proactiv samples he ordered in 2004), knows about Biologique Recherche's Lotion P50. Even if they haven't themselves purchased a full-size bottle of the pricey exfoliating tonic, they're familiar with the elusive tales of its power; its rumored ability to exfoliate, refine, and smooth the skin and turn whoever uses it into a borderline masochist who begs for the unmistakable burn of the liquid on their skin.
Unfortunately, the formula is as addictive as it is effective, and getting hooked on something really good and really expensive will predictably land me in credit-card debt long before I turn 30. Although I can't really argue with its three-digit price tag (how do you put a price on magic, anyway?), I can make the case for a worthy alternative that is helping me sidestep the temptation of the "life-changing" P50 once and for all.
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If Biologique Recherche is a Right-Bank Parisian who sits front row at fashion week, still smokes Gitanes, and could care less about ingredient transparency, then Moon Juice's Beauty Shroom Exfoliating Acid Potion is her hippie sister who moved to the west coast, grows her own vegetables in Echo Park, and stirs adaptogen powders into her herbal tea. She also balks at the idea of spending more than $40 on a single skin-care product, which is exactly why her P50 imitation is comfortably priced at $39.
That said, Moon Juice isn't just more affordable than her bougie relative — she's also just about as effective. P50 is praised for its clarifying, acid-heavy formula, and while Moon Juice's version isn't an exact copycat of the beloved blend (and doesn't aspire to be, though the brand's founder talks openly about the inspiration), it does share some of the properties that make P50 so popular for leaving skin bright and visibly resurfaced: namely, the acids, including lactic, salicylic, citric, phytic, and glycolic acid. Topping off the list of hero ingredients responsible for bettering my skin one cotton round at a time — which is exactly how you should apply it, with a cotton round, pressed somewhat forcefully into the skin — is reishi mushroom, which acts as the hydrating peanut butter to the acids' stinging jelly.
If you've never dabbled in acids before, be forewarned — there's an adjustment period. Sure, my skin is glowing now, but a few weeks ago, it was spotted with tiny pimples on my jawline, chin, and forehead. I was alarmed when my skin started to purge after just a few days of using the Beauty Shroom Exfoliating Acid Potion, but dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD, tells me it's normal: "Skin purging is a phenomenon where acne gets worse before it gets better because blockages within the pores are brought to the surface all at once," he says. This most often happens when you introduce topical retinoids or hydroxy acids into your routine, which work to "clean the pipes" in your skin, allowing oil and dead skin cells within the pore to come to a head, Dr. Zeichner explains.
Luckily, those red, bumpy visitors didn't overstay their welcome. And they weren't hard or painful, like hormonal cysts that typically linger far longer than a day or two. Dr. Zeichner confirms that the purging should only last two weeks at most, with continued use of the product triggering it, which was totally true in my case. Not only am I now pimple-free, but I feel like my skin is perhaps the softest and smoothest it's been since I found out what dull, tired, acne-ridden skin actually was. Turns out, you don't need magic to get really good skin; you just need patience — and a quick trip to Sephora.
Moon Juice Beauty Shroom Exfoliating Acid Potion, $39, available at Sephora.
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