Chemical Exfoliants for When You Can't Afford Biologique Recherche

Updated 04/03/19

If you spend any time on Byrdie—or, at this point, any site dedicated to beauty—you've heard skincare enthusiasts speak of Biologique Recherche's Lotion P50 ($101) with sparkling enthusiasm. The reviews read like poetry. And it's no surprise, as the brand ticks every buzzy box (it's French, offers minimalistic packaging, and yields an air of mystery). Until recently, it was more difficult to get your hands on a bottle, but the formally under-the-radar toner has gained popularity in spades. Everyone from editors, models, celebrities, and the active readers in our secret Facebook group, The Beauty Line have spoken of P50's paradigm-shifting, skin-perfecting abilities. But, here's the thing: It's not exactly cheap. And while I feel strongly that skincare is worth the investment, there are plenty of formulas with good, clean ingredients and science-backed results that won't drain your bank account.

Because exfoliating toners, like Lotion P50, have become a mainstay in our arsenals, many brands have come out with their own formulas—for far less coin than Biologique Recherche. For me, P50 will always reign supreme. I practically sing its gospel every morning as I swab it on my face. But, for the sake of paying my rent on time, I tested and reviewed many others that are worth their salt. Hero ingredients AHAs, BHAs, and tons of hydration exist in many other, less expensive formulas that'll keep your skin bright, glowy, and clear.

Below, find my thoughts on each.

Pixi Glow Tonic
Pixi Glow Tonic $15
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Pixi's Glow Tonic has been a hero product for the brand since its launch. So, it's no surprise there's been an uptick in its influence as exfoliating toners prove more and more popular (and effective). This one's particularly nice because it's great for sensitive skin—a characteristic that is not shared by many of the other formulas. Here, glycolic acid works to gently exfoliate and brighten while ginseng improves circulation in your skin. More circulation, more glow. Then, there's a hefty dose of aloe vera to soothe and prevent irritation (and any spicy, tingly feelings usually associated with chemical exfoliation). According to Faith, it helps her serums and lotions absorb better, too.

Glossier Solution
Glossier Solution $24
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I have no idea why I underestimated Glossier so much, but I recently had to eat a big helping of humble pie. When I ran out of Lotion P50 and the company had the product on backorder, I was admittedly panicked. I'd been using the magical potion every day for over a year. That was when I tried Glossier's Solution. It had been branded as a P50 peer, a chemical exfoliating toner with salicylic acid to unclog pores, glycolic acid to improve skin texture, lactic acid for discoloration, as well as aloe, glycerin, and niacinamide to calm and soothe. By no means did I expect for it to work anywhere near as well as P50, but it did. It's been two months of use and I haven't noticed a single change in my skin since the switch. Color me surprised and delighted.

Glamglow Supertoner Exfoliating Acid Solution
Glamglow Supertoner Exfoliating Acid Solution $42
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This is Glamglow's first-ever toner, and though it's the most expensive on the list, it's not like all the others. You shake to activate the silvery-grey concoction (clay, charcoal, and six different acids) and apply the combination to your skin. Once patted on, it's meant to help exfoliate, purify, and clarify your skin (it's best for combination and oily skin types) both instantly and over time. The activated charcoal powder lifts away impurities, while witch hazel tones and refreshes. Then those acids come in—the list includes the usuals like lactic, salicylic, and glycolic acids, and adds mandelic, tartaric, and pyruvic acids to the mix as well. Together, the formula will support cellular turnover and renewal, diminish the look of pores, and never feels sticky or drying. It's a really great option and it looks cool too.

Ren Ready Steady Glow Daily AHA Tonic
Ren Ready Steady Glow Daily AHA Tonic $35
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Ren's toner is a potent blend of lactic and azelaic acids designed to alleviate fine lines, acne, visible pores, and dehydrated skin. Which, essentially, is the dream, no? Plus, it has a pleasant but never overwhelming scent—which is huge. The formula balances, brightens, and nixes dark spots, all the while gently exfoliating, refining skin texture, and adding luminosity. And, no surprise here, it's another true-blue consumer favorite (as well as a consistent pick here at Byrdie HQ). Add a bit to a cotton swap and apply it on your (clean) face, neck, and chest for all the glowy, good-skin results. Naturally, avoid your eye area and follow up with your favorite serums and moisturizer.

Mario Badescu Glycolic Acid Toner
Mario Badescu Glycolic Acid Toner $18
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Mario Badescu is one of those brands that keeps everyone happy. It offers inexpensive, effective products that work for most skin types. And, the minimalistic packaging is sweet too. This one, a mild resurfacing toner that works to brighten and balance your complexion post-cleanse, includes glycolic acid, grapefruit extract, and aloe vera to refresh, retexturize, and hydrate all at once. After continued use, you'll notice refined pores, smoothed lines, and a much evener skin tone. 

La Roche-Posay Clarifying Solution
La Roche-Posay Clarifying Solution $15
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A mix of skin favorites like salicylic and glycolic acids, La Roche-Posay's clarifying solution is gentle yet deeply exfoliating—it unclogs pores, smooths your skin, sloughs away dead skin cells, dirt, and debris, and leaves your skin feeling endlessly fresh. You can use it twice daily (it won't cause irritation) and it will most definitely keep breakouts at bay. This is really great drugstore option if you're in the market for a toning lotion. And, of course, it's French.

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