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 ($106) 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, and celebrities have spoken of P50's paradigm-shifting, skin-perfecting abilities. "The Biologique Recherche P50 is well-loved for its great exfoliating properties, leaving the skin looking radiant," says board-certified dermatologist Marisa Garshick, MD, FAAD. "Containing a combination of AHAs (including lactic acid, malic acid, and citric acid) as well as salicylic acid (a beta hydroxy acid), gluconolactone (a polyhydroxy acid), this toner works to gently eliminate dead skin cells and reduce oil. It also contains niacinamide and glycerin so it helps to hydrate and soothe the skin."
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. Hero ingredients AHAs, BHAs, and tons of hydration exist in many other, less expensive formulas that'll keep your skin bright, glowy, and clear. Garshick and Face Haus Dallas esthetician Catalina Villaneda share insight on how these less expensive exfoliants can help keep your skin smooth.
Keep scrolling for some P50 dupes that won't break the bank.
Pixi Glow Tonic
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. Garshick warns that the P50 can be too strong for some to use every day, making other alternatives (such as this Pixi Glow) a good choice depending on what other products you are using. "Although it is gentle on the skin, for someone using other active ingredients such as retinoids or other exfoliating acids, it is best to only incorporate into a routine a few times per week to minimize the potential for irritation," she says of the P50.
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).
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.
Garshick explains that this product has many ingredients similar to the P50. "For someone who is looking to get the glow of the P50 lotion but is on a budget, the Glossier Solution is a great alternative," she says. "This contains a combination of AHAs, BHA, and PHA to give the skin a boost of radiance. Specifically, it contains glycolic and lactic acid which help to exfoliate and eliminate dead skin cells while also improving skin tone and helping with dark spots. Together these acids lead to softer, smoother, and brighter skin, making this a great affordable option."
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
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.
"Glycolic and lactic acid help to exfoliate and eliminate dead skin cells while also improving skin tone and helping with dark spots," says Garshick. "Salicylic acid, a beta-hydroxy acid, helps to break down excess oils and unclog the pores."
This formula will support cellular turnover and renewal, diminish the look of pores, and never feels sticky or drying. It's a great option and it looks cool, too.
Ren Ready Steady Glow Daily AHA Tonic
Ren's toner is a potent blend of AHA acids (specifically 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).
Villaneda explains that AHA acids and BHA acids, such as salicylic acid, work differently on your skin. "BHA’s are great to penetrate deeper into the skin to unclog pores helping with breakouts, while AHA’s work more on a surface level removing dead skin cells," she says.
To use, simply 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 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. Garshick says that glycolic acid helps to exfoliate and eliminate dead skin cells. After continued use, you'll notice refined pores, smoothed lines, and a much evener skin tone.
La Roche-Posay Clarifying Solution
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. Because it has a combination of AHAs and BHAs, it addresses several skin concerns. "Combined together, [these acids] work not only at a surface level but also to penetrate deeper into the skin," says Villaneda.
You can use it twice daily (it won't cause irritation) and it will most definitely keep breakouts at bay. This is a really great drugstore option if you're in the market for a toning lotion. And, of course, it's French.
Tang SC, Yang JH. Dual Effects of Alpha-Hydroxy Acids on the Skin. Molecules. 2018 Apr 10;23(4):863. doi: 10.3390/molecules23040863.