Toner can be a great addition to any skincare routine, provided it's well-formulated. Unfortunately, this oddly-named toner from Sunday Riley relies on some old-school thinking, making this one we don't recommend.
Martian Mattifying Melting Water-Gel Toner comes in an opaque pump-style container that's convenient to use. The first thing you'll notice is the mint-green color of this toner, which starts out as a lotion (the brand says it's a gel, but it definitely is more of a lotion texture), then transforms into a clear liquid as you smooth it across skin. It feels refreshing and lightweight, and absorbs quickly without leaving a sticky or tacky feeling.
The ingredient behind this lightweight aesthetic is a high amount of denatured alcohol. It's the second ingredient on the list, ahead of all the other potentially-beneficial extracts (and there are quite a few). Sunday Riley attributes this toner's mattifying properties to the inclusion of clay, but it's more likely the alcohol working to de-grease oily skin—a problem that can backfire, as we explain in the More Info section.
Pass on this one, and go instead for one of the far better options on our list of Best Toners & Face Mists.
Alcohol-Based Skincare Products: Alcohol does help ingredients like retinol and vitamin C penetrate into the skin more effectively, but it does so by breaking down skin's barrier, destroying the very substances that keep your skin healthy over the long term (Biochimica et Biophysica Acta, 2012; Journal of Hospital Infection, 2003).
A significant amount of research shows that alcohol causes free-radical damage in skin even at low levels (Biochimica et Biophysica Acta, 2012). In a lab setting, low concentrations of alcohol on skin cells (about 3%; skincare products contain amounts ranging from 5% to 60% or greater) over the course of two days increased cell death by 26%. It also destroyed the substances in cells that reduce inflammation and defend against free radicals; in fact, this process actually causes more free-radical damage. If that weren't bad enough, exposure to alcohol also causes skin cells to self-destruct (Alcohol, 2002).
Research also shows that the destructive and aging effects on skin cells increases the longer skin is exposed to alcohol; for example, two days of exposure were dramatically more harmful than one day, and that's at only a 3% concentration (Alcohol, 2002).
In fact, the effect of inflammation in the skin is cumulative, and repeated exposure to irritants contributes to a weakened skin barrier, slower healing (including of red marks from breakouts), and a dull, uneven complexion (Aging, 2012; Chemical Immunology and Allergy, 2012).
Irritation's Connection to Oily Skin & Breakouts: Inflammation in skin is usually related to external factors, such as irritation, which damages the skin's barrier in numerous ways, whether you can see or feel the irritation or not.
When irritation occurs on the surface of skin, it activates specific chemicals in the brain called neuropeptides (Journal of Investigative Dermatology, 2007), which regulate the hormonal system of the body.
This activation process in turn leads to the formation of inflammatory chemicals in the oil glands at the base of your pores, triggering an increase in oil production, which in turn can increase the size of the pore and the likelihood of acne. The more inflammation that occurs, the higher the risk (European Journal of Dermatology, 2002; Dermatology, 2003).
Bottom line: Inflammation and its resulting irritation on skin's surface and deeper within skin is practically a guarantee you will see excess oil, larger pores, and possibly more breakouts (Experimental Dermatology, 2009; Dermato-Endocrinology, 2011). That should be reason enough to avoid products with irritating ingredients, including fragrance and fragrant oils.