Make Your Own: Toner

So,  about a week has passed since we looked at the list of things in a supposedly natural, basic cream, for sensitive skin. Low and behold there were several very nasty things in it. So over the next few posts I am going to show and tell you how to make some products for your skin all on your own- products with no nasties!

Today I’m going to show you how to make a gentle toning water for you skin. This is good for just about all skin types, it is antiseptic, healing, and calming.

Lavender and Rose Toner

You will need: (if you can try and use as much organic ingredients as possible, as what you put on your skin absorbs into your body, just like food does, and pesticides are very unfriendly to your bodies ecosystem!)

Dried Lavender

Dried roses/rose petals


Kettle (or something to boil water in)

Tea strainer (or a sieve if you don’t have a tea strainer)

Teacup/mug/pyrex container and a plate to cover

Sterilized bottle with atomizer (spray top)


Optional Ingredients: Strong high proof alcohol (like vodka), and Aloe Vera Juice

This is the toner I use myself, lavender water is fantastic for combination/oily skin types for its toning and antiseptic properties. Additionally, it increases cell growth which in turn helps heal the skin (for example is there is scaring from say old blemishes, etc.). The benefits of antiseptic toning water are especially noted for anybody living in a city with pollutants bombarding your skin all day! Also, the toning effect of the lavender will help tighten the skin, closing pores after use which in turn will help prevent excess dirt and substances being trapped into your pores! However my skin actually tends to the dry side of things so I add rose water to this mixture to get my perfect balance of hydration and toning. Rose is extremely hydrating and great for dry-normal skin. It helps to reduce redness, and is very soothing especially for dry skin. It even helps to cleanse the skin. So if you wash your face and follow it with some rose toner, you will probably notice your cotton wool or washcloth will come away with dirt and makeup on it, which makes it handy to make sure your skin is completely clean before moisturizing. After all you don’t want to lock in any dirt or particles under your moisturizer. Bottom line, if rose water was good enough for Cleopatra, it seems like it would be good enough for me!

So Directions:

Step 1:

Boil about a cup or two of water.

Step 2: Sterilize your bottle with boiling water. This basically consists of cleaning your bottle out with boiling water just like you would before canning food. Ideally use a glass container, and a new container, but if you want feel free to recycle something you already have. But, just so you know it is difficult to guarantee any residue from previous products is gone so this is just fair warning to make sure you clean very thoroughly!

Step 3: measure out a teaspoon of lavender, and a teaspoon or rose petals (or about 4 roses), put them into the tea strainer.

Step 4: Place the tea strainer into the tea cup/mug.

Step 5: Pour boiling water into the cup, and cover with a plate. You want to cover the cup with a plate while the infusion brews because this will help any of the precious essential oils released from the plants to drip back into the water, instead of escaping into the air!

Step 5: Let it brew, feel free to let it get as strong as you want. Cover and forget about it, or come back to it after a little while.  I leave mine for about 30 minutes to an hour.

Step 6: Remove the cover and the strainer of herbs

Step 7: Let it cool thoroughly. Put it in the fridge if you are in a rush. This is particularly important if you are using a bottle made of plastic instead of glass, as plastic can sometimes leach especially if exposed to heat. If using glass, you can just make sure it is room temperature or cool enough not to shatter glass. Let it cool completely before putting in the plastic atomizer.

Step 8: Pour into your bottle, and put the lid on it!

Now, you can store this in the fridge and it will keep much longer, or you can keep it out. After 2 weeks check to make sure it is still good and not growing mold or anything! Like food, you can tell if it is still good or not by sight and smell. If it smells bad, and it looks bad, it probably is bad! This brings me to optional ingredients.

If you want to make a larger amount of toner, or just want your toner to last longer, you can add a preservative. This is where the vodka comes in. Putting a little bit of booze into your toner will make it last much longer, even out of the fridge. But as a heads up this is ethanol alcohol, so it can be drying. In a toner that isn’t always so bad, because it tightens the skin and the pores, but if your skin is very sensitive or very dry then maybe it is better to just stick to keeping it in the fridge! There is no hard and fast rule to how much vodka you need to put in to make your facial cocktail, but I’d start with no more than 30% of the mix, to a certain extent it will be trial and error. Most importantly, you want it to still be comfortable on your skin!

Another ingredient you can add is Aloe Vera Juice, this will just add more calming and soothing ingredients to your toner. This is beneficial for all skin types once you start feeling more confident in your DIY skin care skills. Like with alcohol, there is no hard and fast rule for how much or how little to add. But start with no more than 1/3.

Also, there are other ingredients that can be made into toners, witch hazel or rosemary for oily skin, and jasmine or orange flowers for dry skin. So much to play with!

Let me know how it goes when you give making your own toner a try! Any questions? Happy Toning!

What’s in that Product? Day 5

And drum roll for the final five!

Panthenol: Okay, so this one is pretty cool too. Panthenol is derived from Pantothenic Acid, otherwise known as vitamin B5. It works as a lubricant on the skin surface, affecting the appearance of the skin and even the hair, making it appear and feel more supple. Interestingly, Panthenol can be converted back to Vitamin B5 by the skin through oxidation.

Acrylates/C10-30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer: This is a thickening agent, and a emulsifier, and a stabilizer. It is usually . It is listed as a moderate risk by EWG, the CIR lists it as safe in cosmetic use subject to concentration or use limitations. Trying to figure out exactly what makes this has made me feel like I really wish I had become a bio-chemist, despite this being a “safe” ingredient, I really don’t like the idea of putting something on my body, which I can’t easily figure out or understand on google! (: Basically this is a synthetic plastic ingredient. This is designed to make products dispersed in water not lumpy, and much easier to dispense. It appears to be a copolymer of acrylic acid, which is kinda creepy stuff. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) “it is a strong irritant to the skin, eyes, and mucous membranes in humans but it is not listed as a carcinogen because the results have been both positive and negative. However one study did show that “squamous cell carcinomas of the skin were reported in mice treated topically with acrylic acid“. That creeps me out enough to not really want that to be stuck on my skin all day! Maybe it is one thing in hand soaps…but applied to the skin I don’t know, I just don’t like plastics in my night cream!

Bisabolol: This is also known as levomenol. It is an alcohol which makes up the clear viscous oil which is the primary component of the essential oil of German Chamomile Matricaria recutita. It can be derived naturally or manmade. All and all seems pretty straight forward, and is rated at 0 risk by the EWG.

Xanthan Gum: This is a binder, and product stabilizer it even increases the viscosity of products. It is a sugar based polymer called a polysaccharide. It is listed as a safe ingredient even for food products. I can’t find anything that makes this look like a big problem.

Avena Sativa: Finally, another great ingredient with a funky latin name. This is Oats, which is rich with nutrients like zinc, silicon, phosphorus, manganese, calcium, and filled with Vitamins A, B1, B2 and E. It works as a skin conditioning agent. It is great for dry, sensitive, or irritated skin. It is even often used for people with skin conditions like eczema. It is also a great ingredient for skin.

So wow, that was a lot more hard work than I expected. A number of the ingredients were great for sensitive skin (which is this creams target market), like avena sativa, and aloe. But a number of the ingredients are a bit dodgy. Additionally, it seems like  a lot of these ingredients are just preservatives, thickeners, or for some purpose other than moisturizing and calming sensitive skin!

I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure it should be that hard to figure out what I am putting onto my body. I will definitely think twice about some of the ingredients I see on labels, and will definitely start brushing up on that botanical latin vocabulary, and possibly chemistry too. Next time I will show you how to make something totally natural for your skin which is free from all these weird ingredients!

What’s in that Product? Day 4

Okay a few interesting Latin ones in here:

Sesamum indicum: Sesame seeds! This is likely the oil, which is often up to 55% of the byproduct of the seed (it is 45% protein- no wonder hummus is so filling!). It is an emollient, it also has a long shelf life and is naturally preservative. Sesame has a high level of antioxidants which will help the skin. It is also thought to have anti tumor properties. Perhaps the manufacturer was thinking that the sesame oil’s anti tumor traits would balance out the possible carcinogenic effects of the Myristyl Myristate.

Squalane Sesamum indicum: This is squalane derived from sesame seeds. I mention the origin because originally Squalane was apparently derived from the liver of sharks-kinda gross. So it is nice when the label indicates where they derived it. Squalane is a component of sebum, which is the name of the oil and moisture our skin naturally produces. This makes Squalane a great emollient and moisturizer in skin care products. It is easily absorbed, is an antioxidant, which will help prevent things like sun damage, and has the added benefit of being an antibacterial. The CIR lists this a safe ingredient. Additionally, information seems to indicate that certain carcinogenic chemicals may be counter acted by this if exposed for a long enough period of time. So once again perhaps the thinking is put in squalane to counteract the potentially harmful stuff? Seems like someone should pay attention to the motto “if in doubt leave it out!”

Cetearyl Alcohol: This is actually what is called a “fatty alcohol”, it is apparently a white waxy solid. Personally, I had no idea that alcohols could be solids or fatty, so that goes in a you learn something every day category. This is used in order to keep an emulsion of oil and other liquids from separating in a product. This is rated as a safe ingredient in cosmetics by the CIR and even by the FDA as a food additive, freaky…

Cetyl Alcohol: is one of 2 components of Cetearyl Alcohol, it is also a fatty alcohol and is used in a very similar way to Cetearyl Alcohol, and it also considered safe.

Butyrospermum parkii: This is one of my favorite obscure sounding ingredients. It is simply Shea Butter. This comes from the sheatree, and is an oil which contains “about 45-50% oleic acid, 30-41% stearic acid, 5-9% plamitic acid and 4-5% linoleic acid.” The biggest problem with this nut butter is potential allergies to those who are allergic to nuts, so if that is you, be careful with this one! Otherwise this is a safe botanical ingredient.

Aqua: Agua, Eau, or Water! The simplest and most basic of ingredients.

Okay only one more round to go. This one has been pretty interesting, but all in all this bit of ingredients all sound fine, and I can see how some alcohol is totally different from other alcohol.

What’s in that Product? Day 3, I start to get concerned…

Okay here are three more ingredients on the Body Shop Aloe Night Cream Label

Isononyl Isononanoate: This emollient is listed as a low hazard by the EWG. However it is also being listed as a possible new allergen. It was originally taken from cocoa or lavender but now is likely to be made synthetically. From what I can understand it is derived from “Pelargonic Acid, also called nonanoic acid, a fatty acid with nine carbons“.  So my jury is still out on this one.

Myristyl Myristate: Okay so this is an emollient too, however it has my alarm bells going off big time. While not listed as a definite problem, there are a lot of possible concerns. On the EWR website they list numerous potential concerns linked with this ingredient. They are, cancer (could be a carcinogen), a possible human reproductive or developmental toxin, its classified as expected to be toxic to organs by Environment Canada, with a potential as a bioaccumulate, with a moderate to high level of toxicity to humans, as well as to the environment. Not to mention that it is believed that there is strong evidence that this is a skin, eye, and lung irritant. Okay well that one really creeped me out. I will be keeping my eyes out for that ingredient!

Octyldodecanol: This is a long chain fatty alcohol which the FDA has even approved for use in food, and the CIR has reviewed as safe on more than one occasion. It is listed by the EWG as very safe, and non toxic however there have been some indications that it may be a skin irritant.

I am officially getting concerned about what is in this supposedly natural and ethical cream for sensitive skin, and we are not even halfway through the list yet. Stay tuned for the rest.

What’s in that Product? Day 2

Continuing to examine our list of ingredients for the Body Shop’s Aloe Night Cream:

Butylene Glycol: This is apparently a type of alcohol that helps control the viscosity of products. The EWG lists this with a “moderate concern” level because the CIR shows strong indications that it is a human irritant, especially around the eyes, on the skin, or the lungs (if in an aerosol). Okay, so this one concerns me a bit more than the others so far.

Elaeis guineensis: This refers to the African Oil Palm Tree, which produces Palm Oil. Most research suggests this to be a safe emollient. The only concerns most likely to come up, are with regards to the sustainability and production of the palm oil. That is a whole other conversation however!

Glyceryl Stearate Citrate: This is also an ingredient derived from Glycerine. It is a “fatty acid monoglyceride”, created by esterifying glycerin with vegetable fatty acids. This particular one is glycerine and citric acid basically. It is an emollient and basically makes skin look silky, or it can be used as a fragrance. EWG lists this as low risk ingredient.

Okay, so a few things look kind of iffy, but all in all not that bad. I’m really hoping that this stays the case!

What’s in that Product?

One of the most important things in caring for your skin is knowing what you are putting on it. We need to think of it just like food, because like what you put inside your body, what you put on your skin gets absorbed into your body, and some of it isn’t so good.

I am going to take a pretty basic facial cream from a very popular name brand The Body Shop. This is from their most basic line, the Aloe line of products designed for sensitive skin, and often sold as preservative free. It is a moisturizing night cream that I have used before, and I liked it, but never thought to examine the peel-away ingredients label on the bottom. I’m not writing this to tell you what to use, but I’m trying to provide information so you can decide what you want to put on your skin! So let’s take a look now.

This is what it says:

Aloe barbadensis, Glycerin, Pentylene Glycol, Caprylic/Capric triglyceride, Butylene Glycol, Elaeis guineensis, Glyceryl Stearate Citrate, Isononyl Isononanoate, Myristyl Myristate, Octyldodecanol, Sesamum indicum, Squalane, Cetearyl Alcohol, Cetyl Alcohol, Butyrospermum parkii, Aqua, Panthenol, Acrylates/C10-30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer, Xanthan Gum, Bisabolol, Avena Sativa.

So at first glance it is very easy to see why we just blindly trust cosmetic companies, advertisers, and salespeople, because really what the heck does all that mean. And Latin, really?? Since diving into cosmetics it really makes me wish I had signed up to that Latin class in middle school! So just because you can’t read what’s written on the tin (unless you have a fantastic Latin vocabulary), doesn’t mean it’s bad for you. But how can you know whether it’s good or bad if you have no idea what it says? Unfortunately it means we have to do more work.

There is a lot here so I will be  doing a few ingredients at a time, until we get the whole list broken down. Otherwise we will all be subject to an information overload! So stay tuned for the whole picture.

So to start:

Aloe barbadensis: This is just the botanical name for the commonly known skin-soother Aloe Vera. Pretty straightforward ingredient. Aloe is good for just about all skin types, it is even used on burned skin to calm down the pain and help heal. Aloe vera is edible.

Glycerin: This is a normal by product of the production of soap. It is a humectant, which means it attracts moisture, so when it is in products it helps seal in moisture to the skin. It is a chemical Alcohol, known as Glycol, but that doesn’t mean it is bad. It is actually pretty decent for the skin, and is non ethanol alcohol, which means on labels this ingredient can be in a product that is “Alcohol Free” because it is non ethanol. It can be plant or animal derived. It is a great solvent, because many things will dissolved better into glycerine than in alcohol or water. Glycerin is even used in food products sometimes!

Pentylene Glycol: This one I had to look up. It is also a humectant, but it is a synthetic ingredient. It is probably used because unlike Glycerine Penylene Glycol lets oil dissolve into it easily. It is also used as a preservative. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) which reviews ingredients and products for skincare, on their “Skin Deep Cosmetics Database“, don’t list it with any warnings. However, there were some studies in the ’70s which indicated some toxicity in animals in high doses, and possibly a skin irritant. Also, a few recent studies indicate that Pentylene Glycol could be a skin irritant, a cause of contact dermatitis. So it is a little unclear what to make of this ingredient.

Caprylic/Capric triglyceride: You’ll never guess what this is. It is basically Coconut Oil, blended with glycerine. This is made by taking glycerol (sugar alcohol) and certain Fatty Acids (Caprylic and Capric) from coconut oil to make an emollient, and preservative. The Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) Expert Panel has considered this a safe ingredient multiple times.

So far so good it seems, let’s see what the rest of the ingredients look like to come.