The Inkey List’s PHA Toner is a good exfoliant that does what it claims at a price that’s wallet-friendly too.
Like most of The Inkey List’s products, this fragrance-free exfoliating toner comes in an opaque bottle that protect its good ingredients from exposure to light and air. It has a lightweight, fluid texture that’s easy to apply with either a cotton pad or fingers, and it sinks into skin quickly without a sticky residue.
The focus ingredient here is PHA (polyhydroxy acid, listed as gluconolactone in the ingredient list). It’s a chemical exfoliant that works similar to alpha hydroxy acid, or AHA, but is said to be gentler on skin because it has a larger molecular structure, meaning it has a lower ability to penetrate skin compared to AHAs like glycolic or lactic acid. Studies so far have only shown a 6% decrease in skin penetration from PHA compared to AHA, which means it might be slightly less sensitizing for some people, but it’s not an across-the-board solution for all types of sensitive skin.
That aside, it is a good exfoliating option, and here it’s in a 3% concentration at a pH of 3.68 (which is in the optimal range of between 3 and 4 for exfoliation to occur), which means you’ll likely see improved tone and texture from using this product, as claimed.
There’s also a 3% amount of skin-brightening and pore-refining niacinamide to improve the look and feel of skin by helping fade minor discolorations and strengthening skin’s barrier. The Inkey List claims the niacinamide can also control oiliness, and due to its ability to affect pores, this is also true to a certain extent. Research has shown amounts of niacinamide of 2% have a positive effect on sebum (oil) texture, and seems to improve how the oil moves through the pore lining, which can be perceived as oil control.
Aside from the gluconolactone and niacinamide, there’s only really soothing aloe as an additional beneficial ingredient. Still, if you’re looking for a no-frills exfoliant that gets the job done, this fits the bill.
- Texture is lightweight and dries quickly without a sticky residue.
- Contains a good amount of exfoliating PHA at a pH that’s optimal for exfoliation to occur.
- Includes skin-brightening and pore-refining niacinamide.
- Packaged to protect its light- and air-sensitive ingredients.
- Fragrance free.
- Formula is somewhat basic.
A gentle exfoliant for sensitive skin that helps remove dead skin cells for a smoother, brighter complexion.
The Inkey List is the creation of Colette Newberry and Mark Curry, respectively the former branding and product developers of the widespread UK-based drugstore chain Boots, which has its own namesake skin care line. As with a number of up-and-coming “indie” brands, the media coverage centers on their inexpensive products with minimalist formulas that tend to focus on a single star ingredient, such as hyaluronic acid, squalane, or retinol.
If you’re wondering about the inspiration for the name, it’s the pronunciation of the acronym “INCI,” which stands for the International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients, an agreed-upon, regulated list of how cosmetics ingredients should be identified on product labels. Each product has its chief ingredient listed on the packaging with dictionary-style writing underneath showing how the name is phoneticized, a clever and slightly erudite touch.
Though the formulas are somewhat basic, The Inkey List gets its packaging spot-on – all products are in opaque containers, with no jars or clear containers to be found. Fragrance isn’t on this brand’s radar, either--at least not in terms of adding it to their products (which will make your skin very happy).
We’d like to see more complex formulas, but then again such formulas cost more to make, and The Inkey List is mostly a bargain brand. We wrote “mostly” because in some cases, on an ounce-per-ounce basis, The Inkey List costs just as much as some other brands offering the same type of products (like leave-on exfoliants) in larger sizes.
Even with the predominantly one-note ingredient theme, the brand typically includes beneficial ingredients in efficacious amounts and skips irritants, with the exception of a couple a products that contain witch hazel water and drying denatured alcohol.
That aside, the brand offers a good selection of effective products, something we’re always glad to see. The Inkey List is sold exclusively in the U.S. at Sephora; you can learn more about the brand here: https://www.sephora.com/brand/the-inkey-list.
About the Experts
The Beautypedia team consists of skin care and makeup experts personally trained by the original Cosmetics Cop and best-selling beauty author, Paula Begoun. We’re fascinated by skin care and makeup products and thrilled when they meet or exceed our expectations, but we’re also disappointed when they fail to perform as claimed, are wildly overpriced, or contain ingredients scientific research has proven can hurt skin.
Our mission has always been to help you find the best products for your skin, no matter your budget or preferences. Beautypedia’s thorough and insightful reviews cut through the hype and provide reliable recommendations for all ages, skin types, and skin tones.