Refresh AHA BHA Vitamin C Daily Toner
COSRX’s Refresh AHA BHA Vitamin C Daily Toner is an okay toning option that has some potential, but isn’t quite the product the brand claims it to be.
Packaged in a clear bottle that needs to be stored out of direct light to protect some of its beneficial ingredients, this toner’s lightweight fluid texture is suitable for all skin types. It absorbs quickly without leaving a film or residue.
Among the ingredients are antioxidant fruit extracts, antioxidant and pore-refining niacinamide, and the alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) sodium lactate and glycolic acid. They’re formulated here at a pH of 4.19, which is slightly above what’s considered optimal (between 3-4) for the AHAs to exfoliate most effectively. Still, at this pH they still have some exfoliating action and of course maintain their hydrating properties, but based on the ingredient that directly precedes them in the ingredients (ethyl hexanediol, which is considered safe for use in up to 5% in cosmetics), we suspect the amount is too low to show much improvement when it comes to dislodging dead skin cells, so at best you can expect hydration.
A couple of notes on the other ingredients that are in this product’s name: the BHA here isn’t pure salicylic acid, but rather it’s two derivatives: willow bark water and betaine salicylate.
While salicylic acid can be derived from willow bark, its extract and water forms don’t work like BHA because an enzymatic process is required to synthesize the components in willow bark extract into salicylic acid. This process happens if you eat willow bark, but not if you apply it to skin. It is a good anti-inflammatory ingredient, though.
Betaine salicylate, meanwhile, is a salicylic acid (BHA) derivative can be derived from beets, but the synthetic form is usually used in skin care products. There is some research showing that it can have exfoliation benefits as well, but at higher concentrations than what’s present here (for reference, 4% betaine salicylate is equivalent to approximately 2% salicylic acid). Still, as with the willow bark extract, it has soothing properties.
As for the vitamin C, it’s the very last ingredient here, so you’re not getting as much of it as you might expect, given the product’s name.
That said, this still has enough positive qualities that it’s worth considering as a toner – just make sure you know that it’s not quite exactly the most potent option for exfoliation. For that, consider our list of best exfoliants.
- Contains antioxidant fruit extracts and pore-refining and brightening niacinamide.
- Includes hydrating alpha hydroxy acids.
- Willow bark water has skin-smoothing properties.
- Fragrance free.
- pH is slightly above what’s considered optimal for exfoliation to occur.
- Willow bark applied to skin cannot exfoliate like salicylic acid.
- Barely contains any of the advertised vitamin C.
- Clear packaging means this needs to be stored out of direct light.
A patented revitalizing toner that contains AHA, BHA and Vitamin C to mildly exfoliate the skin to leave it refined and radiant.
COSRX is one of a growing number of Korean beauty brands – a category known by many simply as K Beauty – that’s gaining a foothold in the Western cosmetics world. COSRX got its start in 2014, though it’s essentially an offspring of older “sister” brands, including C20 and Gatzmen, which have longer-standing histories in the Korean market. As the story goes, COSRX came about after the parent company compiled a decade’s worth of research based on customer data and beauty consumer research.
The brand name, as you might have guessed, is a mash-up of “cosmetics” and “RX” (for prescription), and illustrates COSRX’s overall philosophy. Whereas some other K-beauty brands are known for whimsical packaging and brightly-colored products, CosRX’s focus is minimalistic packaging and products designed to target specific skin care concerns, each highlighted by active ingredients.
To that end, the brand is largely successful. Most of the packaging is designed to protect light- and air-sensitive ingredients, though there are some jars in the mix. The formulas focus on active ingredients such as alpha hydroxy acids, hyaluronic acid, and beta hydroxy acid (though it should be noted, COSRX uses BHA derivatives, since salicylic acid’s use is restricted in Korea).
Most of the exfoliants are formulated at the optimal pH for exfoliation, which is between 3 and 4, and are fragrance free. Unfortunately there are some formulas that include natural ingredients that can potentially sensitize skin, including pine and cedar extracts, and anise fruit extract – proof once again that natural isn’t always better! Some products also contain drying alcohol, which is interesting since other products are specifically advertised as being “alcohol-free.”
Overall, this line is worth considering, especially if you prefer a more targeted approach to skin care that focuses on science rather than trends. For more information, visit cosrx.kr, the brand’s official Korean site. COSRX is available for purchase at several U.S. and online retailers, including Ulta, Amazon, and SokoGlam.
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.