elf Pure Skin Toner – Surprise! | Doctors Review



When you have been testing skincare products for years, you can get a little arrogant and look at something like the elf Pure Skin Toner and think “I know exactly what you are made of”. Because, let’s be honest, there are only so many things you can put into your products. That doesn’t mean all products are the same, no. You can use the same stuff for cooking and still come up with different tasting meals.


A bottle of e.l.f. Pure Skin Toner (travel size) standing in front of a dark surface with white flowers
e.l.f. Pure Skin Toner (travel size)


But I have been testing so much gentle and soothing skincare over the winter, I wasn’t expecting any surprises. There was one though, so let’s take a closer look.



What the elf Pure Skin Toner claims

A non-irritating, non-drying face toner that nourishes and moisturizes for a softer, smoother-looking complexion.


Facts about the elf Pure Skin Toner

Prize and size

I own a travel size with only 30 ml (available for as little as 5 €), but the full size contains 150 ml and is available for 10 € on the website here, obviously much better value for money. All elf products are vegan.


Texture and smell

When you pour the toner out of the bottle, it honestly looks like water – it is clear, runny and doesn’t really have a prominent scent.


Close up of the elf Pure Skin Toner
Looks like water, doesn’t it?


How to use the elf Pure Skin Toner

Just like most toners it can be used morning or night. And because I often get that question: No, a toner is not a must depending on your skincare goals. If you want to go as minimal as possible, you can skip it, but if lightweight hydration is your main goal and you live in a hot climate, toners can be just what you need. (More info: What is a toner and do you need one?, Effective skincare routine for minimalists and Is the Seven Skin Method the key to glowing skin?)

The website tells you specifically to avoid the eye area, which I at first didn’t understand. It absorbs readily and with minimal tackiness and can be layered. Depending on your skins sensitivity, layering it might not be the best idea though as, here comes the surprise, it contains Glycolic Acid.


Ingredients of the elf Pure Skin Toner

Water (Aqua) solv, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice so|h, Glycerin sii|h 0 0, Niacinamide cci|sb|aacne|h, Trehalose h, Ceramide NP sii, Ceramide AP sii, Ceramide EOP sii, Glycolic Acid exf|buff, Sodium Hyaluronate sii|h 0 0, Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Flower Water, Tocopheryl Acetate (Ve) aox 0 0, Hamamelis Virginiana (Witch Hazel) Water so, Avena Sativa (Oat) Kernel Flour so|aox|emo, Sodium PCA sii|h 0 0, Allantoin so 0 0, Phytosphingosine sii|cci|aacne|amic, Cholesterol sii|emo 0 0, Pentylene Glycol solv|h, Sodium Lauroyl Lactylate emu, Caprylyl/Capryl Glucoside surf, Polyglyceryl-3 Cocoate emu, Polyglyceryl-10 Laurate surf|emu, Xanthan Gum vc, Carbomer vc 0 1, Phenoxyethanol pres, Ethylhexylglycerin pres, Sodium Benzoate pres, Citric Acid buff, Benzoic Acid pres, Disodium EDTA chel, Tromethamine buff

Hover the mouse over an ingredient for short explanation. Read more on INCIDecoder.

I can’t comment on the percentages of the ingredients in this product, but expect most of them are on the lower side – such is the nature of a toner – so I don’t know how much Glycolic Acid is actually present and if it is enough to have a noticeable exfoliating effect. I suspect that no, but still had absolutely not had it on my ingredients Bingo card. (More info: Everything you need to know about acids in skincare)

Glycerin and Sodium Hyaluronate as humectants, Colloidal Oat Meal, Niacinamide and Allantoin for soothing, those didn’t really surprise me. (More info: The benefits of Hyaluronic Acid in skincare explained, The benefits of Colloidal Oat Meal in skincare explained and The benefits of Niacinamide in skincare explained)

Three different ceramides and phytosphingosine to replenish lost lipids in the skin are a little more uncommon, but I have seen them before. (More info: The benefits of Ceramides in skincare explained)

All that would make the elf Pure Skin Toner a regular soothing toner, but the Glycolic Acid adds a little bit of mystery. Will it very gently exfoliate? Might it irritate your skin when paired with other exfoliating ingredients? Or will it just add a little hydration?

More info: How to read the ingredient list in your skincare products


Does it live up to its claims?


It is hydrating and leaves the skin soft and smooth. If it is non-irritating will depend on your individual skins treshold of course, but I never ran into any issues.


How does it compare to…


A bottle of haruharu wonder Black Rice Hyaluronic Toner standing in front of a dark background with white flowers
haruharu wonder Black Rice Hyaluronic Toner for sensitive skin


Haruharu Wonder Black Rice Hyaluronic Toner

The haruharu version is just the latest in a long line of Korean skincare toners I have tried aimed at sensitive skin, and I would be hard pressed to name a favorite as all of them are lovely, hydrating and lightweight. Haruharu stands here representative for all of them, and whether you opt for that one or the well known Purito Unscented Toner is really up to your individual preferences. They are hydrating toners without any surprises, no hidden acids that might end up irritating your skin, and can be layered beautifully.

You can read my full review of the haruharu Wonder Black Rice Toner here.


A bottle of Real Barrier Extreme Essence Toner standing in front of a dark background with white flowers
Real Barrier Extreme Essence Toner


Real Barrier Extreme Essence Toner

Real Barrier does another toner that is more lightweight, but with more body than the e.l.f. version. It features ceramides as well as specific ingredients aiming to sooth the skin and in that is comparable to elf, but again without the added acid. It is my current go-to toner to keep my skin happy and calm on Tretinoin nights, so you can tell I rate it a lot.

You can read my full review of the Real Barrier Extreme Essence Toner here.


A bottle of La Roche Posay Cicaplast B5 Spray standing in front of white flowers on a dark background
La Roche Posay Cicaplast B5 Spray


La Roche Posay Cicaplast B5 Spray

I am pretty sure you have heard of the La Roche Posay Cicaplast Baume, the cult favorite french cream that soothes and hydrates even the most irritated skin. Well, this is the spray on version – more lightweight, but with the same ingredients: Panthenol, Madecassoside and in this case no Ceramides, but Copper Gluconate for wound healing. It is what I reach for if my skin is irritated and dry, but I can’t stand the thought of the kind of thick Cicaplast cream. Again, no acid here.

You can read my full review of the La Roche Posay Cicaplast B5 Spray here.


pixi Glow Tonic
The original pixi Glow Tonic


pixi Glow Tonic

Finally a toner with Glycolic Acid to compare the elf one to – pixi Glow Tonic. It isn’t directly marketed at sensitive skin, but of the exfoliants available certainly one of those better tolerated. The concentration is on the lower side and the pH isn’t ideal, which makes for a very gentle exfoliation, but one that will give you results over time. Now as regular acid user I wouldn’t see any changes in my skin when introducing this one, and the same is certainly true for elf, so I can’t say how they would compare for exfoliation. In terms of ingredients beneficial for sensitive skin, elf certainly has more potential.

You can read my full review of the pixi Glow Tonic here.


Would I repurchase and which skin types do I recommend the elf Pure Skin Toner to?

I found the elf Pure Skin Toner lovely, lightweight and hydrating and even when my skin was a little upset, it didn’t irritate it any further, despite containing a probably very low amount of Glycolic Acid alongside the soothing and repairing ingredients. Still, if your skin is very reactive, keep that in mind and see how your skin reacts to it. Other than that though I think it is a lovely option for everyone.


elf Pure Skin Toner Review
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