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Hear us out: tonic is probably the most misunderstood step in the gua sha process, and quite possibly in skin care at large! It plays a crucial role in skin hydration, especially when face oil is part of the regimen. A common misconception is that tonic (sometimes called toner or hydrosol — more on that later) is an optional product, but it depends on what your skin needs as well as the other products in your lineup. In this piece, we’ll do a deep dive on the essential role of our Empress Tonic in the facial gua sha system, and you’ll begin to understand why it’s a step you don’t want to miss!
Toners, tonics, and hydrosols are all essentially meant to do the same job: prepare freshly cleansed skin to receive hydration from a serum, lotion, or oil-based moisturizer. Because the skin care industry has very few regulations with regard to naming, the terms toner, tonic, and hydrosol can vary from brand to brand. We’ll do our best to explain the subtle differences of each, including how they’re made, their benefits, and some witchy details, but keep in mind there will always be outliers that don’t fall into these categories.
When we think of toner, alcohol-infused formulas made popular by department store and drugstore brands in the late nineties and early aughts come to mind. They were initially designed to strip the skin of soapy residue after cleansing, leaving a clean canvas for moisture. Touting claims that they unclog pores and keep oil at bay, conventional skin care toners were astringent and often drying. Many modern brands have started to catch on, updating their formulations to have less alcohol and more gentle, moisturizing properties, but ingredients and composition do vary greatly from brand to brand and product to product.
Hydrosol is a distillation made using whole plant infusions with a water base. Unlike toners, they have very little alcohol content (if any — ours has no drying alcohol!) and therefore are less drying. They carry the benefits of the whole plants infused in it, and none of the effects of essential oils, which can wreak havoc on sensitive skin. Infusing a whole living plant instead of a dried one, which is often the case with essential oils and other processes, is thought to imbue the hydrosol with living energy from the plant. Good vibes!
Much like hydrosols, skin tonics are meant to hydrate, rather than toners which often claim to clarify congested skin with higher concentrations of drying ingredients like alcohol. Tonics, which are sometimes also called essences, have a wider variety of ingredients than hydrosols. We decided to name our hydrosol the Empress Tonic, because it’s a hydrosol that’s boosted with ferment of fresh radish root.
Here’s the truth: it would be a lot easier for us to create products that didn’t use this beautiful and ancient distillation technique. But we don’t take the quick and easy route if it means sacrificing the quality of our products! We’re here for the scenic route, the slow living, the intentional choices.
We’re going to let you in on a little behind-the-scenes beauty product intel! When formulating a skin care product with a lab, they provide a selection of generic bases you can add to based on how you want it to smell, feel, and function. So many products out there are quite similar as a result. Essential oils are often added to the base because they smell good, and can have some benefits. However, this can be problematic for the skin. Depending on the quantity and quality of the oils, they can cause a reaction and further congestion on your skin. Brands are not required to disclose which essential oils are in their products, making it difficult for the consumer to screen for potential allergies. More importantly, essential oils are known to disrupt the skin’s barrier with the potential to cause irritation, which can outweigh stated benefits.
Read more: Gua Sha Results: What to Expect Immediately and Over Time
At Wildling, we formulate our products using the whole plant infusion method. Instead of adding essential oils to the generic base, we submerge our plants in water (or oils) to extract all the goodness from it. Because we use a living plant, the end result is more dynamic and free of extra-concentrated essential oils, so you can get the benefits of these plants without the risk of using essential oils on your skin. Whenever possible, our ingredients are certified USDA organic, and gathered at peak potency for the most efficacious skin care.
Each one was chosen for its physical and metaphysical properties. They all have different effects on the skin, and the spirit!
Sweet Fern: Powerfully flushes the lymphatic system and protects skin cells from free radical damage. Soothes the skin and the spirit.
Damask Rose: Softens wrinkles by plumping and hydrating tired skin. Relaxes the system in times of stress. Read more about the benefits of Bulgarian Rose.
Douglas Fir: Purifies blood and improves circulation.
All ingredients: Comptonia Peregrina (Sweet Fern) Plant Water*, Rosa Damascena (Bulgarian Rose) Flower Water*, Pseudotsuga Menziesii (Douglas Fir) Plant Water*, Leuconostoc/Radish Root Ferment Filtrate
The Empress Tonic is an integral step in our four-piece facial gua sha system. Gua sha is a technique from Traditional Chinese Medicine, modified to release tension, held expression, and congestion from the face by way of the fascia, lymphatic system, and interstitial tissue. Learn more about the Empress Stone, Empress Wand, and our facial Empress Oil, and complete your ritual!