Apothecary Adventures: Making a facial toner

There are a jillion recipes out there for DIY skincare, bath and body products, and all kinds of claims about what they’ll do for you. DSC_1705 (4)As my interest in traditional herbalism and back-to-basic home therapeutics deepens, I’ve been eager to try some of them (always with a skeptical eye toward snake-oil claims, of course). I’m pretty picky, though; I want a simple recipe using only a few ingredients that are plant-based, organic rather than synthetic (although that’s not always possible, especially when it comes to fragrance), easily-available and inexpensive. And if those ingredients or the final product can multitask, so much the better!

I decided to start my cauldron-stirring with a facial toner, which is odd, since I’ve never used one  ̶  except for a summer years ago when I fell in love with a cucumber toner from either Crabtree & Evelyn or The Body Shop (can’t remember which). Perhaps my dry, mature skin is calling out for it! Toners claim to cleanse, tighten, refresh, soften, hydrate, balance pH levels, glowify, reduce inflammation and control oil. That’s a lot to ask from one product, but only time will tell.

Many incarnations are possible, including cucumber, tea tree, lavender, calendula, aloe & green tea, apple cider vinegar & mint — you name it. For my first effort, I settled on a popular combination:  rosewater, witch hazel (both have been used for centuries) and vegetable glycerin, which is optional. All of these have uses on their own, but together they make a good cosmetic. Here are some of their supposed therapeutic properties, as well as notes on brands, availability and cost:

Rosewater:  soothes, cools and balances; cleanses oily skin; rejuvenates, softens and tones mature skin and helps reduce signs of aging; delicate fragrance calms, reduces stress and contributes to sounder sleep

  • If you’re willing to sacrifice lots of roses that you grow yourself (without pesticides), it’s easy to make your own steam-distilled hydrosol.
  • Purchase rosewater at health/natural product stores, some drugstores, Mediterranean/Middle Eastern food shops and online.
  • My source: Heritage Store’s Rose Petals™ Rosewater, which contains only water and Rosa damascena flower oil. This is a multitasker; use as-is for aromatherapy, perfume, body splash or a simple toner. A rosewater + glycerin option is also available. I paid CAD $12.99 for a 240 mL (8 fl. oz.) bottle at my local Whole Foods store.

Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana):  astringent; controls oil and may help acne; tannins constrict blood vessels, reducing swelling and inflammation and temporarily tightening skin; cleanses dirt and oil; cools; eases pain and itching; use undiluted as a dressing for bruises, sprains and muscle soreness, abrasions, swelling, insect bites, razor nicks, minor burns and sunburns

  • My source: 100 mL Life™ brand Witch Hazel (manufacturer’s standard) from Shopper’s Drug Mart for CAD $4.99; contains ethyl alcohol. (I couldn’t find an alcohol-free distilled version, but it does exist.) Look for witch hazel in the first aid aisle.
  • Witch hazel doesn’t have a particularly attractive fragrance – it smells rather earthy to me – and the alcohol gave my first batch a slight medicinal odour. I added more rosewater to counteract it.

Vegetable Glycerin:  acts as a humectant, attracting and holding moisture to the skin; cleanses; softens rough skin

  • Can make your products sticky, so don’t go overboard. If you add too much, increase the amount of rosewater.
  • My source: NOW® Solutions 100% Vegetable Glycerine, which is made from non-GMO palm, grapeseed or coconut oil and contains no additives. (I’m a big fan of NOW’s body oils and the spot-on fragrance of their essential oils, all of which are reasonably priced.) A 118 mL bottle cost me CAD $8.99 at Whole Foods.

Rosewater, Witch Hazel & Glycerin Toner

No recipe, of course, listed the exact amounts for the size of bottle I had on hand (I wanted a small batch with nothing left over); in fact, the numbers vary widely. Generally, the proportions go like this:  mostly rosewater, some witch hazel, and a smidgen of glycerin. (How’s that for a recipe?!) To make a larger batch (keep some; give some as gifts), try 1 cup of rosewater, ½ to ¾ cups witch hazel and 1 teaspoon of glycerin. For my small bottle, which holds 80 mL (about ¼ cup or 2 oz.), I experimented until I got the right feel and fragrance:  non-sticky, non-greasy, and pleasantly rose-scented. I used:

  • 50 – 60 mL rosewater
  • 20 – 30 mL witch hazel
  • 1/8 tsp (6 to 8 drops) vegetable glycerin

If the rose scent isn’t strong enough for you, or you don’t like the smell of witch hazel, try adding a drop of rose essential oil or any favourite complementary scent, like lavender or peppermint.

Start Concocting!  Add all ingredients to a bottle with or without a spray top. Secure lid and shake to combine.

To Use:  Shake before each use. Spritz or apply witDSC_1705 (5)h a cotton ball or makeup remover pad to face and neck, avoiding eyes and other mucous membranes. Use after cleansing, to help remove makeup, or whenever you need a lovely rose-scented boost. Keep tightly closed; does not need refrigeration.