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French skincare brand Biologique Recherche has been making its line of the ever-elusive (yet highly praised) P50 lotions for more than 40 years now. This line of “balancing exfoliators” is just as well known for its skin-transforming benefits and unrivaled cult following as it is for its pungent stench. However, countless beauty editors and skincare aficionados are definitely more than willing to dismiss the potions’ signature scent—the result of a proprietary blend of vinegar and horseradish with a dash of onion—because fans swear it actually works.
According to the brand, these toners enhance the skin because they “speed up the epidermis’s natural exfoliating process and the reconstruction of the epidermal shield.” In other words, it sloughs off dead skin from the surface much like chemical exfoliants and retinoid products, thanks to its blend of trusted anti-aging ingredients including sulfur and lactic acid. But the P50 solution is different than its fellow exfoliators because it’s chock-full of unusual ingredients that you’re used to seeing in your kitchen cabinet, not your skincare: onion extract, horseradish, thyme. Despite the formula’s strong acid blend, the additional ingredients are said to help restore your skin’s PH levels and limit the amount of irritation associated with stronger exfoliating products.
There are currently seven versions of the lotion, with a range of strengths available depending on your exfoliation tolerance and personal skin concerns. The original—and undeniably most coveted—is the original P50 1970 solution. It contains a controversial ingredient called phenol, an antiseptic acid compound often used as a paint thinner but also found in some oral sore throat medicines (hence the numbing sensation upon application that many users have reported).
Fans of the lotion (aptly nicknamed “facial in a bottle”) praise the cultish elixir for its fast delivery of visible anti-aging benefits. Some even likened the results to Botox treatments. While it’s doubtful that P50 is a Botox alternative, it’s fairly evident that most people who have tried this stinky toner are pretty loyal to it, if not utterly obsessed. Unfortunately, it’s not easy to find if you’re not a beauty editor, nor is it easy on the wallet. Because it’s technically only sold by licensed aestheticians and at professional spas (no, you can’t order it on Amazon, beware of counterfeits!), it’s pretty tough to get your hands on this stuff.
While die-hard fans insist P50 an irreplaceable skin-care hero in their beauty cabinets, we’ve found a few phenol-free dupes that will do a similar job without requiring an endless black market hunt or an invasive stench.
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As the name implies, this mild resurfacing toner
primarily relies on glycolic acid to promote skin-cell turnover. The lack of alcohol and addition of soothing aloe vera makes this an especially great choice for those with sensitive skin.
This resurfacing toner promises to be gentle enough for daily use, and is powered by lactic acid for exfoliation, willow bark extract to minimize the appearance of pores and azelaic acid to boost radiance. In keeping with Ren’s clean-beauty ethos, this vegan and cruelty-free tonic uses only naturally derived ingredients and comes packaged in a 100 percent recycled plastic bottle.
While it’s primarily marketed as a blackhead removing toner, this K-beauty staple
has attained its own cult-level status for its powerful pore-unclogging properties. Like the P50 toner, this formula also contains niacinamide and BHA (salicylic acid) to decongest clogged pores and slough off dead skin cells. It’s also infused with willow bark extract to help soothe skin and minimize irritation.
If you perform a quick Google search for Lotion P50 dupes, you’ll find the majority of results include this affordable toner. This acid toner does have a few main differences from the P50, however. First of all, its acid base is glycolic acid, not lactic like P50’s. It’s also formulated with ginseng, which can help boost circulation in the skin, giving you a rosy glow while reducing puffiness. It also contains aloe vera to combat the irritation from the acid and other harsher actives to help keep pH in balance and reduce redness as well.
Brought to you by adaptogenic wellness brand Moon Juice, this skincare solution has quickly become a beauty-editor-approved dupe for Lotion P50. In fact, Moon Juice founder Amanda Chantal Bacon actually designed the formula after falling love with Biologique Recherche’s lotion only to be dismayed by the elixir’s concoction of questionable ingredients. Inspired by the undeniable efficacy of P50, Bacon formulated Beauty Shroom
with a blend of similar actives including lactic acid and niacinamide but swapped out the phenol and horseradish with anti-inflammatory reishi mushroom, offering a “cleaner” version.
This buzzy “skin perfector” features a trifecta of powerhouse acid actives (BHAs, AHAs and PHAs) to exfoliate, minimize pores, and even skin’s tone and texture. It’s also lauded for working on all skin types, but is particularly effective for those who struggle with acne.
While not a budget dupe, the SkinCeuticals Equalizing Toner’s main active ingredient is, like the P50, lactic acid. Known as an effective yet hydrating acid, lactic acid is great for mature, dry and sensitive skin types because it effectively exfoliates with less redness, dryness, and peeling associated with the other AHAs. It’s also touted for its “equalizing” or balancing properties, like P50, thanks to soothing ingredients like aloe vera and circulation-inducing chamomile extract.
A version of this story was originally published in October 2019.