Welcome to Operation Goo Goo Gah Gah, a bi-weekly column by Ziwe Fumudoh where the comedian and writer tries everything under the sun in dogged pursuit of baby-smooth skin and the makeup to complement it. There is no shortage of promising products out there, but which actually work? Ziwe’s here to find out.
Dirty. Filthy. Nasty. These are the words I’d use to describe my cotton pads after I’ve wiped my face with toner (and also the opening lines of Christina Aguiliera’s classic, "Dirrty"). There’s pretty much nothing that a toner can’t do. Depending on the formula, toner can be your go-to exfoliator, pH balancer, or moisturizer post-cleanse. It’s great for people with oily or dry skin, acne, an intense makeup or sunscreen routine or, in our case, those who want to hit the reset button on life and reclaim a babyface in a tactical exercise called Operation Goo Goo Gah Gah.
If your skin has been flourishing during this global lockdown because you haven’t had to put on makeup or go outside, know that I am deeply jealous of you. My skin has been rebelling against me, cracking as if there were shifting tectonic plates beneath my epidermis. Is a toner the answer to a quick fix? Maybe! I did the legwork to find it out.
Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Toner
I first learned about toners years ago from a Sephora sales agent who, upon hearing my skincare routine was “just Clearisil and lotion,” told me I needed to “love myself more” and introduced me to this one from Kiehl’s. This is your standard toner, your point of entry to the toner market. The biggest pro is that it really does deep clean my pores better than most other toners, leaving the cotton pad I use to apply it absolutely dirtied in an unholy shade of gray. The con is that this so-called “gentle toner” is often drying, creating the perfect circumstance for me to take on a calcified mummy face in the dead of winter. For me, this toner is best when my skin is at its oiliest—during hot girl summer.
Pixi Glow Tonic
I love Pixi toners because in addition to being alcohol-free, they're on the more affordable side. Glow Tonic is known as the original P50 dupe, and since its packaging reminds me of Pine-Sol, which I naturally equate with mystery formulas and heavy-duty cleaning anyway, maybe it’s like P50 in more ways than one. Its consistency is thin like water, and it does that sting-your-face sensation too. Since I’ve been socialized to believe beauty is pain, this isn't a huge deterrent. Nonetheless, when my skin is hydrated and thriving, this is the toner I use to smooth out bumpy texture and and signs of hyperpigmentation.
Glow Recipe Watermelon Glow PHA + BHA Pore Tight Toner
According to Glow Recipe, Watermelon Glow Toner is inspired by a popular Korean spa treatment known as the Aqua Peel Facial. I don’t know what that means entirely, but I do know that this toner applies like milky water and successfully removes the dead skin cells from my dry ass face. With cactus water and 6-percent hyaluronic acid as a base, this toner helps my skin retain moisture and gives it a stretchy feel. And while I can’t isolate the individual effects of each ingredient, I can acknowledge that using this toner in tandem with my Skinceuticals serums, lotion, and Liquid Gold made my skin look and feel like I had just left the exclusive spa at House of Goo Goo Gah Gah. (Also honorable mention to the cute grooved glass packaging. The bottle reminded me of my days using Johnson’s baby oil which I love because I am chic just like a baby.)
Dr. Jart Ceramidin Liquid Moisturizing Toner
This is a new discovery of mine that I have been singing from the rooftops. More like a lotion than any other toner I’ve encountered, the Ceramidin Liquid hydrates and goes on smooth. Applying it feels like I’m giving every one of my pores an individual hug. Like I'm giving my face a hot stone massage while submerged in a pool of room temperature molasses. Like I’m slamming my face repeatedly into a warm pillow made from the hem of Jesus’ poncho. As someone that suffers from global pandemic-induced eczema, this toner has been my most reliable find in Operation Goo Goo Gah Gah’s mission to keep my face from literally flaking off. It has replaced all other toners in my skincare routine and has helped in giving me a moist look that says “You are going to need to Google my age because it’s unclear from just my appearance." When I’m having an eczema breakout, this is the toner I use if I use a toner at all (sometimes, I pare down my skin routine to just cleansers, seven different lotions, and a prayer). If you are looking for a hydrating toner for aggressively dry, sensitive skin, this is my favorite toner and this is your gal.
Photo via ITG