Beauty, Skin Care

Secret Key Aloe Soothing Moist Toner. Not so soothing after all. Toner causes red, itchy face. What could this toner do to your skin?

The Secret Key Aloe Soothing Moist Toner was the first K-Beauty product I ever bought in January of this year. Intrigued by its claims to be soothing, skin softening and suitable “for all skin types” I set off to find a reputable source. I hovered over for weeks but the product never came back in to stock.  This was promising for me. Products that are out of stock are obviously popular! I am on to a winner, I can tell.

Not able to source it from yesstyle I bought the toner from Amazon. It was from an independent store on Amazon so I ran the risk of not knowing if the product was authentic but I risked it for a biscuit. I know a good deal when I see it (or so I thought)- 248ml of “soothing” toner for £13.65. I thought what the heck and added it to my cart. Several weeks later it arrived so it must have been on the slow boat from Korea.

So off to a good start with the quantity and price. A good place to start with Korean skin care I thought, especially as I planned to use this in layers as they do in 10 and 12 step Korean routines.

So the application experience is messy if you apply it by hand. You can use a cotton pad but I never did this. I’m not wasting precious toner!  FYI, it runs everywhere if you just use it on your hands and dab it on to the skin in layers like you do with an essence. There was no stinging to the skin or eyes, no burning, no tingling. My plan was to decant it in to a spray bottle for easier application.

The texture of the toner is clear, thin and lightweight, almost like a slightly heavy water texture. After about 20 to 30 seconds it absorbs in to the skin. I am trying this product again as I write to have a very up to date review!

It leaves the back of my hand feeling soft and hydrated with no stickiness. My face is soft too however, there is an ever so slight tackiness to my face that I didn’t get on my hand. You know that feeling you get when you touch your face after applying a product and your fingers stick to the skin and pull it a tiny bit. It’s like that but I do stress it is ever so slight. The slight tackiness might actually be good as a priming agent for make up?

Gothmista on Youtube has reviewed this and recommends this product as a good hydrating toner. She does say it is a clean product, but I personally wouldn’t describe a product as “clean” when it contains fragrance and potential skin irritants.

There is a moderate fragrance. Not overpowering, not horrible, but floral. Maybe the smell you would get if you mixed flowers with a mild chemical? It’s primarly floral but there is a chemical undertone. This is most prominent in the bottle but the smell doesn’t last outwith the bottle.

And on to the bit I am interested in the most – ingredients! As the product is Korean, the ingredients on the bottle are in Korean. Due to this, I am going by the ingredient list provided on The reason I am so interested in ingredients is because I like to buy skincare that actually works and not get conned in to paying a fortune for nonsense. But also because I had a reaction to this product, and I want to know why. Purely out of interest and so I can make sure to steer clear of the culprit in the future.  A red blotchy face isn’t attractive especially when you are as pale as I am.

Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Water, 1,2-Hexanediol, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Sodium Hyaluronate, Beta Glucan, Snail Secretion Filtrate, Portulaca Oleracea Extract, Psidium Guajava Fruit Extract, Allantoin, Zanthoxylum Piperitum Fruit Extract, Pulsatilla Koreana Extract, Usnea Barbata (Lichen) Extract, Hydroxyethylcellulose, Polysorbate 80, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Extract, Camellia Sinensis Leaf Extract, Disodium Edta, Fragrance

18 ingredients in total. If my maths is right, more likely to be ropey than right but I will stick with 18. I have counted 19, but I am going with 18. Not a massive list and not a bad list at all at first glance as there is a lot of good ingredients in there.

This toner has active helpful ingredients such as aloe leaf juice and extract, sodium hyaluronate, beta glucan, snail secretion, portulaca oleracea extract, psidium guajava extract, allatoin and camellia sinensis leaf extract (green tea). These are the good guys. Very good guys.

The ingredients include properties like healing, soothing, softening, moisturising, hydrating.  There’s anti inflammatory, antioxidant, UV protection, humectant, polysaccharides, vitamins, minerals, amino acids – a lot! The snail secretion and portulaca extract are an impressive read on their own. If you’re a geek like me, go on, google them, you won’t be disappointed.

There are some fillers, ingredients needed to bind, stablise, dissolve, emulisfy. 1,2 Hexanediol (solvent, binder, preservative – it depends where you look but also a humectant with anti inflammatory and antioxidant properties), hydroxyethycellulouse (thickener), polysorbate 80 (emsulsifier to bind oil and water), disodium EDTA (stabiliser and foaming agent.) The toner does foam and bubble if you shake it so maybe this is the dude causing that.

So let’s find the reason behind my red blotchy face and patchy itchy arm. The reaction to the product was gradual. It wasn’t instant. I had been using the product daily for several weeks. To begin with my face felt smoother and more hydrated. But then as the days went on I noticed the toner wasn’t producing the same results. My skin seemed uneven in tone and would become red and blotchy after applying it and this would take some time to go away. I stopped using the product for a few weeks and then applied it again and still a red blotchy face. I applied it to my hand and arm and it become red and itchy. So that was the end of that and the toner has sat in a basket ever since.

On doing some research on the ingredients 1,2 hexanediol has been known to cause irritation but it is used in such low doses that it reduces the likelihood of skin reactions. Hydroxyethylcellulouse from what I have read doesn’t appear to be a potential skin irritant. As always reactions can occur to any chemical but this isn’t a high risk known offender. I haven’t been able to find any research linking polysorbate 80 with skin reactions. Dissodium EDTA in itself isn’t directly causative of skin reactions by way of its own composition. However, it is a skin enhancer, so it allows other products to penetrate the skin. Based on that, it is possible that one of the other ingredients that isnt known to be a problem or just mildly irritating (like hexanediol), could have penetrated the skin deeper than normal, and caused a skin reaction that way.

Lastly, there are a few unknown quantities in the mix that are more likely to have caused a problem but I will be fair and say that depends on your skin type. My skin can be reactive, but I wouldn’t describe it as particularly overly sensitive. I am open to the idea that I am allergic to one of the “good” ingredients, but for the sake of time and effort, I think it makes logical sense to consider one of the other ingredients as the red rash instigator.

This leaves Zanthoxylum Piperitum Fruit Extract, Pulsatilla Koreano Extract, Usnea Barbata Lichen Extract and good ol’ plain fragrance. So Zanthoxylum, Pulsatilla and Usnea are 10, 11 and 12th on the ingredients list. Fragrance is last. I’m not overly concerned about “fragrance”. It’s last on the list so chances are it is very minimal. It is only when “fragrance” or “parfum” or well disguised fragrance compounds are higher up the ingredient list that I will start to raise an eyebrow about the product.

However, we have the other 3, slap bang in the middle. What are they? Essentially, within this product they are preservatives and fragrance. The 3 ingredients are often used together within Korean skincare to form a natural preservative named EURO-NApre. They have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and astringent properties but they are used primarily for their preserving abilility. Zanthoxylum (Japanese Pepper) is used as a preservative and is known to be sensitising, likely due to the components within it called limolene and citrone. Those componenents are essentially fragrance. Upon exposure to air and light, limolene degrades and becomes a skin and respiratory irritant and sensitiser. Nice huh? I can’t find anything on citrone but I know from Dr Dray on Youtube that it is added to skincare as fragrance and can be irritating. Usnea is used for its fragrant properties within this product most likely and has been known to cause skin rashes. Pulsatilla Koreano Extract is a tough one to decide on. There is research on it causing major skin burns when applied topically straight from the plant. I would assume the ingredient has been purified before being added to this toner 🙂

So to summarise, yes, maybe I am allergic to one of the “good” ingredients. Maybe I am allergic to one of the filling ingredients. Disodium EDTA may have increased the potential for any ingredient to penetrate deeper and cause a skin reaction.  However, I think it is likely I am allergic to one if not all of the ingredients used primarily for preserving and fragrancing the product. I have to bare in mind that I also bought this from Amazon and it may not be a genuine product.

This hasn’t been a winner for me but it doesn’t mean the product will cause any reactions for others. It’s worth a go as the list of beneficial ingredients is impressive. For the price, you have little to lose and beyoutiful skin to gain.

Edit: Depending on what site you look on, the ingredients for the product vary. I assume this is dependant on the country of origin and sale as countries have different safety standards that permit and deny the use of certain chemicals. Additional ingredients include glycerin (this is in the product, no idea why incidecoder left that out, and it is a good safe ingredient, althaea rosea flower extract (hollyhock) and Nonoxynol-12 (emulsifier). There is not a lot of research or information on althaea or nanoxynol. Gardeners have reported reaction to hollyhock, but that is in its original state, without extractions and purification. It is used within skincare for its skin softening and soothing properties, so that’s another good guy for the list. With regard to nanoxynol what I have found is one report that someone did have a reaction to this chemical at varying percentages when using it regularly within a domestic cleaning environment. Again, the composition and percentages of the chemical are unknown to compare it to the ingredient that may be in this product. Just some extra info to be mindful of.
I had photos, but they stopped displaying so I had to delete them. Apologies.

S x

Sources: Truth In Aging, Paula’s Choice, Incidecoder, Skincarisma.

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