Article by: Perry Romanowski

One of the most simple products that a formulator might be called on to produce is a toner. This Olay Oil Minimizing toner is one of the most popular ones so it makes sense for us to dissect the label and see what this thing is all about.

Olay Toner LOI

Water (Eau), SD Alcohol 40, Hamamelis Virginiana (Witch Hazel) Extract, Aloe Vera (Aloe Barbadensis) Leaf Juice, PEG 40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Allantoin (Comfrey Root), Menthyl Lactate, Fragrance (Parfum), Blue 1 Lake (CI 42090), Yellow 5

The 1% Line

As always when trying to take apart a formula it is useful to figure out the 1% line to determine which are the most important ingredients and which are the claims ingredients that are not crucial to the performance. Toners are particularly simple formulas so you don’t often find a lot of ingredients. This one has 10 ingredients but the reality is that there are only 2 that have most of the effect, WATER & SD ALCOHOL 40. Everything after the alcohol is likely used at levels below 1%.

What the ingredients do

For some, toners are a mystery. It is not actually clear why people use them as Colin has pointed out. The way they are marketed is as an additional cleanser. So in this formula the water and alcohol are doing the bulk of the oil & dirt removal. A cotton ball is used so the dirt is essentially wiped off.

Since consumers expect things like Witch Hazel and Aloe Vera these are also included. The Witch Hazel is said to be an astringent but I would be surprised if someone tested a formulation with and without this ingredient and was able to tell a difference in the product performance. The Aloe, Castor Oil, and Allantoin have all been traditionally used in skin care products and are likely used to support the story of this product. I wouldn’t expect them to do much either.

The color and fragrance ingredients will have an effect on the aesthetics of course. Note this formula does not require a preservative because it has a high level of alcohol.

Olay Toner claims and support

There aren’t many claims to this formula so support is pretty simple.

1. “Tones by removing dirt, oil and make-up without stripping skin’s essential moisture.”
This is the primary claim and the reason people use the product. The alcohol will help dissolve most oil and dirt on the skin and the cotton ball wipes it away. Since the term “skin’s essential moisture” is rather meaningless there isn’t much claim support that needs to be done. You could make a reasonable argument to say that since the product is water based any moisture that you may have removed would be replaced at the same time.

2. “Dermatologist Tested.”
This is simply done by giving the product to a dermatologist (or testing house with a derm on staff) and having them test it in some way. The test that they do doesn’t matter.

3. “With witch hazel”
People expect toners to have astringent properties and have come to expect Witch Hazel as an ingredient to do that. So, the formulators simply include it. Whether it does anything in the formula or not is debatable.

4. “Oil Minimizing Toner.”
Whenever you use the word ‘minimizing’ you are being vague enough that supporting the claim can be simple. There is no defined limit for ‘minimize’ so as long as you can show your product removes some oil, you can support the claim of minimizing.

5. “Warnings – Keep away from extreme heat and open flame”
This product has a high level of Alcohol so they are compelled to put this warning on the label.

Olay Toner overall

This is a best seller on Amazon so Olay is definitely doing something right with the formula. It’s a water/alcohol solution with a nice fragrance. Effective, affordable, but also pretty easy to copy as there is nothing special about the formulation.


  1. Avatar

    Hi perry

    Where can we find more information about guidelines on making cosmetics claims, both in the EU and US? Would very much appreciate your help.

    1. Avatar
      Perry Romanowski

      What kind of information are you looking for? You can also do a search of the website (there’s a box on the right side). We have written a few articles about cosmetic claims.

      1. Avatar

        Yes I have come across these now. I guess my question is now more like: is cosmetic claims regulation the same in the EU and US? About evidences that support cosmetic claims, are these data always the results of tests made to substatiate the a claim? Can a study made by say a raw material supplier on the ingredient that they sell be used as supporting evidence if I used their ingredient in my product for instance? Would these be true for both the EU and the US?
        Thanks so much Perry!

        1. Avatar
          Perry Romanowski

          Hello Gian – Well, I should preface this by saying that I am not an expert in the regulatory status of the EU. I know more about the US but again if you want an expert opinion about a specific question you’ll want to hire a regulatory expert.

          But I did work in the claims department for a couple years at my previous company and can give you the following perspective.

          1. Yes, the regulations in the EU and the US are pretty similar. Both say that you can’t make false claims & both require you to have proof of what you claim.

          2. In the US you need some rationale for making a claim. Often this can just be a logical one. For example if you say a shampoo formula “cleans hair” you don’t actually have to do a test to demonstrate hair being cleaned. All you have to do is have a surfactant in your formula and you could point to the science of how a surfactant works. The same type of thing goes for claiming that there is a specific ingredient in a formula. Just show that it is in there and you don’t have to do a test.

          3. But if you are making any kind of performance claim, e.g. moisturizes skin, or improves skin condition, you need to conduct a test that demonstrates that what you are saying is true. There are standard lab tests you can do and you can also do consumer tests to support some things.

          4. Follow the rule “extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof”. The stronger a claim, the better the test you have to have to support it.

          5. No, you can not use supplier tests as supporting evidence unless they specifically tested your formula and you were involved in the design of the tests.

          Hope that helps.

          1. Avatar

            Very helpful Perry! Really great information and insights here. I just have one last question about input 2 in the example given – “cleans hair” – is the science behind the way surfactant works (an explanation) usually written as a document, which form part of the claims support dossier?
            Many thanks!

          2. Avatar
            Perry Romanowski

            Yes. You should have a rationale for all your claims kept in your product dossier.

          3. Avatar

            Truly a thank you Perry!

  2. Avatar

    Hammemelis extracts can mean different things.

    The chances are the formulators are using a distilled Hammemelis rather than the sort of Hammemelis extracts I would use in tablets or capsules. The distilled witch hazel typically has no tannins and is a colourless liquid. Chances are this is used in concentrations greater than 1% in this lotion.
    The Hammemelis extracts I am used to working with are either reddish-brown ethanolic liquids or dark-brown powders that can be rehydrated.

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    Out of curious you almost don’t use toners in Japan and South Korea. Instead of toner you usually what they call”lotion” (almost everyone use lotions there — even men).

    The concept is different: lotions are very liquid products with a lot of humectants like glycerin and hyaluronic acid to “soft” the dryness caused by the cleansers. Almost all Japanese women do “double cleansing” (oily makeup remover + regular cleanser) daily, so they don’t need any other product to clean the skin.

    According to the Japanese due the high amount of glycerin and other glycols the lotions also disrupt momently the skin’s barrier, then the “treatment” product that is used after the lotion could penetrates better.

    This is the formula of best seller Japan’s lotion:

    Water, Butylene Glycol, Glycerin, Disodium Succinate, Hydrolyzed Hyaluronic Acid, Hydroxyethylcellulose, Methylparaben, PPG 10 Methyl Glucose Ether, Sodium Acetylated Hyaluronate, Sodium Hyaluronate, Succinic Acid

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    The menthyl lactate gives a cooling effect, which probably helps give the product a refreshing skin feel.

    I am a bit puzzled about the blue lake. I’d have thought a straight dye was more appropriate here?

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      Maybe that is more soluble in the alcohol/water mixture?
      I agree with you about the menthyl lactate, though wouldn’t you get a cooling effect from the evaporating alcohol anyway? Seems like overkill.

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        Lakes don’t tend to dissolve in anything. I’d have expected it not so much to go into solution as to plummet to the bottom of the tank before they’d even got it in the bottle. But I suppose they may use a really low level. The big advantage of a lake is it doesn’t stain the skin. They may have come up with a trick to avoid getting complaints about turning people into smurfs.

        Menthyl lactate is effectively a slow release of menthol, so it would give a longer lasting effect than the alcohol.

        Or at least those are my thoughts. The guys behind it are probably laughing at how far off the mark we are.

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          Come on, we can’t be that far off! It’s just alcohol and water!! 😉

          1. Avatar

            A Stradivarius violin is just wood glue, and a bit feline intestine.

  5. Avatar

    The PEG 40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil is likely included to help solubilize the fragrance and menthyl lactate.

    1. Avatar

      Ah, good point!

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