Pixi Glow Tonic Review: A Holy Grail Exfoliant For Senstive Skin

by | Last updated Apr 18, 2020 | Reviews | 35 comments

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I thought I’d continue with the reviews on AHA products, by tackling another common holy grail: The Pixi Glow Tonic Exfoliating Toner.

pixi glow tonic

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A gentle but effective glycolic acid product, which despite some claims out there does exfoliate the skin. More about that in a bit.

Let’s start out by examining the ingredients.

Ingredients and Benefits.

Check out this hot stuff.

pixi glow tonic ingredients

Aqua, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Hamamelis Virginiana (Witch Hazel) Leaf Extract, Aesculus Hippocastanum (Horse Chestnut) Seed Extract, Glycolic Acid, Ammonium Glycolate, Glycerin, Butylene Glycol, Hexylene Glycol, Fructose, Glucose, Sucrose, Urea, Dextrin, Alanine, Glutamic Acid, Aspartic Acid, Hexyl Nicotinate, Panax Ginseng Root Extract, Phenoxyethanol, Sodium Benzoate, Biotin, Polysorbate 20, Fragrance.

  • Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice

What the non-skincare-addicts slater on their sunburns after a long day at the beach. Of course, that doesn’t apply to us because we’re diligent about our sunscreen use. Right? 😉

Aloe vera is an ingredient as old as time, with its skin uses dating back 3,500 years! It has anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, skin lightening, and healing properties. (1 2345) A couple studies have also confirmed it’s an effective treatment against psoriasis. (6789) I can confirm this.

Yes, I’ve dealt with psoriasis in the past, and it blooooows. Here’s what it looks like in case you’re wondering.

  • Hamamelis Virginiana Leaf Extract

Or more simply put, Witch Hazel. A strong antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties that scavenges free radicals to reduce damage to skin cells. (10, 11)

Studies have also shown it can regenerate vitamin E (another antioxidant), reduce transepidermal water loss (TEWL), protect skin against irritation, and prevent the formation of erythema (redness).(1213)

  • Glycolic Acid (AHA)

The chemical exfoliant inside the Pixi Glow Tonic. Glycolic acid is a water soluble alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) that can be found naturally in the cane sugar of fruit juices like grape and orange. (14) It has the lowest molecular weight of all the AHAs (e.g. acetic, mandelic, lactic), which makes it potentially more irritating because it penetrates the skin easily. (15)

It increases cell turnover rate, exfoliates the surface of skin, decongests closed comedones and clogged pores (though less effectively than Salicylic Acid), reduces the appearance of wrinkles, acne scarring, and helps treat hyperpimentation. (161718192021)

In also increases collagen production and the hyaluronic acid content in skin. (222324252627)

Every time I use the Pixi Glow Tonic I definitely see a reduction in pore size and some pretty drastic skin brightening, which is to be expected when using a glycolic acid product. Funnily enough, I thought I was the only one that noticed, but a friend of mine said I looked “refreshed” about a month after I started using it. He asked me if I had been sleeping more (LOL). Definitely not the case.

BUT GET YOUR BEAUTY SLEEP! It’s very important for overall health and skin. :p

Related reading: Best Glycolic Acid Products: Top 5 Picks From A Skincare Junkie

  • Horse Chestnut Extract

Soothing ingredient that helps calm rosacea and skin redness.

  • Glycerin

A humectant that draws water from the environment to moisturize the skin.

  • Fructose, Glucose, Sucrose

These are all natural sugars. There has been some preliminary studies showing that similar sugars (e.g. xylitol) can help dissolve pathogenic biofilms and balance the skin microflora (in other words, the healthy bacteria and yeast that live on our skin). (2829)

A biofilm is simply a group of sticky cells made up of microorganisms that adhere to the skin’s surface. Think of it as a thin layer of bacteria stuck on the skin. Biofilms have been implicated in skin diseases like atopic dermatitis (eczema) and seborrheic dermatitis, and are linked to approximately 80% of all human infections. (30)

  • Urea

A non-pH-dependent exfoliant and powerful keratolytic agent. (31, 32) Keratolytic, just being the fancy science term for saying it detaches and sloughs off dead skin.

Studies have shown Urea helps dry itchy skin, increases the water content of the stratum corneum (outer most layer of skin), and reduces the irritation of harsh detergents like sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS). (3334)

It’s a commonly prescribed treatment for atopic dermatitis (eczema), and may be a suitable alternative to anti-fungals. (3536)

  • Ginseng Root Extract

Inhibits melanogenesis which might help lighten dark spots. (38)

Now to answer the question on everyone’s mind….

Does the Pixi Glow Tonic exfoliate the skin?

Yes. And don’t underestimate its ability to do so!

There’s been some confusion thrown around regarding whether the Pixi Glow Tonic is considered a chemical exfoliant or an “acid toner” — in other words, a product simply intended to drop the pH of skin back to a healthy equilibrium after cleansing.

The whole controversy started after someone noted that the Pixi Toner’s pH is around 4-5. AHAs, like glycolic acid, require a pH of “4 or lower” to effectively exfoliate the skin. While that is true, it doesn’t capture the whole picture. Let me explain.

Chemical exfoliants have something called a free acid value (FAV), which tells you the true strength of its exfoliating prowess. The FAV is the amount of acid in a solution that will freely exfoliate the skin. When the pH of a product is below 2, it means the entire acid in that solution is “free.”

For example, say we have a 5% salicylic acid product with a pH of 2. That would mean, the entire 5% is “free” to exfoliate the skin. However, when the pH is raised slightly, less of that 5% will actually work. At neutral pH (7), the salicylic acid would essentially be rendered useless as far as chemical exfoliation goes.

With that said, the Pixi Glow Tonic has a pH around 4-5, meaning there is still some active acid that will exfoliate. Trust me on this, don’t underestimate this product just because it’s a “weaker exfoliant.” The first time I bought it I stupidly began using it twice daily because I heard it doesn’t exfoliate — BIG MISTAKE. I had glassy over-exfoliated skin within a few days.

Keep in mind though, that my skin is fairly sensitive. Just use this bad boy as tolerated and you should definitely see a reduction in skin discoloration, and increased skin brightness (a.k.a. glow).

Related reading: Why the pH of Skin and Products Are Crucially Important

Application, Feel, and Scent.

The Pixi Glow Tonic goes on and feels exactly like water. You probably wouldn’t even be able to tell the difference if it weren’t for the scent.

how does pixi glow tonic feel on the skinpixi glow tonic on skinpixie glow tonic dried

It’s so watery I had a hard time trying to get a few drops to sit still as I took a photo. It dries fairly quickly; I’d say it’s completely gone within 2 or 3 minutes. Once it’s evaporated it’s not noticeable on the skin at all, but it definitely leaves it softer and smoother. I’ve found that it layers really well under other products too.

Be warned: this bottle is pretty small, so compared to something like Paula’s Choice AHA Gel, it wont last that long. It doesn’t help that it has minimal slip because of its water consistency, meaning it will take more product to spread across the skin.

Pro-tip: don’t use cotton balls; they waste product. Simply apply it into the palm of your hands before spreading it across the face. That’s how you’ll get the best bang for your buck.

As for the scent — very simply put, it smells like a “rose lipstick.” Yeah, just took another whiff… it’s like a clean lipstick with a tinge of rose in it. I quite enjoy the smell to be honest. But then again, I’m a sucker for roses. Haha :p

How to Use the Pixi Glow Tonic.

Because this is a pH dependent product, the order of it in your routine matters. You want to use it right after cleanser and before other exfoliates, serums, or moisturizers. To give you a better understanding of where to place it, here’s a sample routine taking into consideration many steps. I’m sure not all of these will apply to you, so just make sure to adjust it accordingly.

  1. Oil cleansing method, or oil cleanser.
  2. Gentle pH-balanced cleanser (5.5 or below)
  3. Use the Pixi Glow Tonic here.
  4. Low pH serums like ascorbic acid. Wait approximately 25 minutes.
  5. Salicylic Acid (BHA). Wait approximately 25 minutes.
  6. Stronger AHAs. Wait approximately 25 minutes.
  7. Retinoids (for example, tretinoin).
  8. Spot treatments, creams, or other gels like Azelaic Acid or Benzoyl Peroxide.
  9. Moisturizers.
  10. Occlusives (for example, CeraVe healing Ointment, Vaseline, Aquaphor etc.)

The Takeaway.

  • Ingredients: 5/5

A fantastic and gentle ingredient list that includes aloe vera, witch hazel, 5% glycolic acid, glycerin, fructose, glucose, sucrose, and urea.

  • Benefits: 5/5

Exfoliates gently, soothes the skin, brightens skin tone, reduces hyperpigmentation, and provides a little bit of hydration.

  • Application: 5/5

Feels like water, dries matte, and smells like rosy lipsticks.

  • Packaging: 5/5

No real complaints here. I wish the bottle was slighter bigger, but I enjoy it so much I’ll leave the 5 star here.

  • Value: 4/5

Just a tad too expensive for the amount of product you get, but it’s still on the cheaper side of things so I can’t complain. Just make sure to not use cotton balls (saves product) and it will be worth the price!

Overall: 4.8/5 (highly recommend)

pixi glow tonic

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All in all, a lovely little glycolic acid product, that’s both soothing and mild, and an excellent option for those with sensitive skin in need of some chemical exfoliation. My skin is stupidly sensitive, and I can get away with using this almost daily without irritation.

That does it for this review. Hope you’ve enjoyed it!



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