Biologique Recherche Lotion P50 1970 Original Formula vs. Lotion P50 New Formula: A Comparative Review
“He’s all about this smelly, watery stuff. I’ve been meaning to ask you about it. It’s banned in the UK or something.” That’s a text I received back in February from one of my dearest friends, regarding her skincare loving husband’s latest craze. Not willing to live the rest of my life without knowing what the name of this smelly, watery product was, I did a little prodding. It turns out her husband’s latest skincare obsession was the cult classic, Biologique Recherche Lotion P50 1970 original formula, a high-end, spa-exclusive, exfoliating acid toner with an avid following and a “burn” that is cherished by those who use it.
The original Lotion P50 is a flagship product for the French company, Biologique Recherche. The “burn” is a sensation produced by the inclusion of an ingredient called phenol. I’ll talk more about phenol in just a bit, but right now the relevant thing is that its use has been banned in the European Union. As a result, the original formula is no longer sold anywhere in Europe, though it is still available in select US spas under the name Lotion P50 1970 Formula. The slight name change was made to distinguish it from the newer, phenol-free formula, Lotion P50, which is sold in exclusive spas worldwide.
There was only one logical course of action I could take after this conversation with my friend: buy a whole bunch of P50 and put it on my face.
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What are they?
Biologique Recherche Lotion P50 1970 (original formula) and Lotion P50 (new formula) are both exfoliating acid toners. These products are designed to strengthen the epidermal shield, exfoliate skin, regulate excessive sebum secretion, hydrate skin, maintain the skin’s pH, as well as prevent and treat ingrown hairs.
The Lotion P50 range actually consists of 6 different product options. There is the Lotion P50, which is the full strength version, Lotion P50V, a medium strength version, and Lotion P50W, a mild version for mature, drier skin types. All 3 strengths are available in both the original formula and the newer, phenol-free formula.
Lotion P50 isn’t as easy to come by as many skincare products. Only a few exclusive spas actually carry the Biologique Recherche line to begin with, and of those spas, even fewer actually sell it online. Those that do sell it online require customers to create and log in to an account before the prices are revealed. All of them strongly recommend consulting with a spa specialist (either over the phone or online) before purchasing, to ensure you’re getting the appropriate Lotion P50 for your individual skin type. I actually consulted with 3 different spas. I consulted via email for 2 of them, and the other over the phone. I provided information about my skin type, skin concerns, and my history of acid use (not the psychedelic kind). Two of the 3 spas recommended the full-strength Lotion P50 1970 for me, and the other recommended the medium strength Lotion P50V 1970. I bought both the new and original formulas for both strengths, but the full strength versions are the focus of this review.
Ingredients for Lotion P50 Original 1970 Formula (w/ Phenol):
Water (Aqua), Glycerin, Phenol, Niacinamide, Vinegar (Acetum), Ethoxydiglycol, Magnesium Chloride, Lactic Acid, Arctium Lappa Root (Burdock Root) Extract, Salicylic Acid, Sodium Benzoate, Sulfur.
The classic Lotion P50 formula boasts multiple actives. Here’s my ingredient breakdown, starting with the much loved and loathed phenol:
If you are over the age of 40, or if you’ve ever watched a medical drama set in the past (I recommend “London Hospital” if you’re into that sort of thing), you might remember the use of carbolic soap as an antiseptic cleanser, which was popular in clinical settings from the early 1900s until the 1970s. The antiseptic ingredient in carbolic soap is a volatile, slightly acidic component called carbolic acid, which is another name for phenol. In addition to being antiseptic, phenol is also a mild anesthetic. It has been shown to posses skin-lightening properties as well. Its role in the P50 formula is primarily antiseptic, but I would venture to guess that the burn (and subsequent numbing) it imparts when it comes in contact with the skin also played a strategic part in its inclusion. Lotion P50 fanatics love the burn.
If you live in the US, you’ve probably encountered phenol before. It’s the active numbing ingredient in the throat spray, Chloraspetic (and the ingredient responsible for that spray’s distinctive smell), one of the active ingredients in Carmex lip balm, as well as a component of the ubiquitous mouthwash, Listerine (listed on the label as “Thymol,” which is actually a phenol compound).
Though it’s clearly allowed in personal care formulas in the US, its use has been banned for years in the EU due to safety concerns. Though you won’t melt or keel over if exposed to the amounts found in personal care products, it’s a well-established corrosive, toxic if inhaled or swallowed, and capable of damaging or burning skin in concentrations greater than 1.5%. Additionally, even prolonged exposure to lower concentrations have a propensity to cause contact dermatitis – this is largely why carbolic soap is no longer seen in clinical settings.
I despise fearmongering, and I hate that skincare is one of the most common targets of such a slimy phenomenon. However, phenol is sketchy. No, your face won’t fall off – mine didn’t – and you won’t die of kidney failure from using a personal care product that contains phenol; not even if you drink an entire bottle of Listerine. But there is a high irritation risk with its usage, even in small amounts, and I’ve personally come to the conclusion that the risks outweigh the benefits of using a phenol product long term.
You know I love Niacinamide. I wish I could photograph it so I could whip out my phone and show people photos of it, the way normal people do with pets and children. Niacinamide is a form of Vitamin B3 that works well for overall brightening, lightening hyperpigmentation, and acne. This is a well-documented skincare ingredient. One study even showed it to be effective for reducing fine lines in addition to treating redness and hyperpigmentation:
Niacinamide: A B Vitamin that Improves Aging Facial Skin Appearance
Dermatologic Surgery, 2006
Lactic acid is my favorite alpha hydroxy acid. It is the gentlest of the alpha hydroxy acids, due mostly to its large molecule size, which prevents it from penetrating the skin too deeply and causing irritation. However, there is some clinical evidence that lactic acid, though less irritating, is also more effective than glycolic acid for stimulating cell turnover. Additionally, it brings some skincare benefits to the table the glycolic acid doesn’t – lactic acid helps strengthen the skin’s protective barrier by increasing the production of natural ceramides in the skin. Lactic acid is also more hydrating than glycolic, and like glycolic, it also has hyperpigmentation lightening properties.
More on lactic acid:
Comparative effectiveness of alpha-hydroxy acids on skin properties
International Journal of Cosmetic Science, 1996
Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid (BHA) that is often used as an acne treatment. It is a naturally occurring ingredient, usually derived from willow bark, but also occurs in other sources. Salicylic acid has been shown in multiple studies to improve skin barrier function and collagen production. It’s best used in concentrations from 0.5% – 2%. The reason BHA is such an effective treatment is because not only is it antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and exfoliating – it also has the ability to travel deeper into the skin than many other skincare actives, including AHAs.
Here are a couple of relevant abstracts about the benefits of salicylic acid that I found interesting:
Clinical evidence on the efficacy and safety of an antioxidant optimized 1.5% salicylic acid (SA) cream in the treatment of facial acne: an open, baseline-controlled clinical study.
Skin Research & Technology, 2013
Treatment of acne vulgaris with salicylic acid pads.
Clinical Therapeutics, 1992
Sulfur: it stinks, but it’s a fairly effective treatment for acne due to its antibacterial and exfoliating properties. Thankfully, any trace of the smell in this product has been completely eclipsed by the phenol.
According to CosDNA, sulfur scores between 0 and 2 as a potential irritant. Phenol is listed as a level 2 hazard, and salicylic acid is listed s level 1 hazard.
Ingredients for Lotion P50 New Formula (Phenol-free):
Water (Aqua), Gluconolactone, Lactic Acid, Glycerin, Propylene Glycol, Niacinamide, Citric Acid, Ethoxydiglycol, Magnesium Chloride, Malic Acid, Vinegar (Acetum), Phytic Acid, Salicylic Acid, Cochlearia Armoracia (Horseradish) Root Extract, Arctium Lappa Root (Burdock Root) Extract, Rumex Acetosa Leaf Extract, Myrtus Communis Extract, Commiphora Myrrha Resin Extract, Allium Cepa (Onion) Bulb Extract, Thymus Vulgaris (Thyme) Flower/Leaf Oil, Sulfur, Sorbitol, Phenoxyethanol, Sodium Benzoate, Potassium Sorbate
It looks as though when Biologique Recherche reformulated Lotion P50, they seized the opportunity to devise a more effective product. In addition to what appears to be a higher concentration of lactic acid, they’ve included additional acid actives in the new formula as well. They’ve also kept the best ingredients from the original formula, including niacinamide, salicylic acid, and sulfur. Here are some additional highlights:
Gluconodeltalactone is a PHA (poly-hydroxy acid), which is a gentler type of AHA (alpha-hydroxy acid) and is suitable for dry, sensitive skin. It contains antioxidants, and is also an effective anti-inflammatory. In addition to its exfoliating properties, there have been numerous studies done on its anti-aging and UV protection benefits, as well as its efficacy as an acne treatment. If you’re interested in learning more about Gluconodeltalactone, here are a few study abstracts worth taking a look at:
A comparative study of gluconolactone versus benzoyl peroxide in the treatment of acne
The Australasian Journal of Dermatology, 1992
Malic acid is an apple-derived alpha hydroxy acid (AHA). It increases cell turnover, and is an effective lightener for hyperpigmentation. It’s often used in conjunction with Vitamin C to treat melasma.
Phytic acid is a gentle AHA derived from fruit seeds and grains. Like other AHAs, Phytic acid promotes cell turnover, lightens uneven skin tone, and diminishes fine lines.
Thymus Vulgaris (Thyme) Flower/Leaf Oil
Thyme oil is an essential oil that is often used in acne treatments for its antiseptic and bactericidal effects. One 2012 study actually showed it be a more effective antibacterial agent than benzoyl peroxide or alcohol.
Thyme may be better for acne than prescription creams
Society for General Microbiology. | ScienceDaily, 2012
According to CosDNA, salicylic acid is a level 1 hazard, and sulfur scores between 0 and 2 as a potential irritant.
The bottles for both Lotion P50 formulas are identical (except for labels, of course). Both of them are light pink, plastic bottles donning white plastic caps with a gold trim. The dispensers are the standard plastic-with-a-hole-in-it variety.
The Lotion P50 itself is clear, and the same consistency as water.
pH is another area in which the newer Lotion P50 formula is superior to the original 1970 formula. AHAs are optimally effective within a pH range between 3.0 and 4.0. The pH for Lotion P50 1970 is 3.5, while the pH for the new Lotion P50 formula is 3.0. Both pH levels are effective, but AHA results increase in both speed and efficacy at the lower end of that 3-4 scale.
Lotion P50 Original 1970 Formula (w/ Phenol):
The original Lotion P50 1970 formula smells exactly, and I mean exactly like Chloroseptic. The smell is very strong and very medicinal. I actually grew to like it over time, but there are many people – even fans of this product – who very vocally hate the way this product smells. The smell only lingers for about 5 minutes on my face, but my bathroom smells like Chloraseptic for hours after I’ve used this toner.
Lotion P50 New Formula (Phenol-free):
The newer P50 formula just kind of smells like your standard, run-of-the-mill acid product. It’s medicinally plain with base notes of nail polish remover. The smell dissipates almost immediately after application.
Normally I turn my nose up at any set of product instructions that tell me to apply with a cotton pad. Not this one, though. This product needs cotton pads. With both formulas, I pour a bit of P50 on a cotton pad and smooth it over my face and neck immediately after cleansing. If I’m applying a BHA and/or any other pH-dependent acid products, I’ll apply them immediately after the P50. Then I wait between 10 and 20 minutes before finishing the rest of my skincare routine.
When I apply the Lotion P50 1970 formula, it burns. It’s supposed to burn. People love the burn. The first time I used it, I had an idea of what I was in for and it still surprised me a little. It wasn’t unbearable, but it was intense. The burning sensation is a “cool burn,” and only lasts in its purest form for about 15 seconds before melting into an overall facial numbness from the phenol’s anesthetic properties. The numbness lasts anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes. If I’m putting skincare products on immediately afterward, the sensation is really interesting. By the third day or so, I totally understood why people are so into the physical sensation of this product. Unfortunately, the original 1970 formula made my face turn beet red. Between the redness, the burning, and the numbness, it was hard not to be preoccupied with how irritated I knew my skin was.
The new formula Lotion P50 doesn’t burn at all, though it does have that familiar, low-powered electric fence, acid tingle. It doesn’t last as long as the burn does, or even as long as some of my stronger AHA products such as the Paula’s Choice treatment I reviewed earlier this week. My face does not change color when I use the newer P50 formula.
Lotion P50 Original 1970 Formula (w/ Phenol):
I used the Biologique Recherche Lotion P50 1970 for about 4 weeks. In that time, my skin’s texture visibly improved quite a bit, and though my pores aren’t very large to begin with, they began to appear smaller after just the first 3 days of use. The texture change was especially apparent on and around my nose, which is where my pores appear largest. I also experienced some overall brightening, which leveled out around week 2 and sustained throughout the products usage. The brightening effect wasn’t as dramatic as what I experienced with the 10% AHA Paula’s Choice treatment, but it was visibly noticeable.
There were some downsides to the 1970 formula for me. For one thing, I know my skin was irritated immediately after application – the redness made that very apparent. But I also found that my skin was drier than usual, a trend that was consistent throughout my usage of this particular formula. I did not experience any breakouts as a result of using this toner.
Lotion P50 New Formula (Phenol-free):
Just before hitting the 4 week mark on the 1970 formula, I switched to the newer, phenol-free formula. The second I felt that acid tingle I knew something special was about to happen. I am now 6 weeks into the new formula Lotion P50. My pore size stayed small, my complexion stayed bright, but because I wasn’t experiencing the drying effects of the 1970 formula, my face was actually able to reach a state of glowiness that was just out of reach with the original formula.
By week 2, Biologique Recherche Lotion P50 was my new Holy Grail toner. I’ll be updating my skincare routine to reflect this change soon, but let me tell you right now: I understand why this toner’s status is so legendary.
I actually attempted to try the Pixi Glow Tonic Beauty Elixr last week, which is a glycolic acid toner that is often touted as a P50 “dupe.” I gave up after 4 days. I actually noticed a subtle decrease in the quality of my skin texture by day 4, and I was missing the tingle. Then I tested the pH for the Pixi Glow and saw that it was a 4.0, and I decided I wasn’t in the mood to be disappointed.
I texted my friend a couple of weeks ago with a message for her P50 1970-loving husband. I said the ingredients in the new formula were better, that the pH was more effective, that it was just a better product in general. “The burn is overrated!” I said.
His response? “The masses disagree.”
Biologique Recherche Lotion P50 1970 Original Formula (w/ Phenol)
Biologique Recherche Lotion P50 1970 New Formula (Phenol-free)
Biologique Recherche Lotion P50 Original 1970 Formula (w/ Phenol)
|B||16/20 Efficacy||14/20 Ingredients||20/20 Application||14/20 Wear||20/20 Packaging|
|Total: 84||Rating system details »|
Biologique Recherche Lotion P50 New Formula (Phenol-free)
|A+||20/20 Wear||20/20 Application||17/20 Ingredients||20/20 Efficacy||20/20 Packaging|
|Total: 97||Rating system details »|
Where to Buy
There are 3 spas that I know of in the US that carry the Biologique Recherche product line. Before ordering from any of them, I highly recommend talking to a product specialist at the place you're ordering from so they can determine which formula is right for your skin.
I've order Biologique Recherche from both Rescue Spa and Vicki Morav, and shipping was ridiculously fast from both places. They also both included an obscene amount of Biologique Recherche samples with each order.
Toska Spa carries the original P50 1970 formula, but not the new formula.
|Rescue Spa New formula and original 1970 formula||$59||buy|
|Vicki Morav New formula and original 1970 formula||$59||Get 10% off order of $150 or more with code: Happy2014||buy|
|Toska Spa Original 1970 formula only||$57||buy|