Not So Clean: My Reviews of Cult Favourites Biologique Recherche P50 1970 and P50 PIGM 400

This is going to be a bit controversial: I’m reviewing two products that are not clean/green and don’t market themselves as such. I decided to test these for two reasons: 1) There is a gaping hole in the green beauty market when it comes to exfoliating toners that actually work; and 2) A lot of beauty bloggers who are primarily green/clean have been waxing lyrical about Lotion P50 and I wanted to see for myself what the fuss was all about. I’d been meaning to test these for over a year, but I was apprehensive after my terrible experience with Pixi Glow Tonic (acne central). I took the plunge a couple of months ago when my friends Yenny and Lacy sent these products to me in a swap.

Lotion P50 1970:

As the name indicates, this was the original exfoliating toner that Biologique Recherche developed in 1970. A revolutionary product for its time, it contains lactic and salicylic acids with phenol, niacinamide and sulfur. This potent cocktail of ingredients, according to the bottle, ‘gently purifies, hydrates, tones, controls sebum and balances the skin, visibly improving many common skin conditions including whiteheads, blackheads and symptoms of rosacea.’

The first thing that struck me about this product was its STRONG phenol/vinegar smell. Strangely, this brought back childhood memories of visiting my parents’ private practice back in India (they are both doctors). The hospital used phenolic disinfectants to clean their floors, and the entire hospital had a lingering scent of phenol. The smell of P50 1970 brought back unwelcome memories of sick patients and cold medical instruments.

This strange connection I had with the scent made me hesitant to try this product on my face. I didn’t want to use a hospital disinfectant on my skin. Moreover, according to EWG, phenol is banned in a number of countries for its organ system toxicity and bioaccumulation (it has an EWG rating of 7, moderate to high). When I finally did try it on my skin (the things I do in the name of blogging!), it turned my whole face red and caused a strong burning sensation (it literally felt like I was putting acid on my face).

The redness and burning subsided within a couple of minutes, and unlike many other exfoliating toners I’d tried in the past, it didn’t leave a film on my skin (it’s surprisingly free of petroleum-derived fillers). I continued using it for the next few days, and my skin looked brighter and smoother. My acne scars looked less pronounced and my skin looked tighter and more balanced overall. It didn’t dry my skin, either.

These great results made me want to continue using this product, despite its dubious ingredients. After a couple of weeks, however, I noticed that I was getting small pimples on the sides of my face. These breakouts subsided after I stopped using it and went back to my usual green routine. I can’t pinpoint the exact ingredient that broke me out, but I think it may just have been because I was over-exfoliating my skin.

Final Thoughts: I won’t continue to use this product just because I don’t want to expose my skin to phenol and ethoxylated ingredients on a regular basis. Also, the formula feels very outdated overall, in a Kiehl’s Blue Astringent Herbal Lotion kind of way. It may have been revolutionary for its time, but it feels a bit dated now (to me, at least).

Ingredients: water, glycerin, phenol, niacinamide, vinegar, magnesium chloride, lactic acid, arctium lappa root extract, salicylic acid, sodium benzoate sulfur

Lotion P50 PIGM 400:

The latest member of the P50 family, this product is designed to address hyperpigmentation. Unlike the 1970 version, there is no phenol, and except for a questionable glycol and phenoxyethanol (you could add denatured alcohol to this list, but the concentration is quite low), the formula is relatively ‘clean.’ I’ve seen so called ‘clean’ brands use all these ingredients, so it’s not a bad list for a brand that doesn’t claim to be clean/green.

Unlike the 1970, this doesn’t have much of a smell and doesn’t cause any stinging. In terms of efficacy, I didn’t notice as marked an improvement in my skin as the 1970, but unlike that version, this didn’t cause any breakouts.

Final Thoughts: Overall, this feels like a gentle, more modern version of the original (and it is!), and I think I will continue using it until I find a green/clean alternative that works equally well. For me, the key is to not overuse this product. I see much better results if I use it once or twice a week instead of on a daily basis.

Ingredients: Water (Aqua), Glycerin, Niacinamide, Sodium Gluconate, Lactic Acid, Sodium Lactate, Lactobacillus/Wasabia Japonica Root Ferment Extract, Magnesium Chloride, Mandelic Acid, Phytic Acid, Citric Acid, Gluconolactone, Magnesium Sulfate, Propylene Glycol, Palmaria Palmata Extract, Levulinic Acid, Salicylic Acid, Sodium Salicylate, Spiraea Ulmaria Extract, Vinegar (Acetum), Sodium Levulinate, Phenoxyethanol, Alcohol Denat., Microcitrus Australasica Fruit Extract, Prunus Persica (Peach) Leaf Extract, Potassium Sorbate, Sodium Benzoate, Ascorbic Acid, Pyrus Malus (Apple) Fruit Extract, Rubus Idaeus (Raspberry) Fruit Extract.

Have you tried either of these products? Do you have a favourite green/clean exfoliating toner?


  1. Kate
    July 23, 2017 / 7:01 pm

    I’ve been dying to try the 1970! Thanks for your review x

  2. RTG
    July 25, 2017 / 4:12 pm

    Thanks for the great review. I also tried the p50 1970 and I turned bright red but I also became horribly tachycardic. That was enough for me instead of this I would go with Liquid Gold by Alpha H which is right on your doorstep. Thanks for your great work.

  3. November 23, 2017 / 3:12 am

    Hi! Thanks for this review. I’ve been using P50 1970 for about 3 years now with excellent results–and coming from me, that’s saying a lot because I think 95% of skincare is bulls**t. However, after reading a lot and watching some great documentaries, I’ve been trying to adopt a clean, non-toxic routine. It dismayed me to learn I’ve been using a product that uses a Canada/EU banned chemical (Phenol). I know that there are different variations of P50 without this ingredient, but with different questionable ingredients… and now I don’t know what to do.

    Have you found anything non-toxic that helps with clogged pores and dull skin?? This is the only product I’ve ever found to be effective and knowing what I know, I can’t keep using it 🙁

    • askarjun
      November 23, 2017 / 9:12 am

      Yes, there are a lot of alternatives that work. Manyo Factory’s AHA/BHA Toner, Marie Veronique Intensive Repair Serum and African Botanics Resurfacing Mask (I’ve reviewed all these on the blog) are great substitutes. They’ll feel gentler at first but you’ll see results in the long term.

  4. Amelie
    November 15, 2018 / 8:45 am

    The sensitive skin P50, 1970W is great if you’re having a the red reaction to the normal one. I had no sensitivity.

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