State of Skin is our monthlong exploration of what women love, hate, and need to know about their skin — from the most common concerns to the best kept secrets in beauty.

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Herbal Youth Lotus Tonic Review
Credit: snowfoxskincare/Instagram

Three months ago, I had all but sworn toner was a useless extra step in a daily skincare routine. Skippable if you’re in a rush, as I pretty much always am. Now, toner is the only step that I refuse to skip — all because of Snow Fox's Herbal Youth Lotus Tonic, a magic brew that instantly plumps, smooths, and time-reverses my face.

Snow Fox is an overachieving skincare brand known for its cruelty-free, sustainably produced sheet masks, and if you haven’t tried one, please do yourself a favor. But there’s way more to the line than that. In 2018, it launched the Herbal Youth range, which includes the Herbal Youth Lotus Tonic (my beloved), Herbal Youth Preservation Mask, and Herbal Youth Oil, which founder Phoebe Song calls a “matching stack routine,” meaning the products play together and kick up the effectiveness of each other.

The line was inspired by Japanese research into the moisture-retention power of glycolipids, and has become a customer favorite with the brand’s highest repeat-purchase rate. “Our customers love and swear by its long term benefits,” Song says. I’m ready to propose marriage to the tonic alone, so I believe she’s right.

A splash of this toner looks like water, but feels slippery and emulsive in your hand, and it has a fresh, botanical kind of scent that won’t bother you, even if you’re sensitive to fragrances. To let it work its magic, you simply pat the liquid into your skin before moisturizer twice a day, and let it do its thing.

I am 36, and started using it just as my anti-aging skincare routine switched from “preventive” in nature to "oh crap," and I swear to you it has instantly stopped the effects of time on my face. After I use this toner, whether I’ve moisturized yet or not, I see my looking skin plumper and smoother — it has some bounce, where minutes before it looked sleepy. I have fair skin that easily pinks up (from embarrassment, a light breeze, you name it), but this product also lends a lively, rosy glow that makes foundation optional and reminds me of the face I used to have before I had a child, when I used to sleep roughly 15 hours a night and hydrate properly.

All of these effects can be explained by the olive fruit glycolipids found in the formula, Song tells me. The Japanese study found the compound led to “superior moisture retention, firmer skin, minimized trans-epidermal water loss, and a significant improvement in overall skin health,” she says. That’s science for: plant-based potent collagen production. This research is still new, Song explains, “But we believe the results will speak for themselves.” (Phoebe, are you reading this? They do.)

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The tonic also includes lotus root water, which delivers hyaluronic acid (vitamin A) to promote skin renewal, and that brightening and toning effect is thanks to natural AHAs that also rebalance sebum production. All this for $40, can you even imagine? If you’ve got “mature” skin, ahem, but also sometimes break out, I’m telling you: This is the toner for you. If you’re like I was a few months ago (dubious of any "extra" steps), I am also telling you toner is a thing that could be for you.

The Herbal Youth Oil is the spendiest product in the range at $82, and it felt a bit too heavy for my borderline-combination skin during summer and early fall. Now that temperatures have dropped and my skin is drier, I am beginning to use it together with my dearly beloved toner, as Song intended. And suddenly, not only do I have the skin of a 25-year-old, but I have the considered, effective skincare routine of a person who is my actual age.