Thayers is a surprisingly controversial brand in the online wetshaver community. For years their "witch hazel facial toner" formulas have generated heated conversations about the authenticity and utility of their various witch hazel products. Several people have pointed out on Badger & Blade that witch hazel and "facial toner" are two different things, with the former possessing simplicity and purity, and the latter being an obscure and convoluted concept, at least for the majority of men. What exactly is this stuff?
My first experience with Thayers was about ten years ago, when I purchased a bottle of their lavender-scented witch hazel. I absolutely hated it, only used it two or three times, and chucked the bottle. I found its consistency too soapy and slick for my skin. It left a greasy feeling after application, and I broke out after using it. It also smelled like super cheap lavender soap, so I felt it had no redeeming features and never regretted binning it. But it bugged me that this popular brand had performed so miserably for me, and I always wondered if I could revisit it again.
Despite Thayers being based in Connecticut, I've never seen their stuff in stores here, which blows my mind. Only in the last year have their toners suddenly appeared on grocery store shelves, so I figured I'd grab a bottle of their rose petal facial toner and give the brand a second chance. Guys will claim their formulas haven't changed over the years, but everything changes with time. Sure, the ingredients list might read the same, but the quality of ingredients may have improved as the company grew into their success. At eleven bucks for twelve ounces, I hoped this was so.
I found that the rose formula works well. No greasiness, no soapy-bubbles consistency, no cheap floral scent. It goes on nice and light, rubs into the skin cleanly, and leaves a subtle rose water aroma that lingers for two or three minutes before fading away. Very nice stuff, and it pairs well with Master Lilac Vegetal aftershave, probably because both have glycerin. I'm not sure why the lavender version was so awful, but I'll let it go and say that the liquid in this new bottle is quite decent. I notice it closes up tiny cuts and soothes razor burn, both excellent features for post-shave, so high marks. Thayers has earned my respect.
But is the toner technically witch hazel? I've read many conversations about how witch hazel can only be sold in a certain percentage to be labeled as such, that there's only one factory in the USA that distills it legally, that the abundance of other ingredients in Thayers' version disqualifies it, etc. My take is that there is witch hazel in the formula, and thus it is indisputably a witch hazel product, but I do think it is distinct from buying a bottle of Dickinson's witch hazel.
Thayers doesn't have alcohol, while the average Dickinson's or Humphreys formula contains 14% alcohol and distilled witch hazel extract - and nothing else. But Thayers has aloe juice, rose water, glycerin, and a handful of other skin toning ingredients on the label, so I know I'm buying a cosmetic formula that goes a bit beyond the simplicity of its competitors' products. I've used regular alcohol-based witch hazel for years, and I've always found it soothing. It imparts a soft, velvety-smooth quality to skin after even the roughest shave.
But one thing I notice with regular witch hazel is that it stratifies into little droplets on my skin, rather like rain water on the surface of a freshly-waxed car. It's difficult to rub into the pores, and while it calms irritated areas of my face, it takes a while to dry, even with the shot of alcohol. Sometimes it's five or ten minutes before I can move on to applying aftershave. Not so with Thayers. This stuff dried within two minutes, and I was able to rub it right into my pores, so I felt like my skin absorbed it better. It left my face feeling just as soft and smooth as regular witch hazel does, so there are no negatives from using it, at least for me personally. As they say on B&B, "Your mileage may vary."
The fragrance is surprisingly natural, and clearly based on a simple Turkish rose water idea. It contains rose water, but also contains "natural rose fragrance," so it appears the brand wanted a defensible position for their "natural" claims while supplementing the olfactory angle with their own reconstruction, which is fine by me. I have no issues with a company creating a product with natural materials while boosting their deficits in a lab. Just a little modern day science at work, folks. Would it be better if they used a richer, more robustly-fragranced Turkish rose water? Of course, but this is a small company in Connecticut. Gotta keep it real.
I'll close by endorsing the use of this toner, especially if you're a frequent wetshaver like me. Its scent is evanescent enough to not conflict with a good aftershave, and its therapeutic qualities are notable enough to make switching from regular witch hazel a sensible move. The only problem I see is that it's a bit more expensive than ordinary drugstore witch hazel, but lately even the "ordinary" stuff is pretty expensive, at least in my area, with the average price around eight dollars a bottle. For a couple more bucks, I'm getting a product that acts faster at healing my skin while smelling a hell of a lot better than regular witch hazel (and I like how witch hazel smells).
Final note: I notice Thayers no longer makes lozenges and "healthcare" products. I don't know why this is, but wouldn't be surprised if the feds sanctioned that product line for not fully complying with regulations. Making healthcare claims about anything related to witch hazel is dicey in America, and it would only take a couple of warnings for Thayers to ditch their suckers. In my opinion, this is a good thing for the company. It's possibly why their current toner formula works better than the old stuff. They're focused on what they need to be focused on, and not sticking their fingers into too many different pies. It's a big win for the customer, and in turn a big win for them.