Beauty brands have been telling us for years: Cleanse. Tone. Moisturize. It’s a mantra we’ve all heard before, even if we don’t always follow it.
Of the three practices, toning seems to cause the most confusion.
And if you’re anything like me, you’ve wondered: what exactly is a facial toner? How will it benefit my skin? Is it necessary for healthy skin or is it simply a push to sell more products?
Well, I’m glad you stopped in today because we’re going to take a look at all of these questions and more. The truth is I’ve never used toner — but I thought it was time to delve into the topic to see if I’ve been missing an essential skincare step all along. I hope you find this post helpful!
Please keep in mind: I’m not a dermatologist or aesthetician. I’m just sharing what I’ve learned through online research. If you have more questions, be sure to consult your own dermatologist.
Sidenote: What’s the Toner Trend?
Toners have fallen in and out of fashion through the years. When they were first introduced, there was a buzz and then eventually, they went to the backburner and were considered by many to be obsolete.
NOW, it seems…they’re back on top, thanks to the popularity of the Korean 10-step skincare plan. [Are you familiar with this? Yes, 10 steps! It’s definitely not for me, but some say you can’t argue with the amazing results.]
First, What is a Facial Toner?
A facial toner — also called an astringent, clarifier, or freshener — is a water-based product typically used to clean, refresh and hydrate the face, as well as control excess oil. It’s designed to be used after cleansing your face and before applying moisturizer.
Back in the day, most toners were harsh astringent products designed to dry up excess oil and zap zits. They were formulated with a high alcohol content that would leave skin feeling tight and dry. If you got that feeling, you thought it was working, right?
Well, toners have come a long way since then!
Today, many facial toners have morphed into highly specialized formulations designed for oily, dry, combination, sensitive or aging skin. In fact, the new generation of toners are closer to being serums — which only adds to the confusion.
Let’s take a closer look.
What Does Facial Toner do for our Skin?
The companies that make toners have been touting their basic benefits for years. Let’s take a closer look at some of those claims here:
- Toners balance our skin’s pH. It’s true that washing our face with a cleanser or soap can temporarily disrupt our skin’s pH. It naturally comes back into balance in about 10 or 15 minutes, but a toner can make it happen faster.
Fact: Most liquid cleansers today are already pH-balanced, which means you don’t need to add a toner to do the job — just look for a pH-balanced cleanser.
- Toners remove excess cleanser residue and makeup. Hmmm…so our cleanser is leaving behind a residue?
Opinion: If your cleanser leaves impurities behind, then I think it’s time to find a new cleanser! I do agree with the second half of this claim about removing makeup, however. Some dermatologists recommend toner as a form of double cleansing if you wear heavy makeup. [If this is you, you might want to take a look at the oil cleansing method as an alternative.]
- Toners can shrink your pores — Turns out the size of our pores is genetically determined. We can’t really shrink them, though we can temporarily make them less noticeable. This is generally achieved by using an astringent with alcohol that irritates your skin.
Fact: It’s never good to intentionally irritate our skin, even if it’s temporary.
- Toners prep our skin for the next step, which is typically moisturizing or using a serum.
Opinion: How exactly do toners prep our skin? One explanation is that a toner provides moisture which then allows other products to absorb better.
Think of it this way: if you were to apply moisturizer to a dry sponge, not much of it would be absorbed. So moist skin is helpful, but water probably works just as well.
What Dermatologists Have to Say About Toners
If we don’t need toners to balance our skin’s PH, clean up after our cleanser or shrink our pores — what do we need them for? The short answer is we don’t. Most skincare experts today agree that toner is an add-on, not a necessity to a healthy skincare routine.
Here’s one article that polled 12 derms and only four of them said they recommend facial toners for all of their patients. Keep in mind…many online articles pushing toner as a necessary skincare step have a product to sell. Hmmm.
Focus on What Your Skin Needs, Not More Products
Let’s talk about the newer generation of toners similar to serums alluded to earlier. Are their targeted ingredients effective and are they worth it? The short answer is yes, they can be.
If you’re looking for extra hydration or to address a specific sign of aging (like discoloration, wrinkles or dullness), for example — there’s no harm in looking for a toner to do the job. But you could also opt for a serum or well-formulated moisturizer or facial oil instead. It’s your choice.
Bottom line: You’re not doing skincare all wrong if you’re not using a toner. You can save money and time by not loading on three different products with the same active ingredients all doing the same thing. You can choose to keep things simple!
Quick Tips for Choosing a Facial Toner
With all this being said, you might still have a good reason to join Team Toner. Or maybe you’re already using one and want to look at it with fresh eyes. If so, here are a few key ingredients to avoid when choosing a toner and a few to look for — based on your skin type:
Ingredients to Avoid in Toners
Many companies continue to sell basic toners with dated formulas. It’s best to avoid toner loaded with SD or denatured alcohol, witch hazel or menthol. Also avoid formulas with mostly water and fragrance extracts — these are little more than perfume for your face and can be irritating, in some cases.
For dry to normal skin: Look for a toner with hydration-boosting ingredients such as hyaluronic acid. Hyaluronic acid can hold up to 1000 times its weight in water, helping to keep your skin moisturized throughout the day.
For sensitive skin: Choose a gentle moisturizing toner with ingredients like glycerin and hyaluronic acid. Be sure to avoid any products with fragrance and alcohol as they can be irritating to sensitive skin.
For oily or acne-prone skin: Look for toners labeled “oil free” or “non-comedogenic.” Some key ingredients to look for are salicylic acid, lactic acid and glycolic acid.
For all skin types: Look for alcohol-free toners with antioxidants such as Vitamin C, which is suitable for all skin types.
Today’s Key Take-Aways
- Don’t fall for the marketing hype telling you facial toner is a necessity.
- You might choose to add a newer generation facial toner to your routine, if you want to address a specific skin concern. There’s no harm in using one that’s well-formulated.
- Take time to research the active ingredients in a toner before buying it.
- We can let go of the mantra: cleanse, tone, moisturize. The key components of healthy skincare are: exfoliate, cleanse, moisturize and always use sunscreen.
My Personal Take on Toners
By now, I’m sure you’ve guessed that I won’t be adding toner to my own skincare routine. In part, it’s because I have a minimalist approach to skincare. Plus I already use the oil cleansing method and have had success with DIY facial oils. But I’m glad I researched the topic so I can let go of that nagging feeling that I’ve been missing something.
Now it’s your turn. Let me know if you use toner or plan to try one and if you found this post helpful. I’d love to hear from you!
I am not a licensed nutritionist, medical professional or cosmetics expert. The information provided on Honest + Simple is for general informational purposes only. The statements on this website have not been evaluated by the Food + Drug Administration and are not intended to treat, prevent or cure any disease. Before making decisions about your health or other concerns, please consult a qualified professional and do not rely on this website for medical advice.