As a skincare professional, I’m often asked, “What does a toner do? Do I really need to use it?”.
Toner is a great step to add to your skincare routine to maintain clear and healthy skin. Traditionally, toners were used to restore your skin’s pH balance after cleansing. But today’s toners do that and so much more! During warm weather months, a skin toner can come in handy to combat breakouts caused from sweat, sunblock, and dirt clogging our pores (or a combo of all three. Hello, beach days!). Our skin also tends to be more oily during sticky summer days. Toner is also helpful if you have acne-prone skin. In fact, if you do, you’re not alone.
Yet, 40% of acne sufferers do nothing to treat it! Toner is such an easy way to maintain clarity and restore skin’s balance. All it takes is a few swipes of a cotton ball to clear away pore-clogging impurities and help protect and restore your skin!
What does toner do?
Really, what does facial toner do? Simply put, toner is a step in the cleansing process that removes all the stuff left behind on your skin after washing, such as makeup, excess oils, impurities, dead skin cells, or even residue left from your cleanser. By wiping away all these pore-cloggers, you reduce acne and prevent future breakouts.
What does toner do for skin? Find out the benefits below!
- Shrinks the appearance of pores - Toners tighten and cleanse your pores, so there's less room for dirt and oil to get in and cause infections, acne, or other skin irritations.
- Full body protection - That’s right, a toner isn’t just for your pretty face! I’m not suggesting you go through a bag of cotton balls doing a full head-to-toe, but it can be used for cleansing and removing excess oil from breakout spots like your chest, back, neck, and shoulders.
- Restores skin’s natural pH balance - This is important because the skin’s barrier, also known as the acid mantle, is responsible for keeping skin moisturized while blocking out germs and bacteria. In order for it to operate at peak performance, you have to make sure your skin’s pH balance is on the up and up.
What is pH and why is balance so important? Scientifically speaking, your pH (potential of hydrogen) balance is the ratio of positively-charged ions (the ones responsible for forming acid) to negatively charged (alkaline-forming) ions in your body. Lower pH levels in your blood mean it’s more acidic, and higher pH means more alkaline. Studies show that your pH levels can affect your overall health, skin, digestion, bone loss, and muscle function, as well as your risk for disease.
Skin is naturally acidic with a pH level of about 4.5 - 5.5. Once your skin’s pH level goes above 6.5, the acid mantle (your skin’s first line of defense) gets compromised, and your skin becomes vulnerable to bacteria and infections. Toners restore your skin’s pH balance after cleansing so it’s better protected.
Toner vs. Lotion vs. Tonique
- Toner is a thin, watery liquid which offers hydration, restores balance to the skin, and is typically alcohol-free. The toner family includes astringents, which are also water-based, but do include alcohol and are used to control excess oil and minimize pores.
- Even though it’s liquid like a toner, a lotion does not contain alcohol and generously hydrates your skin. It’s a more gentle cleanser and can be soothing for sensitive skin.
- A tonique (or tonic) contains a small amount of alcohol, offers a deep cleanse, and includes humectants to lock in skin’s moisture.
Choosing the Right Toner
When you think of toner, you’re probably picturing the harsh, traditional, alcohol-based astringent marketed to acne-prone Saved By the Bell- era teenagers to keep in their Caboodles. (Did I totally just date myself?) But, toners have come a long way and are formulated to address a variety of specific skin concerns. It’s all about finding the ideal toner to match your skin type, and I’m here to help you determine which one is best for you!
Before we get into toners, let’s address the first step in the cleansing process: the pre-cleanser (one of the biggest trends in skincare right now). I know, cleansing your face before washing it may seem excessive. But it’s a great way to prime your face to get squeaky clean by removing excess oils and makeup so your cleanser can really do its job. If you wear a lot of makeup, have oily skin, or slathered on sunscreen for a day outdoors (which we all should!), you’re a prime candidate for the pre-cleanse. It’s also ideal for maintaining everyday healthy skin. Round out your skin cleansing routine by following up with your regular cleanser and a refreshing toner. Here are a couple of my faves!
Clean deep down into the pores with this pre-cleanser which rinses away impurities like oil, dirt, waterproof makeup, and sunscreen. It’s gentle enough to use on sensitive skin and around eyes and works with your cleanser to give you your cleanest skin!
These nourishing eye pads not only remove eye makeup, they also provide anti-aging benefits! Hyaluronic acid and plant extracts smooth fine lines and wrinkles while comfrey and chamomile calm irritation, reduce puffiness, and revitalize tired eyes. Use these on eyes before you cleanse and tone!
Toners for Oily or Acne-Prone Skin
Controlling excess oil and preventing blemishes are common reasons that people include toners in their skincare routine. However, many toners that claim to target these skin concerns can contain harsh alcohols which completely strip skin of oil and potentially make matters worse.
This is bad for two reasons:
1) When you irritate the skin’s surface, you interrupt its ability to heal which can worsen acne and blemishes.
2) When your skin senses it is too dry, it actually produces more oil as a defense to protect itself. The best toners for oily or acne-prone skin will control oil - not strip it completely away - and include ingredients that encourage skin cell repair. You also want to look for a toner that includes exfoliating properties such as salicylic or glycolic acids, or amino fruit acids. This will ensure that you’re buffing away those dead skin cells and other pore-clogging offenders to leave you with smooth, healthy skin! For oily skin, a tonic or astringent is the way to go!
My Top Toner Picks to Control Oil and Treat Acne
This powerful acne treatment neutralizes acne-causing bacteria and absorbs excess oil leaving you with a clear, bright complexion. Salicylic acid fights blemishes, while fruit extracts smooth skin and restore balance so you can clear up acne and fight future breakouts.
Mattifying and moisturizing, these pads do it all! Perfect for oily or combination skin, these handy little cleansers control oil and shine while gently exfoliating away dead skin cells. Plus they give your skin some added moisture, so they won’t dry you out.
This great toner removes oil and kills acne-causing bacteria while nourishing skin. It also includes herbal extracts to relieve inflammation and protect your skin from drying out. It not only clears skin, it revives it!
Toners for Dry SkinIf you’ve avoided toners in the past out of fear that they’ll just further dry out your skin, I totally understand. Fear no more! Today’s moisturizing toners will wipe away dirt and impurities while locking in hydration. You’ll want to look for toners that are alcohol-free to avoid further drying out your skin. Toners that include ingredients like glycerin and hyaluronic acid will help support skin’s hydration. Moisturizing toners may also include aloe and vitamin E to soothe and quench thirsty skin. My Favorite Moisturizing Toners Rhonda Allison Berry Wine Toner (Formerly Raspberry Lotion) This soothing and super nourishing lotion controls shine and refreshes skin. It also contains potent antioxidants to protect against free radical damage that could cause signs of aging like fine lines and wrinkles. Your skin is left cool, youthful, and hydrated! Skin Script Cucumber Hydration Toner This cucumber toner is delightfully refreshing! It cools and soothes skin and reduces irritation on contact. It also infuses skin with moisture and locks in hydration to fortify skin’s natural protective barriers. Plus, it’s such a refreshing treat to use during warmer seasons!
Toners to Soothe SkinFor those with easily-irritated skin, a toner might seem like the last thing you want to use on your face. But toners made for sensitive skin include calming plant-based ingredients such as chamomile and aloe vera. These are great for reducing inflammation and redness and can even be used by people with concerns like rosacea and eczema. Many toners also condition skin and restore balance so skin is less irritated. And, who doesn’t love happy, healthy skin? My Top Skin-Soothing Toners June Jacobs Green Tea And Cucumber Toner This soothing and healing formula boosts skin’s recovery process and promotes skin health. Antioxidant protection and botanical extracts restore skin’s ideal pH and encourage recovery to heal damaged skin while gently cleansing, toning, and moisturizing. Dermalogica UltraCalming Mist This UltraCalming Mist is just as comforting as it sounds! Cooling and soothing, it calms redness and inflamed skin and helps protect against future irritants and flare-ups. Reducing your skin’s sensitivity, this mist locks in moisture and restores balance, offering long-lasting relief.
Toners for Combination SkinCombination skin is pretty common and requires the right toner. Combo skin means you might have a more oil in the T zone (forehead, nose, and chin) and dry or normal skin on your cheeks and jaw. A harsh toner could dry out normal or dry areas and make oily areas even greasier. You want a toner that maintains skin’s balance so you can minimize pores and cleanse your face without upsetting either area of your combination skin. Luckily, I get to share some of my favorite combination skin toners with you! My Picks for Toners for Combination Skin Dermalogica Multi-Active Toner This light and refreshing spray tones and hydrates skin with soothing lavender, mint, and arnica. It also evens out skin and preps it so it’s in the optimal condition to absorb moisture. Great to use as a step between cleansing and moisturizing! Vivant Skin Care 9% Mandelic Acid 3-in-1 Toner The superhero of toners, this powerful formula has got all the bases covered. It contains a potent concentration of acne-fighting properties to clarify skin. It also brightens aging issues such as dark spots and dull skin. And, it cleanses by banishing excess oil and dirt to minimize pores and tone skin. This all-in-one toner addresses a variety of issues, leaving your face clear and vibrant! Bliss Daily Detoxifying Facial Toner This mega-moisturizing toner lays the groundwork for your moisturizer to work at max volume. It also includes antioxidants to protect your skin from everyday angers. Plus, it provides hydration while cleansing and minimizing pores, making it great for combination skin! Place a few drops of toner on a cotton ball or cotton round and gently wipe over face, neck, and chest. It’s best to use a toner directly after cleansing and drying your face. Think of toner as the second defense in your cleansing process because it wipes away anything that your cleanser left behind and preps your skin for any following serums, moisturizers, or skincare treatments. You can use toner in the morning and at night. However, if your skin is on the drier side, it might be best to just use it in your PM skin routine. This way, you’re wiping away any dirt, impurities, or makeup from the day, and protecting your skin while you sleep.
Final ThoughtsUnlike their alcohol-based predecessors, today’s toners are more gentle and created to tackle a variety of specific skin issues and help support and nourish different skin types. With so many options, you’re sure to find one that fits you! If you have further questions about which toner is right for you, contact Skincare by Alana to talk to a medical esthetician about which options would be best to treat your skin.
Do you use a toner? Which is your favorite? Share your top picks with us in our comments section!