There are so many skincare products on the market today, that it becomes really easy to lose yourself in all the terminology.
There are cleansers, serums, creams, masks, moisturizers, lotions, essential oils, toners, and I’m sure I’ve missed something. That’s right - essences.
I mean there are even lists that will tell you the order by which you should use the products - and we have one of those too.
Is all this getting a bit too much? Is there a real necessity for all of these products? What’s the difference between them, and what are they really used for?
If you’re asking yourself any of these questions - don’t worry, you’re not alone!
In this article, let’s just focus on toners, and leave with a more clear view of what exactly is a toner, how necessary it is and what you can use a toner for.
I’m still hearing people ask “What the hell is a toner and what is it used for?” even though many dermatologists reference toners as one of the most essential products in one’s skincare regimen.
Yes, really. Experts agree that toners are more important than serums, lotions, oils, and masks, and can do more for your skin in keeping it clear and clean.
But, what are toners?
If we are going by official definitions, a toner is a skincare product in the form of a liquid which is designed to cleanse the skin and help reduce the appearance of large pores.
The application of toners is pretty straightforward and easy. Just take a cotton ball, dip it in the liquid and go over the whole face. You can also spray it directly on the skin or leave a piece of gauze, covered with the toner, on your face to sit for a few minutes.
There are three types of toners:
The typical old generation of toners is the type of toners that usually come with a high amount of alcohol in their formulation. These toners provide hydration, the balance of the skin's pH, tightening of the skin, and preparation of the pores for better absorption and penetration of other products. This is why why it is imperative to use a moisturizer after applying this type of toner and prevent your skin from becoming dry.
Classical toners are best for normal or oily, acne-prone skin.
Fresheners are the mildest and gentlest type of the toner, which makes them most suitable for sensitive and dry skin.
These toners contain really small amounts of alcohol in them, or you can also find them as alcohol-free.
But, be careful. Although without alcohol, many freshening toners come with a lot of extracts and fragrances that may irritate sensitive skin. Keep an eye on the ingredients, especially if you have sensitive skin, or just go for a toner from a natural ingredient.
The astringent type of toners is the form most present on the market today and the most famous type - typically associated with the more general meaning of the word “toner”.
Astringents are the toners advertised for oily and acne-prone skin due to their highest alcohol content and abrasive, oil-reducing properties. However, due to these properties, astringents should be used with caution. You can try to dilute them if you find them too strong, always use a cotton ball (because the cotton will absorb a lot of the liquid and make it less irritating for the skin), and apply a moisturizer afterward.
Witch Hazel is the most widely used ingredient in the astringent type of toners.
Depending on the type of the toner, or the ingredients in the formula, the application of a moisturizer after toning the skin is usually required or advised.
Everyone can and should use a toner in their skincare routine. It’s more about the specific type of toner and its formula that might make a difference in their use. However, in general, toners are linked to the following benefits:
Toners won’t directly attack already surfaced pimples, but they can act as a preventive measure against new acne outbreaks. This is because a facial toner completely cleans the skin and removes built-up dead skin cells, debris, makeup residue, and excess oil, all of which clog the pores and lead to irritation and inflammation. Most small pimples, blackheads, and whiteheads appear because the pores clog from outside, environmental pollutants. Including a toner twice a day will significantly reduce the possibility of acne breakouts on your skin.
Just to clear things out - toners can’t be a replacement for cleansers, and you shouldn’t use a toner to cleanse your face or to remove makeup. You can always use it after using a cleanser.
Sometimes large pores are a result of genetics and in these instances, our hands are tied. But, most of the time, the excess oil, dirt, and dead skin cell build-up inside the pores enlarge them. Keeping the pores clean and empty, with time, will help them shrink to their original size and be less visible on the face.
The human skin’s normal state is slightly acidic, with a pH value of 5-6 (on a scale from 0 to 14, where 7 is neutral. Every value below 7 is acidic, and every value above 7 is basic). Most problems in this area occur because soaps and other cleansing agents are alkaline and can reduce the acidic nature of the skin. Using a toner after cleansing can help the skin get back into balance quickly and without any consequences.
Did you know that tap water contains many chemicals that can irritate the skin? After washing and cleansing the skin, a toner can help and even protect your skin by removing chlorine and minerals present in tap water. We already mentioned that toners help in shrinking pores. This means that pores will become tighter, which prevents the chemicals from tap water and other factors to penetrate the skin's surface and damage it.
Toners are safe and there are no known dangerous side-effects.
But, many famous toner formulas contain fragrances and alcohol in high amounts which are not suitable for sensitive and dry skin.
People with sensitive skin might experience redness or a burning sensation after applying a toner (irritative contact dermatitis). If you experience any of these symptoms or other discomfort, please wash your face with cool water and don’t use that product anymore. If the discomfort persists, contact your dermatologist or doctor.
For people with dry skin, some specific types of toners can cause the skin to become really tight and dull, or even cause dry patches and flaking. If you have dry skin, it doesn’t mean you should give up on toners, but maybe do a little research and find the one which will work for you. Also, always finish with a moisturizer after applying a toner.
It’s best to use the toner after you cleanse your skin, but before applying a moisturizer.
For example, this is how your most simple skincare routine should look like:
First Step: After you get up in the morning the first thing to do is to wash your face with lukewarm water and a gentle cleanser. Then, pat your face dry with a clean soft towel. Make sure your skin is clean and free from dead skin cells, debris, or makeup residue.
Second Step: If you are using a strong type of toner, take a cotton pad, dip it in the liquid and gently rub it all over the face. Be careful and stay away from sensitive areas around your eyes, nose, and mouth. You should feel a tightening and drying sensation after a few minutes.
If you are using a mild alcohol-free freshener, instead of a cotton pad, use your fingers to apply the toner. This is because the cotton pad can absorb the product, and leave a thinner layer of the toner on the skin, which is great for strong types, but not for mild types of toners. After this, repeat the same procedure as described in the paragraph above.
Third Step: After a few minutes, when your toner is completely absorbed, apply your favorite moisturizer.
This order is the most effective and will lock in long-lasting moisture and hydration.
There are a couple of things you should be aware of before grabbing a toner.
If you have oily skin, go for a water-based formula, which might help matte your skin, rather then make it shinier.
Contrary to this, if you have dry skin, look for toners that are enriched with essential or natural oils and vitamins that provide more moisture.
If you have sensitive skin, look for a toner that is all-natural and doesn’t contain any harsh or abrasive ingredients.
Additionally, always look for toners that are 100% alcohol-free.
While checking the labels, it’s a good idea to make a habit of searching for ingredients that are therapeutic for your specific condition.
For example, look for toners that are enriched with vitamin E oil or tea tree oil if you’re fighting acne. Rosewater or chamomile if you have sensitive skin.
And if you have trust issues with skincare products, don’t want to waste money on yet another product, or you’re just a fan of natural remedies, then here are the best natural ingredients that are amazing toners for various skin types and skin conditions.
Suitable for all skin types.
Rose water is great for controlling the skin’s pH balance in that perfect slight acidic state, and also keeps oil production under control. It comes with many benefits for the skin. By being so light and gentle on the skin, rose water can be used on all skin types and up to twice a day. Best of all, rose water smells amazing and you can use it as a perfume.
Suitable for normal and oily skin. Not suitable for sensitive skin.
Witch Hazel is a famous and strong natural remedy with many benefits, most of which are backed up by science. Today, it’s used worldwide in a broad range of skincare products, but most famously for oily skin and acne problems.
Witch Hazel is really strong and should be diluted with water or another natural ingredient before using it directly on the skin. You can use it every second day.
Suitable for all skin types.
Green tea is high on antibacterial and antioxidant properties which will keep the skin clean, protect it from oxidative damage and provide nutrients from which your skin will feel like silk. To use green tea as a toner, simply brew 1 cup of green tea and let it cool down. After it gets to room temperature it’s ready to use.
Suitable for all skin types. Best for sensitive skin.
Chamomile tea is the gentlest of all the toners out there. Applying it on the skin provides an extremely soothing feeling. Chamomile has been linked with the ability to ease the pain from dry skin cracks and flaking, itchiness, and acne inflammation.
Because it’s so gentle you can use it as many times you feel you need, just make sure the tea is at room temperature before applying.
Suitable for oily skin type. Not suitable for dry skin.
Apple cider vinegar is one of the most referenced natural remedies for cleaning the skin, removing bacteria, and fighting off acne. It’s really powerful and can dry off the pimples as well as prevent new outbreaks. The downside though is that it can cause irritation and overdry the skin, as it’s highly acidic, which can have an adverse effect on acne. How to prevent this and still get the benefits of apple cider vinegar?
First, dilute it with water on a 1:1 ratio. Second, always use a moisturizer after applying apple cider vinegar.
It’s not recommended to use it frequently - twice a week should be more than enough.
Suitable for oily skin type. Not suitable for dry skin type.
Lemon juice, besides having all the benefits as the apple cider vinegar, can also brighten the skin and reduce the appearance of brown spots or uneven skin tone. It’s high in vitamin C, which also has amazing benefits for the skin. Unfortunately, just like apple cider vinegar, lemon juice can dry out the skin and trigger the sebaceous glands to produce more oil. This is why you should always invest in a good moisturizer, which you will always use after treating the skin with lemon juice.
Suitable for all skin types. Best for sensitive skin.
Cucumber juice has a cooling and refreshing effect on the skin. It will keep it clear, nourish it with many essential vitamins, and hydrate it enough to prevent it from drying out. This is why it is especially beneficial for dry and sensitive skin. To make a toner out of fresh cucumber you need to cut one cucumber in small pieces, place it in a big bowl, and cover it with fresh water. Leave it in your fridge for 24 hours and then you can use it as a toner.
Now that you know what exactly a toner is, what you can use it for and what you will get out of it, you can decide whether you really need it in your skincare routine. Most experts weigh in favor of using toners mostly because they cleanse the skin, and keep the excess oil, debris, and dead skin cells in control and away from the pores.
Additional benefits associated with the use of toners include shrinking large pores, regulating the skin’s pH balance, and acting like a protective layer against environmental pollutants.
Toners are really easy to use, and the whole process of application is done in less than 5 minutes - which is yet another plus for the use of toners.
But, because most toners are gentle, some people don’t really see results and decide they can go without them, while others might opt-out of their use because some cleansers might dry the skin.
Before deciding to give up on toners, you should experiment with different types meant for different skin types and conditions, as well as maybe try using some of the natural ingredients as toners in your everyday skincare regimen.
I believe one of the most important things you can do for improving your skincare regimen is first determining your skin type, and then researching which toner is suited for your skin type.