Why Toner Is an Integral Part of Any Skin Care Routine

by Edie Horstman

Toners: The Breakdown

When it comes to clear skin, dermatologists, estheticians and beauty gurus all have slightly different opinions. Some believe in the quality of products while others believe in the quantity. One common belief they all share, however, is that piling on extra makeup is not the answer. Layers of makeup can make acne and oil problems worse.

While cleansers, serums and moisturizers are important, one of skin care’s most beneficial secret weapons is a gentle, soothing toner. Toners unclog pores by removing oil and traces of dirt and grime. In other words, a toner's function is to complete the cleansing of your skin–removing impurities caused by everything from pollution to oily cleansers. While a toner isn’t mandatory, it can be an exceptional adjunct to a skincare regimen, especially for those with oily skin or clogged pores.

How to Use a Toner

After you’ve cleansed your face, but before moisturizing (or applying a serum), a face toner helps to remove traces of oil, dirt and makeup. It also helps correct and balance the pH of your skin while decreasing acne. A facial toner thoroughly cleans the skin–post-cleanser–but it’s best to use it before a moisturizer or hydrating mask, as toners can be drying. Most toners are water-based fluids composed of specific active ingredients, including plant extracts and essential oils. They are tailored to address a variety of skin types, but there are a few main types of toners: hydrating toners, calming and soothing toners and astringent toners.

To apply a toner, begin by saturating two cotton pads. Use the toner on your face, neck and décolletage at night to complete the cleansing of the skin. In the morning, to remove excess oil produced during the night, gently wash your face with warm water or a light cleanser. While toners can be used twice daily after cleansing, it is best to experiment to see if your skin will tolerate the formulation. If your skin gets too dry or irritated, try toning once a day or every other day.

Choosing a Toner for Your Skin Type

Ultimately, toners can soothe skin, tighten skin or balance the effects of oil production. The efficacy of the toner depends on its active ingredients, and you should be particularly conscious of your skin type when selecting a toner. For acne-prone skin, choose an alcohol-free toner with salicylic acid. This ingredient helps cell turnover and collagen production. For combination skin, aim for a toner with lactic acid. This will provide hydration, but it also works for sensitive skin, too. For dry skin, look for products containing glycerin, a moisturizer that helps with softness.

For mature skin, applying a toner containing aloe vera or vitamin C targets free radicals and helps fight aging. If you have normal skin, look for ingredients such as coenzyme Q10 and hyaluronic acid to replenish moisture. For oily skin, try a toner with bentonite clay, which controls shine. Finally, for sensitive skin, look for ingredients such as aloe vera and algae for their soothing qualities.

A few natural toners that work for a variety of skin types are Cocokind’s Rosewater Facial Toner, Indie Lee’s CoQ-10 Toner, Farmaesthetics’ Cool Aloe Mist, Herbivore Botanicals’ Jasmine Green Tea Balancing Toner and Sephora’s The Ordinary toning solution. Homemade remedies and DIY toners are worth experimenting with, too.

Edie Horstman is a certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, wellness blogger and freelance writer. She works with health-focused brands, co-creating content in the digital marketing space. She lives in Denver, Colorado.