Do I Need A Facial Toner?

Toners, astringents and tonics oh my! Toners are a misunderstood skincare product and through the years in my esthetic practice I have gathered that many people don't quite know what a toner is exactly or if you absolutely need one in your skin care regime. This will really date myself, but when I was junior high Sea Breeze was the "it product." For many of us it was our first experience with a toner. We all squinted our eyes with the potent burn of witch hazel and alcohol as we smeared that cotton ball all over our faces. Then, when our face was so dry it may crack in to million tiny pieces, we were happily satisfied. Let me tell you, toners have come a long way and that is no longer the standard!

What is a Toner used for?
First lets talk about what a toner is exactly. A toner is basically an extension of cleansing and really the second cleansing process. The old way of thinking we have been taught that toners balance the ph of the skin after cleansing and "shrink pores." Many cleansers at this point are pretty ph balanced so the skin recovers just fine ph wise. "Shrinking pores" is a huge myth as the pores don't have involuntary muscles surrounding them to open and close. If you would like to read more about pores you can check out one of my latest blog posts: Can you shrink pores? More importantly toners used with a cotton pad removes any excess makeup, dirt, oil, dead skin cells and impurities on the skin. Plus, they also add hydration, antioxidants and any skin repairing ingredients to the skin before you move to the serum and moisturizer steps of your skin care regime. An added benefit is they help aid in the penetration of your skin care products. For example, when using prescription retinol the instructions always say to apply to dry skin. The reason being is because it will prevent "over penetration." Which is actually pretty GREAT for some ingredients such as hydrating and antioxidants!

Different types of toners
While there are several different types of toners on the market they are pretty much broken down into a few categories:

+ Alcohol or witch hazel based astringents: These types of astringents contain anywhere from 20-60% alcohol and/or witch hazel. While both ingredients are antiseptic and great for cuts I would stay clear of them for facial skin. I highly recommend avoiding these type of ingredients because they are very drying, stripping and can be extremely irritating to most skin types. They strip the protective acid mantle of the skin which allows free-radicals to be absorbed and hurts your skin's ability to produce healthy collagen. Witch hazel in particular is high in tannins which technically is an antioxidant, but since it constricts the blood flow to the surface of the skin it causes irritation. You may think this is a great idea for acne and oily skin types. But in reality all acneic skin types suffer from a certain level of inflammation and redness to start with so you would not want to make it worse with an avoidable product. There are much better option out there.


+ Water-based toners: These types of facial toners contain no alcohol, plenty of water and have hydrating ingredients in such as vegetable glycerin. Glycerin is a humectant and helps to prevent evaporation of water in the upper layers of the skin. They are usually made from hydrosols, which are a floral waters made by distilling petals of flowers. A favorite of mine is rosewater. Not only does it smell AMAZING it is calming, soothing and hydrating.

Skin type best suited for: These types of toners are the most kind to the skin and are best suited for dry, sensitive, mature, normal, combination skin types. Pretty much any skin type can use them.

Juice Beauty Hydrating Mist


Babe on a Budget | $9.56
Heritage Store - Rosewater & Glycerin


DYI: This toner is pretty potent so I like to purchase my own spray bottle and add 1/3 distilled water and 2/3 toner. Plus it will last longer!


+ Tonics: These types of toners fit right in between gentle water-based toners and alcohol and witch hazel based astringents. They are ideal for oily and congested skin types because they contain naturally astringent and antiseptic ingredients such as any citrus, lavender, ginger or jasmin without the overly drying and irritating effects like alcohol and witch hazel could have.

Skin type best suited for: Oily, combination, normal and congested. These may be a great option for the hot summer months when you tend to be sweating more.

Eminence Organics Refresh Lime Tonique


+ Alpha or Beta hydroxy toners: These toners contain certain types of acids such as glycolic, lactic, benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acids. They are great if you are trying to achieve certain skin results or have a specific skin issue such as dullness, clogged pores around your chin area or acne. They leave a light treatment layer of acid on the skin and also prepare the skin for better absorption of products like active serums.

Skin type best suited for: Combination, oil, acneic, even dry a few days a week in combination with a water based toner.

Skin Obsession 10% Glycolic Acid Toner


How and when should I apply toner?
Toners should be applied right after cleansing and with a cotton rounds/pads. This will effectively finish the cleansing process and remove any makeup (if you wear it) and essentially the "day" of dirt, oil, pollution in the air from your skin. If you have dry skin you may want to skip cleansing and go straight to toning your skin before you apply your day serum, moisturizer and sunscreen.

Do I need a toner?
This is tricky, tricky question! The answer is no, you don't need a tonerbut they are a great idea! They can be a wonderful way to add active ingredients, give extra cleansing, leave hydration and help aid in penetration of products.

Pro Tips
+ Toss a spray toner in your bag to refresh your skin while at the pool or beach.
+ When going out at night after a long days work lightly spritz your face over makeup with toner. It will refresh and hydrate your makeup.
+ Have both an active toner like a glycolic toner and a hydrating toner on hand. Using an active toner after a work out and nice during the summer months when it's hot, you will be sweating with sunscreen on. The hydrating toner is nice to refresh the skin before applying products.
+ You may enjoy keeping your toner in a pretty little glass spray bottle and use it two ways, spray it on cotton or your face. I always recommend using a cotton pad to tone in the evening to remove any excess makeup, dirt, oil. In the morning you can spritz your skin and apply your a.m. skin care routine.

These pretty blue glass bottles are my favorite and are only $1.99!

4 oz Blue Glass Spray Bottle