Updated Dec 12, 2019 @ 8:43 am
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What Does Toner Do

When I began building a skin care regimen, I often wondered to myself, “WTF is a toner?” I understood the benefits of skin care basics—cleansers, exfoliators, and moisturizers—however, toner was a gray area for me. It wasn’t until I worked in the beauty industry that I began to include a toner in my skin care routine. I was a consultant for Clinique, and the education executives at the company taught consultants that toner was a liquid exfoliant used immediately after cleansing. I discovered toner helps balance your skin’s pH, ensuring your skin can protect itself from environmental stressors such as pollution.

Recently, I spoke to board-certified dermatologist Shari Sperling, M.D., and she confirmed what I learned about toner close to a decade ago still holds true, among other benefits. Dr. Sperling explains:

What does face toner do?

Essentially, toner removes dead skin, oil, dirt, and whatever else is left after cleansing. And yes, it helps get that “extra gunk” off. Sperling says that while toner is not absolutely necessary, it can be helpful for those prone to acne because it lets your other products better penetrate your skin. A face toner helps your products absorb more effectively through the epidermis, or the outermost layer of skin.

When to use face toner:

To reiterate, a toner is not a cleanser or a substitute for one. Ideally, a cleanser gets deep down in the pores to thoroughly purify the skin. A toner may pick up whatever your cleanser didn’t, but it only focuses on the skin’s surface. You’ll often seen more dirt and build-up come off your face when using a toner, proving that there’s actually still a good amount of dirt and residue on your face, even after it’s been traditionally washed.

How to use face toner:

After cleansing, saturate a cotton ball or pad with the toner of your choice and lightly sweep it across your skin. From there, apply your serum, moisturizer, etc., as you would normally. I like to think of toner as a quality check for your cleanser. Personally, I feel more comfortable applying my favorite products knowing my skin is completely clean and they aren’t sitting on top of debris or foundation residue.

How to pick the right toner:

Different skin types and skin concerns benefit from different key ingredients. According to Dr. Sperling, there are certain buzzwords to look for in order to find the best toner for your skin. For example, acne-prone skin should look for salicylic acid to help treat and prevent breakouts, while glycerin is a good ingredient for dry skin due to its moisturizing properties. For mature skin, keep an eye out for antioxidants like vitamin C to protect skin from premature aging, while aloe vera soothes and calms those with sensitive skin. Those with normal skin should opt for hyaluronic acid to keep the skin balanced, and alcohol-free witch hazel is good for oily skin since it removes excess oil without being overly drying.

If you’re looking to add a toner to your beauty regimen, here are a few you can try, depending on your skin concern.

Best face toners to try:

1Ole Henriksen Glow2OH Dark Spot Toner

Available at Sephora

This nighttime toner has powerful AHAs that target dark spots over time to reveal glowing skin.

2Pure Tropics Green Ginger Toner

Available at Amazon

If you prefer to take the organic route, this green ginger toner is for you. It will leave your skin feeling refreshed and never dry. Use mid-day as a quick pick-me-up for your skin.

3Pixi Skintreats Glow Tonic 5% Glycolic Acid Exfoliating Toner

In this formula, glycolic acid exfoliates while aloe vera hydrates and soothes the skin. This toner is literally the best of both worlds.

4Clinique Acne Solutions Clarifying Lotion

This medicated toner contains salicylic acid (acne medication) to help treat breakouts and control excess oil in the skin.

5InstaNatural Organic Rose Water

Available at Amazon

This pH-balancing rose-water is great for someone with sensitive skin. If you love a multi-tasking product as much as we do, it also works well to soothe a dry, itchy scalp.