Face toners might be the most confusing of traditional skincare products. If you’ve found yourself in the drugstore aisle, holding a bottle of toner and thinking “what the heck?” rest assured you are not alone. Unlike cleansers and facial moisturizers, toners don’t have a readily obvious purpose, just like face mists, so your confusion is warranted.
However, some of the best skincare products out there are toners, so you should definitely pay attention to these underrated products. In this article, I’ll demystify toners, explaining what toner is, how it should be used, whether facial toners are mandatory, and of course, I’ll give you a breakdown of all the best face toners for different skin types.
What Is Toner?
Toners, occasionally referred to as astringents, are water-based liquid skincare products with a variety of uses. Originally, the purpose of toners was to balance the skin’s pH after cleansing. Since people used to wash their faces with extremely alkaline soap, using a slightly acidic toner was an important step in maintaining skin health.
Nowadays, as many cleansers (all good cleansers) are pH balanced, toners still hold some beneficial skin properties. They can prepare your skin to absorb any products applied after them, and they themselves can hold extremely beneficial skincare ingredients.
Since toners are so thin, they penetrate into the skin quickly and deeply, so they’re great for delivering active ingredients. Lastly, for those who use acids or acid peels religiously, sometimes balanced skin isn’t enough, and you need an acidic toner to properly prepare your skin.
Types of Face Toners
There are three types of face toners you can choose from, which are:
• Alcohol-Based Face Toners: These are facial toners that contain alcohol, which generally aren’t the best alternatives in the face toner department, unless you have very oily skin.
• Water and Glycerin-Based Face Toners: Glycerin-based face toners are definitely less harmful than alcohol-based ones, however, the scent extracts they contain can still cause harm to your skin, especially if you are allergic.
• Water-Based Face Toners: These are the face toners that you should add to your skincare routine, as they normally are devoid of any harmful ingredients, but instead contain helpful substances that prep your skin for makeup or amp up your daily skincare routine.
How to Use Facial Toners?
You can use a facial toner twice a day, and here are the steps you should follow to use it correctly.
In the evening:
• Cleanse your skin with your favorite cleanser (for most skin types we like Philosophy’s Purity Made Simple Cleanser, which is available at Sephora.) Make sure no cleanser residue is left on your skin.
• Squirt a bit of toner on a cotton round, and use it to wipe your face. It is best to wipe it on in upward motions, against the direction of hair growth, so as to get under the little hairs that grow on the face and have the product penetrate deeper. Some toners come in a spray bottle, so you can simply spray them on.
• Finish of your evening skincare routine with your go-to treatments, serums, and moisturizer.
In the morning:
• Cleansing is optional.
• Like in the evening, you can wipe your face with a cotton pad saturated with toner.
• Finish off your skincare routine with a daytime moisturizer and sunscreen.
Are Face Toners Really Mandatory?
The short answer is no. While they do often show up in those “3-step skincare routines”, there’s actually nothing wrong with a two-step cleanse and moisturizer routine.
However, as you will soon learn, toners can hold many benefits, and they can seriously amp up and improve your current skincare routine. Great toners will never hurt; they will only improve your skin.
Pros of Using Face Toners
• Because toners are so thin, they’re a perfect way of delivering active ingredients to the skin.
• Toners can substitute for cleansers in the morning.
• Toners are absorption enhances, so anything applied after them penetrates better.
• Toners are a great way to boost the hydrating properties of moisturizers.
• Glycolic-based facial toners or ones rich in other alpha hydroxy acids can also prevent ingrown hairs.
Cons of Using Face Toners
• The added skincare routine step can be annoying for minimalists.
• Some people’s skin does not do well with excessive products.
• The wrong toner can harm the skin.
Face Toners to Avoid
So back in the day your average toner would have been somewhere between 30% and 80% alcohol. These facial toners would sting the skin and make it feel super dry.
Some face toners these days still contain large amounts of alcohol (we’re talking bad SD alcohol, not good fatty alcohols like cetearyl alcohol), and you definitely want to avoid them, since alcohol can seriously dehydrate the skin.
In my opinion, DIY face toners from Pinterest recipes should also be avoided. I always tell people do be careful with homemade skin care – their shelf life will never be as long as the shelf life of the products you buy in store, since they don’t contain preservatives.
You will often see ingredients like apple cider vinegar, rosewater, and witch hazel recommended for DIY face toners. With each one of these ingredients, you want to worry about the chances of contamination with bacteria, and specifically with vinegar, the main concern is that it is simply too acidic to be safe for the skin, and at home you don’t have a way of testing.
Witch hazel often contains alcohol, and can dry out the skin, while the rosewater is nice… but it simply doesn’t do much. Once you combine any of these ingredients with anything else, your main concern is product contamination.
Tips & Tricks for Face Toners
• Keep your face toners in the fridge so they can be extra refreshing. There is some research suggesting that by cooling the skin, it will absorb nutrients better.
• Choose a facial toner with exfoliating acids like glycolic, lactic, or salicylic, instead of using harsh physical exfoliants.
• Keep your toner in a spray bottle, for easier use and to save on the cotton pads.
• Apply a spray of toner after finishing your makeup, to achieve a more dewy finish.
• Always apply your toner before using a face mask, if you are going to use one.
Best Face Toners for Every Skin Type
So if you have made up your mind to start using toners in your skincare routine, here are the best face toners for every skin type you should get!
Best Toners for Normal & Combination Skin
Those with normal and combination skin usually want face toners that will keep their skin balanced, and also give some additional benefits. If your skin doesn’t have any specific concerns, consider a toner as simply a phenomenal chance to exfoliate the skin with acids, or to load it up with various anti-aging or skin strengthening ingredients.
1. Pixi Skintreats Glow Tonic
At a pH of around 5, this isn’t a very exfoliating toner, which means it is fine for everyday use. It contains soothing and pore tightening ingredients like witch hazel, horse chestnut extract, and urea. Ultra light and pleasant, almost anyone will enjoy it. This face toner is available at Target.
2. Paula’s Choice Skin Balancing Pore Reducing Toner
This light toner is perfect for normal and oily skin because it balances the skin with a light texture, while also delivering the kind of skin-strengthening ingredients you would normally see in heavier products. It’s a great way for those with skin that leans toward combination oily to get niacinamide, vitamin C, and hyaluronic acid. It can be purchased from Nordstrom.
Best Toners for Sensitive Skin
For those with sensitive skin, nothing can be better than a cool toner that’ll calm and heal. You can even keep your facial toner in the fridge, for that cool morning touch! Search for powerful anti-inflammatories, along with skin-repairing antioxidants and humectants, like in the face toners I’m recommending here.
1. Skin Laundry Balancing Antioxidant Toner
Regardless of whether your sensitive skin leans toward dry or oily, this ultra soothing toner will help. It contains a gentle blend of anti-inflammatory willow bark extract and hydrating aloe vera and glycerin. It is light yet effective, and can be easily found at Sephora.
2. Dermalogica Ultra-Calming Mist
This soothing toner from Dermalogica comes with a convenient spray top, so it can also be a lovely skin pick-me-up during the day. It loads the skin up with moisture, and calms redness with a combination of natural extracts and ferments. It can be purchased at Ulta.
Best Toners for Dry & Mature Skin
When your skin is dry, there is no such thing as too many hydration steps, and when your skin is maturing (the two often come hand in hand), there is no such thing as extra anti-aging steps. Hydrators and antioxidants can work together in a toner to increase the efficacy of your moisturizers, as well as to give your skin extra environmental protection.
1. Laneige Essential Power Skin Toner
Asian beauty brands are experts, and pairing ultra-hydrating ingredients with skin-soothing actives like glutamic acid and lysine is a great idea. This silky smooth toner deeply hydrates and soothes the skin, and in the long term brightens it, reduces wrinkles, and improves its texture. You can buy this toner at Sephora.
2. Fresh Black Tea Age-Delay Instant Infusion Treatment Toner
Deeply hydrating ingredients, potent anti-inflammatories, and antioxidant rich ferments and extracts come together to make a luxurious and effective face toner that is more than the sum of its parts. This toner effectively hydrates and refreshes the skin, leaving it youthful and supple. You can purchase this toner at Sephora.
Best Toners for Oily & Acne-Prone Skin
Those with oily or acne-prone skin can use face toners as replacements for exfoliators or spot treatments, by opting for skin-balancing toners that contain acids, astringent extracts, or antibacterial ingredients.
1. CosRX AHA/BHA Clarifying Treatment Toner
Super gentle, and rich in both exfoliating glycolic acid and anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial salicylic acid, this toner is perfect for sloughing away dead skin and clarifying acne. It’s already been a cult favorite in Korea, and it’s starting to make its mark in the West. You can get it at Ulta.
2. Kate Somerville Clarifying Treatment Toner
This antiseptic face toner targets acne directly, while also tightening the pores and clarifying the skin. The product can be applied directly onto a cotton pad with a cool airless pump mechanism, and includes fabulous natural ingredients such as witch hazel, chamomile, and fruit acid exfoliants. It is available for sale at Sephora.
Other Excellent Face Toners
1. DDF Glycolic Toning Complex
With 7% glycolic acid, you might not want to use this toner every day, but a few times a week it will work marvelously to slough away dead skin. A few skin-soothing ingredients are included to prevent irritation. This product may be simple, but it works really well. You can find it at Ulta.
2. Thayers Witch Hazel Alcohol Free Toner Rose Petal
If you like simple ingredients and one-size-fits-all products, this toner is a perfect choice. It’s gently soothing and hydrating, with the toner mainstays of glycerin and witch hazel, and people absolutely rave about the delicate smell and wonderful skin-tightening yet soothing properties. It can be easily found at Target.
Are face toners part of your skincare routine? What do you look for in a toner? Reach out and let us know!
Photos via @colouringmehappy, Sephora