What Is A Toner & What Exactly Does It Do?

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You’ve heard that using a toner is an important skin care step, but what does it do? If you’re perplexed by toners, you’ve come to the right place. We’re breaking down exactly what different types of toners do for the skin. Read on to learn what a toner is, why you need to use one and which toner is right for you.

What Is A Toner, Anyway?

Toners are typically associated with drying, alcohol-based formulas that remove grease from your skin — along with every last bit of moisture. Luckily, toners have come a long way. In addition to astringent properties, the newest generation of toners and facial mists provide hydration, balance skin and treat a wide range of skin concerns and conditions.  

The Benefits Of Toner: What Does It Do?

Balances pH Levels

Toner is often applied after the cleansing step to ensure that the skin’s pH levels are balanced out. A skin’s pH level refers to the acidity of your skin’s acid mantle. If your skin is too acidic you may break out. That’s where toner comes in as it serves to provide equilibrium to your skin. As Healthline states: “ … some soaps and cleansers are alkaline in nature. Using a product with a very different pH level to your skin can disrupt its usual functions, potentially leading to dryness, oiliness, or irritation.”

Treats Concerns

Some toners help to restore and balance the pH levels of your skin while others provide nutrients to the skin and focus on treating specific concerns. 

“Historically, toners were used as a way to balance the pH of the skin after using an alkaline soap product for cleansing,” Rebecca Kazin, MD, a dermatologist in Washington, DC told Women’s Health magazine. Today, however, toners can also provide nutrients to the skin with ingredients like chamomile, lavender and comfrey root. 

Helps Absorb Products To Come

Whether a toner balances the skin’s pH levels or provides nutrients, the toner step preps your skin to absorb products you put on after. Eminence Organics Lead Skin Care Trainer Natalie Pergar refers to toning as the “conditioning” step of your skin care routine. The right toner balances your complexion and provides a base layer of hydrating foundation to prep your skin for the steps that follow. 

Provides An Extra Thorough Cleanse

Even after using a cleanser, you might still need to remove any remaining sebum, makeup or dirt, and a toner can help with that. Toners complete the cleansing process by lifting away any last traces of makeup your cleanser failed to remove. These fast-absorbing liquids remove lingering impurities and replenish the skin with necessary moisture. 

The Different Types of Toners

There are hundreds of toners on the market and it can be intimidating trying to figure out if you’re choosing the right one for you. That’s why we’re here to help! 

Toners can be categorized by their purposes as either hydrating, exfoliating or astringent. Different toners are suited to different skin types, so this should be a consideration when you’re deciding which toner to use. 

Hydrating

It’s no surprise that hydrating toners contain humectant (water-attracting) ingredients like glycerin and hyaluronic acid. Humectant ingredients are great at holding onto water, and make it harder for water to evaporate. You might typically find this type of toner in the form of a refreshing mist or spray. One example is our Stone Crop Hydrating Mist that’s designed for dry skin. This gentle facial mist is formulated with lavender and nourishing stone crop juice to improve hydration in the skin. 

Exfoliating

Exfoliating toners contain a small percentage of AHA or BHA ingredients to brighten the complexion and improve a dull skin tone. Typically these toners help to clear away dead cells from the skin’s surface, which leaves the skin appearance softer and smoother. 

Astringent

Astringents are better described as the cousin of a toner. If you have oily skin, astringents can also be helpful at getting rid of excess oil. The main difference is that an astringent typically contains solvent alcohols, or has a higher alcohol content than a regular toner. However, these days, toners have come a long way since the 90s. Luckily for us, astringent toners don’t contain high amounts of alcohol like they used to. You’re more likely to see formulations with ingredients like witch hazel that is gentler on the skin. Eminence Organics’ toners fall in the category of modern day toners, meaning they’re designed to focus on nourishing the skin with hydrating ingredients, or providing gentle exfoliation benefits. 

When Should I Use A Toner?

How To Use A Toner Infographic

In addition to using toners as part of your daily and nightly skin care routine, Eminence Organics International Trainer Jude Herrera says toners can also be used throughout the day to hydrate skin, soothe dryness or set your makeup. 

If you’re wondering when to apply toner during your skin care routine, they should be applied immediately after cleansing your skin, morning and night. In terms of application, typically, toner is applied by sweeping it on with a cotton pad. You can also apply a toner with clean hands and swipe it on. Applying a toner when your skin is still slightly damp allows for its active ingredients to absorb more efficiently. This should help prep your skin for the rest of your products.

To find out about the right toners or ingredients to suit your needs, use our Spa Locator to find a spa for in-person or virtual professional consultations to find the best toners for you. And, let us know in the comments below, or on social media, which product you find works best for your skin type. 

This post was originally published in June 2019 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.