People get a lot of conflicting advice about toners from dermatologists or beauty magazines. Some will say toners are an optional step, others say to avoid it altogether, while some say it’s essential to a “complete” skincare regimen. The confusion lies in what they mean when they say “toner.” There are a lot of different kinds on the market, and they key is to find the right toner for your skin and avoid the ones that are proven to be drying or irritating.
What are toners?
Toners were originally designed to be used after cleansing to restore skin balance after cleansing and remove any dirt or grime that old-school beauty soaps couldn’t break down.
However, cleansers have changed in the last decades, and so have the role of toners. They don’t just do a “final sweep” of dirt but can remove chlorines and minerals in tap water, and prep your skin for the next steps of your skincare regimen. Damp skin is up to ten times more permeable than dry skin, so moisturizing toners can actually help your serums and moisturizers penetrate better.
Don’t use astringent toners for the purpose of “tightening or closing pores.” Any pore-minimizing effect is temporary. There are other products that are more effective at managing any pore issues you may have (see our article on pores for more tips).
Different kinds of toners
Alcohol-based toners (or the skin-stinging “astringents” that we remember from 20 years ago) can dry out and irritate the skin. Don’t use these.
Water-based toners are gentler on the skin. Some contain fragrant extracts like rose water and are sold as “skin refreshers”. Many women find the added scent relaxing, though if you have sensitive skin you may want to avoid toners that are too perfumed to avoid possible irritation.
Some water-based toners contain antioxidants and other ingredients that help repair the skin or boost cell regeneration.
The bottom line: understand your skin type
As with all skincare products, the best toners will address the specific needs of your skin. If you have oily skin, you need a gentle alcohol-free toner with ingredients that help control oil and unclog pores. The toner shouldn’t dry out or irritate your skin. Some people misuse toners (“if it doesn’t hurt, it isn’t working”) but the fact is that if any product makes your skin sting, or look red or inflamed, stop using it.
If you have dry or sensitive skin, look for a moisturizing toner that will soothe the skin after cleansing. Since dry skin is more prone to developing fine lines and wrinkles, you may want to look for anti-aging ingredients as well.
These new toners can amp up your skincare and help treat specific skin issues. Do you really need to use it? In the end, it’s all up to you. There are women who want a no-fuss beauty routine and are happy with a cleanser, cream and sunblock. There are others who are willing to make an extra step, if it can control acne or fight ageing. What is clear is that the right toners are not harmful, and like everything else in your skincare regimen, the effectiveness lies in choosing one that’s made for your skin concerns.
Mei Hui - Managing Director/Pharmacist