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Skincare 101: How to Choose a Facial Toner Skincare 101: How to Choose a Facial Toner

Posted on by Valora Abbett

Honestly, all I can do is offer my personal opinion as to why I think you should use a toner as well as guidance on how to choose the right one for your skin. It is ultimately up to you to decide whether or not to use one as part of your daily skincare routine. While I understand why some feel that in our current day and age toners are an unnecessary step, I still feel like there are valid reasons for using them. Before we get into these reasons though, let me first explain what a toner is for those of you who are new to skincare.


What Is a Toner?


Toners or toning solutions are water-based formulations that contain ingredients like witch hazel, aloe vera juice or leaf water, floral waters (like rosewater), and herbal extracts or synthetic ingredients. Some contain hydrating ingredients like glycerine or purifying or exfoliating ingredients. It all just depends on the formulation and which skin type they are designed for. They are meant to be used after cleansing and before serums and moisturizers. The toner you choose depends on your skin type and what benefits you are looking for (i.e. hydration, purifying and mattifying, soothing, etc). Toners can either be sprayed or misted onto the skin or applied with a cotton ball or pad. 


Toners vs Astringents


You may also come across products that are called astringents. These are very similar to toners, however, they tend to be harsh and drying since most are alcohol-based and are marketed for people with oily and acne-prone skin. They give the skin a tight-toned feeling, mainly due to the alcohol content), hence the name 'astringent'. However, because they are so stripping to the skin I do not recommend them for any skin type. Alcohol-based formulas in general tend to be irritating and drying to the skin. They also often contain other irritating ingredients like menthol or clove oil. If I were you I would pass on this product. There are better ways to help oily and acne-prone skin. Definitely avoid astringents if you have dry or sensitive skin.


The Great Toner Debate


If you were to research the history of toners you will find that they were originally designed to help counteract the stripping effects of harsh cleansers like regular bar soap. Which would also often leave unwanted residue behind on the skin and disrupt the skin's natural balance. Toners helped remove any leftover residue and balance the skin's pH levels. They also contained other ingredients that were supposed to benefit different skin types. Actually, this is still true today of a lot of toners still currently on the market. So why are these products now being touted as a useless part of a skincare routine?


The Argument Against Toners


The argument is that because facial cleansers are now formulated to rinse very clean, not be harsh, or disrupt the skin's natural pH that toner is no longer needed. Another aspect of the argument is that many serums contain similar ingredients, so why use both? While these statements are true in a lot of ways, I have to disagree on one point. Even though facial cleansers have improved, our water hasn't. If you live somewhere that has hard water chances are you still need a product like a toner to help balance out your skin after cleansing. I live in the southeastern United States and we have very hard water in my state. There are very few states in the US that even have naturally soft water. Hard water is known to dry out and disrupt the skin's natural barrier. To learn more about hard water and whether or not the state you live in (if you are here in the US) has it click here.


Why I Am a Fan of Toners


As I stated above if you live somewhere that has hard water then I feel like toner is very helpful for maintaining your skin's natural balance. A study from 2017 revealed a link between hard water and eczema. Maintaining your skin's natural barrier is very important. Our skin is our largest organ after all. Toners can also contain beneficial ingredients that help to draw moisture to the skin, purify the pores, exfoliate dead skin cells, soothe the skin, and/or help other products penetrate better. It's not like you are just swiping nothing over your face. I personally notice a difference in my skin when I use toner before applying serums and face creams. My skin feels more balanced and I feel like the other products soak in better. 


How To Choose A Toner For Your Skin Type


If you are planning to include a toner in your daily skincare routine then below is my guide on how to choose the right one for your individual skin type. If you are not sure what your skin type is, I wrote about this earlier and you can find that information here.


Best Toners for Dry Skin


Look for alcohol-free hydrating formulas that are designed to help draw more moisture to the skin. These can also be used by those with dehydrated skin, although if your skin is acne-prone just make sure the formula doesn't contain too many heavy emollients since they can clog the pores and lead to breakouts.


Key ingredients:

  • Aloe vera leaf water or juice
  • Glycerine
  • Sodium hyaluronate or hyaluronic acid
  • Sodium PCA
  • Squalane
  • Floral waters (if your skin can tolerate them)
  • Panthenol
  • Shea butter
  • Sunflower seed, avocado, or safflower oil
  • Lactic acid or other alpha hydroxy acids (make sure to apply SPF as they can increase sun sensitivity)
  • Peptides and collagen

Best Toners for Oily Skin


Oily skin benefits from toners that contain purifying and hydrating ingredients. Some formulas also help to mattify the skin, which is nice because no one wants to look like a grease ball. Am I right? Keep an eye out for ingredients that are drying or irritating like SD or denatured alcohol, menthol, eucalyptus, peppermint, or clove essential oils. As a former Noxzema user, I know how nice and tingly these ingredients can feel at times, however in the long run they are drying and irritating. If it burns this does not mean it is working. It means that your skin is not a happy camper. 


Key ingredients:

  • Chamomile floral water or extract
  • Calendula floral water or extract
  • Glycerine
  • Niacinamide
  • Aloe and/or cucumber extract
  • Hyaluronic acid
  • Sodium PCA
  • Panthenol
  • Green tea
  • Lactic acid (always use in conjunction with sunscreen)
  • Peptides

Best Toners for Normal or Combination Skin


Choose a mild alcohol-free formula. With these two skin types (well three actually) it truly is about maintaining balance. You could choose a toner that is for sensitive skin since they are very gentle and non-irritating or you could go with one a little stronger. It just depends on how well you know what your skin can and can't tolerate. 


Key Ingredients:

  • Floral waters (if they don't irritate your skin)
  • Aloe vera
  • Glycerine and/or hyaluronic acid
  • Botanical extracts like chamomile or calendula
  • Gentle alpha hydroxy acids (always used with an SPF) 

As always, I hope you have found this information helpful. If you need further help with your skincare routine, schedule an Online Skincare Consultation with me. 

Honestly, all I can do is offer my personal opinion as to why I think you should use a toner as well as guidance on how to choose the right one for your skin. It is ultimately up to you to decide whether or not to use one as part of your daily skincare routine. While I understand why some feel that in our current day and age toners are an unnecessary step, I still feel like there are valid reasons for using them. Before we get into these reasons though, let me first explain what a toner is for those of you who are new to skincare.


What Is a Toner?


Toners or toning solutions are water-based formulations that contain ingredients like witch hazel, aloe vera juice or leaf water, floral waters (like rosewater), and herbal extracts or synthetic ingredients. Some contain hydrating ingredients like glycerine or purifying or exfoliating ingredients. It all just depends on the formulation and which skin type they are designed for. They are meant to be used after cleansing and before serums and moisturizers. The toner you choose depends on your skin type and what benefits you are looking for (i.e. hydration, purifying and mattifying, soothing, etc). Toners can either be sprayed or misted onto the skin or applied with a cotton ball or pad. 


Toners vs Astringents


You may also come across products that are called astringents. These are very similar to toners, however, they tend to be harsh and drying since most are alcohol-based and are marketed for people with oily and acne-prone skin. They give the skin a tight-toned feeling, mainly due to the alcohol content), hence the name 'astringent'. However, because they are so stripping to the skin I do not recommend them for any skin type. Alcohol-based formulas in general tend to be irritating and drying to the skin. They also often contain other irritating ingredients like menthol or clove oil. If I were you I would pass on this product. There are better ways to help oily and acne-prone skin. Definitely avoid astringents if you have dry or sensitive skin.


The Great Toner Debate


If you were to research the history of toners you will find that they were originally designed to help counteract the stripping effects of harsh cleansers like regular bar soap. Which would also often leave unwanted residue behind on the skin and disrupt the skin's natural balance. Toners helped remove any leftover residue and balance the skin's pH levels. They also contained other ingredients that were supposed to benefit different skin types. Actually, this is still true today of a lot of toners still currently on the market. So why are these products now being touted as a useless part of a skincare routine?


The Argument Against Toners


The argument is that because facial cleansers are now formulated to rinse very clean, not be harsh, or disrupt the skin's natural pH that toner is no longer needed. Another aspect of the argument is that many serums contain similar ingredients, so why use both? While these statements are true in a lot of ways, I have to disagree on one point. Even though facial cleansers have improved, our water hasn't. If you live somewhere that has hard water chances are you still need a product like a toner to help balance out your skin after cleansing. I live in the southeastern United States and we have very hard water in my state. There are very few states in the US that even have naturally soft water. Hard water is known to dry out and disrupt the skin's natural barrier. To learn more about hard water and whether or not the state you live in (if you are here in the US) has it click here.


Why I Am a Fan of Toners


As I stated above if you live somewhere that has hard water then I feel like toner is very helpful for maintaining your skin's natural balance. A study from 2017 revealed a link between hard water and eczema. Maintaining your skin's natural barrier is very important. Our skin is our largest organ after all. Toners can also contain beneficial ingredients that help to draw moisture to the skin, purify the pores, exfoliate dead skin cells, soothe the skin, and/or help other products penetrate better. It's not like you are just swiping nothing over your face. I personally notice a difference in my skin when I use toner before applying serums and face creams. My skin feels more balanced and I feel like the other products soak in better. 


How To Choose A Toner For Your Skin Type


If you are planning to include a toner in your daily skincare routine then below is my guide on how to choose the right one for your individual skin type. If you are not sure what your skin type is, I wrote about this earlier and you can find that information here.


Best Toners for Dry Skin


Look for alcohol-free hydrating formulas that are designed to help draw more moisture to the skin. These can also be used by those with dehydrated skin, although if your skin is acne-prone just make sure the formula doesn't contain too many heavy emollients since they can clog the pores and lead to breakouts.


Key ingredients:

  • Aloe vera leaf water or juice
  • Glycerine
  • Sodium hyaluronate or hyaluronic acid
  • Sodium PCA
  • Squalane
  • Floral waters (if your skin can tolerate them)
  • Panthenol
  • Shea butter
  • Sunflower seed, avocado, or safflower oil
  • Lactic acid or other alpha hydroxy acids (make sure to apply SPF as they can increase sun sensitivity)
  • Peptides and collagen

Best Toners for Oily Skin


Oily skin benefits from toners that contain purifying and hydrating ingredients. Some formulas also help to mattify the skin, which is nice because no one wants to look like a grease ball. Am I right? Keep an eye out for ingredients that are drying or irritating like SD or denatured alcohol, menthol, eucalyptus, peppermint, or clove essential oils. As a former Noxzema user, I know how nice and tingly these ingredients can feel at times, however in the long run they are drying and irritating. If it burns this does not mean it is working. It means that your skin is not a happy camper. 


Key ingredients:

  • Chamomile floral water or extract
  • Calendula floral water or extract
  • Glycerine
  • Niacinamide
  • Aloe and/or cucumber extract
  • Hyaluronic acid
  • Sodium PCA
  • Panthenol
  • Green tea
  • Lactic acid (always use in conjunction with sunscreen)
  • Peptides

Best Toners for Normal or Combination Skin


Choose a mild alcohol-free formula. With these two skin types (well three actually) it truly is about maintaining balance. You could choose a toner that is for sensitive skin since they are very gentle and non-irritating or you could go with one a little stronger. It just depends on how well you know what your skin can and can't tolerate. 


Key Ingredients:

  • Floral waters (if they don't irritate your skin)
  • Aloe vera
  • Glycerine and/or hyaluronic acid
  • Botanical extracts like chamomile or calendula
  • Gentle alpha hydroxy acids (always used with an SPF) 

As always, I hope you have found this information helpful. If you need further help with your skincare routine, schedule an Online Skincare Consultation with me.