What is skin toner and do you really need to use it? We ask the experts for their guidance
With new beauty products launching all the time, it’s easy to get swept up by slick skincare marketing and fancy-sounding ingredients. In the case of toner, beauty experts remain divided on whether or not it is in fact an essential step in an-already busy skincare regime.
If you sit firmly in the cleanse and go camp, you’re probably thinking, “here we go, another step I’ve got to add into my daily routine.” Followers of a more labour-intensive, Korean-inspired multi-step routine are more than likely already using toner.Whichever category you fall into - toner devotee or toner naysayer - it seems we’re more intrigued than ever with this contentious skincare step.
According to Google Trends, searches for ‘toner’ have gone up by 250 per cent since the start of October 2021. Perhaps this surge is inspired by the colder, moisture-sapping winter weather, or maybe we're all just looking for ways to look less tired as the longer nights draw in.
Most experts agree that cleanse, moisturise and protect by wearing the best sunscreen for your face (opens in new tab) (throughout the year) are the non-negotiable parts of any skin regime. So where does toner fit into all of this, and is it truly necessary? We grilled some top dermatologists to find out.
What is skin toner?
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Skin toner is a liquid product (that looks just like water), which is used after cleansing, before serums and moisturiser. You splash the toner on a cotton pad and sweep over your face, no need to rinse. Traditionally, toner was thought to shrink pores but nothing can constrict your pores. What toner does do, however, is help to remove whatever dirt, oil, cleanser and make-up is left after cleansing. This can help prevent your skin from looking dull, by removing product build up.
Toners of old earned a bad reputation. Their goal was to balance excess sebum and they were so effective at diminishing oil, they became known for drying out the skin. Nowadays, most are alcohol-free, and are geared towards different complexion niggles. Some toners have exfoliating properties and can be used to hydrate skin. Toner can also help reduce spots on your faceor get rid of liver spots.
Do you need to use a toner?
“No, toners are not necessary for skin health, so you don't need to use one” states Dr Sonia Khorana (opens in new tab), GP with Special Interest in Dermatology and Cosmetic Doctor. “Toners were previously used to remove whatever was left behind of your make-up and dirt after cleansing and balance skin pH. Nowadays, most cleansers are pH balanced now and pretty good at removing everything,” she explains. So while toner isn’t an absolute necessity for a healthy, glowing complexion, it can certainly help. As Dr Sonia says, “Toners can offer additional skin benefits if you have a specific skin concern to target."
Eucerin (opens in new tab)’s Professional Expertise Manager, Dylan Griffiths agrees. "Adding a toner that is well-matched to your skin type can provide additional benefits such as enhancing the absorption, and therefore efficacy, of your other skincare products. For instance, adding a hyaluronic acid-based serum on skin slightly dampened with toner will draw in water, resulting in a plumper and more hydrated complexion."
“A slightly acidic toner is great to help rebuild the skin barrier,” adds Dr. Marie Drago, microbiome expert and founder of Gallinée (opens in new tab). “If the acid comes from Alpha Hydroxy Acid, it will also help get rid of dead skin cells and improve glow. Then depending on the toner and the skin type, it can be refining pores, hydrating or soothing.”
3 benefits of skintoner
A toner might not be necessary for all - especially if you favour a speedy, streamlined skincare routine. But, the right one certainly has some skin-boosting perks. These are the main benefits of using a skin toner:
- It will balance your pH
The skin’s pH level sits around 5.5, while water has a level of 7 so if you splash your face after cleansing it will affect this delicate balance. One of the functions of toner is to bring the skin back to its natural pH level. However, we will caveat this to say that many cleansers nowadays are pH-balanced, which will also restore its acidic state.
- You can target your skin type
Toners aren’t a one-size-fits-all product. There are toners that offer additional skin benefits, with ingredients targeted to address different skin concerns. “It is important to know which ingredients to look for and which ones to avoid based on your skin type,” says Dr Sonia Khorana. “For example, Salicylic acid for people who are breakout prone.” Those with dry, sensitive complexions should look for gentle ingredients like Aloe Vera and rosewater.
- Your wrinkle creams will work better
Using a toner means your skin is primed and ready for any subsequent creams you apply. Washing your face with water after cleansing means the pH is disrupted and your moisturiser has to work twice as hard to bring the skin back to normal before it can get to work on its anti-ageing agenda. So in neglecting your pH, you could be wasting hard-earned cash on dream creams that can’t live up to their full potential.
Can I use toner if I have sensitive skin?
Yes, you can use a toner if you have sensitive skin, but it's best to choose a product that has been formulated for your skin type.
According to Mintel, one in three women has sensitive skin, and if you sit within that 33 per cent, you’ll know how easy it is to trigger a reactive complexion.
“I have found that people are often scared of using multiple ingredients on dry, reactive, or sensitive skin, so tend to keep skincare regimes very simple,” says Dr Emma Craythorne (opens in new tab), Consultant Dermatologist at Harley Street, President of the British Cosmetic Dermatology Group and Host of The Bad Skin. “They also don’t think they can achieve a glowing radiant complexion as many patients, rightly so, are concerned that the effects of using active ingredients can irritate the skin and cause further inflammation.”
Sensitive skin has a lot to do with the skin barrier, also known as the lipid or moisture barrier. This outer layer works as a protectant, keeping irritants out, and locking moisture in. When it’s compromised, you may notice rough, dull, red and sensitive skin. "When this happens, it is important to strip back our routine and ensure we are adding in plenty of soothing and moisturising formulas with no actives while the barrier heals," advises Eucerin's Dylan Griffiths.
Dr Craythorne adds, “use ingredients that will help to restore the skin barrier and reduce inflammation, like Niacinamide.” Niacinamide is a useful ingredient in toner - not only does it have an anti-inflammatory effect, but it’s an efficient skin-brightener too.
“Look for gentle toners that contain ingredients like hyaluronic acid, glycerin and some plant extracts,” adds Dr Sonia. “And trying to stay away from ingredients like fragrances or drying/denatured alcohol is a good idea if you have sensitive skin. Fragrance is not bad for everyone, but for people who suffer with sensitivity, it can irritate, while denat alcohol can dry out the skin.”
Dr. Marie Drago warns, “There are also a lot of glycolic acid toners on the market that might not suit sensitive skin.” If you are looking to brighten with exfoliating toners, work them into your regime gradually. "Everyone’s skin is different," says Dylan, "but if your skin is particularly reactive, always test first on a small patch of skin."
5 of the best skin toners
Gallinée Face Vinegar
VIEW NOW – CULT BEAUTY | £26 (opens in new tab)
Human skin has 1 million microbiomes per square centimetre and this bacteria is a crucial component of our skin barrier. By balancing and nourishing these microbes with pre- and probiotic skincare, you can improve barrier function and calm sensitive skin. This is like plant food for your microbiome, giving those good guys the perfect environment to thrive. The result is smoother, softer and less reactive skin. Splash on to a cotton pad and sweep over skin twice a day, before serum and moisturiser.
Eucerin DermatoClean Toner
VIEW NOW – BOOTS | £9 (opens in new tab)
Sensitive skin can breathe easy knowing this is fragrance-, alcohol-, paraben- and colourant-free. It provides a deep cleanse with added moisture-binding ingredients that refresh and quench dry, tight-feeling skin. It’s even been found to boost the skin’s oxygen uptake.
Kiehl’s Heritage Rosewater Toner
VIEW NOW – KIEHL'S | £40 (opens in new tab)
If you have touchy, sensitive skin prone to redness, go for a natural toner like rosewater. It's been used for centuries to treat and balance the skin. Rosewater has fantastic antibacterial properties, and is loaded with antioxidants. This skin-softening formula has a beautiful petal-pretty scent and works to bring the skin back to epidermal heaven.
Cetaphil Healthy Radiance Brightness Refresh Toner
VIEW NOW – FEEL UNIQUE | £15.99 (opens in new tab)
Cetaphil is often recommended by skin experts for being kind to sensitive skin. This new range has been created with dermatologists to restore radiance without aggravating sensitive skin. Sea Daffodil has anti-inflammatory properties to calm skin as it evens out pigmentation. Working alongside it is brightening ingredient, Niacinamide, which also helps strengthen the skin’s barrier function.
The Inkey List PHA Toner
VIEW NOW – LOOK FANTASTIC | £9.99 (opens in new tab)
Polyhydroxy acids (PHAs) exfoliate the skin surface, and are ideal for congested, dull and rough skin. PHAs are exfoliants made for sensitive skins, and are much kinder than their chemical counterparts, Alpha Hydroxy Acids and Beta Hydroxy Acids. They are the gentlest way aid the skin's natural shedding process, clear blocked pores and create a brighter, smoother complexion.
Where to buy
What is skin toner and do you really need to use it? ›
Toner removes any last traces of dirt, grime and impurities stuck in your pores after you wash your face. When added to your daily skincare routine and used regularly, it can have major positive impact on the appearance and tightness of your pores (hello, aging skin).Are toners really necessary? ›
No, toning is not necessary for skin health. Toners were originally developed to remove soap scum from the face when lye-based soaps combined with hard water left a sticky residue post cleansing. The alcohol-based toner removed the soap scum eliminating irritation and contributing to cleanser mildness.Do dermatologists recommend toner? ›
While they can be helpful, Dr. Elias emphasizes that most dermatologists aren't going to recommend a toner. He adds, “They can overcomplicate your skincare regiment which can usually be boiled down to a few easy steps: cleanse, retinoid at night, moisturize, and sunscreen.What happens if you don't have toner? ›
The most convenient product is rose water. It is easily available and has many benefits as well. This product can be used as a toner without adding anything to it. It will help get rid of the oil, dirt and makeup as well.What are the pros and cons of toner? ›
- Pros: Toners are best to minimize pores. ...
- Cons: Toners come with alcohol content and are likely to make your skin dry and flaky eventually. ...
- Pros: Toners are super hydrating for the skin. ...
- Cons: If used in excess, toners can cause skin irritation coupled with redness and swelling.
Toner removes any last traces of dirt, grime and impurities stuck in your pores after you wash your face. When added to your daily skincare routine and used regularly, it can have major positive impact on the appearance and tightness of your pores (hello, aging skin).Can I skip toner and use moisturizer? ›
No, you should not use toner without moisturiser. Toners can be drying, so it is important to follow up with a moisturiser. Moisturisers help to lock in moisture, reduce dryness, and smooth fine lines and wrinkles.What is the best toner to use on your face? ›
- Avène Eau Thermale Gentle Toning Lotion. ...
- Renée Rouleau Elderberry Soothing Toner. ...
- Lancôme Tonique Confort. ...
- Pixi Glow Tonic. ...
- Thayers Rose Petal Facial Toner. ...
- Whamisa Organic Flowers Toner Deep Rich. ...
- Savor Beauty Hydrating Toning Mist. ...
- Fenty Skin Fat Water Pore-Refining Toner Serum.
Originally toners were used to pH balance the skin after using a cleanser. Since you can easily get pH-balanced cleansers these days, toners are no longer necessary in a skincare regimen, says Dr. Ted Lain, board-certified dermatologist and chief medical officer at Sanova Dermatology.Is witch hazel a toner? ›
Generally, witch hazel is used as a toner. That means that you'll want to apply it after using a cleanser to re-balance skin pH. After you've washed your face thoroughly, pat it dry with a soft cloth. Then apply your favorite formulation of Thayers Witch Hazel before adding a moisturizing cream or serum.
Which is better toner or serum? ›
The Takeaway. Both serums and toners are valuable skin care products, but they don't do the same thing. One cannot be substituted for the other. If you had to choose between the two, serums will provide more benefits to your skin than a toner will.What are the side effects of toner on face? ›
What are the side effects? Astringents can be very drying for the skin. Avoid alcohol-based and chemical-based astringents if you have dry or sensitive skin. If you have acne and dry skin, an astringent may further irritate breakouts, leading to peeling and additional redness.Do you wash off toner? ›
So, if you have been wondering about whether or not you should wash your face toner off, the answer is no. As explained, toners are designed to be left on the skin, so washing them off would defeat the purpose.What to avoid when buying a toner? ›
Also, what's not in your toner is just as important as what is. "We prefer to avoid formulas with alcohols, parabens, synthetic dyes, and mineral oils," Lee and Chang say. Alcohol has a few "secret" names, which allows it to go undetected in ingredient lists.Does toner remove dark spots? ›
Brightening toners are often infused with skin-brightening ingredients such as papaya extract, ginseng, retinol, or vitamin C. These skin toners help reduce the appearance of dark spots, sun spots, acne scars, and fine lines.Does toner make you look younger? ›
Adding a toner is a great way to take your skincare routine to the next level. After cleansing your skin needs a product that replenishes its surface. A good toner does exactly that and helps your skin look younger, fresher and smoother all day long.Do you put toner on before or after moisturizer? ›
When used as part of a daily skincare routine, toner should always be applied directly after you've cleansed your skin with a natural face wash, and before you've moisturized it with a hydrating moisturizer. If you use a serum or eye cream, the toner should come before that, too.How long to wait between applying toner and moisturizer? ›
This will vary from product to product — a toner may take mere seconds to dry, while a serum or thick nighttime eye cream could take a minute, or even a few minutes to dry and be properly absorbed. A good rule to follow to simplify things? Wait about one minute between applying each skincare product.What is a basic skin care routine? ›
The three basic skin-care routine steps are cleansing, moisturizing, and applying sunscreen (look for at least SPF 30 and “broad spectrum” on the label). Your morning skin-care routine should include those basics: washing with a cleanser, slathering on a moisturizer, then putting on your sunscreen, says Dr. Skotnicki.Should I use serum everyday? ›
Serums usually contain a higher concentration of active ingredients compared to moisturisers. However, if you're wondering, “should I use face serum every day?”, well, yes, they're extremely safe to use every day. In fact, it is recommended by experts that you use a serum every day to get optimal results.
What are the 3 types of toners? ›
- alcohol-based formulas.
- glycerin or glycol-based.
Ideally, you should use a toner twice a day, but at least once a day is recommended. And here's the right way to use a toner: Wash face with gentle cleanser and pat dry. Pour out a little quantity of toner on your palm and apply it on your face.What is witch hazel for skin? ›
Witch hazel soothes irritation and itchiness.
Witch hazel can relieve itchiness, including minor skin irritations from insect bites, eczema, psoriasis, diaper rash, and hemorrhoids. You can also use witch hazel to treat scalp itchiness and irritation.
Rodney recommends looking for a gentle toner that contains hyaluronic acid, retinol, and vitamin C. "Hyaluronic acid plumps and hydrates dry, sagging skin, while retinol both increases collagen production deeper in the skin and increases the turnover of surface skin cells," she explains.Are facial toners worth it? ›
“Toner isn't a product that is 100% necessary if you want a simple, basic skin-care routine. That being said, a toner is an easy product to incorporate into your routine to help boost the benefits of your other skin-care products. It can be a low-effort, high-reward product. ”Is toner good for wrinkles? ›
what does toner actually do for the skin? Toner can do some unexpected things for your skin, like soothe stinging or otherwise sensitized skin or help diminish the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.What to apply on face before sleeping? ›
- Milk. Milk is a great ingredient for your skin. ...
- Coconut oil. Most people use coconut oil for hair but you can also apply coconut oil on your face to get glowing skin! ...
- Almond oil. Almond oil is great for your skin. ...
- Rose Water. Rosewater is undoubtedly a magic potion for beauty. ...
- Honey. advertisement. ...
- Aloe vera gel. ...
Vitamin C based toners are more effective than any other toners because it provides antioxidants to the skin which help to fight early signs of aging. Including a Vitamin C toner in your skincare routine will give your skin double benefits.Why do hairdressers always use toner? ›
By making it warmer or cooler in tone, and correcting unwanted shades. It is also possible to add a bright pop of fashion colour, without actually lifting the shade. In addition, it enables the hairstylist to make sure you get an even hair colour result from root to tip.How damaging is toner? ›
Additionally, overusing toner after bleaching or coloring can also cause strain on your hair strands. When this happens, your hair can become dry and brittle. Moreover, permanent toners contain peroxide, and should always be mixed and applied properly. If not, it can cause great damage to hair.
Why do salons use toner? ›
In a nutshell, hair toner products neutralize unwanted warm or brassy tones to help you achieve a shinier, healthier, more natural-looking shade.Is witch hazel good for older skin? ›
Witch hazel contains polyphenol, which acts as a protector from UV damage. It also helps retain the skin's natural collagen, making it great for elasticity and anti-aging.Will witch hazel lighten age spots? ›
Yes. Since witch hazel is a natural astringent it helps in the treatment of bruises, reduces pigmentation and calms redness on the skin. It helps in skin brightening and reducing age spots. Witch hazel provides protection against UV damage and discoloration caused by acne.Is Rosewater a toner? ›
Rose water acts as a natural toner and can definitely be used daily. The best thing is that you can use rose water for oily skin, dry skin, or combination skin type, and hence is completely safe to be used daily.Is skin Care really necessary? ›
"For most individuals, a consistent skin care routine using sunscreen and moisturizer is all that's needed for overall skin health," says Dr. Stephany. "Skin aging will occur even with the most diligent use of sunscreen, but photoaging is what we can help prevent with sun protection."Do you put serum on after toner? ›
The Best Way to Apply SERUM:
Apply serum after toner. Using your fingertips, pat serum onto skin, then smooth it outward. Resist the temptation to massage, and let the formula absorb on its own.
How long should you wait between toner and serum? You can apply your serum immediately after your toner. As with other skin care products, there is no concern about one interfering with the effectiveness of another.Why shouldn't you use toner everyday? ›
However, as gentle as they are, you do not want to use an exfoliating toner daily. Once or twice a week should do it, unless you have dry skin, in which case, once a month. "That can cause a major imbalance in your skin's microbiome, disrupt your natural skin barrier, and make your skin dehydrated.Does toner tighten skin? ›
In a nutshell, toners are usually designed to restore balance and hydration to your skin after cleansing, but they can also help minimize the appearance of pores, temporarily tighten skin, and naturally remove oil and dirt.How do I choose a skin toner? ›
- Oily skin should choose a alcohol free toner that also exfoliates gently. ...
- Dry skin should choose a toner that helps hydrate and allows for moisturizer absorption.
- Combination or normal skin can use any type, as long as it's an alcohol free toner.
Is it bad to leave toner on too long? ›
If you leave the toner processing for too long, you might end up having damaged hair with unwanted purple or blue shades. Why does this happen? Toners have pigments in them to cancel out the yellow and orange tones in brassy hair.How long should toner stay on face? ›
Things You Should Know
Get a cotton pad damp (but not totally wet) with your toner. Then, gently dab the cotton pad all over your face and neck. Before you apply other products, like moisturizer, wait 1 minute (60 seconds) for the toner to dry. Avoid alcohol-based toners that can dry out your skin.
For centuries, people have been using apple cider vinegar for skin care precisely for these reasons. It is the ultimate natural hydrating toner, and it's alcohol free—plus it helps even skin tone and calm the complexion with its natural pH balancing properties.Why do dermatologists not recommend toner? ›
“On the whole toners can strip the top layers of the skin and lead to skin barrier compromise, so unless using them for a specific purpose, we normally don't recommend them,” states Dr.What are the disadvantages of toner? ›
- Some toners contain alcohol and might dry up skin after use (to counter this, moisturize immediately after use)
- Likely to cause irritation or mild swelling if used in excess. Just a few drops is enough. ...
- Might give a burning sensation if you have acne, cuts or bruises on face.
When Should I Use Hair Toner? Any time you apply bleach to your delicate strands, you'll need an excellent toner to neutralize unwanted undertones. As a result, toners are a must for any colored hair.Is it okay to not use toner skincare? ›
The basic function of toner is to prep skin for the serums and creams applied after. Depending upon its ingredients, it may also balance the skin's pH levels, restoring it to an acidic state, which can help in preventing acne. 1 So, is toner necessary? Technically, no, but it is a nice addition to a skincare routine.Is it okay to skip toner in skincare routine? ›
Originally toners were used to pH balance the skin after using a cleanser. Since you can easily get pH-balanced cleansers these days, toners are no longer necessary in a skincare regimen, says Dr. Ted Lain, board-certified dermatologist and chief medical officer at Sanova Dermatology.Do you put toner on wet or dry skin? ›
Applying toner to damp skin can help enhance absorption and hydrating properties of the product. After cleansing your dry or sensitive skin, gently pat the toner on damp face with your hands.How often should you use toner? ›
Ideally, you should use a toner twice a day, but at least once a day is recommended. And here's the right way to use a toner: Wash face with gentle cleanser and pat dry. Pour out a little quantity of toner on your palm and apply it on your face.
What should you avoid in a skin toner? ›
Also, what's not in your toner is just as important as what is. "We prefer to avoid formulas with alcohols, parabens, synthetic dyes, and mineral oils," Lee and Chang say. Alcohol has a few "secret" names, which allows it to go undetected in ingredient lists.Is retinol really necessary? ›
Is retinol good for your skin? Retinol is a powerful tool against aging skin and acne, but it's not for everyone. If you're prone to allergies or have sensitive skin, you might want to try skincare products with alternative anti-aging or skin-clearing ingredients.What are the side effects of using toner on your face? ›
There are no specific side effects of toner on face. However, one can get dry or irritated skin after using a toner. If this happens, it is best advised to switch your toner. Also, make sure to go for a toner with no or minimal alcohol content as it can lead to dry and damaged skin.