What's The Deal With Facial Toners & Are They Really Worth The Money?
Updated: Sep 29
Facial toners have been the center of many beauty and skincare discussions over the years, some referring to them as "skincare's biggest controversy". Professionally, it is the product I get asked about the most. Why? In my opinion, I think it's because toners are simply misunderstood. But to fully understand them, it's important to look at their history.
Early use of facial toners
The use of facial toners or tonics date back to the 16th century, where tonics were commonly made up of ingredients such as lemon and vinegar for the purpose of lightening the complexion, as fair skin was commonly seen as a sign of aristocracy. Over time, skincare seemed to evolve along with fashion trends. When makeup hit the stage in the early 1900's, suddenly women were seeking heavier-duty facial cleansing products, which introduced things like cold creams which were marketed as a multitasking product, often used as a cleansing agent, shaving cream and even moisture cream. Because of its heavy oil content, facial toners were sometimes used afterwards to help remove any excess residue.
Ingredients like witch hazel became popular due to their tannin content, helping to tone and refresh the skin. Near 70's & 80's, skincare became more specific to skin type, allowing for different ways of toning; astringent (typically alcohol-based) to shrink pores and reduce shine for oilier skin types and milkier-based toners or refreshing toners for added hydration for drier skin types. In spa, toners had become essential for neutralizing and balancing the pH of the skin after specialized treatments (such as peels), which then became recommended to customers for at-home use.
Fast forward to today and you've got your pick of the litter; whether it be an alcohol-based astringent, exfoliating toner with AHA's (alpha hydroxy acids like lactic or glycolic acid), skin tonics such as certain floral waters containing lower amounts of alcohol or humectant-based (glycerin, aloe vera, etc) hydrating toners that contain little to no alcohol. Do you see the confusion yet?
In today's modern world, not only do we have multiple options for one product, but we are also told and/or trained to think that we also need multiple steps in our skincare routine. I'm sure you're aware of the famous 10-step Korean skincare routine and you may have even heard of the 20+ step skincare regimen (no joke). But hey, at the end of the day every single person is unique, and as such, should have a program that is unique to them. Whether you're a no-step (uh...what is a cleanser..) type or a 21-step-gotta-have-all-body-parts-covered type, you do you!
The point is that with so many options to choose from and so many steps to remember, it's no wonder skincare can be confusing!
So should you be using a toner?
Here's what I think:
Toners have many benefits. They help in the cleansing process, balance the skin's pH, help set makeup and assist in hydrating or toning (depending on type of toner) but what I love most of all is the fact that they can help you use less product. How? When you spray your toner on your freshly cleansed skin, don't wait for it to dry. Instead, proceed right away onto your next step whether its an essence, ampoule, serum, or moisturizer. You will notice, you'll need a lot less product as it will glide easily across the entire face and you'll probably be able to get your whole neck and décolleté (collar bone/chest area). The other bonus is that your other products will be able to absorb that much better.
If you're unsure whether to add this step to your routine or not sure what type of toner to use, remember that this is dependent on you; what type of person you are (which would determine how many steps you will realistically do in a day), what type of skin you have as well as what your lifestyle is (active, outdoorsy, office life) AND what type of climate you live in.
Now whether or not you have oily, normal or dry skin, no one should ever be (in my opinion) attempting to dry out their skin, meaning, no alcohol-based toners. The reason being that its not doing anyone any favors. As mentioned in my previous post, where I recount the days of the sought-after "astringents", I quickly discovered- as did many other people at that time- that even though the alcohol-based astringent was getting rid of my breakouts by drying them out, the oil had come back a week later with a vengeance and then it just became a vicious cycle. My point? Unless you're actively seeking dehydrated skin, skip the alcohol.
But don't worry friends, there are alternatives! Witch hazel and elderflower are among some of the best and most commonly used astringents that are both naturally potent antioxidants and have anti-inflammatory effects to boot! They are great options for anyone wanting to reduce the appearance of large pores and help reduce shine (but never the glow!) If you have a dry, dehydrated and/or sensitive skin type, stick to the hydrating mists or floral waters, anything containing vegetable glycerin, aloe vera or sodium hyaluronate (HA).
Looking for a brightening boost? Try something with Vitamin C that also contains ferulic acid (vit C booster) and other antioxidants such as resveratrol, green tea, pomegranate and other superfruits.
My personal fave is Eminence Organic's Stone Crop Hydrating Mist. Although it does have a higher price-point then most, it's all in the ingredients (did I mention I'm a total skin nerd?). While most toners are water-based, Eminence has a potent organic phytonutrient blend as a base for all their products (toners included), that's comprised of a high concentration of nutrients such as vitamins, amino acids, bioflavonoids and antioxidants that come from organic fruits, veggies & herbs. So you can drink your juice and spray it on your skin too!
Sending you purely hydrating & glowing vibes,