Using a toner is a skincare step that has been debatable for some time, which may have been attributed to the old school alcohol-based toners that were too astringent or extremely drying!! No Bueno, if you’re aiming for a glow-up. As a result, toners have had a bad rep and are often neglected in skincare routines…until now!! The options available are endless!! Keep reading if you’re still on the fence about the benefits of toners. I answer some questions that may help change your mind and guide you to product options as well.
Why should you be using a toner?
Think of using a toner as the final step of your cleansing routine–it’s going to remove any dirt or makeup that did not get removed by your cleanser. Toners come in very handy especially if you’re using a cleanser that’s overdrying your skin and disrupting the skin’s acid mantle. [BTW: this means you’re not using the right cleanser for your skin type]. In this case, using a toner will help restore your skin’s pH balance (check out the post where I discuss why skin pH matters). The right toner is prep for your skin, helping you reap the benefits of the rest of your skincare routine. With the right active ingredients, toners help soothe the skin, gently exfoliates to remove dead skin cells, reduce the appearance of enlarged pores, as well as regulates oil production. One more reason–hydration, hydration, hydration to transform dehydrated or dull-looking skin.
How should you use toner?
Some people prefer to use their hands to apply the toner to their face; however, you can also use a cotton pad to apply your toner. Instead of using swiping motions, you want to use circular motions, focusing primarily on the forehead, nose, and chin areas. Be sure to avoid the eyes and mouth. Since skincare products penetrate the skin better when it is wet, you want to apply the toner immediately after cleansing for the best results (don’t wait more than one minute). Be sure to allow the toner to dry before continuing with the rest of your skincare routine.
What should you be looking for in a toner for your skin type?
As with all other skincare products, it’s important to select a toner based on your skin type and whether it has the right active ingredients to address your needs/concerns
- If you have acne-prone or oily skin: you want to look for ingredients that going to exfoliate the skin and regulate oil production. Look for alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) like glycolic acid, lactic acid, mandelic acid and also beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) like salicylic acid. Another greate ingredient to look for is niacinamide, which has a lot of great skin benefits like helping pores regulate excess oil. If you prefer more natural active ingredients, look for tea tree (to help with oil control) and willow bark (for its natural exfoliating benefits) in the product ingredients.
- If you have dry or dehydrated skin: you want to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!! So look for humectants -these ingredients hydrate the skin by preventing water loss and protecting the stratum corneum, the outer layer of skin, from becoming dry or dehydrated. Hyaluronic acid, glycerin, aloe vera are examples of such ingredients— they hydrate, moisturize and soften the skin. Rose water is also great for its hydrating benefits. Sodium PCA, which is naturally derived from plants, fruits, and coconut oil helps retain moisture, protect the acid mantle, and reduces inflammation in our skin.
- If you are concerned with hyperpigmentation: you want to look for ingredients that will help to even out your skin tone like licorice root, kojic acid, ellagic acid, arbutin, and mandelic acid (a natural substance derived from strawberries, cherries, and pomegranates). Of course, AHAs and BHAs are essential to help increase skin cell turnover.
- If you have sensitive skin: you want to look for skin-soothing botanicals like aloe vera, cucumber, thyme and green tea and others that will help with moisture, hydration, or have anti-inflammatory benefits.
Other great ingredients that you want to look for regardless of your skin type include niacinamide to help maintain an even skin tone and texture. You also want to look for skin-replenishing ingredients that enrich the skin and keep it functioning properly like ceramides, glycerin (which I mentioned already), hyaluronic acid, and caprylic/capric triglyceride. Antioxidants like vitamin C (ascorbic acid), CoQ10, vitamin E (tocopherol), or hibiscus flower help to fight free radical damage contributes to premature skin aging and protect against skin aging caused by pollution.
A toner with antioxidants alone IS NOT enough to prevent skin aging from sun damage or pollution. To get adequate protection, daily use of serums with antioxidants, moisturizers and most importantly sun protection are must-haves in any skincare routine.
What should you avoid in a toner?
Alcohol, alcohol, alcohol!! While products with alcohol give immediate attractive results (like making your skin look and feel more matte which can be appealing if you’re prone to oily skin), it tends to be counterproductive and causes more issues in the long term. Ok so let’s be clear, there is “good” and “bad” alcohol for your skin. The good ones are called fatty alcohols which act as emollients–on ingredient labels they include cetyl, stearyl, and cetearyl alcohol. The alcohol we don’t want are SD alcohol, ethanol, denatured alcohol, or isopropyl alcohol to name a few.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR TONERS
Sooo, I know you’ve been waiting for this part. Here are some of my top recommendations after reviewing product lists and reviews for over 50 toners (via Sephora and Dermstore for now….a very tedious task but I did it with love… and don’t worry I didn’t do it all in one seating… it took me quite a bit of time). I’ve also included several of my personal tried-and-true toners like BOLDEN Brightening Glycolic Toner, Lancôme Absolue Premium Bx Replenishing Toner, and Caudalie Beauty Elixir.
If you’re wondering about my criteria for selection: I shop for skincare based on the product label. Because I cannot possibly try everything (I only have one face hahaha), I focus on the ingredient list, and pay less attention to the marketing claims and what the brand wants me to think (this is how you select great products and get your money’s worth). I also compare the ingredient list to who the label says it’s good for to make sure the right ingredients are included for the appropriate skin type/concerns. (Thank goodness for being a pharmacist and knowing where to go to find answer to any question that’s science related!!)
For the recommendations below, I only selected results-driven products, researched ingredients listed to better understand its use and role in the product (and outcome) and avoided products with alcohol within the top 10 ingredients listed. (I must say I was slightly disappointed to come across many toners from reputable brands containing the “bad” alcohols at the top of their ingredient list).
THE BEAUTE SCRIPT SHOPPING TIP
Shop for skincare based on the product label. Focus on your needs and what’s listed on the product list. Pay less attention to the marketing claims and what brands wants you to think.
This list is by no means a comprehensive list, rather it’s a guide to help you identify ingredients and products to consier as you shop for a toner to complete your cleansing routine.
So, to answer the question—TO TONE!! And now you also have products to consider! Let me know below if you see toner on here that you’d be interested to try. I’d love to hear from you.