What are the benefits of using a facial toner? Is this just water, how effective can it be? Don’t all toners smell like nail polish remover? I just pour witch hazel all over my face and that will accomplish the same goal, yes? Toners just dry out your skin! Must be another skin care product created to make you spend more money, right?
Well, to be honest, prior to studying the skin I never understood this little bottle’s full potential. I was a non-believer as well, having never truly tried a toner and being convinced that it was a product of the past that couldn’t really help my skin. Cleansing and moisturizing I could get on board with because their purpose is right there in the title, but toners were not for me.
What if I told you that this one product could fix a number of skin issues for you? What if it meant clear and hydrated skin? Friends, let me walk you through my 5 favorite benefits of toners to clear up the confusion and make you into a believer! Because I have to share that I’m a bit of a toning fanatic. I’m not really a one spray kind of girl, more like four… or six…
Before I can convince you that this product is a game changer, I want to explain the seemingly never-ending list of names this product can be called. Let’s see we have toner, tonique, tonic, astringent, freshener, toning mist, skin lotion and pore lotion (Baron). My favorite is toning mist, but really they are all the same. Let’s dive into what the functions of a toner are and how they can help your skin.
Why were toners created?
Toners were originally created clear away extra dirt and oil that did not get removed during the cleansing process. I no longer like this as a toner’s main function, and this is never my number one reason for recommending a toner to my clients. I believe that if you are a heavy makeup user or feel your cleanser is not doing the job that you can do one of three things:
- Start with a pre-cleanse: Now there are “pre-cleanse” products, but I would suggest using a makeup remover (liquid, wipe or pad). A word of caution though: makeup removers can include harsh ingredients so always read the list. You can always make your own at home. I’ve seen a few different diy recipes on Pinterest or even better, use an oil like coconut or jojoba to break it down and then use your cleanser to clear it away.
- Do a double cleanse: This is a way to avoid purchasing another cleansing product. In fact, even though the cleanser I use in my treatment is efficient, I always do a double cleanse on every client to make sure we have a clean slate to begin the treatment.
- Get a better cleanser: I think that finding a cleanser that is accomplishing all your goals can be challenging, especially if you’re looking for a natural option. However, if it cannot do the main job it’s meant to do, how useful is it really?
Now that we’ve covered that your toner is not a cleanser, let’s talk about what it can be for your skin.
Five ways skin benefits from a toner:
- Balances your pH: pH stands for potential hydrogen and exists on a scale of 1 to 14, 1 being the most acidic and 14 being the most alkaline. There is some debate over the exact average pH of skin, but most sources agree it is around 4-5 (Lambers, Barel, Cates). In my opinion, this debate exists because everyone’s skin is different. Factors like age, gender, race and lifestyle choices play a huge roll in how your skin behaves (down to how many times you touch your face each day). Even when using a pH balanced cleanser you rinse with water, which is around 7-8, affecting overall facial pH. Even though this small change might sound insignificant, it’s been shown that your pH can be thrown off for up to 6 hours before fully adjusting. During this time the skin is more susceptible to acne causing bacteria, lowers it’s ability to heal and slows skin cell turnover (Barel). Using a toner that has a pH closer to your skin’s natural pH will help to bring your skin back to a level where it can protect itself faster.
- Moisturize: Toners that include moisturizing ingredients or ingredients that encourage your skin to moisturize itself will soften and support your skin’s barrier function. This addresses the idea that all toners are drying. Keep reading because in the last section I’m going to go through all of the best ingredients to look for in your toners to ensure you are hydrating and not drying!
- Clear away bacteria: This is one of my favorite aspects of a toner because although I usually recommend a toning mist as a post-cleanse treatment, I get to suggest another brilliant use for this product: spraying after a breakout is relieved! To be clear, I do not encourage picking at your breakouts. However, what I do know, (because I’m as human as you are) is that no one wants to walk out the door with a pimple on their face. If a pimple is without a layer of skin overtop and comes out without excessive pressure after a shower or hot compress, use a toning mist to clear away that bacteria. After gentle extractions in my treatment room I make sure to never miss this step. Without toning, the bacteria can move from pore to pore. Have you ever relieved yourself of a pimple only to see a new one pop up a couple days later right next to wear the last one is healing? You do not have to use an alcohol based toner to find a toner with anti-bacterial properties as shown in the ingredients section of this post.
- Constrict pores: A toner with an astringent ingredient is best to help reduce the appearance of pores. This tightening will also help these newly cleared pores stay clear, reducing the chances of re-clogging.
- Calm and heal: There’s nothing better than soothing and refreshing botanical ingredients that are going to speed the healing process, reduce inflammation and redness. This element of toner is what has me opting for four sprays instead of just one!
Are all toners created equal?
Of course the answer is, absolutely not. We know that unnatural products generally can lead to unnatural responses by our skin. As I stated earlier, stripping ingredients can cause a pH imbalance resulting in unfortunate results. Make sure when you are searching for your natural ingredients that you read the list. Your toner should be free from alcohol because alcohol sits at around 7 on the pH scale. Even products that claim to be natural can include alcohol. We want to strengthen our skin so it can maintain the processes it was meant to do. Our skin thrives in an acidic environment and steer clear of products that will strip it of that.
What ingredients to look for in a toner?
Last of all I want to list some important ingredients to look for when choosing a toning mist. I’m going to preface this with the number of yummy beneficial ingredients out there is endless. Use this list as a good starting place with natural ingredients that are proven to get the job done.
- Moisturizing/ water-binding: Aloe vera, hyaluronic acid, vegetable glycerin, allantoin (Baran) and lecithin.
- Anti-bacterial: Tea tree, witch hazel (Baran), aloe vera, grapefruit and lavender (Cates).
- Astringent: Witch hazel (often times “pure” witch hazel has alcohol, so use caution with DIY toners)
- Calming/ soothing: chamomile, lavender, tea tree, calendula and cucumber.
Use these simple plant-based ingredients to get shopping for your new favorite skin care product. One last tip about toners before I sign off. I know that many of you are busy and hesitant about adding another skin care product to your routine. However, if one of these benefits struck you as essential to your skin then aim for a toning MIST. If you have to pull out a cotton pad every time you want to tone, you may never find the time to use your toner. A few sprays will only add seconds to your routine, but can give your skin the support it needs!
Do you already use a toner?
Why do you use a toner?
What is your favorite skin care product?
Baran, R., & Maibach, H. I. (1998). Textbook of Cosmetic Dermatology. Boca Raton, Florida: CRC Press.
Barel, A. O. (Ed.). (2014). Handbook of Cosmetic Science and Technology (4th ed.). Boca Raton, Florida: CRC Press.
Cates, T. (2017). Clean Skin from Within. Beverly, Massachusets: Fair Winds Press.
Lambers, H., Piessens, S., Bloem, A., Pronk, H., & Finkel , P. (2006, October). Natural skin surface pH is on average below 5, which is beneficial for its resident flora. International Journal of Cosmetic Science, 359-370.