Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’ve heard the mantra: cleanse, tone, moisturise.
For years, I followed it. Every day after cleansing, I’d pour some toner on a cotton pad and swipe it on my face.
Until, one day, I ran out. I was too lazy to go all the way to shop and buy a new one pronto, so I skipped for a day… or two… or ten…
Guess what happened? Nothing. My skin wasn’t any worse for lack of toner.
That’s when I realised something. A toner didn’t make it look better. A lack of toner didn’t make it look worse. Toner didn’t affect my skin at all.
All those years, I may as well just have splashed water on my face. I would have gotten the same result (and saved a lot of money, too).
So, I started wondering: is toner necessary for everyone? Is it one of those products that work for some skin types but not others or just an useless gimmicky brands sell us to make an extra buck? Let’s find out:
What Is A Toner?
A toners is a lightweight, liquidy lotion usually applied with a cotton pad.
Formulas vary widely, but the most common types are hydrating toner or astringent toners.
It all depends on how much alcohol they contain:
- Freshners: the mildest form of toners, they’re alcohol-free and suitable for all skin types, including dry and sensitive.
- Tonics: they contain a small amount of alcohol, and are mostly suitable for normal, combination, and oily skin.
- Astringents: the harshest form of toners, they contain antiseptic ingredients and a high amount of alcohol, and aren’t suitable for anyone. Avoid!
Related: What Alcohol-Free Really Means
What Does A Toner Do?
Toners fans will tell you they’re multitaskers:
- Cleansing: Remove the impurities still left on the skin after cleansing.
- pH Balancing: Restore the ph balance of the skin after cleansing.
- Astringent: Shrink the pores and prevent them from getting clogged.
- Oil-absorber: Keep oil production under control and reduce shine.
So useful, right? But, wait. Some of those jobs aren’t as important as they seem. Let’s investigate each one of them, shall we?
Related: Why You Need A Low pH Cleanser
1. Is Toner Necessary To Cleanse Skin?
Short version: if your cleanser leave any residue or impurity behind, it’s not a good cleanser. Toss it and replace it with something that CAN do the job.
I get so annoyed whenever someone says toner is necessary to get rid of the impurities your cleanser leaves behind. If your cleanser leaves anything behind, that’s a sign it’s not doing its job as it should.
If you need to remove heavy makeup, use the oil-cleansing method. Oil-based cleansers melt away all traces of makeup and dirt quickly and leave skin moisturised to boot.
If oil-cleansing, leaves a greasy residue, use a low pH foaming cleanser to remove it. Or just try another oil-based cleanser instead. 🙂
Cleansing skin is a job for your cleanser, not your toner.
- Banila Co Cleanse It Zero ($19.00): available at Soko Glam, Walmart and Yes Style
- Clinique Take The Day Off Cleansing Balm ($29.50): available at Feel Unique, Nordstrom, Sephora and Ulta
- Liz Earle Cleanse & Polish Hot Cloth Cleanser (£15.00): available at Boots and Feel Unique
Shop Oil-Based Cleansers That Work
2. Is Toner Necessary To Restore The Ph Balance Of The Skin?
Cleansing doesn’t just take off dirt and makeup. It alters the pH of your skin, too. That’s why your skin feels so tight afterwards.
So, using a toner to restore the original ph balance should be a good idea, right?
Don’t underestimate your skin. Did you know your skin can replenish its natural ph balance on its own, and within only 15 to 30 minutes after washing, too? Do you really want to spend money on a toner that does what your skin naturally does for free?
P.S. A gentle, ph-balanced cleanser won’t alter your skin’s pH in the first place. You can find my fave makeup removers above but if you need a morning cleanser, check my recommendations below.
Skin can restore its ph balance on its own – no toner needed!
- Corsx low PH Good Morning Gel Cleanser ($11.00): pH 5.5. Available at Sokoglam and YesStyle.
- Paula’s Choice Moisture Boost Cleanser One Step Face Cleanser ($18.00): pH 5.5. Available at Paula’s Choice.
- Paula’s Choice Skin Balancing Oil-Reducing Cleanser ($18.00): pH 5.5. Available at Nordstrom and Paula’s Choice.
SHOP Low pH Cleansers
Related: Why You Need A Low pH Cleanser
3. Is Toner Necessary To Shrink Pores?
Sorry to burst your bubble, but, your pores size is genetically determined, so you can’t change it.
But then… why do pores look smaller after you use a toner (or better, an astringent)?
Alcohol. It irritates your skin, making your pores swell. That makes them look smaller for a bit, and damages them bad time in the long term. Irritation is NEVER good for you.
While we’re on the subject, toners can’t close pores. Nothing can. Pores aren’t doors. They can’t open and close.
And why would you want to do that, anyway? If you close your pores, you trap sebum in and get breakouts.
Toners can make your pores look smaller… by irritating your skin.! Why would you hurt your skin like that?!
4. Is Toner Necessary To Keep Oil Production Under Control?
Some toners CAN control oil production. But, is that a good thing?
If it contains salicylic acid, yes. Salicylic acid is an exfoliant that can get inside the pores, removing all the crap that’s clogging them up. Plus, it helps keep oil production under control.
Unfortunately, most toners take a different approach. They use something nastier to reduce oil and shine: alcohol.
Here’s how it works. Alcohol dries out skin, getting rid of all the extra oil and that shine that goes with it. Your skin produces more oil to compensate what it’s lost, starting a vicious circle that never ends.
P.S. Salicylic acid is sometimes called BHA.
Toners with salicylic acid can really help keep oil production under control. Those with alcohol, on the other hand, do more harm than good.
If you’re already using a salicylic acid exfoliant, serum or moisturiser, you don’t need it in a toner, too. Always use only ONE salicylic acid product in your skincare routine.
- Benton Aloe BHA Skin Toner ($19.00): available at Soko Glam, Yes Style and Walmart
- Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid ($29.00): available at Dermstore, Feel Unique, Paula’s Choice and Selfridges
Shop Exfoliants With Salicylic Acid
What About Hydrating And Anti-Aging Toners?
If you’ve read this far, you probably think that all toners, bar those with salicylic acid, are useless. But, there’s another type of toner I haven’t mentioned, yet.
I’m talking about toners rich in antioxidants and moisturizing ingredients. They’re more common in Asia, but they’re finally finding their way on our shores, too.
Toners with hyaluronic acid give skin that extra boost of moisture while those with antoxidants prevent the appearance of premature wrinkles.
- Cosrx Galactomyces Alcohol-Free Toner ($16.00): available at iHerb, Look Fantastic, Sokoglam and Yes Style
- Paula’s Choice Calm Redness Relief Toner Normal To Dry ($21.00): available at Feel Uniqueand Paula’s Choice
- Paula’s Choice Weightless Advanced Repairing Toner ($24.00): available at Dermstore, Look Fantastic and Paula’s Choice
Shop Hydrating And Anti-Aging Toners
So, Should You Use The Good Kind Of Toner?
That depends. I’m a big believer in using only what your skin needs. Here’s what I mean:
- Antiaging: if your skincare routine doesn’t have as many antioxidants as you’d like, supplement with an antioxidants-rich toner. If all your products (serum, moisturiser, sunscreen etc) already have their fair share of antioxidants, you don’t need an extra toner too.
- Dry skin: if your skin feels tight and dry during the day, you skin needs more moisture. You can either opt for a hydrating toner or a richer moisturiser. It’s up to you.
- Oily skin: You need salicylic acid. But, whether you get it in a toner, exfoliant, serum, or moisturizer, it doesn’t matter. Just find a product you like and that works for you. If it’s a toner, use a toner. If it’s a serum, use a serum and skip the toner.
The Bottom Line
Is toner necessary? I don’t think so. If you’ve already got a good skincare routine in place, a toner is just an extra. It’s only when your skin lacks that extra something that a toner is worth considering.
Do you think a toner is necessary? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Take The Guesswork Out Of Skincare Shopping
Get access to the “Pro Skincare Library” for exclusive skincare routine “cheat sheets” and tricks to help you navigate the beauty aisles jungle like a pro and immediately know what to pick off the shelves to achieve the gorgeous skin of your dreams - even when you’re drowning in an endless sea of skincare products.