Do You Really Need a Skin Toner?

Closeup of woman applying toner to cheek
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Cleanse, tone, moisturize—these three steps have been the basics of many skincare routines for decades. While the first and last steps are definitely non-negotiable, is toning really necessary? What even is a toner? Here are the pros and cons.

What Is Toner?

A toner is a liquid that's meant to remove whatever's left of makeup, dirt, and oil after cleansing. In the past (circa '90s), they were geared toward curbing oiliness, and fighting blemishes in the process. However, they were a little too good at diminishing oil, and they gained reputations as being very astringent and drying.

Nowadays, toners are more sophisticated. Many are alcohol-free, so not as drying. Every formula is different and may contain moisturizing, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, or exfoliating ingredients.

Benefits of Toner

One of the virtues of toner is that it can minimize the appearance of pores. It also balances the skin's pH levels, restoring an acidic state so that skin is purified and better able to absorb moisture and other beneficial ingredients from serums and creams applied after.

So, is toner necessary? Technically, no. But the right one, when used correctly, can definitely help improve your skin.

The Best Toners for Every Skin Type

There are so many options for toners on the market. Here are some excellent picks for every skin type.

Key Ingredients

Hyaluronic acid is a naturally occurring polysaccharide found in the human body. It acts as a cushioning and lubrication agent for our joints, nerves, hair, skin, and eyes. When used in skincare, it acts as a moisture binder, which means that it will attach itself to the water in the cells (while also attracting and holding water from the air) making them plump.

Key Ingredients

Alpha-hydroxy acids are a group of acid compounds, most often derived from plant-based sources, which work to exfoliate the skin. They come in a variety of types (like glycolic and lactic acid) and differ in size, and subsequently, penetration and potency.

When and How to Use Toner

Toner goes on after cleansing and exfoliating—day or night, or both. It's best to use it when skin is still a little damp so it absorbs better. Traditionally, toner is applied by sweeping it on with a cotton pad. But some people like to pat it on like a serum, which works, too.

The Alternatives

There are other products that do similar jobs as toners. Micellar water is formulated specifically as a second cleansing step to remove any residual makeup, dirt, or grime. Facial mists are a simple way to refresh skin by hydrating and shrinking the look of pores in an instant. Often, both of these types of products are infused with moisturizing, nourishing ingredients just like toners.

If you already use one or both of these, you can probably skip toner—that is, unless you love a routine with all the steps, because skin care is actually so indulgent. In that case, carry on.

Article Sources
Byrdie takes every opportunity to use high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
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  2. Bylka W, Znajdek-Awiżeń P, Studzińska-Sroka E, Brzezińska M. Centella asiatica in cosmetologyPostepy Dermatol Alergol. 2013;30(1):46-49. doi:10.5114/pdia.2013.33378

  3. Kornhauser A, Coelho SG, Hearing VJ. Applications of hydroxy acids: classification, mechanisms, and photoactivityClin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2010;3:135-142. doi:10.2147/CCID.S9042

  4. Walters RM, Mao G, Gunn ET, Hornby S. Cleansing formulations that respect skin barrier integrityDermatol Res Pract. 2012;2012:495917. doi:10.1155/2012/495917

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