What Is Toner & Do You Really Need to Use It?
What Is Toner & Do You Really Need to Use It?

What Is Toner & Do You Really Need to Use It?

5 minutes read

Ah, cleanse, tone, moisturise, the often-recited skincare mantra, but you’re not alone if you’re wondering exactly what does toner do? In recent years the influx of innovative products like serums, essences and supplements means a 3-step routine often won’t cut it. But while we can’t imagine a morning or night without cleansing or moisturising, toner has become an optional step for many. But are we missing out?

What Does Toner Do?

You’re not the only one if you think of toner in a somewhat negative light, but where does this bad reputation come from? Well, they would ensure skin was scrupulously, ‘squeaky’ clean. Unfortunately, to do this, they often had a high alcohol level which meant that they harshly stripped the skin of its natural oil and moisture, which may explain why many people banished them to the back of their bathroom cabinets.

More recently, they have been relied upon to balance your pH level, an essential part of keeping skin in tip-top condition and improving the efficacy of the following skincare products. Skin is naturally acidic, and many cleansers are alkaline, meaning the pH level in your skin is disrupted after use. So while your skin can often rebalance itself, a toner can do so much quicker.

Thankfully, toner has matured, and modern formulations are much more sophisticated than their predecessors. They are much gentler but can still help shift any makeup, dirt or residue left after cleansing, as their light formulations mean they can penetrate the skin very quickly. But they can also now target a vast range of more specific issues, from delivering an extra burst of moisture or radiance to helping deal with sun damage or acne.

“Toners are not necessarily for everyone, but they can offer additional benefits if you have a specific skin concern to target,” says dermatologist Dr. Nikoleta Brankov.“The key here is to know which ingredients to look out for and which ingredients to avoid.”

Do I Need a Toner?

So, what can toner do for your face? First, ensure skin is thoroughly clean and balanced, and your skin is perfectly prepped for the following products. In adding a dollop of hydration, any creams, serums, or treatments then applied won’t sit atop your skin but can properly penetrate, meaning you get more bang for your buck. They can even restore some of the nutrients your skin can lose during cleansing. Some fans of the double-cleanse method eschew a second cleanser in favour of skin toner to slot in some additional benefits while removing any last dregs of makeup and dirt.

In terms of application, most toners will have you reaching for a cotton pad. Saturate the pad with product and gently sweep across your skin post-cleanse and pre-serum. Some are available in a mist applicator, making it even easier to slip into your routine. The toner you should look out for depends on your skin type.

For dry skin

Those with dry skin are well versed in looking out for humectants in their skincare, and toner is no different. Humectants work by attracting moisture into the skin. This is then sealed in by the moisturiser that follows, so look for hyaluronic acid, vitamin E and glycerin in the ingredients lists.

Clarins hydrating toner

Try: Clarins Hydrating Toning Lotion


For oily skin

If your skin is on the other side of the spectrum, look for a toner that can help mattify, containing ingredients like meadowsweet. If reducing the appearance of your pores is a concern, Niacinamide is also a fantastic ingredient.

oily skin Toning lotion

Try: Clarins Purifying Toning Lotion


For acne-prone skin

It’s essential to plump for a product that’s non-comedogenic (meaning it won’t clog your pores.) AHA and BHA acids such as salicylic acid, lactic acid and glycolic acid will gently exfoliate, and remove dead skin cells and any excess oil, making them perfect for acne-prone complexions. Tea tree oil will also kill any bacteria and reduce pores.

Carbon Theory Acne toner


Try: Carbon Theory Tea Tree Citric Acid

For mature skin

Natural ingredients such as harungana (a retinol alternative that helps re-densify skin) and red jania extract will provide a burst of moisture and relief for drier, more mature complexions.

Treatment Essence

Try: Clarins Super Restorative Smoothing Treatment Essence


For sensitive skin

Ingredients like camomile and rosewater are friends to sensitive skin and will help preserve the delicate microbiota.

Toner for Sensitive Skin

Try: Clarins Soothing Toning Lotion

Read next: Natural Ingredients For Sensitive Skin


With glycolic acid

Glycolic acid is a wonder ingredient that will gently exfoliate and slough away dead skin cells, leaving a brighter, tighter, and more radiant complexion in its wake.

The Ordinary toner

Try: The Ordinary Glycolic Acid Toning Solution


Are There Any Downsides to Using Toner?

As with any new skincare product, it’s important to tread lightly at first. Introducing a toner slowly so you can properly gauge your skin’s reaction. Make sure you’ve purchased a toner that is appropriate for your skin type, and as discussed, remember that some alcohol types can irritate skin. As always, if skin feels unhappy or you have a skin condition like rosacea that can easily be irritated, be sure to consult your doctor.



Is toner really needed?

Toner is not an essential part of your skincare regime but something of an extra boost that can enhance and enrich your routine. For many skincare enthusiasts, it’s a must!


Should you use toner every day?

How often you reach for toner depends entirely on your skin type and concerns. When introducing a toner into your routine, start using it once a day and see how your skin reacts, then increase or decrease as necessary. There’s no reason you can’t use a toner in both the morning (to remove any sweat or dirt that has accumulated overnight) and in the evening (to assist with your evening cleanse and accompanying routine), as long as your skin tolerates it well.


Does toner actually do anything?

In a word, yes! It ensures your skin is appropriately clean post-cleanse, rebalances your skin’s pH levels and can boost the efficacy of the skincare products you use next.


Do you need a toner after cleansing?

In reaching for the toner after cleansing, you can ensure your face is adequately clean of any oil, dirt, makeup or sweat that may be lingering in those pores and restore pH balance so skin doesn’t feel as tight.

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