routine,  tone

Toners Explained

the toner types

In our teens we started to experiment with skincare. We were advised that toning was the necessary step between cleansing and moisturising. We didn’t quite understand why but it seemed essential, particularly since the routine only included three steps.
Different Types of Toners
Nowadays, there are a lot more toners on the market that are designed to achieve different outcomes. We are more educated about their importance and have a greater choice from which to select. But, given this, it can also be confusing. This article explores the differences between traditional western toners, hydrating toners as commonly used in Asia and acid toners. I explain when and how to use them and why they are important.

the traditional toner

In the past, the expectations we had of a good toner were that it remove cleanser residue, balance skin pH and reduce the appearance of large pores. Although that in itself is a great list of accomplishments for one product, today, it is not uncommon for toners to also provide moisturising, exfoliating and soothing effects. There are however, still a good number of old-school products out there that should be generally avoided. These use astringents such as alcohol in an attempt to control excess oil and pore appearance which can be very damaging, particularly for dry and sensitive skin. Furthermore, oilier skin types may compensate by overproducing oil which leaves you in a worse position than before you started.

It’s worth noting that alcohol is added during the distillation of witch hazel and some unknown percentage always remains. Additionally, witch hazel contains eugenol, a natural chemical fragrance and another source of sensitivity. For these reasons, some witch hazel based toners can be stripping and drying. However, witch hazel itself has many positive attributes and when distilled properly is a valuable toner ingredient.

the hydrating toner

One thing you notice about skincare these days is the enormous range of products. It can be confusing trying to understand the benefits of each, the sequence of application, the layering required to achieve optimum results and identifying the products you actually need.
Hydrating Toners
As if that wasn’t perplexing enough, introduce Asian skincare and the complexity increases even further. A simple generalisation regarding Asian toners is that first treatments essences, skin softeners, first care serums, Korean skins, face mists and toners essentially do the same thing. They are humectants that are designed to be used straight after cleansing. Unlike traditional toners, their primary purpose is to replenish the moisture lost from cleansing and better prepare the skin to receive the nourishment to come. Serums and moisturisers will permeate the skin more effectively if it’s hydrated.
Asian Toners
Good Eastern toners are usually alcohol free with few or no fillers and comprise gentle, mainly natural ingredients such as plant extracts, plant oils, fermented yeasts and hydrating agents such as hyaluronic acid and beta-glucan. The Korean 7 step method is the process of applying toner in seven layers for deep hydration. You should never do this with acidic or alcohol based toners, only gentle hydrators with fewer actives and light consistency. It is recommended you gently pat the toner into the skin, start with three layers and work your way up so you can gauge your skin’s response.

the acid toner

As well as delivering the benefits provided by hydrating toners, acid toners additionally perform gentle exfoliation. Acids that are used for skincare are normally Alpha Hydroxy (AHA) such as glycolic, mandelic and lactic, ideal for all skin types or Beta Hydroxy (BHA), perfect for oily and sensitive skin, the most popular being salicylic acid.
Acid Toners
Most are sufficiently gentle to be used day or night, but should always be followed up with an effective sunscreen during daylight hours since acids can make skin more sun sensitive. Furthermore, they usually come in one of two forms: pre-soaked pads or liquid for cotton pad application. When first introducing acids to your skincare routine, it is wise to keep their concentration low and apply no more than two-three times a week. Both frequency and potency can be increased over time as your skin adjusts. Remember, some people are more tolerant than others, so always listen to your skin and stop using a product if it burns or irritates. Toners should always be soothing and never painful.
Acid Toners

the application

Regardless of the type you enjoy, toners should be used straight after cleansing in both the morning and evening routines. As hydrating toners offer so much more than traditional, I would not recommend the latter at all. Which product to use is a personal choice. My current routine involves a hydrating toner in the morning and an acid toner in the evening. I pat the hydrating toner on with my hands and swipe the acid toner with a cotton pad to leave my face feeling fresh and glowing. Acid toners can sometimes leave a tingling sensation which may or may not reduce with extended use, depending on your skin sensitivity and the product potency. Provided this is just a tingle and doesn’t burn, it is quite normal and a good indicator that the toner is doing what it ought.
Recommended Toners

the conclusion

With advances in skincare come higher demands of what we believe a toner should achieve. Toner application is no longer that mysterious step in the middle of a three part routine that we didn’t quite understand. It is a hydrating, soothing and preparatory necessity to ensure skin is ready for and making the most of the products that follow. Use them and your skin will thank you.

Keep in mind:

  • Toners should never be painful or burn
  • Avoid toners with astringents like alcohol as they can be overly drying
  • Avoid day time use of toners exhibiting a high concentration of citrus extracts or citrus oils as they can make you super sun sensitive
  • When introducing acid toners, start light and slowly build up potency and frequency
  • Always follow up acid toners with sunscreen regardless of whether your apply them a.m. or p.m.


the references

A Word About Toners, Western vs. Asian Skin Genie
The Bad Reputation of Toners and Why You Should Give Them Another Chance Ethereal Aura Spa
6 reasons why you should add face toner to your beauty routine Ysolt Usigan, Aly Walansky
Acid Toners: The ultimate skincare game changer Rich Girl Skin
Witch Hazel Paula’s Choice Cosmetic Ingredient Dictionary


the disclaimer

Please read in context with my disclaimer.


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