Are Toners Really Necessary? Estheticians Weigh In
The good, the bad, and the why.
The $600 billion beauty industry is forever pressuring us to fit new products, techniques, and styles into our already crammed routines. While many make-up enthusiasts and skincare practitioners know what works for them, most have no idea where to begin. Everyone's skin is different. Who really knows what works for the general population? Even professionals, dermatologists, and estheticians have their own dos and don'ts when it comes to what's best for their skin.
One of the many products that have make-up enthusiasts, derms, and estheticians not quite in alignment is toner. While it's praised for its ability to prep the skin for moisturizers, many argue that it will do absolutely nothing (or worse, damage your skin).
Allure defines toner as a product that simply "looks like water and acts like water"—but most agree that it's much more than just water. It's actually a quick-performing hydrator that can prepare the skin for moisturizers and serums after it's been cleansed and dried. Toner is also used to clear the pores of dirt and debris. For make-up lovers, it's great to use as a primer before you add on foundation, and it will leave the skin looking plump and glowy.
While toner has its benefits, there are still plenty of companies cutting corners and creating toners that work as astringents that can dry out the skin unnecessarily.
We asked licensed estheticians and skincare professionals from across the country (Vanessa Garske, April Blackburn, Kirsten Goetzelman, Kayleigh Johnson-Douglas, and Sandra Downie) to share their thoughts about the mysteries of toners in order to understand the full spectrum of dos, don'ts, must-trys and stay-away-froms.
Just like other products made for our skin, the best toners are made with natural ingredients (the kind we can actually pronounce). Vanessa Garske suggests using fruit acids and hydroxy acids (which brighten skin and promote cellular turnover), colubrine extract (which distribute and maintain water retention and keeps skin nourished), green tea (an antimicrobial solution that also works as an emollient-providing damage protection), and rose extracts (which can help reduce redness and smooth out uneven skin tone).
Sandra Downie suggested "glycerin, chamomile and aloe leaf juice" as great toner ingredients that can help keep the skin barrier healthy and protected.
While the negative aspects of products are easy to point out in theory, beauty companies do a great job at disguising dangerous ingredients under new names and synonyms.
All of our trusty beauty girls were in agreement that alcohol-based toners should be avoided at all costs. Alcohol-based toners not only lead to drying and irritation; they can also worsen skin conditions like redness and acne or can throw off your natural pH balance. For this latter reason, April Blackburn confirms that since most cleansers are already pH balanced, toners are not always needed and can even be entirely skipped.
Vanessa points out if you notice ethanol, denatured alcohol, ethyl alcohol, benzyl alcohol and methanol on your toner, you should definitely "leave it right on the shelf:"
Everyone likes a starting point, so here are a few products that are skin care guru-approved:
- Monat's Skin Revitalizing Essence
- Herbivore Botanical's Jasmine Green Tea Balancing Toner
- Pai's Lotus & Orange Blossom BioAffinity Tonic
- Pixi's The Pixi Glow Tonic
- The Oridinary's Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution
Stay Away From...
Some companies like to add "cheap filler" into the toners, as Sandra points out, instead of letting Mother Nature do her work. Here's a few of those companies:
- Mario Badescu's Facial Spray With Aloe, Herbs and Rosewater
- Proactiv's Revitalizing Toner
- Murad's Clarifying Toner
- Garnier's Micellar Cleansing Water
While toners are not always necessary, they do have a few benefits for everyone, and they may work better for some skin types. Above all, our gurus (and beauty influencer Snitchery) swear that the most important skin care protection and product that everyone should be using is SPF. Protecting your skin from the sun is the best thing we can do for it, but this step tends to get overlooked in beauty routines. So as you're picking up a few (well-researched) new toners, grab a bit of SPF while you're at it.
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