If you’re skincare-obsessed like me, you’re probably aware of/confused about the ongoing debate over whether or not toners are worthwhile. If you’re not as skincare-obsessed as I am and don’t know about it, a toner is a lightweight formula with a consistency like water, and it’s supposed to be dabbed onto skin after washing but before applying products. They claim to provide a wide amount of services from removing impurities to restoring the pH balance in skin.
Some sources will tell you they’re a waste of time and money, while others will say they’re a crucial step in achieving flawless skin. It seems like there hasn’t been this much debate over a beauty trend since butt contouring (yep… it’s a real thing). So what’s the truth!?
No matter what your thoughts about toners are, you can’t ignore the facts: putting the right ingredients on your skin can completely transform it. So maybe we shouldn’t be debating whether or not toners are worthwhile — we should gain more knowledge about what your skin needs, and then make sure to use products with these ingredients.
We found that adding a toner after face wash and before moisturizer (or whatever step comes next in your extensive beauty routine) really can be beneficial to achieving the skin of your dreams. But the truth is that many toners don’t do much to your skin. A lot of toners have useless — or worse, harmful — ingredients (like harsh alcohols), and dabbing on these toners is just wasting precious seconds you could be spending on perfecting your cat eye.
But the right ingredients can actually do wonders for your skin. What matters is not that you use (any) toner, but what’s in the toner you’re using. In general, steer clear of alcohol, fragrance, sulfates, and harsh chemicals. And look for the ingredients that are right for you. Below you’ll find what to look for in your toner, based on your skin goals, to ensure the toner is actually beneficial.
- Toners that contain acids meant to remove excess oil from the skin are great for preventing breakouts. Dabbing on a cleansing toner after you wash your face will sop up all the pore-clogging dirt and makeup that the face wash did not get out. It also works as a mattifying agent under your makeup.
- Witch Hazel is a natural astringent, which will help to exfoliate and suck out dirt in pores.
- We know salicylic and lactic acid are important ingredients in your spot treatments and face washes, but toners with the skin-clearing ingredient can work to treat current breakouts without drying out your skin (like a spot treatment would) and can be used during daytime (like a spot treatment certainly can’t).
- Astringents contain a high alcohol content and therefore are drying, so opt for a hydrating toner and stay away from astringents. Always check the label to make sure it’s alcohol-free.
- To prevent and treat dryness, look for toners containing glycerin and hyaluronic acid. Toners with these ingredients are considered to be humectants, which means they bind moisture to the skin. So not only do they hydrate, but they also help the ingredients in your moisturizers and serums that you apply afterwards to penetrate skin even better.
- Toning while traveling is especially important — long flights leave skin completely dried out. A TSA-approved toner mist is ideal for a no-mess way to rehydrate your skin during and/or after a flight.
- Ingredients that brighten your skin, like Vitamin C or A, deliver important nutrients to your skin to make it glow.
- Antioxidants like tomato extract and bergamot get rid of the dead skin cells that can make skin dull. Antioxidants are always a must for your skin, whether your concern is dullness or aging. When it comes to the super ingredient, the more the merrier, so even if you already have an antioxidant in your serum, opt for a different one in your toner.
- Rosemary has been proven to brighten the skin and have a firming effect.
- Toners that are pH balancing help to reduce irritation or uneven skin tone. Our skin is naturally acidic (typically with a balance of five or six), but that balance can get thrown off just with our normal routine of face wash, makeup, or city smog. Returning the skin’s pH balance can reduce any irritation and give the skin an even tone (some experts even recommend using diluted raw apple cider vinegar as a DIY toner as the best way get these benefits).
- Plant-based extracts like Chamomile or Cucumber can calm any redness or irritation, including rosacea.
- Neroli is a soothing ingredient that can also cleanse the skin without irritating it.