Beauty Lessons: Toner


Of all the standard steps in skincare, toner is probably the most misunderstood product on the market. Many women use it but few know why or what it really does. To start, toner is applied in between your cleanser and your moisturizer or serum. It’s used to clean off any remaining dirt or oil left after cleansing and to refresh the skin. It can also be used to combat very oily skin. The biggest misconception with toner is that many women believe it’s a necessary step in your skincare routine. It’s not. With the exception of oily to very oily skin types, most women can achieve a regulated balance on their skin naturally with normal care.

There are three main categories of toners: fresheners, tonics, and astringents.


Fresheners are the mildest toners and they work to trap moisture in the skin and prevent it from evaporating. They are almost always completely alcohol free and often contain moisturizers and extracts to help soothe and refresh the skin. These include water sprays such as Evian Mineral Water Spray $11 and more traditional varieties such as Murad Hydrating Toner $24. 


Tonics are slightly stronger than fresheners and work to clear any excess sebum whilst still guarding the skin from dehydration. These may contain a small amount of alcohol but often rely on extracts such as caffeine, citric acid, and green tea to do the astringent work. They often work to prepare the skin for the following skincare steps and are the most common toners on the market. Look for a balancing formulation such as Boscia Balancing Facial Tonic $24 or Ole Henriksen Pick Me Up Face Tonic $21. 


Astringents are by far the harshest and potentially most damaging type of toner if used wrong. They always contain alcohol and often have added acne treatments such as Salicylic Acid. If using a strong astringent, you should only apply it to oily or acne-prone areas as it can result in dehydration of other normal or dry patches of skin. Alcohol based toners can do more harm than good because they strip the skin of its natural oils, even the harmless, healthy ones. They can result in excess oil production as the skin feels it needs to rebalance its moisture content. Look for a non-drying formulation such as Murad Clarifying Toner $22 or Clinique Acne Solutions Clarifying Lotion $14. 

If you’re using a prescription acne medication that causes dryness, toners can exacerbate that so you should definitely skip it as it can even worsen breakouts. Stick to a moisturizing freshener or water-based spray if you like the action of applying it.