Do you use a toner every day? Have you been told it's an essential step in your skincare routine? I've had a number of clients asking me this question lately, so let's cut through the hype/marketing and figure out if you really need to be using a toner.
A little history: Back in the day, when cold cream was the norm for removing makeup, toner played an important role. The cream could not be tissued off completely, and a toner (involving alcohol or witch hazel) was necessary as a second step to remove the film left by the heavy cream.
The marketing hype: Today you still hear about the absolute necessity of a toner in order to "restore the pH balance of the skin" before the application of other products. The skin's pH (potential of hydrogen) refers to the alkalinity or acidity of the skin's surface. If the skin's barrier is too alkaline, it can result in sensitivity, dryness, even a dermatitis-like reaction in some skins. Product penetration can be hampered by the film left by super-alkaline cleansers as well (think bar soap). My issue with this claim? Often this is marketing jargon used simply to sell more product - read why below.
What they're used for now: Obviously the game has changed in terms of cleansing. There are a million options from creams to mousses to foams that rinse completely and do not dramatically affect the pH of the skin. It doesn't make sense to me to use a bar soap or cleanser that's so harsh, you now have to apply the second product just to nullify the negative effects of the first. Toners play a different role now. They are used as a backup or second cleanse. (The recent micellar water trend is essentially a cleansing toner.) They also serve as a way to get performance ingredients into the skin in a liquid form. Here are some examples:
- Treatment toners for acne-prone skin can deliver a bonus hit of pore-penetrating resurfacers like salicylic acid into the skin
- Dehydrated skin can receive a liquid dose of hydration under moisturizer or sunscreen
- Antioxidants can support skin in environments with pollution or high ozone levels, like airplane cabins or urban environments
The verdict: So, do you need to use a toner? Ask yourself these questions:
- Do you have one of the conditions listed above? I personally include a face lotion/toner in my programs for acne-prone and clogged-dehydrated skin as I've found them truly beneficial. If you're not dealing with one of those conditions, there are plenty of other products that can deliver performance ingredients.
- Who's suggesting it? Is the same toner suggested to every person regardless of skin type and condition? (Red flag!) What about time and budget? I really do believe in customizing your home care routine, and a program that works is the one that you do.
- Do you like using one? Some people just love toners and face lotions, and as long as it's well-formulated for your skin type and condition, knock yourself out.