Cleanse, tone, moisturise: 1, 2, 3. The sandwiched step of toning has changed significantly over the years, and alcohol-laden astringents are products of the past. Three modern equivalents offer new and improved benefits.
Taken literally, the term 'toner' might bring to mind a product that refines facial muscles. But you know better than this.
What exactly does a toner do?
When toners first hit beauty shelves, their formulas were completely different from their modern-day counterparts. Traditionally, a toner, or tonic, was an alcohol-based fluid containing other highly astringent ingredients in copious amounts.
Astringents were thought to:
In reality, old-school astringent toners:
- Did remove post-cleanse traces of makeup
- Did remove sebum but left the skin feeling taught, evoking the feeling of smaller pores
- Did NOT actually minimise pores
The high alcohol content actually dehydrated the skin by stripping it of natural oils, causing the tight feeling. We know now that a lot of alcohol isn't healthy for skin, which is why toners have evolved.
Today's treatment toners fit into three categories:
- Hydrating tonics and mists
- pH-balancing toners
- Exfoliating fluids
Let's take a deeper look at each and the benefits they may add to your skincare routine.
1. Hydrating Tonics and Mists
There are two types of ingredients that can increase the hydration of your skin: those that attract and hold water, such as hyaluronic acid; and those that nourish and condition skin, such as omega-based oils and emollient-rich butters. Most moisturisers contain both types of ingredients.
Sometimes, skin can be in good overall condition, with a strong, healthy barrier, whilst still being dehydrated. This is when a hydrating toner is very effective.
Hydrating toners are full of oil-free humectants, which attract water and hold it in your skin. These products are also great for use during the summer months in conjunction with a lighter moisturiser.
Some of our favourite hydrating toners include:
- Dermalogica Multi-Active Toner
- Elizabeth Arden Ceramide Purifying Toner
- NIOD Superoxide Dismutase Saccharide Mist
2. pH-Balancing Toners
You might be surprised to learn your skin is actually acidic. This is why washing with water (which is neutral) plus alkaline soap is very drying to your skin.
When you use too many products that have a pH dissimilar to your skin's, the natural acid balance of the skin is thrown off. Healthy skin can counteract pH changes within a matter of hours. However, over time, the skin may become compromised by excessive or frequent use of alkaline products.
pH-balancing toners help restore your skin's outermost layers, which are scientifically referred to as the 'acid mantle'. These products keep skin hydrated, defended, and healthy.
Some of our most popular pH-balancing toners include:
3. Exfoliating, Acid-Based Toners
The second step of your skincare routine can also double as an exfoliating treatment when you incorporate an acid-based toner. These products are multi-purpose warriors that can:
- Sweep away dead skin cells, revealing new, fresh, healthy skin
- Reduce the appearance of pores by removing of dead skin trapped within pores
- Re-acidify your skin barrier, helping to promote healthier skin
- Improve the general condition of skin
Exfoliating toners include no grainy physical exfoliants—just a gentle, skin-friendly acid that softens and sloughs dead skin cells slowly after application.
Our favourite exfoliating toners include:
The type of toner you should incorporate into your skincare routine depends on your skin type, condition, and concerns. You may need to use different toners throughout the year. Bookmark this page and refer back to our recommendations when your skin's telling you it's in need of a change.