Beauty Toner: What, How And Why

To tone, or not to tone? In a world where everyone is obsessed with the Korean beauty regimen, the former is a requirement.

What's standing between you and clear skin?

It could be the absence of just one product in your beauty routine. 

For Dr. Hadley King, a New York City-based, board-certified dermatologist, the secret weapon to healthy skin is a face toner.

For years, dermatologists and estheticians have gone back and forth on whether swabbing our face with a toner-soaked cotton ball is helpful or harmful to skin health. But this argument isn’t about toners — it’s about alcohol in the toners.

It’s a common belief that toners with alcohol are an essential step to killing acne-causing bacteria, but it’s also a double-edged sword. Though alcohol does fight bacteria, it also strips the skin of moisture. “Alcohol actually dries your skin out, which makes issues like acne even worse,” says Coco Pai, a licensed esthetician with over 25 years of experience and the owner of CoCo Spa in San Francisco, CA.                                                                                              This may be why some dermatologists say toners aren’t necessary, but there’s one important distinction to make: Not all toners have their roots in alcohol. 

What Is A Skin Toner?                                                           

Toners are often misunderstood and most people don't know if they should use it or how to use it. Before moisturizing and following your facial cleanser, a face toner is a quick, absorbing liquid that helps to remove excess dirt, traces of oil and makeup, correct and balance the pH of your skin, and helps control acne. In other words, a facial toner thoroughly cleans the skin and helps remove built-up surface dead skin cells. By helping to clean and close pores, it's especially beneficial for acne-prone skin.

What Does Toner Do?                                                              

Toners are most helpful and necessary for people with oily or acne-prone skin, or for people who want extra cleansing after wearing makeup or any other heavy skincare products such as sunscreen. But that is not all that toner can do.

The following are some of the additional benefits:                     

  1. It shrinks pores: Applying a small amount of toner to a soft cotton ball or pad and gently blotting and wiping your face with it will remove oil and give the appearance of smaller pores.                                                       

2. It restores your skin's pH balance: Our skin is naturally acidic, typically with a pH balance of between five and six (on a scale from 0 to 14). But that balance can get out of whack after cleansing due to the alkaline nature of soap. When this happens, your skin needs to work overtime to return to its normal levels (and that may result in oil), but using a toner can help restore this balance quickly.                                          

3. It adds a layer of protection: Toners can help close pores and tighten cell gaps after cleansing, reducing the penetration of impurities and environmental contaminants into the skin. It can even protect and remove chlorine and minerals present in tap water.

4. It acts as a moisturizer: Some toners are humectants, which means they help to bind moisture to the skin.                                                       

5. It refreshes skin: Toner can also be used in lieu of washing your skin when it's oily or dirty. It will leave your skin revitalized even when you're on the go.

6. It can prevent ingrown hairs: Toners containing glycolic acid or other alpha hydroxy acids can help to prevent ingrown hairs, so it also aids in grooming.                           

Why Do We Need It?

Toners can help to close the pores and tighten cell gas after cleansing, reducing the penetration of impurities and dust particles into the skin.  It helps in binding moisture to the skin. Adding a toner is a great way to take your skincare routine to the next level. While in the past they've been known for sucking moisture out of the skin with alcohol or witch hazel, the truth is a good toner is loaded with antioxidants and skin-restoring and skin-replenishing ingredients that nourish the skin.

What is the Purpose of a Toner?

The following are the purposes of a facial toner:

What Can Toner Do For Your Skin?

Face toners prep the skin for moisturizers and serum while getting rid of excess oil and stubborn dirt or makeup leftover on your face after you wash it, says the world-famous dermatologist Dr. Kim. But they're not a replacement for washing your face. Just think of facial toners as the extra credit rather than the shortcut of your skin-care routine.

But the reformulated toners of today go beyond that basic role. “They are used to target a varying array of skin concerns—from acne to dryness to aging".

Like their predecessors, some toners are formulated for oily skin. "A toner with a combination of glycolic and salicylic acids can keep oily skin matte throughout the day," says Estee Williams, MD, a dermatologist in NYC.

But now there are toners for drier skin types that contain hydrating ingredients. "Some newer formulations are even toner-serum hybrids with more substantial gel or lotion textures.”

The three keys to protection by toner: 

Do you skip the toner step in your daily skincare routine? Next time, consider the benefits that facial toner offers, not only does it shrink your pores but it refreshes your skin and cleans up what your soap left behind.

Here are three reasons why you shouldn’t ditch toner:

Say goodbye to oily skin: After months of moisturizing to fend off the dry skin of winter, it is time to brace yourself for the oily summer months. If your skin glistens in the sun, it is time you thought of using toner. Opt for an alcohol-free toner so that it doesn’t remove your skins necessary oils.

Clear complexion: Toner can help you achieve that perfectly poreless look. One of the benefits of using a toner is, it removes whatever your facial cleanser left behind. It gets rid of any remaining makeup residue or oils that sit in your pores, giving you a clean complexion.

Refresh: Toner is your skin’s wake up call. It instantly refreshes and also works as an anti-inflammatory, waking up your skin's senses and leaving behind that puffy and tired I was up all night look. Jot this down as a go-to skin hangover cure!

Choosing A Toner For Your Skin Type:

First of all, it's important to always use an alcohol-free face toner. The other ingredients should be picked based on your skin type.

  • For acne-prone skin, choose an alcohol-free toner with alpha hydroxy acid (AHA). This will leave your skin clean and glowing without flaking. A gentle tingle for a few seconds will let you know it has just the right amount of pH of acid solution. This form of acid is gentle even for sensitive skin, unlike irritating ingredients like retinoids.
  • Salicylic acid is often recommended in a facial toner for acne-prone skin. However, this ingredient can be harsh, specially for sensitive skin.
  • Other ingredients for normal to combination skin may include coenzyme Q10, hyaluronic acid, glycerin, and vitamin C.
  • Although essential oils and plant extracts have had marketing to help give them a 'natural' and 'good for you' feel, these ingredients may result in skin irritations.

How to apply it?

If you are also thinking about the right way to apply toner, but not sure at which process you should use it, here are the steps to help you out :

  • Start by cleaning your face with a gentle cleanser suited for your skin type. Choose one free of harsh detergents, such as sodium lauryl sulfate and fragrance.
  • After cleansing and rinsing pat your face dry with a clean towel.
  • Dampen a cotton ball with the toner, and apply it on your face.
  • Allow it to dry.
  • If you have combination or oily skin, you can use alcohol-free toner at day and night. For dry skin, it's best to only use it once a day at night time.
  • Always follow with a moisturizer for your skin type.

Pro Tip: Make sure to leave your skin damp with toner when you use your moisturizer, it will help to seal in the hydrating properties.

Toner helps in cleansing away the dirt and oil from your face, leaving it hydrated and fresh. The regular use of toner helps to clean the skin from all the pollution. 

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