Toners: Why You Should Rethink Abandoning Your Toner?
To tone or not to tone, that is the question. Many people have been preached to that they need a toner. Others often avoid them because toners can be astringent and dry skin out. Fortunately, not every toner is made equal, and there is not a one-toner-fits-all product out there.
Many people want a straight forward answer to the question “should I use a toner?” The answer, just depends. It depends on what type of ingredients the toner contains, the type of skin you have, and what other products you are using in your daily skin care routine.
What is a toner?
A toner is something that you apply to the face with a cotton ball or pad, or it is spritzed on your face after cleansing. This is done before any moisturizers or corrective serums are applied. You can consider this a second step in the cleansing process. The toner is designed to help remove any excess oils, makeup, or dead skin cells that are still left over on the face after cleansing. Toners can also help to balance out the pH of your skin, especially if you are using harsh soaps.
Now…let’s talk some chemistry here for a minute. The pH of your skin is typically around 5.5, slightly acidic, which helps to protect your skin from pathogens. This is referred to as the acid mantel, and can be thought of as a slightly oily film on the skin. Many facial cleansers are not balanced for the pH of your skin. Some of those that are marketed for acne-prone and oily skin are even more acidic than your skin, with a pH of less than 5. Many soaps, especially bar soaps, actually have an alkaline pH, meaning they are greater than 7 (7 being a neutral pH). When you wash your face (or any part of your skin for that matter) with something that’s alkaline, it strips the natural and beneficial oils from your skin, disrupting the acid mantel. It strips those essential oils, leaving your skin exposed and more prone to dryness, thereby making fine line and wrinkles ever the more visible. No one wants that, right?
So, back to toners. Toners, when they were originally pushed as a critical step in the cleansing process, it was because all these soaps were alkaline. We needed something to help put our skin’s pH back to a normal level. Now, we know so much more about skin health than we did decades ago. Many facial cleansers are now formulated to be pH “balanced,” meaning they are similar (or closer than they were) to the pH of our own skin. Which means that we may not necessarily need a toner to help balance out the pH of our skin after cleansing.
But wait! Before you ditch your toner forever let me tell you about what some toners can do for your skin, and why you may want to consider adding one to your daily skin care routine:
- They help cleanse the skin. This means they remove excess oils, make up, dead skin cells, and even left over cleanser residue on your skin. It can be a great second-step in your cleansing process.
- Allows for better product penetration. We don’t want those serums that contain peptides and growth factors to just sit on the surface, right? We want maximum penetration for these powerhouse collagen stimulators. Toners help this process in two ways. First, they help provide a clean surface by removing any leftover cleanser, oils, or makeup. Secondly, when your skin is moist products actually can penetrate deeper, and in some cases are even more potent.
- Minimize your pores. By removing that excess oils and dead skin cells toners often make your pores appear smaller. While they won’t truly shrink your pores, they will help to reduce their appearance size.
- Nourishes your skin. A properly formulated toner will actually put nutrients and hydration back into your skin, instead of stripping your skin bare.
Now, how to you choose the right toner? Always read the label and ingredient list. In general, there are certain ingredients that you should avoid in all of your skin care products. Some of these ingredients below are ok in small amounts, but if they are listed as the first ingredient beware.
- Acetone. This is basically paint stripper. Yes, it has a neutral pH at 7, but chemically it is a solvent meaning it strips all the oils from your skin. It also tends to be irritating to the skin, and is another reason to avoid using it.
- Alcohol. Alcohol can be very drying, which is why many people avoid toners in the first place. The statement “toners dry me out” is frequently made because toners essentially were just fragranced alcohol. Many toners now contain alcohols that are denatured or are fatty alcohols. These are not considered drying or irritating to the skin. These toners may be labeled “Alcohol Free” but are still allowed to contain the fatty or denatured alcohols.
- Fragrance. This term can literally mean anything. It simply refers to a combination of natural and/or synthetic ingredients that are mixed together to form a fragrance. The actual ingredients that are used are not required to be listed. This makes it extremely difficult for those individuals who experience reactions from products that contain “fragrance” to weed out products that irritate their skin. If you have sensitive skin the best thing is to avoid fragrances all together. You can check out the FDA’s statement on fragrances here: http://www.fda.gov/Cosmetics/ProductsIngredients/Ingredients/ucm388821.htm
- Dyes and colors. Call me a hippie, but there is no medical reason that cosmetics should contain dyes. They do absolutely nothing to help the health of your skin, or enhance the products longevity or effectiveness. They are a common cause of skin irritation though. They may make the products more visually appealing, but it should not come at the cost of our skin, thank you very much.
So, who needs a toner? Well, honestly anyone could use a toner and experience the benefits. But those who have oily skin, are breakout prone, or those who wear makeup can definitely benefit from that extra cleansing a toner provides. Toners are also great to use post-workouts when your skin needs that little bit of cleaning, but you don’t want to break out your cleanser. Just make sure you know exactly what’s in your toner, avoiding those ingredients listed above.