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What is a Toner and Do I Need One?

What is a Toner and Do I Need One?

Toners have many different names these days, and serve many different purposes. Once synonymous with alcohol, toners offer many benefits, yet some say they are not necessary in a skin care routine. Let’s explore the debate.

Toner comes from the words ‘tonic’ and ‘water’. Making an appearance around 1900, their common ingredients were alcohol, witch hazel extract, and tincture of benzoin, all having antiseptic properties, and said to refresh the skin, improve blood circulation and provide a skin tightening effect. In the 1940s the Food and Drug Administration disapproved what skin tonics and astringents did for the skin. However, nowadays toners have many different purposes.

Toners have been designed to be applied after a cleanser, to remove any residue and return the pH level of the skin back to normal, preparing your skin for what’s next in your skin care routine, like a serum or moisturizer. Toners can include many different ingredients, like acids, glycerine, antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, and humectants to preserve moisture. There’s a few main types of toners, so let’s take a look:

Traditional toners/tonics include oils, moisturizers and any extracts that soothe your skin. They may contain a small amount of alcohol and a humectant to moisturize.
Astringents have higher levels of alcohol. These are older-type toners that work to remove oil and tighten pores and skin.
Fresheners don't have alcohol. They are mostly water and a humectant.

So what is best for different skin types? When using a toner on combination skin, look for a hydrating toner that is gentle or mild. These will contain humectants and help balance the pH. For oily skin, a toner with witch hazel, AHAs or salicylic acid, but avoid alcohol astringents. Toners for dry skin should be hydrating, including ingredients like glycerin or hyaluronic acid, and may contain antioxidants. They may be used as a pre-lotion to help absorb the next product in your routine better.

Dermatologist have mixed feelings on toners. Dr. Hadley King, a New York City board-certified dermatologist says, "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 other heavy skin products such as sunscreen.” Dr. Sandra Marchese Johnson, board-certified dermatologist based in Fort Smith, Arkansas, advises using a gentle cleanser (like Cetaphil, Cerave, Aveeno or Neutrogena) followed by a treatment product, if needed, and a moisturizer, if needed, topped off by sun protection. For many, Boston-based board-certified dermatologist Dr. Ranella Hirsch sums it up by saying, "For the great majority of people, toner is a nice, not a must.”



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