What Does Face Toner Even Do for Your Skin?
You know the seriousness behind applying SPF every day, and you know that if you don’t want to deal with breakouts, you’ll take off that foundation before you go to sleep. But has anyone ever sat you down and talked about how to use toner, or more importantly, why you’d even use a bottle of it in the first place?
If that’s a no, you’re not alone. It’s one of the least discussed skincare steps, but it shows up in nearly ever cohesive roundup of what constitutes a proper skincare routine. Toner isn't just listed to take up space in those listicles, though. Depending on your skin's behavior and the type of toner you use, it can yield some game-changing results, like less frequent breakouts and improved moisture levels.
First, you should probably get a handle on what it is. "Traditionally a toner is used as the final step in cleansing, designed to remove residue from the cleanser and the last traces of dirt and any pollutants from the day that the cleanser may have missed," explains board-certified dermatologist Dr. Hadley C. King.
The toners you're probably most familiar with are likely alcohol-based and combined with breakout-fighting, pore-clearing ingredients like salicylic acid, exfoliating ingredients like glycolic acid, and witch hazel, which acts as an astringent. While not as popular as the toners used in acne regimens, there are also toners that provide more hydrating, soothing properties.
In Korea, however, Dr. Hadley King says that toners have a slightly different reputation. They tend to be less harsh, and they're designed to prep the skin for the next step in a K-Beauty routine, which is essence, and also always contribute to the moisture levels of the skin, not detract from it.
When it comes to figuring out the best toner for you, it needs to cater directly to your skin type. "If you have oily or acne-prone skin look for a toner with salicylic acid," says Dr. King. "Salicylic acid can penetrate into pores to remove oil."
If you have dull skin, Dr. King says to turn to AHAs like glycolic acid, which will help remove dead skin cells. "Lactic acid and papaya extracts are also good choices. The exfoliation offered by these toners can also have anti-aging benefits and help to minimize the appearance of pores."
And if you have dry skin, your best bet is looking for an alcohol-free toner that amps up the hydration with ingredients like glycerin, hyaluronic acid, lecithin, aloe vera, or rose water. Dr. King's suggestion is Fresh Rose Deep Hydration Facial Toner.
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Like Dr. King mentioned, toning should follow after cleansing and before either applying an essence, serum, or moisturizer. If you have a gentle toner, you could use it twice daily. If your toner has an active exfoliating ingredient, you might want to stick to once a day to eliminate irritation, or ask for advice from your dermatologist.
You also want to be sure your toner isn't canceling out the actives in your other skincare products.
"Alpha and beta hydroxy acids can deactivate retinoids, so if you use a retinoid at night, you should forgo a toner with these ingredients before applying the retinoid," Dr. King also adds.