Toners: Why you should use them, or not?

July 31, 2008 at 8:00 am 7 comments

I have discovered another skincare contradiction.

Toners. I have been using them. I generally use a toner to remove excess makeup, and to take away that “tight feeling” I sometimes get after cleansing.

And after reading several books about pH, residue, and the skin’s protective barrier, I felt it was imperative I use them. Then I got another perspective from a new book called, “The Surgery-Free Makeover,” by Brandith Irwin, MD who puts a novel spin on toners:

“Toners are generally useless in my book. Though they’re meant to remove “residues,” I don’t think it’s a problem if a few molecules of a gentle cleanser get left behind on your skin after washing! They also supposedly restore the pH balance of your skin (your pH comes from the natural oils and sweat on your skin). But if you’re using a gentle cleanser, it shouldn’t much change the pH balance of your skin, because it’s not removing your natural oil. What’s more, studies have shown that your skin will replenish its natural pH balance in fifteen to thirty minutes after you wash it. If you love toners, it’s fine to use them, but they’re not really necessary.”

Now that’s a different attitude from what a skincare line will tell you!

Recently in a newsletter from Renee Rouleau skincare, they listed the reasons why toners are important in your daily skincare regimen:

Make sure to use an alcohol-free toner. As long as it’s alcohol-free, toners will plump up and hydrate the skin with water. After cleansing, apply toner to Toning Cloth and wipe over the skin, making sure to leave it damp. Immediately follow with serum and/or moisturizer. By leaving it damp on the skin, your moisturizer will help to seal in all of the hydrating properties of the toner. *Remember: Skin cells are like fish. They need water to live. So toners are a perfect way to saturate your skin cells with nourishing moisture.

Many chemicals are put into tap water to destroy harmful bacteria. But, they can be very drying to the skin, so the use of toner after cleansing will remove impurities from the skin.

If you use a bar of soap or foaming face wash that might dry out the skin due to their low pH balance, a toner will help counteract the dryness that could occur.

Depending on the ingredients used in the toner, they can help calm, control oil, stimulate blood circulation, destroy acne-causing bacteria, provide anti-oxidant benefit and more.

By supplying the skin with essential hydration and nutrients, you repair the skin’s protective barrier making it less sensitive and resistant to environmental damage.

Renee Rouleau isn’t the only skincare line that purports that using toners are beneficial in your skincare regimen. In a recent article by the Beauty Brains, they discuss the use of toners, and quote the on the subject:

“Toning is often touted as an essential step in a skin care routine. It is not. At least not always. The only exception is very oily skin. If you have oily skin and after cleansing it remains sticky or oily, you might benefit from applying toner after cleansing. Otherwise toning may do more harm than good.

Most toners contain alcohol and/or witch hazel. Both are drying and irritating, especially if you have dry or sensitive skin. If you still feel you need a toner, use a soothing toner free of alcohol or witch hazel, such as alcohol-free toner with chamomile.

You do not want to strip every last molecule of oil from your skin. Only grime, makeup and excess oil on the surface needs to be removed. The underlying thin coat of fresh sebum is best left undisturbed. Toners, especially alcohol-based ones, tend to strip everything off, leaving the skin dry and/or irritated.

Some experts argue that toners help close pores and tighten cell gaps after cleansing, thus reducing the penetration of impurities and environmental contaminants into the skin. Whether this is true is debatable. Even assuming it is, most people finish their skin care routine by applying skin care products with active ingredients, in which case you actually want as much penetration as possible. Preceding an active treatment with a toner that closes pores and tightens cell gaps may be counterproductive. After the active product has absorbed into your skin, you can close pores simply by cooling your face. The cold constricts blood vessels and closes pores, producing a toning effect. You can simply step outside if it is a cold time of the year or gently pat your skin with a cold pack (refrigerated but not frozen) for a few seconds. If you are not using any active products, you can tone after cleansing by wiping your face with a chip of frozen green tea. The cold from the ice helps close your pores; the caffeine and tannins in the tea help tighten skin and reduce puffiness; and green tea polyphenols may provide antioxidant benefits. But don’t overuse the cold – frequent excessive cooling may increase the risk of developing rosacea (stubborn skin redness).”

My conclusions?

I would have to agree with Dr. Irwin and The Beauty Brains, which is, if you love using toners or have oily skin, you can continue to use them. Like I said earlier, I do enjoy the relief from the “tight feeling” I get with using a toner product, but maybe I am using a cleanser that is too harsh for my skintype? In last weeks post, “Beauty Truth = Modern Jackass,” my friend Kate (who is a true beauty guru) swears by toners. She commented in response to my question, “Should you use a skin toner? Is it necessary, or just an extra superfluous step?” that, “I like toners. I’ve recently gotten into them. The extra step of exfoliation had done wonders…I look brighter and glowier and its great since you can’t use a “gritty” exfoliant every day.”

I also have felt that toners must be a fairly inexpensive product to make, because its main ingredients are water and Witch Hazel Extract (Hamamelis Virginiana), and the profit margin must be very high. I would think you could formulate a homemade toner fairly easily. Any ideas?

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7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Mo  |  July 31, 2008 at 9:05 am

    The thing about witch hazel is that it’s about 70% ethanol(alcohol), so even though it’s a “natural” product it can be a poor choice for some skin types. (Source:Consumer’s Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients) A good toner has water or glycerin as its base and water binding agents(like Butylene Glycol), anything beyond that is a perk.
    I like to use lavender hydrosol(flower water) as a toner, and if you like yours I don’t see why you shouldn’t use it as long as it isn’t doing damage (alcohol and irritants, etc). I think being happy with your skin is more important than following the “set” regimens anyways.

  • 2. Jami  |  July 31, 2008 at 9:22 am

    I like most toners, especially pure witch hazel (without all the added alcohol) ones. But if a glycerin based one even comes through the front door my skin starts breaking out.
    Glycerin and Jami just don’t mix. We’re like oil & vinegar. 🙂

  • 3. kate2004rock  |  July 31, 2008 at 10:28 am

    You could make your own very easily at home. Main ingredient: purified water then some softening essential oils that you can find at a tree-hugger store.

    I agree that toners aren’t really necessary. And I never recommend them to clients that tell me they usually can’t be bothered to wash their face at night or that they “don’t wear makeup” (freakazoids). BUT, I love the idea of luxe-ness that the extra step toners give me. And I think that they can be great for drier-skins – why would you not want to saturate your fish-skin cells with water if that’s what they love? Besides all that, its a fabulous and pretty inexpensive way to punch up the appearance of your skin.

    And a toner with alcohol is not a toner. It’s an astringent. And if you want that, buy Sea-Breeze.

  • 4. Jen Hill  |  July 31, 2008 at 11:31 am

    Great comments! Together we could probably come up with a pretty kick butt skincare line. After you complete your MBA Kate, let’s talk! One of my favorite toners is the Beauty Elixir from Caudalie; it is so refreshing to use!

    Jami, do you react to both animal-based and vegetable-based glycerins? I know you have mentioned your sensitivity to glycerins before, and am thinking this is something I should look into. What are your favorite non-glycerin based products?

  • 5. Wendiva  |  July 31, 2008 at 5:08 pm

    wow…i was just wondering the other day, whether using a toner really helps at all! i use a sampar one, which has worked out really well. thanks for the post!

  • 6. pamela  |  August 1, 2008 at 9:22 am

    I used to use toner, and my dermatologist told me I did not need to. I still like toner in hot summer months. I wonder if I need more moisturizer…that is something I need to buy.

  • 7. J. Tania  |  August 3, 2008 at 11:45 am

    Very educational article, Jen. I learned plenty here. I’ve always wondered about toners and whether one was crucial in the steps to good cleansing.

    My skin is so-ooooo oily, I used to take plain rubbing alcohol after washing and drying my face. And I would apply the alcohol as my er, toner or astringent. I know, dermatologists would be squirming, because I was inflaming my skin, not a good thing. And yet, alcohol was the only stuff that really tamed my oilness.

    I don’t do that anymore, but I still refrain from a toner. I like Dr. Irwin’s philosophy on toners. But both arguments you present are equally intelligent.


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