Real talk: What does face toner do, and do you actually need it?

It’s the ever-forgotten, not-quite-sure-if-it’s-necessary step in your skincare regimen.

But honestly, toner gets a bad rap. There are lots of options promising all sorts of results, and – at the end of the day – it feels like water in your hands and your not quite sure of the difference it’s making.

Here’s what you need to know about toner and what it does for your skin.

What does face toner do
Is toner a good or bad use of our time? Source: Getty.

First off, what is toner and how do you use it?

Typically, toner is a water-based formula that contains active ingredients designed to address specific issues - maybe chamomile or rose water for increasing hydration and enhancing radiation.

Toner is touted to assist in cleansing because it clears the dirt, debris and pollution from the skin that cleanser can fail to remove. It also helps tighten pores - with less grime staying stuck within them - as well as increase skin resilience and boost overall health.

"Not only does it remove debris like oil and traces of makeup, but it soothes, repairs, and smooths the skin’s surface - diminishing blemishes and minimising signs of redness and inflammation," dermatologist Joel Schlessinger told Women's Health.

Toner is best applied in the mornings and evenings directly after cleansing. Serums and moisturisers can be applied after the toner is dried to the skin.

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What type of toner is best for each skin type.

Toners are designed to regulate the pH (or acidity) of the skin, which keeps the skin's level of oiliness at a healthy level and dehydration at an optimum low.

One factor to be aware of when it comes to choosing the correct toner for your skin type, though, is the degree of alcohol content.

Some toners are alcohol-based and, while these are effective in drying out acne-prone and congested skin, they can lead to dehydration if used too frequently. As such, many specialists suggest using alcohol-free formulas to reap the cleansing, pore-tightening and oil-regulating benefits of toners, without the dehydration.


"Today’s toners are high quality and made with many of the same ingredients you might find in your other skin-care products," Schlessinger said.

"Some of the best toners for acne-prone skin contain exfoliating ingredients like amino fruit acids or glycolic acid, while toners made for sensitive skin types are made with soothing thermal spring water."


What if cleansing and toning sounds like too much work?

If you're not a two-step kind of person, fear not. There are some products designed to do it all-in-one, most notably micellar water, which works as a toner and cleanser combined.

The process involves no 'washing'; you simply soak cotton pads in micellar water and remove makeup, dirt and grime.

Micellar water is made up of gentle microscopic oil molecules called 'micelles' that are suspended in soft water and attract the oil and debris that accumulate on the skin's surface for a more thorough and softer cleanse.

And though it looks like water, micellar water is meant to be better for your skin than your regular shower stream and it's touted to boost hydration and even out one's skin tone.

What are the best toners on the market?

There are countless products to choose from when it comes to choosing the right toner or micellar water for your skin type.

You can find toners made from matcha green tea (see MILK's Makeup Matcha Toner), micellar water formulated with "brightening" hibiscus (like that from Botanics), go the 'original' micellar water route with Bioderma, or, if your skin is particularly sensitive, try the hypoallergenic micellar cleansing solution from Garnier or Sisley's Floral Toning Lotion, which is formulated with extracts of rose, cornflower, and witch hazel and described as "gentler than gentle".

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