The Benefits Of Toner and 7 Simple (But Important) Things To Look For
You’ve probably heard about toner but the details of what it does for your skin might be a little foggy. And what does it mean to “tone” skin, anyway? We’re here to break down the importance of toner, what it does for your skin, and things you should look for before you purchase your next refreshing facial mist.
What is Toner?
Toner is a fast-absorbing liquid that delivers quick hydration to your skin. It’s a light spritz that’s applied directly after washing and is the base to all other product layers. The cleansing process often strips the skin of its essential oils and healthy bacteria. That’s why it’s critical to bring back some hydration and balance. In comes toner.
Even though toner feels like water, it’s actually quite different. For one, water is neutral on the pH scale, but your skin’s natural state is slightly acidic. That means toner should be pH balanced to add that bit of acidity back to your skin, which may have been stripped away during washing or exposure to daily pollutants.
A quick spritz of an effective toner leaves glowing, refreshed and plump skin. Great toners also reduce the appearance of redness and prep your skin for added moisture from lotions and facial oils.
“Toner is a fast-absorbing liquid that delivers quick hydration to your skin.”
When and How to Apply Toner
Toner is usually misted onto the skin directly after washing and pat drying. Leave it to set-- or tap the toner in after spraying for even application. If you prefer (or you just have bad aim and happen to spray your eyes every time), you can pour or spray the toner onto your fingertips first and then lightly dab onto your face.
Toners refresh, reduce the appearance of redness, hydrate, and balance. Now, it’s just about finding the right one.
7 Must-Have Properties In A Toner:
1. pH Balanced
Toner may look and feel like water, but we swear it’s different! One big thing that makes toners unique goes back to pH levels. Pure water is the most well-known neutral substance on the pH scale. It tends to hover at 7, whereas your skin naturally runs slightly acidic at around a 5.5. Enzymes that protect your skin’s natural barrier thrive at this acidic pH level.
“Toning” includes balancing and refreshing skin, so pH balance is an essential component to an effective toner. Since your skin is slightly acidic, your toner should be too.
If you look at the opposite end, soap is alkaline. This means water based face washes (think anything that foams) are on the opposite end of the pH scale. Face wash cleanses away dirt and oil, but your skin needs to come back to its natural state.
"Your skin naturally runs slightly acidic at around a 5.5. Enzymes that protect your skin’s natural barrier thrive at this acidic pH level."
Toner is the first thing to go on fresh skin after washing, so it should give that first hit of hydration and balance your skin craves. It’s the base before serums, lotions, oils and makeup. The right toner can even double as a setting spray, making it among the first and last steps to morning and nightly routines. Something that important and that you use everyday should have all the right essentials. Balanced pH should be a given for any toner, so be wary of any facial mist that doesn’t mention pH.
2. Alcohol Free
Toners should be alcohol free. This should be obvious, but all too often, toners include alcohols like phenoxyethanol. The stinging sensation of alcohols can even be appealing to some and give the illusion that a toner is “working.” So why are they bad?
"To put it simply, alcohols are drying- and that’s the opposite of what you want in a toner."
To put it simply, alcohols are drying- and that’s the opposite of what you want in a toner. Since it’s a preservative, phenoxyethanol is a very common ingredient. It’s not particularly terrible if used in small quantities, or for things like hand sanitizers, but phenoxyethanol has become so common that it’s in everything. That accumulation can lead to things like dry skin and breakouts. There are effective and high quality natural preservatives that are safer and non-drying. So steer clear of unnecessary alcohols in skincare and stick to toners that hydrate and make your skin glow.
3. Leave Out The Water- Or at least what we think of when we hear the word “water”
If you’ve picked up a toner recently and checked out the ingredient list, more often than not, the first ingredient is water. Run away from these toner look-alikes! For convenience and cost savings on their end, manufacturers will often mix water in with their formulas. This makes a toner less effective, potentially having no more benefits than plain water itself. In fact, if you look at products that include water mixed with alcohol and ingredients like parabens and phthalates, a toner can end up doing more harm to your skin than good.
Some ingredients may even be called “water” but they are actually hydrosols. Hydrosols are also known as “distillates” and “flower water.” The benefits of hydrosols over “plain” water is that a hydrosol is essentially water that captures all of the water-soluble plant extracts.
So, say yes to flower waters and no to tap water.
4. Contains Ingredients that Hydrate, Cleanse and Prep Skin
This is a 3-in-one on what toners should do for your skin. The best toners are formulated to hydrate, cleanse, and prep skin. The formulation of any toner should match these end goals. Here are the top performing ingredients to look for in your next toner:
Rose Water is a mainstay when it comes to facial mists since its relaxing properties moisturize and reduce the appearance of redness. This ingredient is best coupled with cleansing Tea Tree, which tones and enlivens skin.
"The best toners are formulated to hydrate, cleanse, and prep skin."
A more rare ingredient that’s become a must-have is Helichrysum, a favorite floral water for those in-the-know. Helichrysum is known as the "immortal" or "everlasting" flower. This name is fitting since it moisturizes and evens skin tone for healthy, youthful-looking skin.
If you’d like the added perks of anti-aging and natural scents that smell like heaven, look for Neroli and Geranium. If you’re looking for added moisture, keep an eye out for Lavender coupled with Rose.
5. Organic Matters
Since toner is the first layer to go on your skin, and since it’s such a lightweight liquid, it’s easily absorbed. The good properties soak in and anything else that’s not supposed to be in there tags along with it. If you mostly eat organic (or wish you did), it only makes sense that something you use everyday and is meant to quickly absorb into your body is organic, as well.
To get to the heart of what organic truly means and why it’s a must for toners, we need to look at the detriments of toners that are not organic. Inorganic ingredients can contain residues of toxins and chemicals such as pesticides and herbicides. You do not want those on your skin and absorbed into your body. On the mild end, such chemicals can cause rashes and irritation. On the extreme end- depending on the toxicity and on the person exposed- prolonged exposure of certain chemicals increases chances of harm.
"Since toner is the first layer to go on your skin, and since it’s such a lightweight liquid, it’s easily absorbed."
Organic also means not genetically modified (non-GMO), which tends to be better for you and for the environment. It also means the ingredients have been tested for contaminants such as metals that may have been picked up during extraction and processing.
Toners should be Clean for many of the same reasons they should be organic. So what’s the difference? Clean means non-toxic and free from things like artificial dyes and synthetics. For many, it also means the product is eco-conscious and bottled in glass instead of plastic with eco-friendly shipping materials.
Many skincare ingredients can be both Clean and Organic (like Argan Oil). However, organic is held to official oversight rules and qualifications such as USDA Organic in the US or EcoCert in the EU. Since the US has rather lax rules when it comes to beauty products, Clean is the term that has emerged for companies that hold themselves to a higher level of safety while maintaining efficacy and an awareness for how their company impacts the environment.
7. Guilt Free
We all enjoy our small pleasures, but in this case, we’re talking about vegan, cruelty-free, and eco-friendly products. It’s not hard for a toner to check these boxes, and yet so few do.
“Find a toner with glass packaging. It’s better for the environment, and it prevents plastics from leaching harmful chemicals into the formula and onto your skin.”
Eco-conscious comes in many forms. Find a toner with glass packaging. It’s better for the environment, and it prevents plastics from leaching harmful chemicals into the formula and onto your skin.
As for cruelty-free, if a company doesn’t test on animals, they’ll proudly post it. Keep an eye out for labels, icons, and blogs that mention if a toner is “cruelty free” or “not tested on animals.”
It seems strange to think that animal-derived substances might be in your skincare, but they’re more common than you might think. Non-vegan ingredients in skincare include milk, honey, and animal fat derived substances like glycerin. Glycerin is all over the place when it comes to toners, but this ingredient can also come from vegetable sources, so double check the list.
Toners can be one of the most hydrating and relaxing moments of any skincare routine. You just need to find the right one for that boost of moisture in the morning and soothing hydration in the evening. If you’re new to toners, it might just become your new favorite product.