Toner: A Love Story


Hello to my favorite faces! If you've been joining me this month, you'll know that we spent most of March talking about aging, in conjunction with my upcoming birthday. You can read those posts here, here and here. But this week, in honor of the big day, I do what I want! And I've decided to celebrate by devoting a blog to one of my all time favorite skin care topics: TONER.

Toner is a one of those things clients ask about all of the time. It seems that many people are neglecting this very important step in their routine, and that makes me sad. But I get it. The number one question I seem to get as an esthetician is "What does toner do?" and/or "Do I need it?" Gather around, kids.

First things first. OMG YES YOU NEED TONER. Toner is pretty much the best thing ever invented and I'm about to tell you why. So listen up! Or at least humor me. It is my birthday after, all. Don't worry. I could talk about toner ALLLLL day, so I'll start at the beginning.

WTF is Toner?

It's okay if this is your question. As I've mentioned before, this is an extremely common question. And that's okay too. Because as I've also already stated, I LOVE to talk about toner. Let's do this!

So, you probably already know that toner is traditionally the step that comes after cleansing your face. Ideally, right after. The basic idea is that toner gets whatever your cleanser did not. The truth is that cleansers are great for removing most of the gunk from your face, but sometimes they don't get everything.

Following a cleanse, it is not abnormal for stuff to get left behind - makeup sitting in nooks and crannies (I know. Ew. But this is why you need toner!), pollution, chlorine and minerals from your tap water, even traces of cleanser can still be clinging to your face. Did you think your moisturizer was going to help with that issue? Sorry. Probably not. If anything it will just get pushed back into your skin as your moisturizer drives it in. But not to worry! *Trumpet noise* Toner to the rescue!

I was recently at an event where Indie Lee (creator of the Indie Lee skin care line and one of my favorite toners!) where she described toner as the way "to get Denver and your day off of your face." I may be paraphrasing on that a bit, but you get the idea. I couldn't agree more. Toner takes your face to the next level of clean in a way that cleanser doesn't. I seriously don't feel complete until I've toned my face.

Don't believe me? Here is an easy experiment you can try at home to get an idea of what your toner is doing for you. All you need is your cleanser, toner, a cotton round and some clear tape.

For this experiment, you'll just want to use your own hand. Cleanse it once with your regular every day cleanser and pat it dry. Then you'll want to stick one piece of clear tape, on top of the area you just cleansed.

Next, get your cotton round wet with your toner and swipe the top of the hand you just cleansed and should have tape on. Go ahead and tone the whole top of your hand. You can just wipe over the tape, as long as it stays in place. Also, you can take a peek at your cotton round to see if it's lifted more dirt. Once you've finished toning, go ahead and put a second strip of tape on top of the other, making an X-shape.

Only one more step! Now you just want to remove the tape. Pull from the bottom piece, but as much as possible, try to keep the X in tact and avoid touching the sticky side of the tape. Once you've pulled your tape off, take a look! The first piece you put down shows everything your cleanser left behind, whereas the piece of tape that went down after toning, shows significantly less gunk! Try this at home, so you can get a better look and you'll never want to skip toner again.

But wait! There's more!

The other important function of a toner is to help restore your skin's pH balance, after cleansing it. Following cleansing, it's not unusual for your skin's pH to be out of whack. Your skin is meant to be a little naturally acidic, but in the process of stripping your skin of excess oil and debris, your cleanser can also disrupt that natural protective barrier. Toner is what helps balance things out again. This allows the rest of your product to work better as well. Toner paves the way by making sure the surface is extra clean and ready to absorb the good stuff.

Now, if you have oily skin there's a chance you avoid toner because you think adding another layer of stuff will clog your pores. Rational, but not the case! The right toner will actually help prevent breakouts by getting rid of excess oil, dirt and bacteria AND balancing out your skin's pH prevents your skin from producing excess oil to compensate. Toner is even said to reduce the appearance of your pores. And although nothing can magically shrink your pores, it's a good preventative measure. Keeping the skin extra clean will keep pores from getting congested and stretching.

These are just the basics of what toner can do. As you'll read on, there are more exciting ways in which using a toner (or two) can be beneficial for your specific concerns.

What does toner even do?

Well on top of everything we've already discussed, it's important to know that different toners do different things. This is critical to choosing the right one. So many people make the mistake of grabbing a strong astringent toner geared at targeting breakouts, but many of those products are too harsh and can actually aggravate your skin by overdrying it. Luckily, you have many more options.

Toners can be balancing, yes. But did you know they can also be hydrating? Some of my favorite toners contain hyaluronic acid, which helps bind water to your skin. This is beneficial for all skin types. Ever have your skin freak out, after a lot of traveling? Particularly when traveling by airplane? A great hack to preventing this is taking your toner with you and spritzing regularly throughout your trip. This helps combat dryness from the plane and keeps your skin balanced as you adjust to different climate and environmental factors.

Along with hydrating, toners can be soothing with ingredients like aloe or rose. If you are acneic, a balancing toner is good but you can also incorporate something that is antibacterial and astringent.

What's more, there are even corrective toners! Some contain brightening ingredients for targeting pigment. Others are anti-aging, containing active ingredients like glycolic acid, which actually exfoliate in addition to toning.

When and How should you use toner?

Are you convinced that you need toner now? Yes? Good. So now you're probably wondering how to get started.

As we've already discussed toner is meant to be used right after cleansing and before you apply other product. Always begin here. It's important to know that toners come in different formats from cleansing pads, to spritzes to just a big old bottle of liquid. To truly effectively cleanse the skin, I prefer to get a cotton round damp with toner and then swipe the whole face with it. Same goes for pre-soaked cleansing pads.

That said, a good spritzing toner can be nice for freshening up and hydrating. If your toner is the spritz kind, you have a couple of options - you can spritz directly onto your face and wipe off the excess with a round, or spritz on to the round and wipe clean. If you still feel you need extra hydration after that, you can always spritz directly and leave it be. Most toners are great for prepping the skin before makeup or even to help set it. Another trick I love is to stick toner in the refrigerator to keep it cool and make it even more effective for soothing the skin.

Ideally you should use toner day and night, but at least once a day. I'm not saying you have to get fancy and rotate five different toners like I do. (What? I told you I was obsessed.) But there's nothing wrong with using an active toner a couple of times per week and a hydrating one the rest of the time or some other variation like this. You get the idea.

Also: A lazy girl secret I probably shouldn't be telling you...occasionally at night if I am very tired and don't want to do a full face routine, I will at the very least, remove my makeup with a wash cloth or face wipe and then use toner to get the rest. There. Now I'm not saying that's good practice, but I'm telling you this because it does work in a pinch.

What about natural toners?

Some people will tell me they aren't using toner because they prefer a more natural routine. While I can't say natural toners will have quite the same benefits of an actual toner formulated for skin care, there are a couple of natural alternatives I can condone, should you opt to go this route. Both can be found at any supermarket or natural foods store and are very inexpensive!

Witch hazel is a well known substitute for toner, due to its astringent properties. My only caveat to using witch hazel, is that it can be drying. I don't necessarily recommend it for drier skin types, but if you have breakout prone skin or combination skin that gets oily and shiny, witch hazel is a great option.

The other option I like is rose water. Rosewater is more soothing, healing and hydrating. I would lean toward rose water for dry or aging skin, but any skin type can use it. Both rose water and witch hazel are good for sensitive skin, as they are very gentle. There's also no reason you can't alternate the two, just depending on your skin's needs day-to-day.

There are plenty of recipes out there for DIY toners on Pinterest. This is a topic I'll be covering in the near future, but for the moment, I recommend not making your own toner. That is unless you've done your research and know that all the ingredients are beneficial for your skin type. Stay tuned for more on this, soon.

What should you look for in a toner?

Another good question. When you first started reading this, you probably didn't even think you needed toner. Now I've blown your mind by telling you just how amazing and versatile this product is and you don't know where to start.

The easiest place to start is with a skin care line you already know and trust. Most toners are designed to work in tandem with other products from a line, so chances are there's already one that's a good fit for your routine. If you're more comfortable branching out, I recommend sampling a few that are geared at your skin care concerns. This is another instance when it's good to do just a little research and find out what's out there, before pulling the trigger. You can even try the demo pictured above to see just what the toner is doing.

With the exception of toners that have active ingredients like glycolic acid or drying agents, you are relatively safe to use toner liberally. Don't be afraid to play around with it a little and figure out what works best for you.

What else do you need to know?

I think we've just about covered it all, but if you're still not convinced I challenge you to try adding toner to your routine for a week. I always recommend using a product for at least a month to truly understand how it's working for you, but toner is something you'll start to notice a difference with almost immediately. Maybe even just start with witch hazel or rosewater and work your way up. If you aren't smitten with toner, after a couple of weeks, there's no law that says you have to keep it up. However, I have yet to have a client convert to toner that hasn't been overjoyed at the addition to their routine. Clients who report back to me that they've started using toner, are always super happy they did. But you know who's even happier? Me.

Still have a question about toner? Or something else? You know I'd love to answer. Shoot me a message! iheartskindenver @ gmail.com

<3 Jenny

About the blog:

This is a blog about everyday skin health. As an esthetician I strive to provide comprehensive skin care advice and knowledge to anyone who wants to know more.

Read on and please don't hesitate to reach out! I love educating people about their skin and am always happy to respond to questions.

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