Toner is a controversial and highly misunderstood subject, much like attention deficit disorder or celebrity baby naming conventions. The bulk of the confusion comes from the broad use of the term “toner” to apply to anything you dab on with a cotton ball after cleansing. Soon, skincare companies started using “toner” interchangeably with “astringent”, which is the harsher, alcohol-based version of toner meant to reduce oil and tighten pores on those with very oily or acne-prone skin. Consequently, toner started to receive a bad rap for “drying your skin out”.
However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. The reality is that there are so many varieties of toner, chances are one will work well for your skin type – it’s more about which product you’re using than what it’s categorized under. With that in mind, you should choose a toner based on 2 things: 1) your skin type; and 2) what your goals are.
Facial toners can help you achieve any number of different skincare goals, including controlling excess oil, reducing redness, clearing pores and even moisturizing – but one thing you don’t really need toners for is to balance your skin’s pH, as is often purported by skincare companies. Skin’s pH is slightly acidic (4.5-6) and most cleansers are in the 6-7 pH range, so the logic is that if you don’t “re-balance” your pH after cleansing, you’ll irritate or overdry the skin. However, most modern cleansers are gentle and water-soluble enough that your skin’s pH doesn’t change drastically when you cleanse – and even if it did, studies show that your skin recovers its pH balance just fine on its own within hours. So don’t believe the pH hype.
Even if you’re young, oily skinned and acne-prone, I wouldn’t suggest resulting to an alcohol-based astringent for your toning needs. I know, I know, you wanna dry that stuff up – but listen, sister: applying alcohol directly to your facial skin is always a BAD idea. Remember those nasty free radicals we talked about? Alcohol causes free radical production. Oh yeah. And not just when you drink it. Just rocked your world, didn’t I? So the next time you decide something with alcohol needs to touch your skin, remember that you’re damaging your collagen production for life by using that crap, and skip it.
There are many ingredient alternatives that won’t destroy your skin: acids like salicylic acid, lactic acid and citric acid all have similar tightening and oil-control effects without being destructive, if present in the right quantities. Check out the list below to help you choose a toner based on your personal skincare needs: