Do You Actually Need to Use Toner?
Four well-versed beauty experts weigh in.
Toner isn’t always at the top of everyone’s skin-care to-do list. With so many new serums and creams being released every other week, it leaves little room for such a seemingly old-fashioned product on our bathroom shelves. But others still swear it’s the foundation of an effective multi-tiered process. Listen, we’re all out here trying to find the perfect combination of products for that most elusive of beauty dreams—flawless skin—so is toner really an essential starting point for our skin-care routines, or is it a relatively unnecessary marketing ploy? We need to know! To figure out toner’s rightful place once and for all, we called up a few of our favorite beauty industry experts for their opinions.
Renée Rouleau, celebrity esthetician and all-around skin-care guru, believes that, given a proper formula without either SD alcohol 40 or denatured alcohol, there are several reasons people should consider adding toner to their beauty regimen. “Toners give your skin a drink of moisture and an instant boost of hydration when left damp on the skin before applying moisturizer. A swipe of toner will remove drying chlorines and minerals found in tap water.” While several bar soaps and foaming cleansers can dry out the skin and disrupt the balance of pH, she says, toners also help to counteract those negative effects. “Depending on the ingredients used in the toner, they can help calm skin, control oil, stimulate blood circulation, destroy acne-causing bacteria, provide antioxidant benefits, and more.” She also recommends different skin types use different toners, rather than a one-size-fits-all product. Some of her favorites include her own Elderberry Soothing Toner for combination skin and Balancing Skin Tonic for oily or breakout-prone skin.
Sought-after facialist Georgia Louise sees the fundamental cleansing properties of toner as reason enough to embrace the product for everyday use. “It really mops up excess dirt and pollutants, along with your leftover oil or cleanser. Depending on the bottle, it hydrates, rebalances the pH of skin, and leaves skin invigorated and refreshed. It’s basic hygiene!” She recognizes that the range of toners and their purposes are as broad as serums and should be changed depending on both the season and the user’s skin condition, but her favorite recommendation? “Cult favorite hands down is Biologique Recherche P50.”
In the opposing anti-toner camp is world-renowned esthetician Joanna Vargas. She rarely recommends toners to everyone. “I think that unless you break out regularly, toner is a step you can skip as long as the right cleanser is being used.” Her view on toner is shaped mainly by the formulation of most cleansers currently on the market. “Toners were initially made to rebalance the skin after cleansing, but because many cleansers these days are made to keep the skin balanced, we don’t need them unless we want to add some extra moisture or calming into the routine.”
Top-tier dermatologist Dr. Kavita Mariwalla agrees. “In its essence, the word toner simply refers to a wash that is meant to cleanse the skin. I think this extra step, popularized by many over-the-counter brands, ends up stripping the skin of essential oils.” She feels that many of her patients misinterpret what toners actually are, especially since not all formulations are created equal, and discourages people from using it. “Some will argue that toners impart other ingredients to the face, but that is not always true. As a dermatologist, I feel it is stripping the skin.”
We’ve learned there are a ton of different varieties of toner—astringent, hydrating, exfoliating, cleansing—as many as, if not more than, skin types and concerns. While there’s no product out there that will magically clear up your issues AND work for everyone (if you’ve found one, please, please let us know), getting an established routine set up—meaning, at the bare minimum, cleansing and moisturizing—and sticking to it is step one. After that, we say add in a toner if you have a specific problem you’re trying to address, like clogged pores or dullness. Explore new brands, mine your friends for recommendations, check out our favorite Beauty MO’s, and, barring any negative reactions that would cause you to quit right away, track your progress for a full month, which is how long derms say it takes skin to show results. If it seems like toner is making a huge difference, then bask in the glow of your fancy new routine. If you don’t see much of a change or it causes you more trouble, embrace your perfect minimalist-chic aesthetic. Hopefully we’ll all end up with brighter, more beautiful skin.