Is Toner Really Necessary?

The three main steps in a basic daily skin care regimen are cleanse, tone, and moisturize. However, many people skip the toning step completely. If they are crunched for time, or have a tight skin care budget, toner is the product people are most likely to not purchase or use.
So why is toning even part of the daily regimen if people don’t think they need to do it? Are aestheticians and skin care product manufacturers just recommending toner as something extra? Is it just a marketing ploy? Does toner provide any actual benefits to the skin?

What is toner?

Toners are liquids that are used after cleansing. They are usually applied using cotton balls or pads but can also be sometimes be sprayed directly onto the face. They go by many names: toner, astringent, freshener, energizer, preparation, etc., but they are all virtually the same thing. The main difference used to be how much alcohol the product contained (fresheners contained the least, toners had a little more, and astringents had the most), but many companies are now using alcohol-free formulations, and are adding therapeutic ingredients. Most skin care professionals just refer to them all as toner, so that is what I will do here.

What does toner actually do?

There are several reasons to use toner after you cleanse.

  1. Most cleansers, even the highest quality ones, can leave a residue or film on the skin even if you think you did a good job washing it off. This residue can interfere with the ability of your treatment products and moisturizers to penetrate into the skin. It can also lead to build-up, which can cause dullness or clogged pores. Other products, like some exfoliators and masks, also leave a residue that cannot be easily removed by water alone. Toners remove that residue, and in turn, prepare the skin for further product application.
  2. Toners help further cleanse the skin. Sometimes cleansers can miss areas of the face, especially if you are removing makeup. Toners will remove any debris missed by a cleanser, and (depending on the ingredients) can also clean deeper into the pores.
  3. Sometimes cleansers, even pH balanced ones, can disrupt the skin’s natural pH if they are used too roughly. A toner can help restore the skin’s natural pH, which helps keep the skin’s barrier layer intact.
  4. Toners help treat specific skin conditions by containing targeted ingredients.

Comment BelowSo do I really need to use toner?

The answer is YES; if you want to really get the maximum results from your regimen.
What are your thoughts about toner? Tell me in the comments below!

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6 thoughts on “Is Toner Really Necessary?”

  1. I’m glad you did a post specifically about toner. I will admit toner was a product I usually had on hand but was usually the step I skipped in my regimen. For a long time eye cream was skipped too. After reading some of your other posts as well as this one and the eye cream post, I now see how necessary they both are to make a face care regimen fully effective. Thanks for educating me on this one!


  2. My pleasure Whitney! You know what my favorite DIY toner is? Rose water or rose hydrosol mixed with witch hazel in a spray bottle. It’s fabulous and inexpensive!

    1. I am very happy to find this post. Rachel, could you please recommend the ratio of hydrosol to witch hazel to mix the toner? And, is it ok to spray the toner directly onto the face, or is it better to spray it onto a cotton swab and then apply? Thank you for your guidance and great ideas.

      1. Hi Larisa, thanks for reading and for taking the time to comment! I like either a 2:1 or 1:1 ratio of hydrosol to witch hazel in most toners, depending on your skin combination. I also recommend either refrigerating your toner, or adding vodka or brandy at 20% concentration of the total amount for short-term non-refrigerated preservation. In terms of usage, I actually love both–I often keep a spray bottle of toner nearby for a cooking refresher during the day, and after an oil cleansing I like using a cotton pad or reusable facial cleansing pad to remove any extra residue–but I think that’s really up to you! –Rachael

  3. Hi Rachael!
    Thank you for as always interesting article.
    I tried the toner recipe you gave in the comments and love it. Just want to ask you another question. the If using alcohol-containing witch hazel (say 14%) in the toner, should I reduce the amount of vodka for preservation?
    Thank you!

    1. Hi Olga, great question! No, I would not reduce the vodka in this case for preservation, because the 14% in the witch hazel was for the witch hazel itself. Since vodka is about 80 proof, I would recommend using my full recommended percentage, and bear in mind that this will only give you short-term preservation. You’ll learn longer-term preservation methods in Create Your Skincare 🙂

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