Great Skin Care: Are Facial Toners Really That Important?

You may have heard skin care experts debate the pros and cons of using a facial toner. Some feel that they are an essential part of any good skin care routine, while others feel that they are unnecessary. For example, some dermatologists only recommend alcohol-based toners for oily skin and feel that all other skin types don’t need them.

If you talk to most estheticians, they’ll tell you that toners are an essential part of any skincare routine. So where is the truth? Maybe somewhere in between. I am a firm believer that a truly gentle and well-formulated toner can be an important step in your skincare routine. Does this mean you have to wear it religiously day and night? Not necessarily. However, regular use can provide great benefits, as I will discuss later.

Tonics have come a long way from alcohol-based ones, though plenty still exist. When I say alcohol, I mean drying alcohol like SD Alcohol 40. In this sense, some dermatologists may suggest this type of formulation for oily/very oily skin thinking that the added alcohol will control excess oil production.

However, in the long run, alcohol-based products can produce even more oil. Drying the skin with strong alcohol or even witch hazel can signal the sebaceous glands to pump out even more oil. In this case, you may end up with skin that is not only oilier, but can also be prone to breakouts. Ingredients that dry out and strip the skin can negatively affect the skin’s acid mantle, which in turn can cause more problems, such as pimples or breakouts; slightly acidic skin can help prevent bacteria that can lead to breakouts.

There also seems to be some confusion regarding which products are marketed as “astringents” and those sold as “tonics”. Is there a difference between the two? Experts seem to be divided on this issue. The term astringent generally describes products that contain alcohol, while toners do not. However, if you look at the myriad of products out there, you will still find many “toners” that contain alcohol.

Astringents are meant to help control oil production by removing it from the top layer of the skin. Some may or may not help reduce the appearance of larger pores. However, most products labeled “astringent” often have ingredients other than alcohol that can further irritate or dry. For example, many contain peppermint, menthol, or eucalyptus.

Instead, it uses natural ingredients with mild astringent properties like green tea and chamomile. So what are the potential benefits of using a well-formulated, alcohol-free, gentle toner?


A well formulated toner should always have a slightly acidic pH. This is close to the pH of your skin when it is balanced and healthy. A toner can help restore the skin’s pH after cleansing (if you used a more alkaline cleanser). The pH can also be negatively affected by a poor diet, stress and environmental factors.


A mild toner can remove any minute traces of makeup that may be left behind. If you sometimes find a little makeup on your cotton pad, it doesn’t necessarily mean your cleanser isn’t effective. While very strong alkaline cleansers can make your face feel squeaky clean, they will also dry it out and strip the acid mantle from your skin. Be sure to also use a cleanser that is mild with a slightly acidic pH.


A mild toner can provide your skin with oil-free hydration. Products with large amounts of ingredients like aloe vera or natural moisturizers can help instantly moisturize skin after cleansing. In this case, you may not need as much moisturizer, or in the case of oily skin, at all, especially at bedtime.


Adding antioxidants with anti-aging ingredients like resveratrol, green tea, and spirulina can help make skin look younger. Additional ingredients that can help brighten the skin, such as cranberry and vitamin B 3, can also be very helpful. These types of ingredients are suitable for all skin types, including sensitive skin. Toners can also help your moisturizer or any treatment products absorb better.


Always use a toner that is fragrance free. Many people react to fragrances, most commonly through some type of allergic reaction. There is never a reason to use toners with synthetic fragrances or strong essential oils. Some ingredients, like organic aloe vera, provide a soft, beautiful, mild scent with no added fragrance.


If you have dry skin, using a toner in the morning may be all you need. After applying toner, use a good moisturizer followed by a sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher.


Using a super mild and soothing toner can be a great next step after using exfoliants like glycolic acid. Healing and nourishing ingredients like aloe vera and cucumber can provide moisturizing and healing properties.

Using a gentle toner that is free of alcohol, fragrances, and artificial colors can be a wonderful step in your skin care regimen. Not only can it provide additional gentle cleansing benefits, but it can also help keep skin more hydrated and younger looking.