Do You Really Need a Toner?

Recycled glass bottles by Luke Dwyer
Recycled glass bottles, a photo by Luke Dwyer on Flickr.

Dear Nicki,

I’ve been using a toner since I was 13 years old and I got my first Clinique 3-step system. I’m wondering now that I’m an adult, do I actually need a toner?

-Cleansing in Colorado

Dear Cleansing in Colorado,

Toners were originally developed for those with oily skin to remove the excess surface dirt and oil left behind. As the skin care industry grew, toners became another vehicle by which additional ingredients could be delivered to the skin. (And, quite frankly, another product people would buy!)

With that said, if you have very oily skin, you are definitely likely to benefit from a toner. Two I like that are recommended in Dr. Leslie Baumann’s The Skin Type Solution are Exuviance Soothing Toning Lotion with brightening gluconolactone and hydrating hyaluronic acid, and Erno Laszlo Heavy Controlling Lotion for Oily to Very Oily Skin.

If you have normal or combination skin, you are likely to benefit from using a toner only on oily areas of your face, and avoiding dry areas altogether. A relatively safe bet is a toner with witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana), which contains tannins that act as natural astringents, gently drying out oils within the skin (Archives of Dermatology, 1998). Witch hazel also has anti-inflammatory properties, making it soothing and calming to the skin (Complimentary Therapies in Medicine, 2000). Unfortunately, in somewhat rare cases, witch hazel has also been documented to cause contact dermatitis, and so it is important that patients (particularly with sensitive skin) speak with their dermatologists first.

If you have dry to very dry skin, I would skip a toner altogether. Despite popular belief, toners do not aid the rest of your skin care regime, as verified by Dr. David E. Bank, M.D., director of the Center for Dermatology, Cosmetic and Laser Surgery, in Mount Kisco, New York: “There’s no truth to the theory that toners prep the skin or help other products penetrate better.” (RealSimple.com, 2010)

If a tightening of the pores is what you seek, keep in mind that most toners only make it look and feel like your pores are smaller. Toners do this by containing alcohols that temporarily swell your skin cells, making your pores look smaller by comparison. If you really want to reduce the size of your pores, you need to clean them out, which is best done with an oil-controlling lotion or salicylic acid-based cleanser (try Obagi Clenziderm M.D. 2% Salicyclic Acid Cleanser, $16.49).

Hope this helps!

Sincerely,

Nicki

Please note: This feature and this site is only for informative purposes. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Please consult your doctor for your medical concerns. The author is not liable for any outcome or damage resulting from information obtained from this site.

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by Nicki Zevola

2 thoughts on “Do You Really Need a Toner?

  1. Brynn Jornacion says:

    I was shocked that you mentioned toners is not good for dry skin. Did you take into consideration toners with humectants or softeners that are used to prevent moisture from evaporating?

  2. Nicki says:

    @Brynn – Thanks for the insightful comment! You’re right – I have changed my stance on this since I wrote this article a year ago. I should publish a new one!

    In general, I do believe that toners are optional. Many of the toners that are formulated for a certain skin type don’t actually benefit that skin type – some brands just assume a thinner formulation with more alcohol is better for oily skin, when the rest of the ingredients don’t dictate this is the case.

    On the other hand, some of the toners out there for oily and dry skin – and all those in-between – can really make a world of difference. So you’re right – that was a misspeak on my part. :-

    Thanks for your insightful input! I’ll be sure to check out your site.
    All the best,
    Nicki

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