This is going to be a fairly short post.
“Does one need a toner?” being the crucial question, before going any further into “which toner?”
According to one school of thought, most people don’t. Some of the reasons for why not:
- some toners have the purpose of readjusting skin pH after cleansing.
Usually getting skin pH back to slightly-acidic (more or less-this varies, average is around 5.5, can range quite normally from 4 to 7…), after using a more old-fashioned cleanser that was alkaline (and “stripping” and so on). Ex. tallow-based soaps.
BUT most cleansers in this day and age are more or less pH balanced; very few are extremely alkaline.
- some toners are supposed to remove last traces of cleanser (and any other gunk).
Applied, similarly, to older-fashioned formulations; here, not soap but milk/lotion and cream cleansers.
BUT given that many/most cleansers on the market today do actually clean your face, why use one that doesn’t do its job and add an extra step (and take more time, and pay more…) when you could just use a cleanser that did what it was supposed to do in the first place? or pre-cleanse then cleanse, or double-cleanse?
BUT no. 2: on the other hand, some cleansers leave a film on skin and this can be beneficial: ex. emulsifying ointment on very dry skin.
Some reasons to use toners:
- can be used to freshen up, at any point in the day.
As in, a spritz of water or other cooling liquid.
No buts here: am very keen, especially in summer. It’s like taking a shower when it’s hot, plunging into streams or rivers or the ocean, or drinking a nice cocktail.
- can be a water-based delivery-system for antioxidants and suchlike; very useful and used quite often for AHAs, BHA, peptides, and assorted other actives.
This is particularly useful if skin is unable, for whatever reason, to handle serums that are oil-based, silicone-based, or based on synthetic gels (ex. carbomer, which I can’t use at all), or aloe vera gel.
Also one raison d’être for Japanese and Korean post-cleanse soothing, smoothing, etc. lotions.
- can be just plain soothing and calming and help skin (and its bearer) to feel good.
While I may be sceptical, cynical, and downright abrasive and mocking of all sorts of silliness about skincare, there’s no denying the feel-good factor. Nor denying the basic and essential fact of feeling good being good for you.
Toners I’ve used and liked:
- water, out of a tap, in soft-water areas (or spa towns). Used at room or skin temperature, or slightly cooler.
- Not hot. Not cold. And, indeed, not too hot and not too cold. Temperature should be just right. It’s like Goldilocks and the Three Bears.
- ditto, but using some kind of water-filter in hard water areas (be that a filter in a jug, on a tap, or on the main water supply)
- water out of a bottle, when 1. and 3. above were unavailable
- water in a can: Avène.
- water-based toners with steam-distilled actives (aka “hydrosols”): NB without alcohol or any fragrance (and yes, that includes essential oils: fragrance is fragrance and potentially irritating, whether it’s natural or not. Chem 101.) or other added things.
- my main regular is witch-hazel hydrosol. Sources: online (Garden of Wisdom, Mountainrose, Lotioncrafter,…); at a pinch, Thayer’s WH & aloe. Be careful when buying: the main witch-hazel sold in supermarkets, chemists, pharmacies, drugstores, and in their first-aid aisles… is the alcohol-based one (usually between 5 and 14% vol). If you don’t see one that’s an aqueous solution, ask; if they don’t have it, and worse still if the staff member has no idea what you’re talking about or tries to tell you this is the same stuff, be very diplomatic but firm and WALK AWAY. (Keep your hands down and maintain a confident but non-confrontational stance, don’t frighten tem or otherwise cause anxiety, but DO NOT PAY THEM TO SELL YOU SOMETHING ELSE.)
- ditto, also used orange-flower water (made from an infusion of orange blossom aka neroli) and rose water (rose-petals: note, NOT rose-hips or rosehip seeds. Different stuff.). Good versions of these are often to be found with cooking ingredients, especially in food shops specialising in the cuisines of, well, the various regions from around about Morocco to Egypt to Syria to Turkey and up to Greece and Armenia and across to Iran and India…
- pour (or spray) liquid into palm of one hand, pat palms together, pat over face, slapping yourself gently.
Slapping oneself is always good for maintaining a sense of perspective…
- if you already have a spray, or spray can; or if you’ve decanted water into a spray container: spray into palm as above; or spray onto a cotton-wool pad (or cloth, or other padded thing) then pat that over face; or spray directly onto face.
- optional: pat dry with hands or another cloth; I usually leave skin slightly damp, ready for moisturising
- if water is dripping off you, you’ve applied too much
- if your skin is too dry, you’ve applied too little
- if skin is damp to the touch, that’s about right…