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17.01.20 - Knowledge

What Does Toner Do for Skin: 5 Skincare Benefits You Need to Know

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Words by Antoinette Barnardo

Facial toners with their runny consistency seem to be nothing more than glorified, colored water packaged in a minimalistic-looking bottle. Plus, traditional toners often cause a stinging sensation when applied, which can't be good for your skin. While it may seem toner does nothing more for your skin than getting you to spend more, this isn’t the case at all.

Thanks to the new generation of skin toners that emphasize alcohol-free, hydrating formulations, applying toners is no longer an unpleasant experience. In fact, with skin toners designed for every skin concern, facial toning is no longer what it was 20 years ago. To help you understand the importance of facial toners, we will cover five of their skincare benefits and how to choose the right one for your skin type. 

What Does Toner Do for Skin?

In a nutshell, toners tend to wear many caps. Depending on the ingredients, a skin toner can cleanse, adjust pH, hydrate, and even exfoliate. In this article, we’ll break down how toner helps your skin and which toner to choose for your skin type. 

1. Toners Remove Traces of Dirt Leftover From Your Cleanser

Facial toners are typically applied right after cleansing and before you layer on beauty products. The rationale is the toner will pick up any leftover dirt or skincare debris your facial cleanser might have left behind. You can think of toners as a safety net for getting rid of excess oil, dead skin cells, makeup residue, and even environmental pollutants like dust particles. 

2. Toners Minimize and Prevent Breakouts

By clearing away traces of dirt from your skin's surface, toners help to keep your pores clean. This will then reduce the risk of blackheads, whiteheads, and acne from forming on your skin. As such, toners help maintain a clear complexion, particularly for oily and acne-prone skin types

3. Toners Help to Rebalance Your Skin's PH Levels

Maintaining your skin's pH levels is important because of your skin's acid mantle. The acid mantle refers to the "inherent acidic nature of the stratum corneum" as discovered by a 2013 study in the Acta Dermato-Venereologica Journal. The stratum corneum is the skin's protective barrier against foreign pathogens. Since this barrier is acidic, maintaining a healthy acid mantle will lead to a healthy stratum corneum, which is essential for healthy skin. 

A good face toner will help to rebalance your skin's pH level to its natural acidic state, thereby protecting the acid mantle. This is especially important if you use an alkaline-based cleanser, which can disrupt the skin's natural pH balance of 5.5.

4. Toners Enhance the Efficacy of Other Skincare Products

If you need more answers to the question, “What does toner do for skin?” here’s another. Using a facial toner to clear away skin debris provides a clean canvas for the rest of your skincare products to go on smoothly. So prepping your skin's pH levels to its natural acidic state helps to enhance the efficacy of your essence, serum, lotion, and moisturizer. It's a win-win situation for your skincare routine. 

5. Toners Can Hydrate, Brighten, Smooth, or Control Oil Production

Unlike alcohol-based, traditional toners that focus exclusively on removing excess oil and minimizing the appearance of pores, the facial toners of today are usually alcohol-free and contain hydrating ingredients. 

Hydration aside, a skin toner can also help to brighten or smooth your complexion depending on its ingredients. On top of that, some toners may also contain astringents to help regulate sebum production. 

Which Type of Toner Should You Use for Your Skin Type?

What does toner do for skin? Woman laughing looking at camera


Skin toners can be categorized into many different types: hydrating, brightening, exfoliating, anti-aging, and soothing. This may seem confusing, especially for those who are new to the face toner game. As such, we made a guide to help you make the right choice:

Hydrating Toners

Best for all skin types

The majority of skin toners rolled out by skincare companies, particularly Japanese and Korean brands, emphasize keeping skin hydrated. This is because maintaining skin hydration levels is crucial for a proper skin barrier function, according to a 2017 study published in Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology (by Dove Press). 

While a hydrating toner may not provide deep hydration akin to a lotion or cream, it does help to gently hydrate the skin. This makes it suitable for all skin types but particularly beneficial for dry skin. Choose a water-based toner that contains humectants like hyaluronic acid, glycerin, aloe vera, and vitamin B5. 

Exfoliating Toners 

Best for combination, dull, mature, or oily skin types

Exfoliating toners often contain acids like alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs), beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs), and poly-hydroxy acids (PHA). This is why exfoliating toners are often termed "acid toners." 

Alpha-hydroxy acids like glycolic acid and lactic acid are great for exfoliating the outermost layer of the skin to reveal a brighter, clearer complexion. This makes AHA-based exfoliating toners ideal for mature or dull skin types looking to reduce hyperpigmentation or enhance radiance. 

On the other hand, beta-hydroxy acids like salicylic acid penetrate deeper into the skin to unclog pores for a deeper cleanse. Such facial toners are more suitable for oily and combination skin types. Tip — opt for an exfoliating toner that's also formulated with astringents like witch hazel to help regulate excess oil and minimize the appearance of pores on oily skin. 

Brightening Toners 

Best for acne-prone, dull, or mature skin types

Brightening toners are often infused with skin-brightening ingredients such as papaya extract, ginseng, retinol, or vitamin C. These skin toners help reduce the appearance of dark spots, sun spots, acne scars, and fine lines. 

Anti-Aging Toners

Best for mature skin types

Anti-aging toners are often rich in antioxidants to slow down signs of aging like fine lines, under-eye wrinkles, and dark spots. One notable anti-aging ingredient is vitamin C. This powerful antioxidant is needed for collagen synthesis, which boosts skin elasticity, a 2011 study in the Journal of Free Radical Biology and Medicine points out. 

Since photodamage is one of the leading causes of premature skin aging, choose a toner that also contains photoprotective antioxidants like vitamin E and ferulic acid. By combining vitamin C, vitamin E, and ferulic acid, a 2013 study in the Indian Dermatology Online Journal shows that this trio will enhance the efficacy of vitamin C in reducing photodamage by a whopping eight-fold. 

Soothing Toners

Best for dry or sensitive skin types

For those with flaky or sensitive skin, incorporating a soothing toner into your skincare routine will do wonders for your skin type. Opt for an alcohol-free toner that's formulated with anti-inflammatory ingredients like aloe vera, chamomile, green tea, or rose water to reduce redness and soothe your skin. 

Since dry and sensitive skin types often suffer from impaired skin barriers, choose a face toner that contains ceramides to help replenish your skin barrier. Ceramides' efficacy in improving sensitive skin conditions was shown in a 2018 study published in the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. 

Other Skincare Tips for Toner Usage

Woman in water closing eyes and looking up

To help you get the most out of your toners, we’d like to share some additional skincare tips: 

  • Apply your toner right after your cleanser and before piling on the essences and serums, unless you’re exfoliating or applying a face mask. Apply the toner on slightly damp skin to enhance its penetration rate. 
  • Layer your face toners to augment the overall effectiveness of your skincare regimen. Note: Always pair a toner that contains actives with another that doesn't. One example would be to pair an exfoliating toner with a hydrating one. This will help prevent or minimize any adverse skin reaction to the combination.
  • Alternate your toners depending on how your skin feels that day. For instance, if your skin feels slightly dry or flushed, reach for a hydrating or soothing toner. On the other hand, if you feel your face could do with a boost of radiance, go for a brightening toner. 
  • Try toner-masking, a popular skincare practice that originated from Japan. It involves soaking clean cotton pads in your favorite toner and placing them for three to five minutes over areas of your face that need TLC.
  • Remember to use sunscreen in the daytime, particularly if your toners contain active ingredients like retinol which can increase skin sensitivity to UV rays. 

Face Mists: An Alternative to Toners

YORA Refresh Face Mist

But what if you don’t have toner on hand? Don’t worry, a face mist would work just as well. Since face mists provide your skin with the same hydrating benefits as a toner, you can easily substitute one in your skincare routine. 

Moreover, face mists are conveniently packaged and designed for skincare on the go. Pop one in your handbag or carry-on when traveling so that you can spritz it on your face to avoid dry skin during long flights. 

If you’re in the market for a new face mist, check out this alcohol-free one from YORA. It contains a botanical blend of aloe vera juice, rose flower water, chamomile flower extract, calendula, and witch hazel to hydrate and soothe the skin. Formulated with Superox-C™ and GENENCARE® (derived from sugar beetroots), this refreshing face mist also protects your skin against extreme weather conditions and leaves it hydrated after every use. 

Level Up Your Beauty Routine With Toners

Now that we're all caught up on what toners do for your skin, it's time to incorporate one or more of these strategies into your daily beauty routine. To reap maximum benefits, go for low-pH, alcohol-free toners. Also, make sure to choose the right toner for your skin type. If you’ve run out of toner, consider substituting it with a face mist instead. 

Again, always look at skin toners as the "priming" step in your skincare regimen — they boost the overall effectiveness of your other beauty products so that you get clear, healthy skin. This alone explains why toning is the skincare step you should not miss out on. 

Words by Antoinette Barnardo

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