If you think back to about 10 or 20 years ago, you may remember that the typical skincare routine involved cleansing, toning, and moisturizing.
You may have followed that routine religiously, and most likely, your toner probably smelled like alcohol and left your skin feeling tingly and perhaps even stinging.
But that was yesterday’s toner, and if you’re still using yesterday’s toner today, you’re probably damaging your skin! Instead, it’s time to switch to today’s formulas that are a lot gentler and more nourishing.
But do be careful. There are still some toners available today that may “look like” they’re up with the times, but are still using ingredients that can lead to dryness, irritation, and redness.
How the Reasons for Using a Toner Have Changed
Let’s start with the basics. Why does your skin need a toner?
We used to think that toner “completed” the cleansing process. The idea was that after you cleansed your skin, you used an alcohol-based liquid to get any remaining dirt and microbes off it, leaving it squeaky clean and ready for a moisturizer. We also wanted our toners to shrink the appearance of pores, and leave skin feeling refreshed.
Then we learned that so-called “cleansing” and “clarifying” toners disrupted skin’s natural oils, stripping them away and leaving skin dry, itchy, and irritated. We were damaging skin before we even thought about applying serums or moisturizers.
Take a look at your old toner’s ingredients and you’ll quickly see why it wasn’t much help. Most of yesterday’s toners went heavy on the alcohol. It used to be the main ingredient in toner because manufacturers thought it helped cleanse the skin and wipe away bacteria.
Alcohol also acted as an astringent, shrinking the appearance of pores. Unfortunately, it stripped skin’s natural oils, leaving it dry and irritated, and was particularly inflammatory to sensitive skin types, often causing stinging and redness.
Meanwhile, yesterday’s toners lacked the nourishing and moisturizing ingredients that today’s toners have. Their use was limited—clean up any left-behind dirt and grime, kill germs, and shrink pores.
Today’s toners do much more.
The Benefits of Today’s Toners
Today’s toners are used for a different purpose—to prepare the skin to better absorb treatment and moisture. New ingredients in quality toners help balance the skin’s pH, hydrate, and allow the skin to relax and drink in the moisture that’s applied afterward.
This is why you still want to use a toner. Even gentle cleansing can disrupt the skin’s pH-balance and remove some of the moisturizing oils. A good toner will help restore the balance and hydration, putting skin in its best condition to receive serum and moisturizer.
Yes, we still want today’s toner to clean away anything left behind by cleansing, remove impurities, and shrink pores, but today’s toners provide many other benefits as well. Now that we know more about how the skin works and what’s best for it, we know how to use the toning step to improve the health and appearance of the skin.
There still are some old formulas out there, though, that are mostly alcohol, so to make sure you’re getting the most beneficial kind, avoid the alcohol and look for these ingredients instead:
- Astringents: These are ingredients that shrink pores and remove bacteria. Whereas yesterday’s toner used alcohol, today’s are more likely to contain witch hazel or tea tree oil. Witch hazel is very gentle and works for sensitive skin types. Tea tree oil can be more intense, so patch test with it first.
- pH-balancers: Ingredients like aloe vera, rose, chamomile, and cucumber can help bring the skin’s pH back into balance, reducing the risk of dryness and irritation and preparing skin for moisturizer.
- Hyaluronic acid: This is an ingredient that helps skin grasp and hold onto moisture, so it’s a great one to have in toners, as it will help skin retain more of the moisture you apply. It also leaves your skin feeling soft, rather than dry or tight.
- Alpha-hydroxy acids: If you have acne-prone skin, a toner with alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) may help. They will leave your skin clean without dryness and are typically gentle enough for sensitive skin.
- Balancing ingredients: These help balance skin oils and are especially helpful for those with oily and acne-prone skin. Look for aloe vera, lavender, sandalwood, tea tree, willow bark (salicylic acid), and witch hazel.
- Moisturizing ingredients: Your toner can start the hydrating process if it includes moisturizing ingredients. If you have dry skin, look for aloe vera, vitamin E, beta-glucan, and chamomile.
By the way, our Rescue + Relief Spray doubles as a great toner. It has aloe vera, beta-glucan, comfrey, cucumber, and other soothing and anti-inflammatory ingredients that calm skin and help it recover from cleansing. Plus it works great as a midday refresher.
Have you switched to today’s toner?