What is a toner, what does it do and when should I use it? What are some of your favorites?

Let me start by saying that there are several different ideas about the role of a toner/freshener/astringent in a skin care routine, depending on who you talk to. Women working at a boutique, salon, spa, or cosmetic counter at a department store will probably tell you that a toner is an essential step, that it “balances” the skin, removes any makeup or dirt that your
cleanser missed, and “prepares” the skin for moisturizer or
treatment.

First, let’s clear up the differences are between toners,
fresheners and astringents. These terms are often used
interchangeably, with “toner” being the most common. Most
“toners” are made up of water, skin soothers like aloe or
chamomile, plant oils, ingredients to cleanse or draw moisture
to the skin, and preservatives. Typically, “fresheners” are
alcohol-free while “astringents” are not. Astringents are
usually for oily skin and are often designed to fight acne or
control oil.

Another option for toners is the addition of treatment
ingredients like alpha hydroxy (lactic, glycolic) or beta
hydroxy (salicylic) acids, or vitamins. Of all the extras,
salicylic acid can be most helpful for blemish prone skin since
it penetrates the pores and helps clear out the dead skin cells
and bacteria that can cause pimples.

So, do you really need a toner? Based on my experience over the
years with hundreds of products in dozens of different lines, I
have to say “No”. I have never noticed my skin acting more
“balanced” or more “prepared”, and you should not need a toner
to remove makeup or dirt that your cleanser didn’t get – you
just need a better cleanser. Having said that, there are a few
toners that I do like, for specific reasons. Both Peter Thomas Roth Oxygen Mist and Joey New York Calm & Correct Gentle Soothing Toner do a great job at soothing red, irritated skin, while BeneFit Alpha Smooth has just enough lactic acid to lightly exfoliate and help keep the pores clear. (All three are available from Sephora.com.)

If you decide to add a toner to your daily skin care routine,
make it one that really suits your skin and its needs. Always
choose something gentle that doesn’t dry, strip or otherwise
irritate your skin, and don’t spend a fortune on something that
is basically souped-up water. Here are a few that I like:

Renee Rouleau Bioflavonoid Toner

Burt’s Bees Carrot Seed Oil Complexion Mist

Alba Botanica Toner

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