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What Is Toner? How It's Made And Why You Should Care

Curious about toner? We can help. Here's a primer on facial toner

Everything you should know about facial toners

In the olden days of alcohol-based acne treatments and skin products that dried out the face more than a day in the sun, toner was not everyone's favorite part of their skincare routine. Today, modern toner formulas are based on all-natural, nutrient-rich ingredients that nourish the skin while preparing the face for a layer of makeup.

What exactly is toner? And why should it be part of your skincare routine? Let's take a closer look at this something-for-everyone serum, with formulas to address just about any skin issue.

What the heck is toner, anyway?

Toner is a water-like skincare solution packed with (depending on the formula) antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, and other nutrients that hydrate and restore the skin. It is made from a mix of water, essential oils, and natural ingredients like green tea, fennel, and witch hazel. These additives brighten and nourish the skin, without adding the extra damage or dryness of alcohol-based formulas.

How should toner be incorporated into my skincare routine?

Toner should be applied after you wash your face and before you put on moisturizer or makeup. It can act as a shot of hydration, a barrier to unnecessary gunk and bacteria, and a first layer for makeup to cling to all at the same time.

Some people, like those with oily skin, choose a more intense routine that involves exfoliating, cleansing, and then cleansing again—and following up with toner as the first thing to touch newly clean skin. To apply, soak a cotton ball or sponge with your chosen toner and gently swipe it across every part of your face. Then, your skin is ready for moisturizer, your chosen skin treatments, and that fabulous face of makeup!

What does toner do?

When used after an initial round of cleansing, toner gets rid of any final bits of grime or dirt that could clog your pores. The additives in toner also restore your skin's natural pH levels, improving your skin tone and elasticity over time. For people with dry or damaged skin, the natural oils and extracts in toner (such as peppermint or eucalyptus) can be incredibly soothing and have a drastic impact on overall skin quality, especially when it's used every day.

How is toner made, and why should I care?

Toner is made by combining a base (such as water, oil, apple cider vinegar, or alcohol) with natural or chemical additives. Formulas range from DIY creations to high-quality, medical-strength serums designed to tackle one specific issue, like acne or inflammation.

Most toners are water-based, containing only a few natural additives like essential oils and extracts. The manufacturing of your toner is important to pay attention to, because the ingredients that go into it can have a massive impact on your skin quality. For example, people with dry skin should never use a toner that contains alcohol, because alcohol will only make the dryness worse. Instead, focus on a nourishing, moisturizing ingredient base like rose water, honey, or witch hazel.

What type of toner is best for me?

That depends! Like every skincare product, the best toner for YOU is going to be based on your skin. In general, it's best to avoid toners that contain alcohol, unless you're using toner as an alternative to makeup wipes. Alcohol severely dries out the skin, which can have a terrible impact on people with acne-prone or naturally dry skin.

Every toner formula is different. When you're cruising the skincare aisle, you're sure to come up against some popular ingredients, like witch hazel, aloe, and rose. Some toners contain more exotic ingredients, like activated charcoal or matcha. Generally, pick toner with ingredients that are suited to your skin type. You'll typically find the following ingredients in toners designed to treat specific skin issues:

  • For dry or sensitive skin: Cranberry, rose water, honey, witch hazel
  • For red, inflamed skin: Green tea/matcha, fennel, tea tree oil, rosemary
  • For oily skin: Witch hazel, charcoal, apple cider vinegar
  • For acne-prone skin: Witch hazel, glycolic acid, frankincense
  • For aging skin: Hibiscus, green tea/matcha, pomegranate, citrus

If you're not sure where to start, decide what skin condition you're hoping to have the most impact on by using toner. From there, pick out a couple of ingredients that are shown to have a positive effect, and find a toner with those ingredients. You can always start small—apply toner to only one area of the face at first to make sure you won't have an adverse reaction to it. When you've found a toner you love, it will be a reliable part of your skincare routine for years to come!

Resources— Insider, Neutrogena, HelloGlow, Allure

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