What Exactly Is Toner And Why Should You Be Putting It On Your Face?

Here are the facts you need to know about toner and why it’s good for your skin, and should be part of your beauty routine.

If the only toner you know is the one for your printer, then do your skin a favor and listen up. Besides being something that has to do with our printer working (not the official definition), the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines toner as “a liquid cosmetic for cleansing the skin and contracting the pores.” Basically, toners pick up the slack, if your cleanser wasn’t doing its job properly.

There is some discrepancy between whether “toner” and “astringent” are interchangeable. Astringent was a term popular in the late 90s and early 2000s and generally meant products that were used to treat acne and absorb oil. Livestrong describes astringents as being stronger than toners, and they’re usually alcohol or chemical-based. Just to confuse us even more, there’s no definitive guide because some astringents are alcohol-free and the term seemed to fall by the wayside, in favor of “toner.” FYI: Sephora only has a toner section, with no astringents appearing on the list.

Who Is It For

Toners are suitable for all skin types, including sensitive skin, because they don’t contain any of the drying ingredients some astringents do. If you do have redness-prone skin, always scan the ingredients list and do a patch test before rubbing the product all over your entire face, to prevent the risk of irritation.

They’re not just for acne-prone girls either. Even if you’re blessed with a blemish-free complexion (in which case I’m extremely jealous) a toner can still benefit you.

Why You Should Use It

Despite seeming like a good excuse for skincare companies to make an extra buck with another product, toners are very beneficial for your skin. In addition to double-checking that your cleanser got all the dirt off, they can help restore your skin’s pH levels, which is a good thing, especially if you use a particularly harsh cleanser. Because most cleansers are kinder to the skin, Paula’s Choice explains the true benefit of toner:

“What we now know is that after cleansing, what your skin needs is a range of ingredients that restore and repair its surface…The right toner can give your skin a healthy dose of what it needs to look younger, fresher, and smoother, right after cleansing and throughout the day.”


You should apply your toner after you cleanse your face. Start off only using it at night, to get all of the day’s grime off (you’ll be surprised how dirty your skin can get being out-and-about all day. Ick) If no irritation occurs, you can increase the application to twice a day, if you feel your skin could use the extra boost in the morning.

All toners come in liquid form, so it’s best to apply them with a cotton ball or pad. Some toners come with pre-soaked pads, so you don’t have to worry about not having cotton balls because you used them all up removing your nail polish.

Apply a bit of liquid to the pad, but don’t overly-saturate it so that it drips down your cheek as you apply it. Swipe it around your face. Do not rub the cotton pad back and forth because that will increase irritation. It’s also unnecessary to hold the cotton ball in one spot, hoping it will make a zit magically disappear–unfortunately, that doesn’t work.

There’s no need to rinse off your toner. Let your face dry and move on to your moisturizer and SPF protection.


  • 1. Murad Clarifying Toner: This toner can be used after cleansing your face, or on its own for a midday refresher. The witch hazel helps control oil and tighten pores.
  • 2. Thayers Alcohol-Free Witch Hazel Organic Aloe Vera Toner: The gentle formula is unscented and paraben and alcohol-free, so it won’t dry out your skin.
  • 3. Kiehl’s Photo-Age Activated Toner: This contains Vitamin C and salicylic acid which helps to smooth skin’s texture and promote a radiant appearance.
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