What Is Skin Toner?
You've probably heard of skin toner. And maybe you've thought, well, I've got enough products in my routine, I don't need another—and besides, what does toner really do, anyway?
If you're asking these questions, then you have yet to understand the benefits of toners and how they can (and should!) be inserted into your daily routine.
It can be hard to figure what type of toner is right for you and why it can be such a game-changer for your skin. But once you understand all the benefits of incorporating a toner into your skincare routine, we think you’ll be converted once and for all!
What is skin toner?
If cleanser cleans your skin, serums deliver active ingredients, and moisturizer keeps your skin hydrated, what exactly is a skin toner?
Toners typically have a light, almost water-like consistency, and can target all sorts of different skin concerns. Some contain ingredients such as humectants to draw moisture to the skin, while others are formulated with acids that gently exfoliate. Using a clarifying toner will help to clear impurities to prep your skin for what comes next. And hydrating toners are designed to allow any additional hydrating ingredients you apply afterward to sink into your skin more successfully.
Okay, but why use toner on skin?
Imagine that your skin is like the surface of a sponge. Think about what it’s like to apply a product like a moisturizer to a dry sponge—it will only stay on the outer surface of the sponge and doesn’t get absorbed.
But a damp sponge absorbs more liquid, allowing that moisturizer to sink into its surface more easily.
Your skin essentially needs the same kind of preparation to better absorb products such as serums, moisturizers, and masks. This is where adding a toner to your skincare routine comes in—it helps to create a supportive surface that prepares your skin for the next steps and can make those steps more effective.
How to use face toner
Even though finding the perfect toner can take some time, actually using toner is a piece of vegan cake!
Toner should be the next step in your skincare routine after washing your face and can be done both morning and night. The secret to toner is that you should apply it while your skin is still somewhat damp. Think about that sponge again: damp skin will allow the toner’s moisture to stay locked deeper in your skin, and will help ingredients absorb.
There’s no one right way to apply toner, and much of it depends upon the product you’re dealing with. You can use a reusable muslin cloth, a cotton pad, or even just pour a splash into your palm and pat or press onto your face.
Some toners come with a spray nozzle, enabling you to mist your face, which is always a very pleasant and refreshing experience! You can pour your toner into your own spray bottle if it doesn’t come with that packaging.
We recommend keeping a small mist version of your favorite toner in your bag and spraying it over your skin as needed, for a nice little pick-me-up any time of the day. A portable spray toner can be especially handy in drier or more humid climates to keep your skin balanced.
Benefits of facial toner
Toners might feel lightweight on your skin, but they can be heavyweights when it comes to delivering serious benefits for your skin.
Throughout the day, all sorts of impurities can accumulate on your skin, like dirt, pollution, and makeup. Cleansing is obviously important—but using a toner after cleansing takes things to the next level, removing any leftover irritants your cleaners didn’t catch, as well as any excess oil your skin might be producing.
Toning after cleansing can also clear your skin’s surface of any dead skin cells, can tighten pores, and reduce bacteria or inflammation that can lead to acne—promoting a smoother, healthier surface for your skin.
Toners can also help you achieve the perfect pH balance for your skin, which dictate how healthy your skin’s natural barrier is. This delicate balance can be thrown out of whack with a harsh cleanser or active ingredient—or even something as simple as the hardness or softness of the water you use to wash your face! Using a toner after you cleanse helps balance your skin’s pH levels, which leads to less irritation and texture. When the pH level of your skin is balanced, your other products can work better and harder for you.
And of course, let’s not forget about hydration. Your skin begins to lose moisture the second water begins to evaporate from your skin’s surface after you wash it—but the more moisture you can lock in, the better. Humectant toners help to seal in some of that hydration on the surface of your skin, allowing it to stay plump and glowy longer.
Best facial toners
So, we’ve probably convinced you that you should absolutely incorporate a toner into your routine, given all the potential benefits to your skin—not to mention how easy toners are to use!
Now, for the trickier part: which toner is right for you?
You should always approach skincare products with a knowledge of your skin type and an understanding of the sorts of areas you’d like to address. Check out our guide for skincare for beginners to make sure you’re understanding your skin and its needs.
Then, see below for some of our favorite toners!
Best toners for combination skin
If you have combination skin--both oily and dry--look for a toner that helps remove impurities and balances your skin’s pH. An ideal toner for combination skin should offer both exfoliation and hydration.
Blue cools red—it’s a universal rule! This blue eucalyptus, lavender, and peppermint toner is the perfect antidote for aggravated summer skin. Given its striking blue color by super-detoxifying butterfly pea flowers, this toner is calming, antimicrobial, and promotes feelings of cool blue relaxation.
The combination of aloe to hydrate and witch hazel to eliminate oil is a power duo for combination skin and will help bring your skin into that all-important balance.
Lactic acid, glycolic acid, and fermented black tea work together to brighten and even your skin’s texture.
Best toners for oily skin
Oily skin does best with toners that are astringent because they help stop excess sebum production which can lead to breakouts. Some ingredients to look for are tea tree oil or witch hazel since both are natural astringents.
Willow bark, aloe vera, and green tea work together to clarify, soothe, and fight inflammation.
Natural salicylic acid and essential oils such as peppermint and rosemary act as astringents to tighten pores and reduce excess oil, leaving a clear, matte appearance.
Best toners for sensitive skin
Sensitive skin reacts to many different elements, so it’s advisable to keep things simple and calming while avoiding any triggering or unfamiliar ingredients. A good toner for sensitive skin will reduce redness, inflammation, and irritation. Be on the lookout for universally-tolerated ingredients such as chamomile and avoid alcohol-based toners.
Formulated without alcohol and essential oils that can sometimes trigger sensitivity, this toner contains aloe vera and cucumber—two ingredients that are perfect for cooling and calming.
With only two ingredients—rosewater and radish root ferment—this toner takes things back to the basics and is designed to soothe skin without provoking it.
Best toners for dry skin
Hydrating toners that nourish the skin are the best options to use for skin that’s a little (or a lot) on the dry side. Hyaluronic acid and glycerin enable skin to retain more moisture for longer, so skin stays softer and plumper throughout the day. If your skin is so dry that you’re fighting off flakiness, you can find relief in ingredients such as calendula and aloe vera to soothe irritation.
Tidal Rose Toner
Rosewater balances your skin’s pH, reduces inflammation, and helps keeps dry skin at optimal hydration.
Aloe vera and a potent mix of oils such as jojoba, marula, and evening primrose deliver a potent boost of hydration that can be refreshed throughout the day.
Best toners for acne-prone skin
The best toner for acne-prone skin should target excess oil while also hydrating and calming irritated skin.
The cause of acne is often due to bacteria (but not always—it's complicated, we know!), so natural anti-bacterial ingredients such as salicylic acid can help fight infection below the surface of your skin. But be mindful of the fact that these types of ingredients do tend to dry out skin, so look for soothing, hydrating ingredients such as aloe vera and green tea to counteract any drying effects.
Licorice helps relieve and brighten congested skin, while aloe vera, calendula, and glycerin soothe and balance.
Salicylic acid and green tea work together in this toner to fight acne by exfoliating and calming inflammation, plus addressing dryness that can occur through the treatment of acne.
While finding the right toner for your skin type might seem overwhelming when faced with all of your options, the key is to know which ingredients are best suited for your skin type or concerns—as well as which ingredients to avoid.
With regular and consistent use of a toner that works best with your skin type, you’ll find that the other products you use will affect your skin on a deeper level, and therefore provide a better bang for your buck. Prepping your skin with the right toner paves the way for a smoother, glowier, calmer complexion. So get toning!
Please note: A product appearing in our blog is not an official Kinder Beauty endorsement. While every product we feature in an article is cruelty-free and vegan, these products do not necessarily meet all of our strict brand standards for curation in one of our boxes.
Melissa Graeber is a writer and educator who is obsessed with all things skincare (her friends call her the "skincare hotline"). She is the author of the book The Astrological Grimoire, published by Chronicle Books.
Get our Kinder Beauty Box