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What Does Toner Do for Your Skin? A Guide

What Does Toner Do for Your Skin? A Guide

From your cleanser to your moisturizer, a quality skin care routine contains a few key steps and products. 

Each step of the process plays a crucial role in keeping your skin looking and feeling its healthiest. 

Of all the skin care products you could add to your routine, toner is one that many people skip. What does toner do for your skin, and what ingredients should you look for in a quality toner? 

What is toner?

Facial toner is a liquid skin care product that helps remove any remaining impurities and prime your skin. Harsh astringents that used to sting and dry out the skin are a thing of the past — modern toners work in a much different and far more effective way. 

For one, today’s toners are generally alcohol-free. While a helpful ingredient in some cases, alcohol is a bit intense, drying the skin out so much that it damages the skin barrier

Toners are also far more versatile than they were a few decades ago. Some contain added antioxidants, while others include soothing ingredients like aloe vera, chamomile or witch hazel. The abundance of ingredients and formulations you can find in toners changes the game, making this skin care product far more accessible for everyone.

If you’ve used toner in the past, it’s important to note that it should never sting or burn when you apply it. Stinging or burning is often a symptom of a damaged skin barrier and not an indication that the product is effective — it's a sign that you may want to check in with your skin care provider

What does toner do for your skin?

While face toners used to be most commonly used by people with oily or breakout-prone skin, you can now find toners that address a variety of skin concerns and skin types. But what does toner do for your skin? Most have benefits that fall into one of the following categories.


As toner makes the skin more receptive to skin care products, using it before your serums can help even the skin tone and make the skin appear brighter and more radiant. Toners with exfoliating ingredients can be especially helpful in this sense.


Clarifying the skin means removing impurities like excess oil (also called sebum), dead skin cells and leftover makeup. Our Crystal Clear clarifying pads effectively cleanse and exfoliate with every swipe. While not every toner has clarifying ingredients, they can all help prepare the skin for other skin care products that do. 


Some water-based toners include a hydrating agent, like hyaluronic acid or glycerin, while others open the pores so moisturizer can be more effective. Hydration is one of the most crucial ways you can support your skin — it needs moisture! Improper hydration is one of the most significant contributing factors to a variety of skin concerns, including dullness, fine lines, wrinkles and sagging.

pH balancing

Although the skin's pH level varies depending on where on the body it’s located, it tends to be happiest when it’s in a slightly acidic state. Toners can help encourage an acidic pH level, helping the skin absorb products better.

The type of toner you choose will depend on your specific skin goals. If your skin is prone to breakouts or blackheads, the best toner may be one with beta hydroxy acids (BHAs), like salicylic acid, to help with exfoliating. 

For those with dry skin, a hydrating toner may be the way to go. You may even want to use a different toner for your morning and evening routine, as certain skin types — like combination skin — need something different at different points in the day.

When should you apply toner?

Where does toner fit into your routine? Applying your skin care products in the right order can impact their effectiveness, so let's discuss when to incorporate toner. 

The first step in any skin care regimen should always be cleansing the skin. Your skin care products are an investment, and they need a blank canvas to be most effective. 

Cleansing the skin, whether you use glycolic acid pads, a gentle cleanser or the double cleansing method, helps remove the layer of debris that can block the remainder of products from penetrating deeper into the pores.

Once the skin is clean, it’s time to use your toner. Toner is most effective when you apply it within a minute of cleansing the skin. The active ingredients in most toners work best when the skin is still wet, so just gently pat the skin dry first. 

When applying toner, you can use your clean fingertips, a cotton ball or a cotton pad (depending on your preference and the type of toner you use). Start at the center of your face and work outwards, removing debris as you go. Once you’re done, your skin will be prepped and ready for serums.

If you’re applying more than one serum, start with your targeted serums, then apply the remainder from the thinnest in consistency to the thickest. Then, all that’s left is to apply your moisturizer (and sunscreen, if you’re performing your morning routine). Toner doesn’t add much time to to your skin care routine, but its benefits are unrivaled.

The bottom line...

What does toner do for your skin? When used appropriately, toner can help balance, brighten, clarify and hydrate the skin. Gone are the alcohol-based, dryness-inducing toners of the 1990s. 

Modern toners are far more helpful and are customizable for any skin care routine. If you’re unsure where to start, book a skin consult at one of our clinics, and one of our advanced practice providers will create a skin care plan for you with personalized product and treatment recommendations. 


How irritant is alcohol? | PubMed

Skin Epidermis and Barrier Function | PubMed

Intrinsic and Extrinsic Factors Affecting Skin Surface pH | PubMed

Beta Hydroxy Acids | FDA


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