The Facial Toner Debate: Are They Really Necessary for Good Skin Care?

Skin Care RoutineThese days, there seems to be a great debate concerning facial toners. Many dermatologists have taken the position that toners are not necessary, except perhaps for oily skin.  In this case, they usually recommend toners that contain alcohol. As discussed below, you will see why this may not be the best approach.

However, if you talk with most aestheticians, they will tell you that toners are an essential part of any skin care routine.

So, where does the truth lie?

I strongly believe that a truly gentle and well-formulated toner can be an important step in your skin care routine. Does that mean that you have to use it religiously day and night? Not necessarily. However, regular use can provide great benefits as I will discuss later on.

Toners have evolved a long way from the heavily laden alcohol based ones, although many still do exist. When I say alcohol, I am referring to drying alcohols such as SD Alcohol 40. In, this regard, some dermatologists may suggest these types of formulations for oily/very oily skin thinking the added alcohol will control excess oil production.

However, over the long term, alcohol based products may produce even more oil. Drying out your skin with harsh alcohol or even witch hazel can send a signal to your sebaceous glands to pump out even more oil. In this case, you may end up with skin that is not only oilier, but that may be prone to breakouts as well. Ingredients which dry and strip the skin can negatively affect your skin's acid mantle, which in turn may cause further problems such as pimples or breakouts; slightly acidic skin can help prevent bacteria which can lead to breakouts.

There also seems to be some confusion regarding products marketed as "astringents" and those sold as "toners." Is there any difference between the two? Some say yes, while others say no.

The term astringent has usually been reserved for products which contain alcohol, while toners do not. However, if you look at the myriad of products out there, you will still find many "toners" that contain alcohol.

Astringents are meant to help control oil production by removing it from the surface of your skin. Some may or may not help to reduce the appearance of larger pores. However, most products labeled, "astringents" often have ingredients in addition to alcohol which can be further irritating or drying. For example, many contain peppermint, menthol and/or eucalyptus. Instead, use natural ingredients with mild astringent properties such as green tea and chamomile.

So what are the potential benefits of using a well formulated gentle, alcohol free toner?


A well formulated toner should always have a slightly acidic pH. This is close to your skin's pH when it is balanced and healthy.  A toner can help restore your skin's pH after cleansing (if you used a more alkaline cleanser). pH can also be negatively affected by a poor diet, stress and environmental factors.


A gentle toner can remove any traces of makeup which may have been left behind. If you sometimes find a tiny bit of make-up on your cotton pad, it does not necessarily mean your cleanser is ineffective. While very strong alkaline cleansers may make your face feel squeaky clean, they will also dry it and strip your skin's acid mantle. Make sure you are also use a cleanser that is equally as gentle with a slightly acidic pH.


A gentle toner can supply your skin with oil-free moisture.  Products with ample amounts of aloe vera or additional natural humectants can help to instantly moisturize skin after cleansing. In this case, you may not need as much moisturizer. And very oily skin may be able to skip the moisturizer, particularly in the evening.


Adding antioxidants with anti-aging ingredients such as resveratrol, green tea, and spirulina may help keep skin looking younger. Additional ingredients which may help brighten skin such as bilberry and Vitamin B 3 can be very helpful as well. These types of ingredients would be suitable for all skin types, including sensitive skin.

Toners may also help your moisturizer or any treatment product to absorb better.


Always use a toner that is fragrance free. Many people are allergic to fragrance or have some type of negative reaction to it.  There is never a reason to use toners with synthetic fragrances or harsh essential oils. Some ingredients such as organic Aloe Vera, provides a gentle, beautiful soft scent without added fragrance.


If your skin is dry, using a toner in the morning may be all you need. After toner, use a good moisturizer followed by a sun block with an SPF 15 or higher.


Using a super gentle and soothing toner can be a great step after using exfoliants such as glycolic acid.  Healing and nourishing ingredients such as Aloe Vera and Cucumber can provide both moisturizing and healing properties.

Using gentle toners free of alcohol, fragrance and artificial colors can provide a wonderful step in your skin care routine. Not only can it provide additional gentle cleansing benefits, but it may help keep skin more hydrated and younger looking.



Dr. Teri Dourmashkin received her Doctorate in Health Education from Columbia University. She is the Founder and President of La Vie Celeste Skin Care Inc. La Vie Celeste brings you all natural anti-aging skincare featuring R-Lipoic Acid, a powerful antioxidant. Suitable for all skin types, La Vie Celeste is the perfect union of science and nature. To learn more visit La Vie Celeste Skin Care.

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