Everything You Need to Know About Toners

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As you look over your morning and evening skin-care routines, a toner may be low on your list of priorities—if it's even on the list! It's understandable that you may not even use a toner—especially if you still associate toners with the sting-y, drying alcohol and witch hazel blends that used to be the norm. We've said it before—most toners are ho-hum at best—but, the best toners have come a long way since the days of Ten-O-Six and Sea Breeze! In fact, a well-formulated toner will deliver anti-aging benefits that rival many of the top moisturizers and serums, making your anti-aging routine even more effective.

But, hold on! Using the right toner is critical. Toners from the ‘80s and ‘90s were train wrecks—if they weren't alcohol based, they featured a flurry of irritants (fragrance, menthol, peppermint and/or witch hazel, to name a few). While skin-damaging toner throwbacks persist today, we've found quite a few worth investigating … providing you know how to separate the good from the bad.

Why Toners are a Skin-Care Essential

There is a toner out there for every skin type or concern—you just need to find the right match! Here are the top reasons why the right toner may be your shortcut to better skin:

  1. It's a post-cleanser complexion booster. Cleansing skin twice daily (AM & PM) is critical to keeping it healthy. However, after this cleansing or makeup removal step, your skin needs a range of ingredients to replenish its surface layer (you can tell by how your face might feel a little tight after rinsing). Skin-repairing substances such as hyaluronic acid, glycerin, ceramides, and fatty acids are great for this. What you may not know is that the right toner contains more of these ingredients than many serums or moisturizers.
  2. Your perfect moisturizer may be a toner! If you have oily or combination skin with very oily areas, you may be searching for a moisturizer that won't make things worse (Hello, greasy, shiny skin!). The right toner can supply all the lightweight hydration your oil-prone skin needs—especially in the warmer summer months, or year-round in warm or humid climates.
  3. Toners are more than makeup removers. If you still think of toner as an extra step to remove the last traces of makeup, it's time to go beyond that basic benefit. A well-formulated toner not only will remove the last traces of makeup but also will provide benefits targeted to your specific skin concerns. The right toner will leave your skin smoother, soothe redness, and even help improve the appearance of enlarged pores.

Which Toner is Right for You (+ Which Should You Avoid)?

OK, now that you know the benefits of a well-formulated toner, how do you know which one is right for you? What should you avoid when shopping for a toner? We've narrowed this list down to two simple guidelines: First of all, be choosy; second, keep your skin type in mind.

Be choosy. Great toners are not very common, but they are out there! Don't bother with toners that contain too few beneficial ingredients (those that contain just water, aloe, and glycerin) or that are loaded with too many bad-for-your-skin ingredients. The latter, of course, present the more significant risk—if a toner contains a high amount of alcohol, fragrance, or irritants like peppermint, citrus, rosewater, or essential oils, it is going to be more trouble than it's worth over the long term. Irritation does a number on your skin's ability to heal and produce healthy collagen, and it can aggravate breakouts or create extreme combination skin.

Make finding your ideal toner easier by checking out our recommendations on Beautypedia—we've already done the research for you!

Keep your skin type in mind. Although a good toner will always contain a mix of antioxidants and skin-identical ingredients, keep your skin type in mind to find the right balance of moisturizing agents. Those with oily to combination skin should look for formulas that offer light hydration (think glycerin and lower amounts of fatty acids). Those with dry skin should look for toners with richer moisturizing agents, including non-fragrant plant oils and phospholipids. If you have normal skin, you can use any well-formulated toner you want, assuming you want the extra benefits a great toner can provide.

We hope we've explained the many ways a great toner can benefit your skin. None of us on the Paula's Choice Research Team would be without our favorite toners because we've seen the remarkable difference they make in the healthy feel and appearance of our skin.

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About the Experts

Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books on skin care and makeup. She is known worldwide as the Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula's Choice. Paula's expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international television including:

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The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to helping you find the absolute best products for your skin, using research-based criteria to review beauty products from an honest, balanced perspective. Each member of the team was personally trained by Paula herself.

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