Do I Need a Toner?

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The Paula's Choice Research Team is often asked about toners. Most of the time, people just want to know what a toner does, if they need to use one, and if so, which ones are the best for their skin type? These are great questions!
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Recommended Toners

Toner Confusion

As a result of outdated information, toners have become a confusing category of skin-care products. Because of misperceptions, many fashion magazines, dermatologists, and even cosmetics salespeople advise against using a toner, or simply dismiss toners as an optional step. That is disappointing, because a well-formulated toner can provide truly amazing benefits for your skin.

Once you understand how toners work, and know what ingredients are included in some toners that can be bad for your skin and what ingredients are essential for achieving a healthy, radiant glow, you'll find that applying a toner can be the perfect addition to your skin-care routine!

All About Toners

Toners are meant to be used after cleansing. They once were recommended as a way to restore skin's pH balance after using a bar soap or bar cleanser because those types of cleansers raise the skin's natural pH to a level that isn't good for your skin.

However, with today's gentle, water-soluble cleansers, the skin's pH doesn't change appreciably, and the fact that skin's pH recovers just fine on its own made the need for toners to adjust skin's pH fade away.

What we now know is that after cleansing, what your skin needs is a range of ingredients that restore and repair its surface. Skin can never get too much of these important ingredients, which include antioxidants and skin-repairing substances such as glycerin, fatty acids, and ceramides. 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.

What Is the Difference Between Toners?

Finding the perfect toner for your skin isn't easy, mainly because there are so many poorly formulated toners. Basically, toners can be divided into three general types:

  1. Alcohol-based formulas that often include "astringent" ingredients such as witch hazel. Toners with alcohol and astringent ingredients should always be avoided because they cause free-radical damage and irritation, which hurts your skin's ability to repair itself and damages its ability to produce healthy collagen.
  2. Water and glycerin or glycol-based formulas with fragrant extracts such as rose water or citrus fruits. These types of toners often are labeled fresheners or clarifiers, and are little more than eau de cologne for your face. Such overly fragrant toners are a common cause of reactions that are damaging to skin.
  3. Water-based formulas loaded with beneficial ingredients such as skin-repairing substances, antioxidants, and cell-communicating ingredients such as niacinamide. These are the ONLY types of toner we recommend. We guarantee that every toner from Paula's Choice matches this description, and there are similar toners from other brands we recommend on Beautypedia.

Can I Skip the Toner?

If the toner is well formulated, Paula and her team strongly recommend that you make toner an essential part of your cleansing routine because the benefits can be felt and seen almost instantly.

On the other hand, absolutely do not use any toner that contains irritating ingredients, such as alcohol, citrus, or overly fragrant ingredients, whether they are synthetic or natural. Irritation hurts your skin's healing process and reduces healthy collagen production—two things you must avoid if you want to improve your skin!

If the toner you're considering is filled with great ingredients (like the toners from Paula's Choice), then skipping this step is cheating your skin of more of the beneficial ingredients it needs to become healthier and act younger! A toner that contains state-of-the-art ingredients proven to smooth, soften, calm, and repair skin is a wonderful addition to anyone's skin-care routine!

Toners for Different Skin Types

Toners for Oily or Blemish-Prone Skin: If you have oily or blemish-prone skin, you need to be especially careful when shopping for toners. Almost without exception, the toners that claim to be specifically for these skin types and concerns are not going to help. Why are they a problem? They're a problem because most toners for oily, blemish-prone skin contain irritants (such as alcohol, witch hazel, or menthol) that hurt your skin's healing process, make blemishes worse, and, surprisingly, stimulate oil production at the base of the pore. Using the wrong toner on oily, blemish-prone skin guarantees you'll see more oil, overall redness and longer-lasting red marks, and possibly a dry, flaky surface with oily skin underneath.

The toners that are best for oily or blemish-prone skin are those whose ingredients help repair skin's surface, make skin feel smoother, reduce enlarged pores, and contain cell-communicating ingredients that help train pores to handle excess oil in a more efficient manner. For some skin types, especially during summer or in warmer climates, a well-formulated toner may be the only "moisturizer" your oily skin needs!

Toners for Dry or Sensitive Skin: Those with dry or sensitive skin typically shy away from toners because of their astringent, drying reputation. After all, the last thing dry, sensitive skin needs are irritants that make it even drier or redder! But the right toner for dry or sensitive skin can make a world of difference: You'll see less redness, less flaking, and your skin will feel soothed and comfortable.

If you're skeptical (and we can't say we blame you) give a well-formulated toner a try—we're betting you'll be pleasantly surprised with how your skin improves!

Toners for Combination Skin: If your skin is oily on your forehead, nose, and chin and dry to normal on your cheeks and jaw area, then you have classic combination skin. Using the wrong toner on combination skin will exaggerate the dry areas and make oily areas worse (this is doubly true if blemishes are present).

What's the solution? You need a gentle, alcohol-free toner with ingredients that help normalize your skin, so you'll see less dryness and reduced oiliness. With ongoing use as part of a complete skin-care routine, you'll also see enlarged pores become smaller.

Which Paula's Choice Toner is Right for Me?

Although every Paula's Choice toner contains a range of ingredients that provide multiple benefits, each has distinctions that make them preferred for certain skin types or concerns:

Toners for Aging and Sun Damage

All Paula's Choice toners are excellent options for anti-aging and for helping to repair sun damage while also addressing other concerns. In addition, you can alternate, using any of our toners along with Resist Advanced Replenishing Toner for wonderful results.

As you might have gathered from the above discussion, when shopping for toners it's critical that you make sure you consider only those that treat your skin to nothing but beneficial ingredients. There is never—never—a good reason to use a toner with irritants, regardless of the claims on the label. A brilliantly formulated toner, on the other hand, can be a valuable addition to your skin-care routine, whether your concern is anti-aging or you're struggling with dryness, excess oil, sensitivity, or the dual nature of combination 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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