The Science of Beauty: Understanding Face Toners and Their Role in Skincare

Apr 17, 2023by Heather Smith


Face toners are designed to cleanse and balance the skin by removing dirt and debris while preserving the delicate pH levels necessary for a clear complexion. When used correctly, toners can benefit all complexion types, from dry to oily and everything in between!

The result will be healthy skin that glows. In this article, we'll explore why and how you should consider adding a face toner to your routine.

What Does a Toner Do For Your Face?

Facial toners are an essential part of any skincare routine. Toning helps balance the skin's pH, removes excess oil and dirt from pores, and even reduces inflammation. When choosing a face toner for your individual needs, many ingredients must be considered.

Each ingredient has its own unique features, which make it beneficial for different types of skin conditions. With continued use of a facial toner, you'll soon notice healthier-looking skin thanks to improved hydration and nutrient delivery within the deeper layers beneath the surface layer of our skin.

Face Toner Benefits

The benefits of face toners are accepted in the skincare community. In fact, one study found high rates of hydration improvement in people who use toner as a part of their routine.

The main benefits of using toners include the following:

    • Improved hydration
    • Improved elasticity, firmness, and skin tone
    • Balanced pH and microbiome health
    • Removal of dead cells and impurities
    • Improved skin barrier health
    • Reduced acne

Different types of toners exist depending on specific needs like acne-prone or sensitive skin; doing research beforehand will ensure you get the best results possible from your product.

How To Use Toner

Here is an easy 4-step guide on how to apply toner and gain maximum benefit from these amazing products:

    1. Cleanse Your Skin - Before applying toner, first cleanse your face with lukewarm water and a gentle cleanser.
    2. Prepare Toner Solution - Some good DIY recipes exist for people who like to make their own products. Things don't have to be complex. However, the available number of existing products is very high, so most people likely have a commercially purchased option.
    3. Apply the Toner – Dip cotton wool in the prepared solution, then gently dab it over your entire face, including your neck area (avoiding eyes). Alternatively, you can also mist yourself using a spray bottle filled with the toner solution if preferred. Reusable face rounds are a lower waste option compared to disposable.
    4. Moisturize and/or serums - after the toner soaks in, time for the next step.

By following this simple yet effective regime regularly, you will see remarkable changes to your complexion within no time! With their anti-inflammatory properties, toners help reduce redness and irritation and soothe skin while removing excess oils that clog pores leading to acne breakouts.

Face Toner Guide - infographic by bareLUXE

Best Ingredients For Your Skin Type

Best Toners for Dry or Sensitive Skin

Due to the nature of dryness and sensitivity as well as the effects both have on the skin barrier, dry and sensitive skin have overlapping similarities with respect to the best ingredients to look for in a toner.

When selecting a toner, you should look for ingredients that provide hydration without leaving skin stripped or tight. Avoiding astringents and alcohol is very important.

Here are some of the best ingredients to look for when purchasing a facial toner for dry and/or sensitive skin:

    • Aloe vera
    • Humectants: hyaluronic acid, beta-glucan, tremella extract, glycerine
    • Pre and post biotics
    • Ceramides

People with dry skin should also look at using:

    • Emulsified toners (usually milky) that contain higher levels of oils like squalane
    • AHAs and PHAs

People with sensitive skin should look for more soothing ingredients like: 

    • Centella Asiatica
    • Bisabolol
    • Allantoin
    • They should also avoid acids altogether or use low dose Lactic acid or PHAs only
    • They should also avoid scented/floral waters (rose water, etc.) because sensitive skin products should be strictly scent-free

These ingredients are gentle yet effective enough to bring harmony back into your skincare routine by soothing inflamed sensitivities while helping remove excess oils and impurities. Ultimately, they will leave you feeling refreshed and looking radiantly beautiful.

If you suffer from a diagnosed skin disorder like eczema or psoriasis, it's important to review any new products with your dermatologist or treating physician to ensure there's no conflict with your prescribed treatment plan.

Best Toners for Acne Prone or Oily Skin

It's estimated that over 80% of people between the ages of 11 and 30 suffer from acne in some form.

Removing excess oil, regulating sebum levels, balancing pH and microbiome flora, and improving exfoliation are all the targeted results of the ingredients you'll look for in a toner.

Certainly, all the ingredients listed above can also be used for acne-prone skin. In fact, it's essential to know that over-cleansing and stripping the oils from your skin can damage your barrier and increase acne. Unfortunately, this is often something people don't realize, and the cycle of thinking your skin needs more and more cleansing and oil reduction is perpetuated as the acne increases.

With that said, excess oil, dead cells, and impurities should be removed, and those with oily and acne-prone skin often tolerate the use of astringent ingredients and higher-concentration acids - to their skin's benefit.

Some ingredients that are effective against acne to look for might include:

    • BHAs (salicylic acid) or AHAs
    • Willow bark extract
    • Witch Hazel
    • Gluconolactone

Benzoyl peroxide is often recommended, but the drying nature and skin barrier damaging effects make it hard for many people to stick with it. There is some research evidence that gluconolactone (a PHA) has anti-acne results that compare while being much more gentle.

Best Anti-Aging Toners for Mature Skin

If you have aging, mature skin, you'll want to shop for a toner containing the above ingredients (based on your skin type).

In addition to the skin-type strategy, you'll also want to amp up the ingredients known to help protect or reverse the signs of skin aging.

Ingredients such as retinol, glycolic acid and hyaluronic acid can improve signs of aging while providing gentle exfoliation and nourishing hydration. Consider looking for a toner that contains a higher level of antioxidants or the building blocks needed to stimulate and improve things like collagen and elastin, reduce hyperpigmentation and improve skin tone.

    • Antioxidants like Coenzyme Q10, Vitamin E, Green tea extract
    • Stem cells or growth factors
    • Peptides and hydrolyzed proteins
    • Vitamin C
    • Niacinamide

Remember that mature skin needs to be treated more delicately and with more hydrating treatments. The best toners for anti-aging are very nourishing and hydrating, so taking an approach suitable for dry and sensitive skin will usually work well.

Risks Of Using A Facial Toner

Historically, toners were very astringent, and people viewed them as designed purely for oily skin. In addition, they often contained alcohol so excessive drying was a real common problem.

Currently, toners focus more on gentle and safe approaches to microbiome, pH, and skin barrier health. To ensure safe use, be sure to:

    • Use a maximum once per day after cleansing (start with 2-3x per week, especially if you have sensitive skin or are using a product with a lot of acids in it)
    • Avoid rubbing harshly over delicate areas, such as around the eyes or lips
    • Not use a toner as a makeup remover. You need to remove your makeup during your cleansing steps. Since toners are often applied with cotton balls, you might notice dark, dead skin cells and leftover makeup being removed - that's fine! But a toner should never be your primary method of removing makeup.

Toner Ingredients to Avoid

Some common skincare ingredients that should be avoided when using face toners include SD-alcohol 40 (denatured alcohol), menthol derivatives such as mint extracts and eucalyptus, artificial fragrances, sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS), and tea tree oil.

It's essential to read ingredient labels carefully before purchasing a face toner to ensure you're getting one that will suit your needs. Doing this research ahead of time can save headaches later on if any adverse reactions occur due to contact with something in the formula that doesn't agree with your particular skin chemistry.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Often Should I Use A Face Toner?

Generally speaking, using a face toner two to three times per week at first is recommended. Then, work your way up to once a day if it's working for you and not irritating.

Do I Need a Toner Every Day?

The frequency you choose to use your toner will depend on skin type and lifestyle, so it's best to tailor it according to your needs.

Do I Have to Use a Toner in My Routine?

No, of course not. Toners have a lot of benefits, but the benefits come from the ingredients rather than the fact that you're explicitly using a liquid toner. If you have a routine that covers all the benefits and effects you're looking for, then you can skip toners altogether. 

Are There Any Natural Toners That I Can Use?

Yes, many natural toner ingredients can be used for daily skin care.

For example, witch hazel is a great astringent which tones the skin without overly drying it out; aloe vera helps soothe inflammation while also delivering moisture; rose water adds a boost of antioxidants to protect against free radical damage; apple cider vinegar balances pH levels and helps unclog pores; green tea contains polyphenols with anti-inflammatory properties to reduce redness and irritation; and honey has healing abilities as well as antibacterial powers.

Is There a Difference Between Toner and Astringent?

The words toner and astringent have often been used interchangeably, but the two have distinct differences. The easy summary is that: some toners contain astringents, but not all do.

Toners are usually alcohol-free, as they focus on balancing pH levels in the skin to restore its natural health rather than drying it out. On the other hand, an astringent is typically composed of alcohol or witch hazel that helps dry up oily skin. Astringents can be helpful for people with acne-prone skin; however, toners provide a more gentle approach when looking to reduce oiliness without causing irritation.

What Type Of Toner Should I Use For Combination Skin?

Combination skin requires a delicate balance when choosing the right toner. You want something that can soothe and hydrate your complexion, like a calming balm, while providing enough astringent factor to help remove excess oil from the surface.

For combination skin types, look for toners with natural ingredients such as witch hazel or willow bark extract which are known for their gentle yet effective properties. Additionally, adding botanical extracts like chamomile, aloe, green tea, or lavender will help provide additional soothing elements without stripping away essential moisture.


Face toners are an important part of any skincare routine. While many people still don't use them as often as they should, using a toner at least twice weekly can significantly benefit your skin's health and appearance.

Natural ingredients such as witch hazel or apple cider vinegar make excellent natural alternatives to store-bought products. Furthermore, understanding the difference between astringents and toners will help you find the right product for your skin type.

bareLUXE Skincare specializes in face oil serums and waterless products. 

We're dedicated to educating consumers about all manner of clean, green, and vegan beauty products. If you're looking for toners, check out these other articles for shopping recommendations. 



Yuanxi L, Wei H, Lidan X, Li L. Comparison of skin hydration in combination and single use of common moisturizers (cream, toner, and spray water). J Cosmet Sci. 2016 May-Jun;67(3):175-83.  

 Rodan K, Fields K, Falla TJ. Efficacy of a twice-daily, 3-step, over-the-counter skincare regimen for the treatment of acne vulgaris. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2017 Jan 4;10:3-9.  

 Pongsakornpaisan P, Lourith N, Kanlayavattanakul M. Anti-sebum efficacy of guava toner: A split-face, randomized, single-blind placebo-controlled study. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2019 Dec;18(6):1737-1741. 

Hwang BK, Lee S, Myoung J, Hwang SJ, Lim JM, Jeong ET, Park SG, Youn SH. Effect of the skincare product on facial skin microbial structure and biophysical parameters: A pilot study. Microbiologyopen. 2021 Oct;10(5):e1236.  

 Hunt MJ, Barnetson RS. A comparative study of gluconolactone versus benzoyl peroxide in the treatment of acne. Australas J Dermatol. 1992;33(3):131-4.

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About the Author

Dr. Heather Smith developed her love for skinimalism and clean beauty years ago when she began making home remedies for her newborn's eczema. She is an expert in natural ingredients and active botanicals and has now launched bareLUXE Skincare - a full line of effective oil serums. She dedicates this blog to consumers who are researching ingredients and working to make their beauty ritual more natural and sustainable.


This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Smith nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content should consult their physicians about their skincare concerns and routines.