When many of us think of toners, we have traumatic flashbacks to the drugstore aisle in the early aughts. Toners were all the rage—but the astringent formulas weren't exactly friends to the skin barrier. Luckily skincare—and toner, specifically—has come a long way. Gone are the drying toners of our teen years, replaced with hydrating, ingredient-focused formulas that actually enhance our routines, whether you're looking for something to address dark spots or blackheads.
To find out more about what toners do, and why they can be a valuable skincare step, we tapped Nazanin Saedi, board certified dermatologist at Plymouth Meeting Dermatology, to share insights—and product picks.
What Is Toner?
Applied after you wash your face and before serums and moisturizer, toner is a thin, watery skincare product that sets the, well, tone of the rest of your routine. "Toner is an in-between step that preps your skin after you wash it," says Saedi. "Think of it as a step that will help clean off any impurities while also getting your skin ready for any serums or creams that you use after."
What Are the Benefits of Using a Toner?
Depending on the formula, toner is usually infused with skincare ingredients to jumpstart the skin-renewal process. In addition, toning can remove any residue your cleanser may have missed. "It can help get rid of any dirt or impurities that have collected on your skin overnight or during the day," says Saedi.
What Ingredients Should You Look for in a Toner?
No two toners are the same, so look for one like you would any other product in your routine. "It really depends on what kind of condition your skin has and what you're looking for," says the derm. "For example, if you are oily, using a toner that has glycolic acid or salicylic acid will be great for keeping your skin more matte throughout the day." If you have dry skin, on the other hand, a more hydrating essence with ingredients like glycerin or hyaluronic acid may be more in line with your skin's needs.
What Skin Types Should Use Toner?
Most skin types can tolerate a toner—again, you just need to find the right formula for your skin and your routine. For example, toners are particularly great for those with acne-prone skin. "You can definitely use a toner if you have acne and or blackheads," adds the derm. "This is again where something like glycolic acid or salicylic acid can be effective for treating both acne and blackheads."
And because toner formulas are so much gentler now, those with dry skin can also add them to their routines. "Before, we used to think that toners were harsh astringents that would dry up the skin and cause irritation to help with acne, but now we know that there are so many different uses," says Saedi.
That being said, it's important to listen to your skin, says the derm: "Some people with sensitive skin may not be able to use a toner every day. Some people with dry skin might not be able to use a toner every day."
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