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I recently received a letter from an irate reader who couldn't believe I was telling readers toner was unnecessary. She worked in the beauty industry and had been taught that toner is an important part of a daily skincare regimen. I felt for her because she probably had been selling toner to dozens of clients over the years and here I was not only questioning her practice, but throwing it out the window.

Yep, it's true. Let it be known far and wide that I, and many, many beauty experts, firmly believe you don't need toner. Where do I get my facts? From the beauty experts out there who seem to be in firm agreement toner is unnecessary. Of the dozens of beauty books I have, very few give toner a thumbs up and many experts actually suggest toner is useless, with one expert announcing, 'the only things that need toner are copy machines.'

Now we all have our firm beliefs, many of which aren't based on anything except how good or 'eh' something makes us feel. So if you swear by your toner and you can't imagine your beauty routine without it, if you insist cleanser alone could never remove your makeup in full, then by all means, don't throw out your toner. It's likely not going to hurt your skin and what matters most is not what the experts resoundingly say. It's not how a product is rated by the masses. What's most important is how it makes you feel.

Have a firm opinion about toner? Weigh in below.

Comments

February 25, 2007 at 1:25 pm
(1) Julia says:

I use my toner about 3 times a week, only when I have a pimple. I’ve always had a problem with acne, and after using Kiehl’s Oil-Free Calendula Toner, my acne has been clearing up a lot.

February 25, 2007 at 1:27 pm
(2) Julia says:

Oops. I said oil-free, I meant alchohol-free.

February 27, 2007 at 1:21 pm
(3) Kimberly says:

First, I do work for a cosmetics counter in a department store and I recommend using toner. There are 2 great reasons for toner. Reason one it gets any little traces of your make up you may have left after you wash your face at night. The second reason is you will use less moisturizer. How is that you ask, if you apply your moisturizer after using your toner and your face is still damp your moisturizer will go on much easier and spread farther. If you do not believe me, try it. I could not believe it until I tried it myself. You will get your moisturizer to last much longer and save money in the long run.

February 27, 2007 at 6:29 pm
(4) CBFunk says:

What about cleansers with toners? I recently vought one and it is really quite refreshing and tingly as I use it.

February 28, 2007 at 11:51 am
(5) Miranda says:

I would like to use a toner because I hate any residue that is left after cleansing. Unfortunately I’ve yet to find one that isn’t too drying for my particular skin.

February 28, 2007 at 1:04 pm
(6) Paula says:

But Kimberly, you can get the same action if you just leave a tiny bit of water on your face after washing. The moisturizer spreads better over a damp face, whether damp with toner or plain water.

I keep a tiny spray bottle filled with distilled water in my medicine cabinet, and after I wash, I spritz it over my face, dab off any drippy excess, then use my day or night cream.

In summertime, I keep a little bottle of plain witch hazel in the ‘fridge, and use that on my face during the day if I get too hot and icky, then again at night, before the plain water, to help remove any lingering oil or sludge. It’s about $5.00 for a quart of witch hazel, and it’s very easy on the skin.

March 1, 2007 at 1:10 pm
(7) Odette Baumgartner says:

I am a lisenced skin care professional and have been in the business for 20 years. I have never heard anyone say toners are useless. Their main function is to return the skin to it’s natural ph level. Cleansers are lower in ph than the skin. You can get some moistureizers and cleansers with toner in them. Water will remove excess debris from the skin BUT what is in the polluted water?! Use a toner and you will be removing the garbage from your skin that is in the water before applying a moisturizer. If you are using a moisturizer that is penetrating active ingredients into the skin then you are pushing the pollutants in the water into your face also. I highly recomend a toner for that reason alone.

March 5, 2007 at 1:25 pm
(8) LSBrown says:

I’ve had oily skin ever since my teen years and have found that using toner only made my skin overly dry. I use all natural soaps like the Tomato facial soap by Burt’s Bees and if I use a toner, it’s witch hazel. Anything else just makes a bad situation worse (for me, anyway). While I respect the opinions/comments that are pro-toner, I have to strongly disagree. Also, Odette, you can use purified water to cleanse your face so that you’re not washing with pollutant-filled tap water.

March 6, 2007 at 2:11 am
(9) Danielle says:

I think toner may help my scarring from pimples. Does anyone know anything about toner helping remove/fade pimple scars?

March 9, 2007 at 9:52 am
(10) Lorna says:

As Odette says, toner is used to restore the natural acidic PH of the skin (acid mantel) that an alkaline soap or cleanser destroys, leaving toner out of your routine means the skin is left unprotected from the elements and pollution and moisturiser can not cope alone.

March 9, 2007 at 11:13 am
(11) Ann says:

I recently stop by Shisheido counter and the sale girl told me that using toner will close your pores and your moisturizer will just sit on top of your skin, which is a waist. She said their line carry softener instead of toner and the softener will help your moisturizer penetrate your skin. Is this true? Shisheido softener is not cheap.

June 9, 2007 at 12:21 pm
(12) Sinta says:

Ann, if you’re looking for a cheaper toner that claims to “soften”, try Boots. You can find it at Target. It’s the #1 beauty seller in the U.K. Visit their web site at boots.com. I tested their products at a target store and I was impressed!

August 23, 2007 at 4:46 am
(13) Monica Rodriguez says:

I believe I read in Allure magazine that none of the editors use toner, they say it’s just a waste of money. I just believed them ever since.

June 1, 2008 at 11:26 pm
(14) D says:

I’ve actually never used toners and really see no reason to. I agree they are useless and they actually dry out my skin so maybe it’s just me.

November 13, 2008 at 10:05 pm
(15) Jared Andrews says:

Hmmm, in this article, you claim no one needs facial toner, yet no one actually NEEDS any of these face medicating treatments. Additionally, you claim toner is useless then provide no reasonable source for your claim, just “experts.” As a critic, this article is nothing more than an editorial and you are nothing more than one out of billions of individuals with an opinion. You even state that you “believe” toner is useless, and you cannot firmly say that toner “is” useless because you seem to lack data to support such a claim. For every “expert” who claims it is useless, there is one who can claim it is “useful.” Your voice has been lost in the crowd of billions who make claims without sufficient evidence to support them.

December 2, 2008 at 12:30 am
(16) Tondalaya says:

I’m not an expert on anything except for my own skin. I only feel the need to use a toner after a facial mask (witch hazel works then too). But for the record when I use a toner after exfoliating and cleansing there is residue on the cotton swab and for that reason alone I think there is a need for toners/witch hazel/rubbing alcohol whatever your skin can handle.

For my foundation I use a finishing creme only. I simply add a few dabs of water to my make up sponge add the crème and apply that makes my make up last longer and go on smoother. Toner tends to dry my already dry skin – could be great for oily skin I guess.

That’s my two cent.

May 20, 2009 at 4:46 am
(17) commoner says:

before this, i used toner for like 10years since i was a teenager. what i notice is using toner doesn’t improve the skin condition. in addition, my skin got oily faster than when not using toner. it’s true that when u apply toner to your face, the dirt from the face or the towel or the polluted water do come out and stick to the cottonball. but still the face get oily easily and when u wash your face, it does feel like removing your moisturizer. now, when not using toner, i feel like the moisturizer could be absorbed more easily and my face get less oilier

July 21, 2009 at 9:31 am
(18) soph says:

You only need toner if your cleanser has a high ph. If the cleanser is ph balanced (around ph 4.5-6) then you don’t need toner as well.

August 18, 2009 at 5:03 am
(19) Ashley says:

For the record,
People get toners and astringents mixed up. They are not the same thing, but everyone refers to them as such.

Toners remove some residue but it’s main function is to hydrate the skin, decongest it, and prepare it for future treatments. These are primarily water based and not acidic.
Astringents are alcohol based, and used mainly to strip away excess oils, and can be drying for even the oiliest of skin. While I suppose they can bring people’s skin back to pH balance more quickly most are too acid for people’s skin. The the pH is too high, and settles around 5.5 (acidic).

Skin generally is between 5.5-6.5 in pH. As you can see, you’d have to have to fall at more acidic 5.5 range for the astringent to not be too harsh. Most of us don’t lay on that end of the spectrum, no matter how ‘shiny’ you think you are.

If you use a makeup remover and then a cleanser you should be okay for the most part.
Your “Soap” (cleanser) should not leave too much of a residue on the skin. If so, the pH is too basic ( above 7.0 or 8.0) and/or the water used is too hard. Another possibility is your are losing too much moisture in your skin, but I’ll get to that in a minute.
if you need a toner to remove it lots of glaring residue, then you need to change your makeup remover or cleanser. You might even have to chuck them both. It doesn’t mean you need a ‘stronger’ or acidic toner (astringent).
If oil is still present, your cleanser didn’t do a good job, go stronger. If you get a stronger cleanser and it’ leaves residue, go with a gentler cleanser or use purified water. If you find you can’t get the right balance between the two you may legitimately need an astringent. Dilute it with water first so you don’t irritate the skin and work towards a combination that won’t dry you out yet removes the oil.

*A note on purified water (hate to burst your bubble):
Even most tap filtered and bottled waters are still contaminated.
Distillation will remove just about everything but remove any beneficial minerals in the water (therefore not great for drinking).
Additionally, if distilled water is left in a plastic bottle, contaminants/hormone disruptors still leech into the water via the plastic.
Most water plants do not filter for man made chemicals in the water such as pharmaceuticals. And most tap filters cannot filter these out, it’s a highly expensive process. People who live in urban settings are at more risk of exposure due to other additives used in the water because chlorine levels cannot be increased for safety reasons. Again, most filters do not filter these out. A lot of filters will claim to be tested for filtering out certain compounds, but that doesn’t mean they are approved. Also, when water gets hot or moves quickly (such as through a shower), it becomes extremely hard to filter.
Next best thing: Rain water put in a ceramic or glass container using a filter not made with plastic or dangerous metals coming in contact with the water.

More on Acidic toners (astringents):
It makes no sense to immediately bring the skin back into ‘balance’ right after using a cleanser with an acidic product (astringent). You just used something basic, give your skin some time to breathe first and flush it out with water or hydrate.
An extreme example would be to pour acid on a fresh ‘base’ burn. In the lab we do not put an ‘acid’ on a ‘base’ burn to neutralize it on the skin.
We put the base burn under a stream of running water to dilute it until it’s gone (the same goes for acid burns). Sometimes we must sit there for several minutes to ensure the reaction will not continue with a extremely concentrated base.
While you are not burning your skin with soap (or at least lets hope not), adding something acidic will mostly likely cause a reaction on your face. Your face is not the same as a tub with soap scum that needs to be removed with vinegar. The tub will be spotless, your face will be irritated.
Just because there’s an acid base reaction doesn’t mean the chemicals go away either, they form new ones that now sit on your face and need to be rinsed away.
This contradicts everyone’s recommendation to be ‘gentle’ to your skin.
Luckily the chemistry in the body and skin is buffered, meaning you can add a little base or acid, and it will adjust the pH to what’s appropriate to conduct life. It doesn’t mean there won’t be irritation however.
You’d think that this means we need no moisturizer after we wash either, but that is incorrect in most cases.

When you add a soap to the skin, it can dry it out. It strips at least some oils from the skin and allows moisture trapped under the oil to escape the surface of the skin. If allowed to air dry after washing, your skin will dehydrate in the process or trying to rebuild the oily protective layer that seals moisture in. To compensate it will actually produce more oil to prevent any moisture left from escaping. Lack of hydration does not mean lack of oil.
To help stop this, use a hydrating toner/softener (not astringent).
While still wet apply your other treatments.
A moisturizer will stick to a wet face and absorb better than a dry face as moisturizer has a lot of water in it as well. Water likes to stick to water. A dampened sponge will soak up more water than a dry one due to this property.
After the moisturizer is well absorbed, you may apply any sunscreen, and/or primers to prevent pollutants/makeup from getting into your pores.

January 2, 2010 at 1:41 am
(20) sbl09 says:

I have never seen the need for toner, and really didn’t understand why my sister uses it all the time. Out of curiosity, I tried her Origins toner and I must say, it has done wonders for my skin. I would definitely say it makes a difference and will be using it from now on. For those who automatically assume that toner is useless, I suggest they try it for themselves. I recognize that toner might not make a difference at all to some people, but for me, at the very least, it has significantly improved my skin :)

March 25, 2010 at 7:40 pm
(21) Alchemilla says:

We sell many products to estheticians and every one of them believes wholeheartedly that a toner is absolutely essential to healthy skin. We tend to agree. We write about it a lot. Toners do have many benefits, for example they can help the cleansing process by removing any cleanser residue, as well as help to gently wipe away ingrained debris from the pores. In addition, they help the skin return to a balanced (acid) pH and, if they don’t contain alcohol but do contain natural humectants (like honey or glycerin), leave a moisture-attracting ‘film’ on the skin which will contribute to the plumped up (less wrinkly) appearance of the skin. In addition to all that, toners are a wonderful medium for imparting various actives onto the skin, eg panthenol (soothing, moisturizing), rosewood or geranium (sebum regulating), elder flowers or alchemilla (firming natural plant astringents). The only time I wouldn’t use a toner is if it contains alcohol. Alcohol completely removes all moisture, dehydrates the skin and damages the cell membranes. Such drying only triggers over-production of more oil to counteract the damage and dryness.

July 2, 2010 at 9:32 am
(22) Alison says:

What It’s Meant to Do: A toner purportedly eliminates oil, tightens pores, and gets the skin ready to absorb active ingredients in other products.

So Who Needs It? Only people with extremely oily skin, says Ranella Hirsch, M.D., vice president of the American Society of Cosmetic Dermatology and Aesthetic Surgery. And that’s only if you’re not already controlling oil in another way, like with a salicylic acid–based cleanser or an oil-absorbing lotion. (Incidentally, “there’s no truth to the theory that toners prep the skin or help other products penetrate better,” says David E. Bank, M.D., director of the Center for Dermatology, Cosmetic and Laser Surgery, in Mount Kisco, New York.)

Who Can Skip It: Women with normal, dry, or sensitive complexions — that is, almost everyone.

July 22, 2010 at 11:51 am
(23) Riya says:

I agree, there is NO need to use toner at all. All these beauty therapists that claim to have been working in the i9ndustry for so many years….doesnt mean a thing. Beauty companies train their staff a certain way to sell their products! They have been taught that toner is necessary (as with other products such as serum, primer, etc) its all part of the multi million pound industry. They would otherwise be out of business.

Skin cleansing should be kept simple. As simple as possible and the less product used, the better. The reason why some people see dirt when wiping with a toner is because some of them can lift the skin and its natural ‘protective layer’ and the oil it naturally produces, so its not always dirt!

The skin needs its natural oil which it produces itself, this is what protects the skin and is a natural defence. The skin doesnt need ‘extra protection’ from a toner! Its self sufficient and all that is required is a good cleanser and moisturiser and yes, water does the job. If your skin is damp with water, thats all you need! Toner can dry out the skin even if it doesnt contain alcohol and can make breakouts more frequent as the skin starts to produce more oil when it is removed.

October 28, 2010 at 1:11 am
(24) TonerNazi says:

Aren’t you all getting a little heated and even rude about toner? :)

October 28, 2010 at 2:57 pm
(25) Brüno says:

Ich believe zhat if you have resorted to using ein “toner” or “cleanser,” you have clearly lost all sanity. Ich have mein face lasered und mein ashenhaller bleached twice a veek. For ein healthy complexion and skin, ich simply sleep in a seaweed body wrap under a Zac Posen Navy-Cut Nightshirt. However, in mein dreams, ich sleep naked in a giant reed basket drifting slowly down ze Nile, cradled in ze arms of Daniel Radcliffe. Achyah!

Trust me… Ich vork for Funkyzeit! :D
Entscheidung über Gut

October 29, 2010 at 12:05 am
(26) beauty says:

Bruno: Thanks for the big laugh! I hope Daniel visits you again in your dreams tonight….Julyne

November 23, 2010 at 11:05 pm
(27) Kristy says:

I don’t wear makeup, and don’t have a routine, but I randomly use toner because I get free bottles. I started using at night for the clean fresh feeling when I’m too lazy to wash my face (oops) and liked seeing the dirt that came off. But later I noticed that my skin was staying smooth and calm (I actually have pretty good skin, but have small flare-ups now and then due to sensitive skin) and the tiny bumps on my chin that felt like clogged pores that have never gone away since 6th grade…went away. So yah I’ll keep using that toner.

May 30, 2011 at 10:45 pm
(28) courtney says:

i use tea tree toner from the body shop and i love it! i also work in the beauty industry and tend to wear makeup daily. i only use it at night, but it removes left over makeup or oil from the cleanser. trust me when you use ur cleanser and you think your face is clean because you cant see anything left… use a toner and youll be amazed at what was left behind. your skin is so clean feeling after.

June 30, 2011 at 3:21 pm
(29) P says:

My dermatologist said they are for the birds and I agree. He recommended eating more fruits and veggies and less processed food and he was right! My skin cleared right up without the pricey toner.

September 6, 2011 at 7:48 pm
(30) jd says:

im a 14 year old girl and ive had REALLY bad acne since 5th grade and really just want to get rid of it! my face is always oily. i went to a shoppers drugmart and they told me to use some vichy products with no toner and it didnt help at all and then i went to lawtons and they got me to buy marcelle toner and moisturizer and i still see no change! can anybody help me with my problem? ive become very frustrated with it since ive used just about everything and nothing will work!! please just let me know

September 8, 2011 at 11:32 am
(31) beauty says:

Dear JD,

When you are young and you have really bad acne, you need to see a dermatologist. What you are dealing with cannot usually be helped with simple over-the-counter remedies and medications. You need real medical advice to help you clear up your skin, people at beauty counters are not typically adept at helping solve real skin problems and flare-ups.

In the meantime, there are great acne resources online and I suggest you check them out. Here is a link to About.com’s wonderful Acne Website: http://acne.about.com/.

–Julyne Derrick

November 8, 2011 at 2:52 am
(32) Aunt Dew says:

I found this in my attempt to find out what toner actually does.

Before I started full time work the only things I used on my face was water and moisturizer/sunblock in the summertime.

Now that I am working I am wearing makeup everyday, so I use cleanser to remove it when I get home, followed by water and moisturizer.

A lady in the shop who I bought my moisturizer off, tried to sell me toner, but I did not understand what it was for.

I am so glad I found this before I bought it. I am very conscious of what products I put on my skin, as I am susceptible to eczema, and dry skin is no help at all.

Hearing that it is useless makes me confident to say no to buying it.

I’m not worried about the pH thing as I am so careful with the cleansers I buy (for stated reason), and only use ones suitable for sensitive skin.

As for the closing/tightening pores thing, you can make your pores open and close simple by changing the temperature of the water you are using, warm water opens them, cold water closes them. So use warm water when washing your face, then use cold water before applying moisturizer.

It feels very refreshing.

November 12, 2011 at 11:58 pm
(33) jd says:

Dear Julyne Derrick,
Thank you for your tips, I went to a dermatologist a couple weeks ago and she told me there’s not really much to do for me. She prescribed me some antibiotics and some cream for my back. It doesn’t seem to be working yet but hopefully it will eventually help.

February 20, 2012 at 3:58 pm
(34) sharon says:

I WAS the girl working behind the cosmetic counter. Two different ones as a matter of fact. Both lines push toners. Toners are big ticket items, for a not really expensive product to make. I used toners for years and have stopped now. The only difference is that I have a few extra bucks in my wallet. I know this is gonna make some women mad, but I feel that we will do many things, within our budget and reach, to stay looking young. As cosmetic counter sales associates, the word of the day always is SALES. I have not used a toner for over 5 years now. I simply use a good cleanser and good moisturizer. I am 52 but am always confused for 30-35. Good diet, drinking water, and guess what, I drink iced tea daily. I drink it unsweetened. Iced tea is high in antioxidants. Sorry, I got off topic…lol

May 18, 2012 at 12:28 am
(35) Audrey says:

I’m sorry to say this so bluntly, but you are all ridiculous. I have worked at numerous beauty counters for a number of years. To tell it to you straight, we are all trained that the more expensive it is the better…(for the most part that’s what we are told) they send us to numerous beauty schools to fill our brains with bullshit to tell to you women (customers) why you ask? because in the long run it makes our managers, and the company itself more money. My one manager made (and still makes) a 20% cut commission on everything we sell. I am finally out of that dreadful dramatic business, and have come to realize over the past few years, women are so god damn gullible. i would pick up a $200 cream and say that it magically makes your wrinkles disappear and they would buy it….without doing any research?? c’mon ladies. I’m not trying to say that beauty experts dont know anything because of course they do. But why do all of you women think that you have to spend so much? you realize they are all owned by the same companies right? Any Lancome users out there? yeah sick of paying so much? L’oreal is the same company as Lancome. Its like Bananna Republic and the Gap. I was using expensive Lancome anti aging products for years paying out my ass for nothing. I recently switched to mass aisle products (Garnier and L’oreal) and i pay less than half. PLUS you probably wont believe me but they work better. Anyways i dont really give a shit whether you listen to me or not but i know im right so at least i wont continue to waste my money like alot of you are right now. And for the record, toner is fucking useless. Its just an add on that we give you to make you buy more.

July 21, 2012 at 1:47 pm
(36) acne no more mike walden says:

Simply wish to say your article is as astounding. The clearness in your post is simply great and i can assume you’re an expert on this subject. Well with your permission let me to grab your feed to keep updated with forthcoming post. Thanks a million and please continue the rewarding work.

July 30, 2012 at 6:08 am
(37) Jessie says:

I have experimented on whether toner really works on my skin or not. I have been using the same cleanser on my face for the past year. I also used to swear on the daily usage of toner after I cleanse my face. I recently moved and didn’t bring over my toner. So I spent a few weeks not using it. I noticed a dramatic different. I have oily combination skin and my skin seemed to produce more oil when I wasnt using the toner. I just started using the toner again and my skin responds so much better!!

August 11, 2012 at 6:18 pm
(38) Melanie says:

I have had murder trying to find a good product for my skin. I suffer with chronic urticaria and my skin is very oily. I bought proactiv 3 step system because of my hives. Not worked at all. I found the cleanser from it was excellent but the toner and moisturizer was way to greasy. I had some garnier combo to oily skin moisturizer and now I put on that after the cleanser but only after rinsing off the cleanser with warm water and then dabbing my face with a towel then splashing my face with cold water and dabbing with a towel. and my face is lovely and fresh and feels very hydrated and breathable. NO MOISTURIZER NECESSARY!

November 16, 2012 at 3:04 am
(39) Sherbian says:

Hi, just wondering if softner does really open your pores? I bought a few back ago. But seems that my pores did open up. I researched and it said that it aids the permeability of moisturiser but my face is nt suitable for that. Does it mean I do not have to use a softner then? Pls help me clarify my doubt:)

January 27, 2013 at 2:17 pm
(40) Laura says:

I just went to see an estition. Got a microterma treatment. She said to throw out my toner it will not help me. I have oily skin and major scares
She talked me into buying some of her natural products. Like cleanser and a mask. Her products are expensive and I can’t aford them plus the 5 treatments I bought from groupon. Is there a less expensive product to help tighten up my pores and exfoliate to. I am 51

July 28, 2013 at 4:20 am
(41) Ocean says:

Hi! I don’t know about toners bought from the store, but I use a neat trick instead. Brew some green or chamomile tea, let it cool in fridge. After it’s cooled, put it in a spritzer and spray your face! Simple. It contains antioxidents that work wonders on my normal/dry skin, tightens pore’s and make me feel fresh. Plus on a hot day, you can put the tea in the freezer for a little bit and when you mist it on your face it feels wonderful. All natural beauty is the best beauty!
Stay classy San Dieago

August 13, 2013 at 4:23 pm
(42) Julia says:

Hi, I think is important to use a toner. I use mine in the morning and at night. As we know the water from the sink has some impurities and chlorine . The Tonic lotion is made to balance the Ph. of the skin, I just try to opt for one that is alcohol free. I find it compliments really well whit my cream and it leaves your skin fresh and smooth.

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