What Is Toner? Everything You Need To Know About Facial Toner

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Morning and evening skin care routines are sacred. They’re the pillars of healthy, acne-free skin. They’re what keeps the zits at bay, make your makeup stand out, and help shield your pillowcase from everything that’s accumulated on your face throughout the day.

For as long as I can remember, toner has been part of my skin care routine. Yet it’s not something I really gave much thought to, just something that I did. Then one day my friend asked me to explain to her why it was such an essential part of my routine, and I started stumbling over my words. I mean, it’s toner, isn’t it obvious that you need it?

But alas, to my friend it wasn’t. And I realized that I needed a brush-up too. So if you’re like us, keep on reading to be enlightened. 

What Is Toner? What Does Toner Do For Your Skin?

Well, the first question on your list is probably “What does face toner do?” But the real question should be, “What does face toner not do?” Once you understand what this superstar does, you’ll never go back to your no-toner days.

For starters, toner is made of water, acids, glycerin, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatories. Your skin will absorb it quickly, getting a boost of moisture. Certain toners are humectants, which means that they help moisture lock into your skin. Toners are especially ideal for people with oily or acne-prone skin. In a pinch, if you can’t wash your face you can even use some toner to cleanse your skin.

One of the most touted benefits of toner is that it will help to shrink your pores. You can easily put some on a cotton ball and gently wipe or blot your face with it. This will help remove oil and minimize the appearance of your pores. It also works to remove dead skin cells and help close pores after you wash your face, preventing dirt and pollutants from getting in.

Our skin typically has a pH level of 5-6, making it acidic. But because soap is more alkaline, your skin’s pH balance can get thrown off. Your body might try to rebalance itself by working harder, and this might even make it produce more oil. Yet introducing a toner into your skincare routine can help you find the balance and relieve your body of that added stress. Toner can also help prevent ingrown hairs, thereby making your skin care routine less complicated.

Difference Between Toner And Astringent  

Woman with hair in towel wiping face with cotton pad.

Woman cleansing her face.

Don’t be confused, toner and astringent are very different things. It starts with their makeup. Toners generally include glycerin and a form of glycol, which help moisturize the skin and balance its pH levels. One of the main goals of using a toner is to get skin ready to better be able to absorb moisturizers and serums.

Astringents are much stronger than toners. You, therefore, need to be more careful about the amount of astringent that you use than the amount of toner that you use. Astringents include salicylic acid, which helps fight blackheads and pimples. Astringents are also generally alcohol-based, and their purpose is to remove extra oil from the skin. This means that they have the potential to totally dry out your skin if you use too much. Yet not all astringents contain alcohol, though the ones that don’t aren’t as powerful. Astringents can also alter your skin’s pH balance, another reason to use astringents in moderation.    

Astringents are especially great for anyone with oily or acne-prone skin. This is because, in addition to helping remove excess oil from your skin, astringents also contain antibacterial qualities which can help with breakouts.

Essence Vs Toner

Hand holding serum dropper.

Facial serum with a dropper.

Essence might not be as popular in the Western skin care world, but it’s an essential part of Korean skincare. It can help you prepare for the rest of your skin care routine.

A toner’s overall purpose is to moisturize and smooth your skin and get rid of impurities. Yet in Korean culture, and more and more in Western culture too, an essence is used to moisturize skin. It soothes skin, promotes skin cell turnover, and helps with complexion. When using them both in your skin care routine, you’ll want to first use the toner and then the essence.

Essences are also full of vitamins and antioxidants and actually share similarities with serums (although they’re not as heavy). Both essences and toners help prepare your skin for the products and treatments that might follow.

Unlike with a toner, you should apply an essence directly to your skin, sans cotton balls. What also differentiates it from a toner is that for certain skin issues, an essence will deliver a more targeted treatment.

Is Micellar Water A Toner? Micellar Water Vs Toner

Micellar water gets its name because it’s composed of micelles, small balls of cleansing oil molecules, in soft water. Micelles are attracted to dirt and oil, so when used on the skin, micellar water can remove impurities in the skin without drying it out. Because of this, you can choose to use micellar water as a face wash, as a makeup remover, or as a moisturizer.

Micellar water might look like water and have the same viscosity, but when you feel it you’ll notice that it has a different texture. A perk of micellar water is that it can remove your makeup at the end of a long day without leaving behind excess oil. However, it might not be able to break down and remove certain makeup like heavy foundations and waterproof mascaras. Micellar water is an especially good option for people with dry and sensitive skin because it is gentle and moisturizing (if you have more oily skin, you might feel that micellar water does not quite do the job for you). It’s also alcohol-free, so it’s much less harsh. You’re best off applying micellar water with a cotton ball so that it can more easily absorb the dirt on your skin.

So, should you pick micellar water for your skincare routine or stick to toner? The answer is that you can use both. Micellar water should be step 1 in your beauty routine. Then you can wash your face, followed by using a toner to close your pores and lock in hydration. Moisturize afterward for the finishing touch.

How To Use Toner? When Do You Use Toner?

Side view of woman washing face.

Wash your face before applying toner.

If you’re not sure how to use face toner, let me ease your concerns. It’s actually pretty simple to do. You can even just place some on your hands and then pat it on your face. That being said, when it comes to how to apply toner, some people prefer to use a cotton ball or cotton pad for application. Just put some toner on the cotton ball, and then wipe your face and neck with it.

Use toner both in the morning and at night. Yet if your skin easily becomes irritated or dry, play around with using it less frequently. Make sure to use the toner after you’ve cleansed your skin. In fact, try to use it soon after washing your skin, as your skin better absorbs molecules when the skin is moist. The toner should appear in your routine before you use any serums, sunscreens, or eye creams. And if you’re wondering if you should be using a toner before or after moisturizer, the rule of thumb is to always use toner first.

Face Toner Benefits

Above all, a good skin toner will restore valuable hydration and antioxidants to your skin that it might have lost during the washing process. As we already discussed, toners will help balance your skin’s pH levels and minimize your pores. The alpha-hydroxy acids such as glycolic acid make skin toner good at limiting the occurrence of ingrown hairs. This is also due to the mixture’s ability to rid skin of dead skin cells, which in addition to preventing ingrown hairs can also reduce acne and even signs of aging like fine lines and wrinkles. This all leaves you with healthier skin.

Face toner is a great way to get your skin ready for whatever moisturizer or other product you want to put on your face afterward. And even though it can help remove extra oil and annoying dirt and impurities from your skin, it should be used in addition to, not instead of, a face wash.

Is Toner Necessary In Your Skincare Routine?  

Woman smiling in the mirror.

Woman admiring clear skin in mirror.

Now listen. Are there people with amazing skin out there who don’t use facial toners? Of course. Is using a toner absolutely necessary? No, of course not. If you’re perfectly happy with your toner-free routine, don’t let me mess you up.

Yet the benefits of toner are clear. And abundant. There’s no doubt that a toner can definitely enhance your skin care routine and overall skin health. And since it’s a pretty low-risk type of treatment, I recommend at least trying it out to see how your skin reacts to it.

The good news is that there are different types of toners to meet different people’s needs. So whether you have oily skin, dry skin, combination skin, or sensitive skin, just do your research before and you should be good to go with using a toner on your face.

Do You Wash Off Toner?

You wouldn’t be the first to wonder if you need to wash off toner after applying it or not. So much goes into our skin care routine that it’s important to make sure you’re doing everything properly and that you’re not adding any unnecessary steps in the process.

We’ve covered how you can apply the toner to your skin, which involves either using a cotton ball or applying directly with your hands. After you’ve gently applied the toner to your face in a stroking motion (don’t rub it in too hard), just leave it to rest on your skin while it dries and your skin absorbs it. Then, once it’s dried, you can use your moisturizer or whatever other products are part of your routine.


When it comes to our skin, we can never be careful enough. The trick is always knowing which products to have, how to choose them, and how to use them. As my mom always told me, you only get one set of skin- so treat it right!

If you haven’t given toner a try yet, it’s time that you do. And if you’re already using toner, then keep up the good work, champ!

The bottom line is don’t tone it down, tone it up! With all of the benefits that toner has to offer, this is one product that is an essential part of a proper skin care routine.