What does a toner do for the skin?

How does your skin and face benefit from facial toner usage?

Toners as old as time

Every season, new innovations pop up to revolutionize our beauty routine. But some products, like facial toners, stand the test of time. If you're not using a toner, it's likely because you're asking, what does toner do?


The truth is, toners haven't always had a good reputation. But when we know better, we do better! Skincare experts are no different: once it became clear that certain ingredients are harmful to our skin health (see below: alcohol), formulators started to rethink past decisions. Toners have had a 'phoenix rising from the ashes' moment in skincare - and today can have major benefits for our skin tone and health.


Read until the end to learn about the role of toners in a skincare routine, who should be using one and some of the different types of toners on the market today. But first, let's talk about what a toner is.


What is a facial toner?


Facial toners have had a makeover in recent years. In their past life, toners were primarily astringents. Atring-e-what? Astringents. They are substances that cause a contraction of tissues, in this case skin tissue.


So the main purpose of toners was to tighten pores. They were formulated with alcohol to cleanse the skin or remove excess oil after cleansing. Using a toner meant sucking all remaining oil from your face, leaving it feeling tight and dry.


Toners were also used to balance the pH level of the skin after cleansing. (This hasn't completely gone away, but more on that later). Toners needed to do this because people were using harsh cleansers that disrupted pH in a big way.


Thankfully, there's been an END TO ALCOHOL IN TONERS.


Today's toners are often alcohol free and use nourishing ingredients to treat and balance the skin. Modern toners made a comeback through the Korean beauty routine that includes up to 10 steps.


One thing hasn't changed about toners. They have a thin, water-like texture. Toners are usually applied using a cotton pad or cotton round. Sometimes you can spray them directly on your face if the pump produces a superfine mist.


So now for what toners do. Moisturizers moisturize! Toners tone. Still confused? Keep reading, we're just about to get to the good stuff.


What does a face toner do?


The only way to figure out if a face toner is necessary is to understand the role it plays in a skin care routine. A face toner can do many things depending on the formulation. It will usually serve at least one of these main functions:


Prepare your skin for the next steps in your skincare routine


Toners prepare your skin for the next steps in your skincare routine. Toners balance your skin's pH after it is cleansed. Additionally, a hydrating toner is the perfect way to dampen your skin before applying waterless products like an oil-based serum. Depending on where you live, you may have hard water coming from your tap. This is fine for everyday use, but not ideal to prep your skin.


Reduce pore size


Toners with astringent ingredients "tighten" pores. We know that pore size cannot change permanently, but with regular care and the right products you will make pores appear smaller. Astringents constrict body tissue, in this case skin. We recommend alcohol-free astringents because they won't over dry your skin.


Treat a specific skin condition


Toners are a great skincare step to use as a treatment. By choosing a toner for your skin type, you can treat dryness, oily skin, acne and more. Active ingredients like vitamin C and salicylic acid work in toners to clear acne, brighten skin and boost collagen production.


Sets makeup


Facial toners can be used as a makeup setting spray. Hold spray bottle away from your face and gently mist the toner. Let air dry.


What toners don't do is remove makeup; toners and cleansers are not the same. 


What are the benefits of a face toner?


The benefits of using the right face toner are many. Let's look at the key benefits by skin type.


Clears acne-prone skin


The right toner will clear acne-prone skin. Either by exfoliating to remove dirt from clogged pores or by treating acne with active ingredients. We'll help you choose a toner for acne-prone skin below.


Balances oily skin


Toners for oily skin remove traces of excess oil on the skin without drying it out. This is an important step so that skin is ready to receive additional products. When skin is too oily, applying moisturizers and sunscreen can feel unpleasant. But since these products are necessary, toner helps get you there.


Hydrates dry skin


Like I said, toners have had a big makeover. It's not just that toners no longer over-dry the skin with alcohol. They can actually be hydrating to the skin. This benefits dry skin in two ways. First, the additional hydrating ingredients have an obvious benefit. Second, by using a toner to dampen and prepare the skin, dry skin can absorb an oil-based moisturizer more effectively.


What are the negative effects of facial toners?


Not all toners got the message. Some formulas still use harmful alcohol. Facial toners that contain alcohol can result in negative effects, including:


  • irritate sensitive skin
  • over-dry skin
  • redness or flaking
  • skin that feels tight or itchy


    Remember, not all toners are created equal. Read the label to understand the ingredients and what they are intended to do in the formula.


    Who should use it?


    Everyone should use a toner, though it may take some trial and error to find the right toner for your skin type.


    empyri hemp hydrating toner with vitamin C  

    What types of facial toner should you use?


    No matter what your skin is like, we recommend choosing an alcohol free option for your facial toner. And always avoid toners with artificial fragrances. They do not provide any major benefits to the skin and are often guilty of causing reactivity or irritation. The type you choose will depend on your skin type (more on that below).


    In general, everyone will benefit from a hydrating toner (tldr; hydrated skin IS healthy skin). Look for a toner with hydrating ingredients like aloe vera, hyaluronic acid or thermal water. These types of toner will improve your skin texture and create the perfect canvas for applying the rest of your skincare products.


    How to identify the right facial toner for my skin type?


    Like we said earlier, toners are not just alcohol astringents anymore. There's a toner for every skin type. Here's some key ingredients to look for to identify the right facial toner for your skin type:


    Dry skin: hydrating ingredients like vitamin E, hyaluronic acid or rosewater


    Oily skin: gentle astringents like alcohol-free witch hazel or tea tree oil (diluted or a few drops for spot treatment only)


    Acne prone skin: exfoliating ingredients like salicylic acid (AHA); gently removes impurities to free pores of excess oil


    Sensitive skin: soothing ingredients like chamomile, rosemary leaf and aloe


    Mature skin: active ingredients with antioxidant properties like vitamin C and green tea extract


    Our last word on your second step


    Now that you know what facial toners do, I hope you feel more confident about adding one to your skin care routine. 


    You Are Loved. 



    Jennifer Grant with Hemp Roots


    Author Bio: Jennifer is the president and founder of empyri.  Jennifer’s passion for formulation and product development was set ablaze in 2019, when she incorporated the healing power of cannabis roots into her long-standing three-step skin care system. Armed with scientific evidence on the actives in cannabis roots and seeds, a clean and conscious brand was born. Using her masters degree in bio-chemical engineering, Jennifer is forging a path to ...READ FULL BIO