If you came of age in the '90s — I did — toners, in your mind, are probably the equivalent of cotton-balling acid on your face in the name of pimple evisceration. The sensation of your skin zesting in protest came to be associated with the notion of "that means it's working!"
I mean, yes, sure those astringents did, indeed, get rid of excess oil and then some, as promised. However, I'm told that your skin doesn't really like being astringent-ed to death.
Now, though, whenever anyone asks me what the super-important musts are in a skincare routine for upping your skin to 100%? I say toner. Find one that suits your needs, and then use it religiously. I get a lot of "Nah, toners don't work for me because I have dry/sensitive/oily skin." Then why did you ask?
But seriously, toners and bad relationships have the same reputation. You've been burned by both before (some literally), but once you find one that works for you, it's like you're unstoppable.
Curveball: toners have aliases — sometimes they're referred to as skin refreshers, lotions (confusing, that one), skin (yeah, just skin), tonic, softener, and I may be missing more newfangled terms, but those are the popular ones.
In case you are confused or just never thought too much about it, here's why toners rule:
- They get rid of excess impurities your cleanser can leave behind.
- They help balance your skin's pH. Unless you're using bar soap to clean your face (please don't do that), lots of facial cleansers can throw your skin out of whack if they're too basic, drying out your skin and making it feel tight.
- They can have skin-benefiting ingredients, too.
- They keep your skin hydrated and moist for better absorption of your serums, moisturizers, and whatnot.
- Over time and with regular use, they can help lessen visibility of pores.
But back to finding one that works for you.
On a general level, just having one for balancing and hydrating purposes is a good place to start. Lots of Korean toners are about that. Su:M37 Water-full Toner is kind of like a super-charged water that boosts hydration in your skin with fermented botanicals and works to force its moisture particles into your skin on a much more water-retaining level. It is very pushy about the moisture, but since it's literally a watery consistency it feels like barely anything.
I've been using Missha Time Revolution Clear Toner for some time now, and I'm all about it. It's a fairly simple formula — kind of like its essence counterpart that I am also in love with — but it has mild AHAs and BHAs to gently exfoliate as well. Maybe it's because I've been using it with its essence counterpart giving me an extra dosing of both products' star ingredient, yeast ferment, but my skin became noticeably smoother and brighter after about two weeks.
CosRx HA/BHA Clarifying Treatment Toner also offers that exfoliation goodness, and that's mostly its main function, but it does so with a mild formula that doesn't dry me out, which I am grateful for. The spray bottle is a bit questionable, but then again, no one said you absolutely HAVE to use toner with a cotton pad. You can just splash it on like aftershave too and it's just as effective. Or you could just spray it onto a cotton pad if you like to see evidence of the grime it's removing on a white surface.
Speaking of exfoliation, the best exfoliating toners are probably from Mario Badescu. I stumbled up the Glycolic Acid Toner a while ago at a local apothecary (that is now closed, since most small businesses in Williamsburg have the lifespan of a gerbil). This stuff legit made my pores vanish — no joke. I wasn't sure it was doing anything for a while until I realized that I no longer have pores. And since it was the only addition to my routine at the time I was like, YOU DID IT, YOU GLORIOUS BLUE LIQUID.
For something a hair milder, Mario Badescu Alpha Grapefruit Cleansing Lotion has natural AHAs from grapefruit while also incorporating seaweed and aloe extract for soothing so it soothes as well as exfoliates. I like this one as "maintenance" and the glycolic acid one for when I'm feeling like my skin's been looking dull and congested lately.
If you're good on the exfoliating, or have other serums/actual exfoliators that do that for you and you like what they do, but still want something in the pore-care range, there's this Korean line, Neogen, that has a dedicated range for clearing pores (okay, it's just a toner and serum) and that Pore Refine Toner is really gentle while being hardworking. It's not so obvious to feel that it's working since the watery substance doesn't really make itself known by fragrance or sensation. But what it does is gently purify your pores to keep them as clear as possible. I should warn those with dry skin, though, if alcohol pisses off your skin, this has alcohol in it.
For the snail-obsessed, Benton's Snail Bee High Content Skin is snail soup for your face. It looks and feels like a slightly viscose fluid and it's great for hydrating and repair. It's saved my dry patches (should I have any) in a pinch and gives my skin that bouncy glow that makes old ladies want to pinch your cheeks. The snail mucin does the hydrating repair and the bee venom extract has anti-inflammatory properties (go figure) for soothing redness and irritation.
What's great about Benton products is that they mostly contain all actives and no filler, so there's less chance of being irritated by garbage ingredients that aren't necessary. It's all snail and bee juice with this joint.
- Do you guys use toner? If not, WHY DON'T YOU?
- Will you now please?
- Any great ones that you love? I clearly do not own enough toner so please tell me.