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How to incorporate a toner into your skin-care routine

Wondering if toner should be a part of your skin-care routine? Here's what experts have to say.
  • You may have heard of skin toners, but you might not know that much about them.
  • If they're not a regular part of your skin-care routine or if you wonder if they're really necessary (or if you can toss yours), you might benefit from understanding their purpose and potential, as well as who might benefit and who might not.
  • We turned to the experts to help figure out when skin toners might actually be useful and when they're not.

Chances are pretty good that you've heard more and more about multi-step skincare routines as of late. It seems like just about everyone is adopting involved methods designed to nourish your skin and make it look and feel the best that it can. But it's sometimes easy to get a bit skeptical about it all. After all, with so many different steps and products, it might occasionally seem as though they're not all necessary.

Skin toner, for instance, is one such product about which many people may not know much about and may wonder if it's truly important when it comes to caring for your skin or if it's just for show.

"Toners originally were developed to remove soap residue from lye-based soaps which left a sticky residue after washing," Dr. Caroline A. Chang, MD, FAAD, a dermatologist, told INSIDER. "Today's soaps are no longer lye-based therefore the traditional 'toner' of the past is no longer necessary."

That being said, some toners might still be worth using, so you don't necessarily want to dismiss them out of hand.

Toners, today, are best used to deliver particular ingredients

skincare toner
Toner could be delivering important ingredients to your skin.

"Today, toners and micellar waters can be used to deliver specific ingredients, including salicylic acid for acne-prone skin, green tea or chamomile for soothing, etc," Dr. Tsippora Shainhouse, MD, FAAD, a dermatologist, told INSIDER.

Essentially, some dermatologists seem to think that, in general for most people, there's no real essential need to use a toner on a regular basis unless you're trying to focus on applying specific ingredients to your skin.

Licensed esthetician Heather Wilson, who's also the director of brand development at InstaNatural, disagrees.

"Skin toners contain a high water content, more water than most other products," Wilson told INSIDER. "This allows skin toners to have a rapid absorption in the skin and provide a massive dose of hydration along with it. I like to think of skin toners as 'a glass of water for your skin.' Additionally, because of their rapid absorption, when you apply a serum or moisturizer on top of a freshly toned face, it allows the active ingredients in those products to absorb even better – giving increased efficacy in the skin."

Different toners do different things for your skin

You need to pay attention to what's in your toner, however, if you're going to use one, particularly since different ingredients do different things, so it's hard to know if the toner you've selected is appropriate or not if you're not paying attention to what's in it.

Though toners containing alcohol can help remove waterproof makeup, according to Change, Wilson and Shainhouse don't recommend alcohol, because it can dry your skin. Witch hazel can provide anti-inflammatory properties, Chang said, while others are meant to provide other benefits.

"Toners and micellar waters can be used in the a.m. or p.m.," Shainhouse added. "Hydrating and protective skin barrier ingredients may be best for a.m. (to soothe and protect skin, letting it look its dewy best all day), while exfoliating ones may be best in p.m. (as they prep the skin for best penetration of nighttime skin care products)."

Applying a toner first might help your skin absorb other products better

skincare skin wrinkles
Always apply toner before applying other skin-care products.
Flickr/Cushy Spa

Wilson also said that applying a toner to your skin can help any other skincare products you apply afterward absorb more easily and effectively.

"For best results, I love to apply my facial serum on freshly toned skin, while it is still slightly damp," Wilson explained. "Not only does this allow me to use less serum (saving me money), it also makes my products absorb better and feel lighter on my skin."

So, the bottom line is, if you're unsure about whether or not you may benefit from the use of a toner, or which sorts of ingredients might do your skin the most good, you should ask your dermatologist, esthetician, or any skin-care specialist. They'll be able to guide you towards something that'll be best for you, without you having to go through the stress, irritation, or frustration of using things that aren't necessary or trying things that don't work.

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