The Truth About Toners


Toners are known by many names—astringent, tonic, emulsion, lotion, pre-lotion, etc. But to set it straight, all of those names are just marketing terms that only causes confusion when choosing the right one for the skin. To put it simply, toner is usually the second step in a typical skincare routine after cleansing. In this step, the toner gets rid of impurities, like makeup and dirt, that are left over from cleansing.

There are three types of toners based on their main ingredients—alcohol-based, water-based, and water plus glycerin-based toners. Here’s a brief overview of each one:


Alcohol-Based Toners


In the early 20th century, toners were called skin tonics. They were purported to have beneficial properties by soothing the nerves to relieve tired muscles. The ingredients included witch hazel, glycerin, and alcohol, among other things. The cooling effect of the alcohol was believed to be refreshing to the skin so the tonic was marketed to “tone,” “refresh,” and “stimulate” the skin.


The ingredients of these first toners are still in use today. They are commonly called astringents, which appear to tighten skin and close the pores, preventing breakouts. But with increased knowledge about the skin, modern skincare experts advise against using alcohol-based toners for a very good reason.


Alcohol dries out the skin causing irritation. It can even result in minor burns if the formulation is too strong. Astringents with high amounts of alcohol—say, 60%—are especially bad for sensitive skin. The alcohol dries up the sebum that results in a decrease of the skin’s natural oils.


Water-Based Toners


Skin experts recommend water-based toners that are alcohol-free because they’re gentler on the skin. Water-based means the pH level is low or neutral, preventing alkalinity, which can cause skin irritation and dryness.


It’s important to look at the ingredients to see if harmful chemicals are present in the product that could cause skin damage in the long run. Opt for products with a simple list of ingredients such as COSRX’s Centella Water Toner. Centella, a plant native to Asia, has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat skin burns. It has a skin rejuvenating property that’s beneficial for everyday skincare.


Water Plus Glycerin-Based Toners


Rosewater and glycerin toners are popular DIY toners but they are also available commercially. Rosewater toners with real rose petals are said to have antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties that helps stimulate the skin.


Glycerin, on the other hand, has long been used in a lot skin care products. It’s used to moisturize the skin without the oily feeling.


Other ingredients such as lemons are also used with water- and glycerin-based toners. These toners are less harsh than alcohol-based toners.


While you think nothing can go wrong with natural ingredients, there are still some things to watch out for. Allergies to pollen and other natural ingredients might trigger unwanted skin reactions like rashes and bumps. Glycerin allergy, though rare, occurs to people with sensitive skin. If you develop allergic reactions, stop using this type of toner immediately.


Again, skincare experts recommend the mildest toner—water-based. Even with oily skin, alcohol toners are not recommended because it dries out the skin too much. So keep that in mind the next time you are shopping for a toner. When in doubt, always check the ingredients first.