Not so long ago using a skin toner was an essential part of the three step skin care regimen that you just had to follow for beautiful skin.
Cleanse, tone and moisturize has been the way to go for years now with virtually no one of any note disagreeing.
Recently though – doubts about the wisdom of using a skin toner have started to emerge and some very eminent names in the world of skin care have said they do nothing at all for us.
In the last few years comments made by Bobbi Brown and Frederik Brandt of Dr Brandt Skin Care and many others suggest that skin toner is a step we don’t all need to take.
Skin toner could be at best superfluous and at worst harmful.
Still not everyone agrees and there is quite an argument going on in the skin care world about whether face toners are essential for proper skin care or an invented product over-hyped by marketing campaigns.
What does toner do?
So – what are the arguments for applying toning lotion – what does toner do for your face?
I always understood that a good face toner closed your pores and restored the skin’s optimum pH level after cleansing – preparing it for the next step – anti aging moisturizer.
In addition – toning lotion removed the last traces of makeup if your cleansing routine had missed anything and generally freshened up your skin.
It’s this last point that had me hooked I think. That cool soaked cotton wool pad swished around my face seemed to leave my skin feeling cleaner and fresher than just cleansing alone did. With a spray toner you can give yourself a quick spritz during the day to freshen skin or use it to set makeup after you’ve done applying it.
Other benefits of using face toner are that it adds a layer of moisture to skin. Anyone over 40 will recognize that shiny “tight” feeling skin can develop after cleansing. Something a good skin toner will fix immediately. Any anti aging moisturizer will sink in better if the skin is slightly moist and a toner performs that function too.
With a seemingly long list of good things going on for toning lotions – why wouldn’t we use them?
Why you don’t need skin toner
Skin care experts now are coming out and saying that applying skin toner is an unnecessary step – normal to combination skins simply don’t need them.
As long ago as 2001 Rona Berg well known author of skin care text books was saying: “for most women, toners are a redundant product: toners are supposed to remove every last trace of oil, sweat, and makeup from your face – but so will a good cleanser.”
If your cleanser is harsh enough to dry your skin you probably chose the wrong one. In any event – your skin will revert to its usual pH level within 10-20 minutes of cleansing.
Nowadays it is unlikely any decent cleanser would upset your skin’s natural pH balance anyway and most of them will gently take our dirt and debris whilst softening skin in the process. So with normal to combination skin and using a well formulated cleanser you probably can skip the face toner step.
Why older skins don’t need toner
For mature skins the best advice may be to avoid face toners if you can. Anything astringent or alcohol based can harm your skin stripping it of essential oils so if you are going to use one make sure it’s an alcohol free toner. Dry skin generally means older looking skin – more prone to wrinkles and damage.
The other big reason you may want to skip the toner if you are older is that toner could inhibit the penetration of the active ingredients in your skin care deep into the skin’s layers. No point paying a lot for highly active ingredients if they don’t get down below the top layer of the skin and simply sit redundant on top.
Open pores let anti aging ingredients penetrate
What you really should be doing is opening your pores to let active ingredients penetrate and you do this in three ways – by applying warmth, moisture and gentle pressure (tapping).
Warmth and moisture should happen when you cleanse your skin – depending on your chosen method.
If you aren’t using a method that involves warm water then you should apply a warm (never hot) moist clean flannel or muslin cloth to your whole face after cleansing. Leave it there for a minute to open your pores and then apply your face cream immediately without letting skin dry.
The moisture left on your skin – together with the warmth – helps the absorption of active ingredients by dissolving them so they are able to penetrate the top layer of skin better.
Tapping to penetrate the epidermis
Applying your anti aging moisturizer is where the tapping should come in. Dot the cream around your face then lightly smooth all over with both your middle fingers on either side of your face.
Immediately start tapping all over your face using light rapid actions with the tips of your fingers. I don’t believe it really matters how you do this – the key is as many tapping movements as possible for at least a half minute. I use all four finger tips on both hands to tap as if lightly drumming the surface of my skin for about a minute.
You may be wondering why this performance is necessary – apart from amusing anyone watching.
The tapping action stimulates the skin cells and promotes circulation enabling the active ingredients to get down to the dermis (deeper layer of the skin).
What I have noticed using this method is that my skin tingles more than it used to when using a toner before applying a face moisturizer. The tingling sensation is evidence of the penetration of the active ingredients according to Dr Todorov at SmartSkinCare.
Best skin toners?
Strangely in view of what has just been said – good skin toners remain part of many high end skin care lines nowadays – a lot of which are sold for mature and aging skins.
The common thing about all the best skin toners – certainly the ones for aging skin – is that they don’t dry out or damage fragile skin. They come without harmful drying agents like alcohol and they often have added anti aging ingredients in their own right.
Great brands like Perricone MD and Murad Skin Care both recommend a hydrating skin toner as part of their anti aging skin care regimen.
The reason is probably quite simple – these hydrating toners enhance the effects of the other skin care products in the line. They work better together than alone.
Many toners for mature skin like Perricone MD Firming Facial Toner have added active ingredients (DMAE and Alpha Lipoic Acid) that penetrate the skin and boost the performance of skin care products from the same range applied afterwards.
Murad Hydrating Toner with lecithin, chamomile and cucumber is formulated to soften and moisturize skin so the active anti aging ingredients in Murad Resurgence can get to work. Spray applicator which avoids pulling or damaging delicate skin or leaving filaments from cotton pads behind. If you are going to use a toner this would be my top choice and the reviews on Amazon seem to confirm that.
Using a skin toner is your choice
Whether you use a toner or not is down to your personal preference. Healthy normal to combination skin probably doesn’t need skin toner. If you want to use one avoid alcohol which strips skin – at the very worst it will simply be unnecessary.
If you have oily skin then a toner may be a help to reduce the surface sebum and keep your skin free of breakouts or acne. Start with something gentle like a good witch hazel toner and consider a stronger product only if necessary.
As skin starts to get drier with age and as you buy expensive products with more active ingredients (say from 40 onward) then it might be a good idea to reconsider the use of toner to make sure you get the most out of the money you spend.
If you choose to go with a line of excellent anti aging skin care with a toner included then it may be sensible to stick with the whole process and use the recommended skin toner as well.
The only real way to tell whether you personally need a skin toner is to experiment without – if you use one currently – and see what happens.