Facial toner is basically the in-between skincare step. It’s meant to be used after washing your face but before using your serum or moisturizer.
Think back to your 14-year-old self swiping on facial toner every morning and night hoping the alcohol-filled solution would magically erase your acne. It might have gotten rid of the bumps on your skin, but it would also sting a ton and dry out your complexion.
Welp, facial toner is back. But it looks very different than it did when you were a teenager.
Even if you aren’t interested in committing to the full nine yards (or rather, 10 steps) of a Korean beauty skincare routine, facial toner can be a seriously clutch part of your personal routine. But here’s the thing: If you’ve got a darker skin tone, you need to be a li’l bit more careful when choosing the right toner for you.
“Historically toners were used as a way to balance the pH of the skin after using an alkaline soap product for cleansing,” says Rebecca Kazin, MD, a dermatologist in Washington, DC. Now, as our cleansers tend to be more pH balanced and gentle, toners have evolved to a skincare category all their own.
Dr. Kazin adds: “The thought process has changed from just a typically astringent product. There are now more types of toners that provide different benefits” As for their alcohol content? Today’s toners are typically pretty water-based.
What can toner do for your skin?
Face toners prep the skin for moisturizers and serum while getting rid of excess excess oil and stubborn dirt or makeup leftover on your face after you wash it, says Dr. Kim. But they’re not a replacement for washing your face. Just think of facial toners as the extra credit rather than the shortcut of your skin-care routine.
But the reformulated toners of today go beyond that basic role. “They are used to target a varying array of skin concerns—from acne to dryness to aging,” Dr. Kim says.
Like their predecessors, some toners are formulated for oily skin. “A toner with a combination of glycolic and salicylic acids can keep oily skin matte throughout the day,” says Estee Williams, MD, a dermatologist in NYC.
But now there are toners for drier skin types that contain hydrating ingredients. “Some newer formulations are even toner-serum hybrids with more substantial gel or lotion textures,” Dr. Kim explains.