Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Cheat Sheet - Toner

Toners are the Marmite of the skincare world.

You either do - or you don't.

Unlike Marmite (gag) - I absolutely DO when it comes to toner. I have a constant working plethora of toners on the go at any one time. I use them like a wardrobe - picking and choosing what I feel my skin needs on the day.

I do understand why people have been put off. The traditional beauty hall speak of 'Cleanse, Tone, Moisturise' is not really applicable these days.
When I talk about toner I am not referring to some alcohol-laden mixture of water and witchhazel. Ick. I do not want something that burns when applied.

A tingle however, is what I'm generally looking for. Think of toning as the second stage of your routine after cleansing. Cleansing should clean your face. Surely that's the point?
Toning was traditionally used with alcohol-laden products to 'tone' the skin - i.e. dry out the epidermis and give the appearance of shrinking the pores - hence the tightening and 'toning' of the skin. Products have come a long way since those days.

Toners - the myths.
  • Toners remove the last trace of your make-up and residue of cleanser
    If your cleanser doesn't remove all of your makeup and clean your face you need a new cleanser.
  • Toners close pores
    Pores are not doors - they do not open and close.
    A toner with alcohol may temporarily expand the area of the skin around the pore - thus giving the appearance of the pore shrinking - but it's not. It's ultimately drying out your skin which will eventually make you oilier as the skin over-compensates.
  • Good toners contain alcohol as an astringent - when you can't feel it on your face anymore - it's time to step it up a notch!
    This is utter nonsense. And has always driven me crazy.
    Why not just use nail polish remover and be done with it?
    Once you dismiss the above as the nonsense/old wives tales that they are - you can begin to see toners in a new light.

    Think of a toner as the condiment part of your sandwich: yes, you can make a sandwich using just bread and ham/cheese (not marmite - gag) - but how much better does that sandwich work with butter/mayo? It binds it all together and facilitates the process!

    Toners, for me, have these basic functions - all of which add value to your daily skincare routine:
    • Balancing
      Cleansing - no matter what you use - adjusts the ph level and temporarily confuses the natural acid mantle of the skin - same as cleansing any part of the body - hence the need for conditioner after shampooing - even the need for fabric conditioner/tumble dryer sheets alongside your Ariel. Static anyone?
      A good toner will gently reset the balance. Your skin is obviously capable of doing this by itself - but it will take it about half an hour to do so - and in that time oily skins will continue to pump oil on top of dehydrated skins and dry skins will shut down - hence the 'tight' feeling after cleansing on very dry skin.
    • Exfoliating
      A 'lotion' (as more and more products used at the toning stage are now known as) used at this stage that contains acids is the most effective way to exfoliate the skin without the use of beads/grains/apricot kernels (gag) etc. 
    • Hydrating
      The Number ONE skin condition is DEHYDRATION.
      We are almost universally dehydrated - despite spending more money on skincare than ever before. The skin is constantly robbed of moisture by surrounding elements be it weather/dry office environments/central heating/air conditioning/travelling - and that's without factoring in lifestyle - diet/sunbathing/smoking etc.
      A good toner (lotion) will act as a humectant - attracting moisture from the air and trapping it in the top layers of the skin. And I mean toner - not just a water spray. The body is not capable of absorbing water on its own - if it did we would swell up and drown in the bath.
      Try taking that bottle/tin of water and spray your arm - watch it drip away. A tin of water is refreshing but nothing more - and will actually dehydrate your skin further as the moisture in the air attracts the moisture on your skin - and pulls it away from you. 
    • Penetration
      As mentioned above a good toner will help in the absorption of products put on top of it - and has the added bonus of saving you money as you will need half the amount (in my experience) of serums/gels/creams that you would normally use. 


    A quick word on application and usage. I always use two toners. 
    I apply an exfoliating toner first - either on cotton wool or on the pads it comes in - and then I spray with a mostly hydrating toner before I apply my serum/oil/next stage.
    The exfoliating toner will contain acids - the strength of which depend on my skin on the day - the hydrating toner will contain things like hyaluronic acid, glycerin, algae or aloe vera. A mixture of softening and moisturising/hydrating.

    So begin to think of toners as the first step in the moisturising process - not the final step of the cleansing process - hence names like balancers/lotions/fresheners - and you will fall in love with them as you feel the change in your skin. Don't take my word for it - do your own test using toner on one half of your face only for a couple of weeks - you'll feel and see the difference.


    1. I've always used a toner. It's just habit and I feel my skin's still dirty if I don't use one before slapping on my moisturiser. Looking fwd to tomorrow's post.

    2. Great post my dear! So much I didn't know about toners! I might just have to invest in one. I am too lazy for toners (and the faffing with cotton wool). But you've got me curious :)

    3. You are good that this, you know what you should do?

      Stop fannying around and write REGULARLY,

      Your posts are like dirty stones, and I'm niaomi Campbell (bleurgh) I know you are coming, I just don't know when-but when they do they are my secret pleasure and a true gem

      *throws mobile at you*

      I want more goddammit

      x x x

    4. Grrrrrrr... I read all that, was the most interesting read ever, then as I was nearing the bottom I thought "shes going to list her favourites now get the pen and paer ready" then you said "tomorrow.. my current favourite toners and some old reliables" I wanted to scream, it was like a big burst bubble haha.

      You know your stuff woman and Im dying to read tomorrows post now. I feel like a friggin nerd now.. Im excited for your next instalment!


    5. Love this post, someone that sings from the same hymn sheet as me in regards to toners. Can't wait for tomorrow!

    6. I second Big Fashionista - I stalk your post waiting for these gems to drop jewel like (well they would they are gems!) into my paw, I scuttle away to read and re-read, and imprint on my brain. Please write more.

    7. Aah you Ladies are too kind.

      And I AM trying to post with more regularity - it's not the ideas - I could talk all day about skincare - it's the time between working and cleaning up after 5 other people that stops me!

      Promise to make more of an effort!


    8. Love this post! Cant wait to read tomorrows post xx

    9. Sooooo informative. Love this post!

    10. Love this post. I'm in a quandry re toners and always feel they should 'sting' a bit. I stand corrected.

    11. I just discovered your blog and cannot stop reading, or should I say learning:)
      I´m using glycolic in the evening, and Bioderma Crealine as a cleanser. I wait 30min for the pH to get low after cleansing. if i start using a toner, then i don´t have to wait?
      am i getting it right? help!

    12. "think of toners as the first step in the moisturizing process" - perfect! I use straight up Thayer's Rosewater sprayed on as toner, it adds moisture and radiance. Love.

    13. do you just recommend using a toner in the evening when cleansing and using moisturiser? i used emma hardie or ren hydra calm cleanser, would it be ok to use caudalie beauty elixir? is this classified as a toner? and then moisturise with ren hydra calm moisturiser? i am 21 :)

    14. Can you suggest some good toners please? Also how do I know which ones bydrate and which ones exfoliate? Thanks!

    15. A very informative post on toners which has definitely helped in buying toners. However, I was told that it is best to use cleansers and toners which are of the same brand. You speak of toners as a independent factor from the cleanser brands. Just wanted to ask on your opinion on it. Please reply! (:

    16. Hi Caroline, I signed up to your blog today after seeing the video you did with pixiwoo :-) I absolutely love your blog, it is so refreshing to feel like you are actually being told the simple truth! I have already planned a shopping trip to buy the Emma Hardie cleansing balm as I am horrified to say I have been using a foam! I am completely stumped when it comes to toners. I do not currently use one! I am 28 with clear skin however it is often shiny/oily looking especially in the t-zone. My main aim from skin care is to hold off the early signs of ageing and to also get rid of the shiny/greasy look whist keeping a youthful dewy/glowing look. I would be extremely grateful if you recommend some toners to me? I'm not sure if I need 2 based on what you mention in the cheat sheet? Many thanks and kindest regards, Charlotte x

    17. Quite a usefull article, I'd say. Anyway, I'm not sure if I understood properly everything. As far as I know, the hydration is essential for all skin types, no doubts. But except hydration - does a toner have any positive influence on not only oily but also problematic skin with acne? How exactly does it affect the production and amount of spots, if it somehow does?

    18. Caroline - THANK YOU!
      There's so many myths that we all believe (Including me!) about toners.

      Is there any moisturizer that you would recommend for Oily skin? I always struggle to fine a good moisturizer that won't make my make-up slide off!

    19. Options for a moisturizing spray lotion (toner)??? I see that you use Clarins Toning Lotion (Iris/Chamomile)any others?

    20. Hi Caroline, please could you tell me if L'Oreal HydraFresh toner a good exfoliating toner to use? Many thanks.

      Ingredients list:

      Water, Glycerin, Alcohol Denatured, Butylene Glycol, Dipotassium Phosphate, Sodium Citrate, Panthenol (pro-vitamin B5), Diazolidinyl Urea, PPG 26 Buteth 26, Benzophenone 4, Citric Acid, Disodium EDTA, Potassium Phosphate, PEG 40 Hydrogenated Castor Extract, Capryloyl Salicylic Acid (Beta Hydroxy Acid), Fragrance, PEG 115M, Methyldibromo Glutaronitrile, Cabbage Rose Water, FD&C Red 4 (CI 14700, D&C Red 33 (CI 17200)

    21. Hi Caroline,

      I've been using the Guerlain Super Aqua Replumping Toner, and I have been loving it. But, as I learned from you, sometimes we love products for the wrong reasons, which is why I'd love to hear your word on this topic!