Do You *Really* Need to Use a Toner?

Photo: Stocksy/Jamie Grill Atlas
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Healthy skin begins with cleansing—that's easy to understand. But what about toner? The often-misunderstood skin-care step, toner can be confounding. Fortunately, Jillian Wright—an esthetician and the in-the-know founder of Indie Beauty Expo—has the rundown on who benefits from one. Could that be you? Read on to find out.

Toning is a buzzword in the Well+Good community, but not just when it comes to muscles. It's also relevant in your skin-care routine—but unlike flexing your biceps, toning your skin is totally optional.

Yes, I said optional. Cleansing your skin each day and night is essential for a chance at optimum skin health. Toning, on the other hand, is “nice to have" but not strictly mandatory. If you're following a strict day-and-night routine that includes weekly exfoliation and using the correct products, your skin should already look glowy and feel healthy.

So if you don't have to tone, why should you? There are a few reasons. Using a toner has beneficial properties if your skin is congested or starving for vitamins, hydration, or nutrients. It can even help balance the pH of your skin, which can prevent dryness, premature wrinkles, and fine lines.

If you love toning as a self-care step, then make sure you use the proper one for your skin concerns and lifestyle. For normal skin types, I'm a fan of Luxe Botanics Camu Camu Mist, which is high in potent Vitamin C; it brightens the skin and douses it with powerful antioxidants. But if your skin needs a little more TLC, read on.

Here's why you might want to use toner—and which ones are best for your skin needs.

thayers witch hazel
Photo: Thayers

Troubled skin

If your skin is sallow, congested, acneic, or simply hasn’t been exfoliated in a while, you may want to choose a toner that degreases the skin, purifies the pores, and removes excess makeup. If you are toning to remove oil, dirt, grime, and makeup, using a cotton round will be a better option than just spraying it on your face. (You want to use the cotton round to further remove dirt.) Using a toner that decongests also helps to exfoliate your skin, leaving a surface that is more acceptable to product penetration like a serum or moisturizer. Think of it as a skin prep.

Take note: When you are suffering from acne, you may be inclined to grab a toner with harsh ingredients. But by doing this, you may be causing more breakouts and congestion. Leave the high-powered ingredients to your serum, lotion, or cleanser. Use toner to keep your acid mantle balanced and ready to accept the ingredients that will be left on your skin.

Try this: Thayers Alcohol Free Lavender Witch Hazel Toner gently removes excessive oil and prepares skin for a medicated serum and lotion to help combat acne, breakouts, and congestion.

Josh Rosebrook hydrating accelerator toner
Photo: Josh Rosebrook

Dry or dehydrated skin

If your skin is dry and lacks hydration, try this experiment. Choose a hydrating toner and put a few drops on a piece of cardboard. Next to it, place a few drops of water. Wait a minute or two and you will notice that the spot with the water is dry and wrinkly, and the spot with a hydrating toner is still moist and supple. This is what it should do for your skin.

Consider a toner that you leave on the skin. You can pat it in with your fingers or lightly massage it into the skin instead of removing it with a cotton pad. The exception: In more humid, tropical climates, using less on your skin feels better. Adapting a minimalist regimen not only feels better, but helps your skin function at a higher level.

Try these: Bioelements Calmitude Hydrating Toner is soothing and calming for all skin types, but it's especially nice for sensitive skin. Josh Rosebrook Hydration Accelerator is another excellent choice. Made with aloe water, this moisture-rich solution also acts as a light lotion serum.

What should Jillian write about next? Send your questions and suggestions to

Jillian Wright is the co-founder of Indie Beauty Media Group, producer of Indie Beauty Expo, Beauty Independent and BeautyX Summit. A skin health expert, Jillian owned and operated Jillian Wright Clinical Skin Spa prior to founding IBMG in 2015. During her tenure there she also launched her eponymous skincare line. IBE currently produces 3 multiple-day domestic events in New York, Los Angeles, and Dallas, as well as international events in London and Berlin. Wright was recently honored by receiving the INNOCOS' Emerging Leader of the Year award.

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