Hate the Tacky Feeling of Primer? Try This K-Beauty Trick Instead

Photo: Getty Images/ Rifka Hayati

Toner is a controversial skin-care product. While some dermatologists will tell you it isn't necessary, others sing its praises as an important part of the cleansing-and-treatment process. No one in the United States can seem to agree, but, in the world of K-Beauty, toner pads, which come pre-soaked in product, are an important step in the routine.

Formulated to balance the skin’s pH and provide hydration, these pre-soaked cotton rounds are generally grainy on one side to gently buff the skin and remove any remaining impurities, and smooth on the other to replenish hydration right after cleansing. “Unlike liquid toners, toner pads partially still belong to the cleansing part of the skin-care routine, given their exfoliating benefits,” explains Anna Kang, founder and CEO of K-beauty brand YADAH. “This additional step in between cleansing and nourishing the skin with serums and creams is important to remove residue from the face and to prepare its surface to really absorb all ingredients from the products that follow.”

Experts In This Article

Versatile and effective, toner pads have experienced a recent surge in popularity as the community looks to more convenient skin care. “No need to soak a cotton pad before applying directly to the face, no need to measure and pour an appropriate amount of toner — the mess-free application is quick and easy,” says Kang. Other practical benefits include easy portability, fewer chances of contamination from an open bottle, or accidental spills.

Toner pads are also formulated to impart a slew of secondary benefits like brightening, calming, and pore minimizing, all of which help to prep the skin for makeup application, points out Alicia Yoon, founder and CEO of Peach & Lily. “The key is to include toner pads that are suitable for your skin type and needs: For increased hydration, look for humectants like hyaluronic acid or glycerin. For calming benefits, look for soothing ingredients like cica or pantheons. For resurfacing benefits, look for acids like AHA or BHA, and for brightening benefits, look for ingredients like vitamin C or niacinamide.”

For an instant burst of hydration or a quick pick-me-up, these strategically thin toner pads also make excellent impromptu face masks when placed for three to five minutes on areas that need extra care. Plus, if you’re not a fan of the tacky feeling of primer, especially in the heat of summer, nourishing the skin by applying toner pads right before makeup application instead is a practice favored by the K-beauty community.

“Because hydrating toners can help prep skin for increased absorption of next steps while imparting moisture, you may notice that your skin care absorbs better and that your skin feels more plumped and hydrated—all great for less cakey and second-skin-like foundation application,” explains Yoon. “Hydrated skin is the best canvas for makeup.”

Both Kang and Yoon note that toner pads are not mutually exclusive with primers, and using both together, depending on your skin’s needs, can still help achieve flawless makeup application. But incorporating toner pads into your skin-care routine boasts added long-term benefits. “While makeup primers usually aren’t nourishing at all and silicone-based, they create a temporary, smooth canvas for makeup application and shield the skin against dirt and sweat to enhance the longevity of makeup, but there’s a high risk of clogged pores and breakouts,” explains Kang. “Meanwhile, toner pads are designed to nourish and balance the skin, and to achieve a flawless look in the long run.”

Here are some of the hottest toner pads beauty lovers in Korea are using to prep their skin for makeup application at the moment

Abib, Sedum Hyaluron Pad Hydrating Touch — $29.00

Also known as stringy stonecrop or gold moss, the succulent sedum sarmentosum is used in skin-care products as a humectant to draw moisture in to the skin. Combined with eight different types of hyaluronic acids, these toner pads provide intense hydration.

MEDIHEAL, Collagen Ampoule Pad — $29.00

Soaked generously in a blend of collagen and ceramides, these toner pads instantly firm the skin and reduce the appearance of fine lines for a youthful glow.

SKIN1004, Madagascar Centella Quick Calming Pad — $21.00

Lauded for its anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties, centella asiatica is best suited for those with sensitive skin. Exceptionally calming, these toner pads soothe upset skin by reducing redness, irritation, and inflammation, while panthenol delivers deep hydration.

BRING GREEN, Carrot Vita Toner Pad — $20.00

For anyone experiencing dull skin, these toner pads are packed with antioxidants from carrot extract to brighten the skin for a radiant look. The addition of willow bark helps unclog pores.

COSRX, Original Clear Pad — $22.00

Suitable for those with sensitive and acne-prone skin, the combination of white willow bark water and beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) in these toner pads promise improved skin texture while unclogging pores and removing impurities.

YADAH, Cactus Toner Pads — $16.00

Cacti are adept at holding onto water (it’s how they’re able to thrive in hot, dry climates), and these pads use cactus extract to help take their hydrating properties to the next level. What’s more, witch hazel offers gentle exfoliation while cica calms redness and soothes irritation.


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