Back to Basics: Understanding Skincare Toners

Skincare toners have come a long way in recent years. Gone are the days of harsh astringent-like formulas with high alcohol content. These products were traditionally meant to combat excessive oil and enlarged pores but often left skin feeling dried out.

Nowadays, toners have a much gentler format and have taken on a whole new role. Coming between the Prep and Treat stage in a daily regimen (more on this below), toners help prepare the skin for additional products like serums, oils, and creams.

Still, toners are often overlooked, with many wondering if they're essential to their skincare toolkit. To find out, let's examine the benefits of using toners and what they actually do.

What are Toners?

Milky Toner Swatch
Today's toners typically have a water-like or milky format, and are formulated to bring about specific skincare benefits, such as exfoliation, hydration, barrier support and others. Here's how it all works.

First, toners remove traces of remaining dirt or makeup left over after you wash your face. Many toners also have an exfoliation component that helps to dissolve the bonds that hold dead skin cells together - such as direct acids - revealing smoother, more radiant skin.

Are Toners Really Necessary?

Toners can play a helpful role in skincare regimens, offering additional benefits beyond cleansing. Unlike serums, toners have a lightweight consistency, a layer-friendly approach for delivering potent active ingredients. These formulations often address specific skin concerns such as uneven tone, congested skin and signs of aging.

Toners often come with many questions – such as how to layer them, how often you should really use them and what they really do. Let's explore some of the common questions and misconceptions below.

Toner Myths Debunked.

  • Myth 1: Toners will strip your skin. As mentioned above, today’s toners are more moisturizing and gentle than the alcohol-heavy formulas of the past. Many can also be used daily. The only thing you need to watch out for is avoiding using an exfoliant toner with another exfoliating agent in the same regimen. (Instead, alternate them and use one in the morning and one at night.)

  • Myth 2: Toners can replace face wash. Toners can help clear away traces of remaining grime, but they are not a cleanser.

  • Myth 3: Toners can shrink pore size. Contrary to popular belief, toners do not "close" pores but can help minimize their appearance through proper cleansing and removal of dead skin build up.

Now that we’ve debunked the myths, let’s compare the different types of toners and what skincare concerns they tackle.
Person applying toner on skin

How to Choose a Toner for Your Skin.

Toners are offered across different types of textures as well as formulations to support different skin concerns, depending on their ingredients. Our toners support exfoliation and hydration, and use both synthetic and biotechnology-derived ingredients to deliver results to the skin. Let's take a look:

  • Acid-based toners: Toners with an exfoliating acid, like our Glycolic Acid 7% Exfoliating Toner, are ideal for improving the look of skin texture. They also help brighten the appearance of uneven skin tone and reduce the appearance of lines and wrinkles. Glycolic acid is the key technology in our water-based toner. This type of alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) exfoliates the skin and removes dead skin cells to reveal a smoother surface.

  • Hydrating toners: For dry or sensitive skin, hydrating ingredients are key. For example, our Saccharomyces Ferment 30% Milky Toner offers a non-acid toning solution. This lightweight milky toner uses yeast-fermented N-acetylglucosamine (NAG) to encourage surface exfoliation and smooth uneven skin texture. It also contains Squalane, which is found naturally within the skin’s sebum and helps keep moisture locked in.

Incorporating Toners into Your Regimen.

Knowing more about the different types of toners can help us figure out how to use them daily. But first, let’s see where they should fall when using The Ordinary’s simple three-step regimen of Prep, Treat, and Seal.

  • The Prep Step is where we cleanse our skin, preparing it to receive active ingredients. It’s also where we incorporate our toners, adding them right after we’ve washed and dried our face but before adding our skin treatments.
  • The Treat Step is where we target specific skin concerns using products like eye and face serums, toners, and oils.
  • The Seal Step locks in all the treatments and supports the skin barrier. In this stage, we add moisturizer and SPF.

Step-by-Step Toner Application Guide

To know how to correctly apply either an acid-based or a hydrating toner, let’s revisit our two examples from earlier.

How to Use the Glycolic Acid 7% Exfoliating Toner

  • After cleansing, apply a small amount of the water-based toner to your face or neck using a cotton pad or fingers. Avoid the area around your eyes. Do not rinse off. Allow the toner to absorb into your skin before proceeding to the Treat Step of your regimen.
  • Use once daily, ideally in the evenings. Do not use on sensitive, peeling, or compromised skin. Avoid using this toner with other strong acids, and always use sunscreen during the day, as AHAs can increase sun sensitivity.

How to Use the Saccharomyces Ferment 30% Milky Toner

  • Apply the lightweight, milky toner to your face and neck after cleansing using a cotton pad or fingers. Avoid the eye contour or any contact with your eyes. Do not rinse off. Let the toner sink into your skin before moving to the Treat Step, where serums are applied.
  • This gentle hydrating toner can be used in the morning and evening.
  • While generally well-tolerated, patch test first if you have sensitive skin.

Both of these toners are excellent choices, offering different benefits. If you’d like to use them together, apply the Saccharomyces Ferment 30% Milky Toner in the morning and the Glycolic Toner in your evening regimen.

Smoother, Brighter-Looking Skin Ahead.

Toners are an essential part of any skincare routine. They offer a wide range of benefits, from exfoliation and hydration to smoothing and brightening. Plus, they set your skin up, readying it for other products like serums and oils.

Now that we’ve covered toners, we hope you now have the tools and knowledge to pick the best one for your skincare regimen. For more tips on how to achieve smoother, brighter-looking skin, check out our Sets, or choose your own path with our Regimen Builder.
12.40 GBP

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7.70 GBP

Textural Irregularities

Suited to
All Skin Types