Aside from budget and lifestyle considerations, skin type is the most important factor when choosing a face toner for your skin care regimen.
Toners are the next step right after cleansing, and help remove any lingering traces of cleanser, makeup and other dirt. Toners also help restore moisture lost during cleansing and prep your skin for succeeding products in your routine.
Here’s a simple guide to help you navigate the world of skin toners and find out which one is suitable for your skin type.
Toners for Oily Skin
People classified as oily skin types typically suffer from excess sebum production, which also makes them prone to acne, blackheads, whiteheads and other blemishes. Toners for acne-prone skin are usually formulated with a BHA (beta hydroxy acid) ingredient to help get rid of the excess oil. BHAs are oil-soluble and are powerful enough to go deep inside pores to dissolve all the clogs made from dead skin cells and excess sebum, and kill the bacteria causing acne.
Oily, acne-prone complexions will also benefit from using glycolic acid toners which are formulated with water-soluble AHA (alpha hydroxy acid) that sloughs off dead skin cells by breaking the “glue” that binds them together. The resulting exfoliation helps remove all the dull, dead skin and reveal brighter, newer skin underneath.
Most toners are either standalone BHA (like salicylic acid-based toners) or AHA so it’s uncommon to find a toner that has both — like the COSRX AHA BHA Clarifying Treatment Toner. It’s gentle and non-drying, making it suitable for most, if not all, skin types. The formulation contains willow bark water and betaine salicylate (made from sugar beets) which both have BHA properties, as well as apple fruit water (pyrus malus) and glycolic acid which are AHAs. The presence of the two acids means you can expect some mild peeling to occur at the surface while there’s ongoing action in your pores to get rid of the gunk.
Toners for Dry Skin
While acne-prone and oily skin types may welcome the peeling that occurs when using BHA- and AHA-based toners and other similar products, those with dry skin should think differently. This is where hydrating toners come in as they help balance the skin’s oil and water ratio. Whereas oily skin types suffer from excess sebum, those with dry skin suffer from lack of moisture which can also result in blemishes and other irritations.
AHA toners that use lactic acid, malic acid and mandelic acid — which are all humectants, meaning they retain water — help restore the oil-and-water balance and strengthen the skin’s natural moisture barrier to prevent further dehydration. Additional ingredients like collagen (used in Etude House’s Moistfull Collagen Skin), hyaluronic acid, aloe vera, rice and ceramides can also boost the skin’s ability to absorb and retain moisture. Skin looks better and refreshed, and the rest of your products work more effectively because your skin is now properly hydrated and lubricated.
Toners for Sensitive Skin
For those with sensitive skin who think that acid-based toners are absolutely forbidden on their complexions, think again. Nowadays many Korean toners are formulated without alcohol, mineral oil, fragrances, parabens or other potentially irritating ingredients. Look for toners, like the Missha Time Revolution Clear Toner, that contain lactic acid or glycolic acid but at lower concentrations to help with the cellular turnover process. Water-based toners enriched with botanical extracts like soothing calendula or even rose water provide relief and also a calming, spa-like sensation thanks to these natural ingredients.
Sunscreen is absolutely essential for everyone, regardless of skin type, but those with sensitive skin need to be extra vigilant about regularly applying sunscreen on their faces if they use any AHA-based toners because AHAs are by nature photosensitive.
Toners for Combination Skin
It’s not surprising to discover that most oily skin types also have dry patches (such as on their cheeks), or that normal skin types can also suffer from occasional oiliness or dryness on their T-zone or U-zone. These variations can also occur at different times in the year, depending on weather and climate conditions.
Combination skin may require targeted treatments — a different product for the U-zone, and another for the T-zone — so it helps to pay attention to what toners should be used on different areas. A toner like the Nature Republic Soothing & Moisture Aloe Vera 90% Toner that can both hydrate AND control oil helps balance the skin on your face, minimizing potential breakouts without exacerbating dryness.
Toners for Normal Skin
If you generally don’t suffer from any skin concerns and are lucky enough not to be sensitive or allergic to most products and cosmetics, lucky you! Normal skin types can easily bounce back from the occasional hormonal blemish, oily T-zone or dry skin.
In this case, simple is better. A no-frills natural toner, such as the Secret Key Fresh Nature Toner, that has a healthy combo of hydrating ingredients (like sodium hyaluronate) and pore-clearing add-ons (like witch hazel or a hint of betaine salicylate), can help sweep up any excess oil, restore moisture and balance the pH of your skin. It’s also good to be aware if your skin requires different toners for your evening and morning routines, especially if you wear a lot of makeup, work in dry or hot environments like air-conditioned offices and kitchens, or stay outdoors most of the time.
As always, don’t forget to patch test any new product. Most of all, listen to your skin in order to find out what products can you give you a healthy and radiant complexion, even sans makeup.