The Different Types of Toners, Explained

Types of Toners

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You find out that toners are the latest must-haves. Then you head on to Sephora to add one to your cart. While navigating, you see some exfoliating toners right next to hydrating toners. How can a single product be responsible for so many different -and sometimes contradicting things?

I get it, you want the same simplicity from facial toners as you do from your other skincare products. Your cleanser cleans. Your moisturizer moisturizes. And what are toners supposed to do? Tone? To cut through the noise, we’re breaking down the different types of toners.

So the next time you’re shopping for one, you’ll know exactly what to look for and which one would be best for your skin type and skin issue.

First of all, there are no rules or literature out there clearly drawing the line between different types of facial toners. So this is, by no means, an attempt to do so.

However, lumping these toners into main categories will help you map out the way to finding the right one for you without confusing labels like astringents or essences.

What are toners, again?

Toners are water-based formulations that can be utilized to target a specific skin issue. But basically, they amplify cleansing, provide quick replenishment, and prep the skin for absorption of the upcoming skincare products.

Originally, toners, sometimes called tonics, were used as secondary cleansers. They were meant to balance the skin’s pH level that’d be upset after cleansing using soaps. Yeah, thank god that era is over.

And because of their alcohol-based formulation, they’d temporarily shrink up the pores, which made them highly popular among oily skin types.

Now that “harsh skin from soaps” is no longer an issue, toners are utilized differently. And most of them are alcohol-free.

What are the skin benefits of toners?

Toners have numerous benefits for the skin. Even a basic toner can significantly enhance your skincare routine.

1. They Improve Cleansing

A toner you use after washing your face can remove traces of makeup or oil, resulting in cleaner skin. This is especially helpful if you wear a lot of makeup or if you have very oily skin.

2. They Hydrate

Because most of them are water-based liquids, toners contain hydrating ingredients. Toners increase hydration, especially when applied right after washing your face.

3. They Complement Your Routine

Toners can be utilized in several ways. Depending on the exact type of skincare routine you follow, you can use toners to make your routine more targeted. They fit right into any type of routine no matter your skin type.

What are the different types of toners?

There are 3 types of toners: hydrating toners, exfoliating toners, and treatment toners.

1. Hydrating Toners

These are the gentlest facial toners that contain humectants like hyaluronic acid or glycerin. The whole point of a hydrating toner is to give the skin a quick boost of hydration and refreshment.

In that sense, hydrating toners don’t have much to do with deep cleansing. Because they don’t take much away from the skin but put on an extra layer of hydration.

And as they don’t sweep off anything, you don’t necessarily need to use cotton pads. You just press the liquid onto the skin and let it absorb.

Also, these toners get rid of the tight feeling some cleansers leave on the skin. These are usually the ones that balance the skin’s pH levels.

Hydrating toners are suitable for all skin types including normal, combination, and oily. But they’re especially helpful for dry skin types. This extra layer of hydration right after cleansing will normalize the skin and plump it up.

Fresh Rose & Hyaluronic Acid Deep Hydration Toner

Fresh Rose & Hyaluronic Acid Deep Hydration Toner - Different Types of Toners

2. Exfoliating Toners

These types of toners are the secret to glowing skin. Exfoliating toners usually contain a type of hydroxy acid or fruit enzymes. The most popular types of exfoliating toners are glycolic acid toners and salicylic acid toners.

Exfoliating toners enhance cleansing significantly. They get rid of the dead skin cells on the top layer of the skin. They get rid of flakiness, dullness, and roughness on the skin.

Exfoliating toners keep the pores clean and reduce their visibility. From congestion to fine lines, they address a broad range of skin concerns.

Exfoliating toners are more suitable for normal, combination, and oily skin types. Because they can be irritating for dry and sensitive skin. However, with the help of super gentle exfoliating acids, dry and sensitive skin types can benefit from the trend as well. Toners with lactic acid or poly-hydroxy acids lightly exfoliate and are usually way more gentle on the skin.

Mario Badescu Glycolic Acid Toner

Mario Badescu Glycolic Acid Toner - Different Types of Toners

Related: The Best Toners for Rosacea

3. Treatment Toners

Treatment toners are more targeted and are intended to solve specific skin problems. They’re usually marketed as soothing toners, brightening toners, anti-aging toners, balancing toners, and so on.

They do more than hydrate the skin because they contain potent active ingredients. For example, a brightening toner would be formulated around ingredients to get rid of discolorations.

Vitamin C toners are a good example of this and so are niacinamide toners which also work to brighten the skin and even out the skin tone.

Similarly, a soothing toner would contain soothing plant extracts like chamomile or allantoin to get rid of irritation and redness on the skin.

An anti-aging toner would contain antioxidants to neutralize wrinkle-causing free radicals. Incidentally, exfoliating toners can be treatment toners as well.

Depending on the actives, treatment toners are suitable for all skin types to target skin concerns like excess oil, enlarged pores, scarring, or sensitivity.

Pixi Vitamin-C Tonic

Pixi Vitamin C Tonic - Different Types of Toners

So these are the three main types of toners out there. And the best way to find the right one for your skin is by identifying your main skin concern. Are you trying to boost hydration? Go for hydrating toners. Do you have acne, large pores, or texture irregularities? Go for exfoliating toners. Are you looking to create a targeted routine for anti-aging? Go for treatment toners.

How do you apply toner?

There are two ways to apply toner: using cotton pads or using your hands.

Using Cotton Pads

To apply your toner using cotton pads, pour your toner onto a cotton pad to saturate it. Sweep the cotton pad across the face focusing on the cheeks, forehead, nose, and chin. If the pad dries mid-sweeping, turn it around and sweep the other side. Avoid the eye area.

This method works better when you’re using exfoliating toners or treatment toners. The pads create a little friction, which makes the active ingredients absorb better into the skin.

Using Your Hands

To apply your toner using your hands, pour your toner into the palm of your hand. Press the liquid onto the skin, allowing it to absorb. This method can be messy and drippy. So you can try pouring the liquid directly onto the cheeks as well, which is not very elegant but saves you a lot of product.

This method works better when you’re using hydrating toners. There’s no need for friction. So it’s much better to apply hydrating, calming toners like serums and essences.

When do you apply toner?

You should apply your toner on freshly cleansed, dry skin. Toners are light liquids. So when layering your skincare, they go first. And for them to absorb better, you need to apply them on freshly cleansed skin.

The reason why your skin should be dry is because wet skin absorbs better. And if you’re using a heavy toner like a glycolic acid toner, you can irritate your skin. So always apply your toner on clean, dry skin.

What do you do after applying toner?

After applying toner, wait for your skin to absorb and dry. Then move on to face serums and then lastly, apply moisturizer.

How often do you use toner?

You can use toners both in your morning and evening routine. And you can use toner as often as twice daily. Note that exfoliating toners can be too much when you use them too frequently.

So if you’re using a treatment toner or an exfoliating toner, start using it a few times a week at first and if your skin is fine with it, then increase the frequency for up to daily use.

Can you use different toners?

Absolutely! You can use different toners in each routine or layer different toners in the same routine. However, it’s important to pay attention to the ingredients as certain active ingredients can irritate your skin when layered together.

In general, you can combine a treatment toner or exfoliating toner with a hydrating or soothing toner. I use a hydrating toner in the morning and apply the same toner under an exfoliating toner in the evening.

Additionally, there’s such a thing called toner layering or the 7-skin method where you apply 7 layers of toner on your skin. The results are simply amazing!

Read Next: Best Toners for Oily Skin and Large Pores

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