What Does Toner Do & Why Should You Use It?

What Does Toner Do & Why Should You Use It?

If you feel uncertain about facial toners, you’re not alone. Historically, skin toners have been associated with stinging and drying ingredients, however, today’s toners can be a soothing and supportive part of your daily skincare routine.

But what does toner do for your face exactly? And do you even need to use it? To discover the secrets behind this must-have skincare product, take a look below at our guide on all things facial toner to learn how this step in your skincare routine can make for a perfect self-care practice

What Exactly is Facial Toner?

Although skin toners come in a wide variety of specialized formulations, toners in general are simply solutions meant to simultaneously wipe away impurities for cleaner pores

and help hydrate your facial skin, while smoothing and minimizing the appearance of tighter-looking pores. 

Beyond generalities, however, toners can bring a host of other benefits to your skincare routine, including:

  • Help tighten & tone skin for a temporary glowing effect
  • Wipe away environmental stressors
  • Imbue skin with a refreshed and energized feeling
  • Helps reduce surface sebum 

But before getting into what exactly goes into a face toner, it’s important to dig into a little toner controversy.

The Science and History Behind Facial Toners 

For years, skincare experts have argued over whether you should be swabbing on face toner daily, weekly, or not at all. A large part of that controversy is that there’s no standard definition and formulation for “toner” so, historically, some skin toners have been very harsh on the tender and sensitive skin of the face.

The history of skincare is not a pretty place. While natural remedies like clay, milk, oatmeal, and sesame were featured in the earliest recorded skincare routines, harsh ingredients have also long been in the mix. 

The concept of toning the skin, in particular, led to formulations including ingredients such as:

  • Alcohol
  • Witch Hazel
  • Menthol
  • Salicylic Acid
  • Benzoyl Peroxide

Each of these—either alone or in a solution—can lead to dry skin. And while some people are actively looking for that effect, it can be too harsh or painful for many others. 

So what should be in a toner? Well, that depends on what you’re asking the toner to do.

What Does Facial Toner Do?

In simplest terms, all face toners are meant to accomplish three things:

  • Clean
  • Condition
  • Smooth

Let’s look at each of those aspects individually to see how they might complement and conflict with each other.


First up is cleaning. Toner is meant to be used after washing the skin with a cleanser. It does not take the place of the traditional facial cleanser that’s needed to remove the layer of dirt, dust, makeup, and sweat that accrues each day. 

Rather, toner is meant to wipe away the last particles of debris and the stickiest patches of oil that might remain after a facial cleanser has done its work. While alcohol, witch hazel, and menthol certainly are capable of cleansing environmental stressors from the skin, other ingredients such as mineral water, seawater, and zinc can do so as well with less drying harshness.,5


Second is hydrating. Toner is meant to be used before moisturizing the skin with a serum or lotion. The hydrating action of toner comes from beneficial ingredients like:

  • Kelp and microalgae extracts
  • Grapeseed oil
  • Mineral components

Because the components of a hydrating toner are meant to work slowly, it’s important that toner not be washed off the skin after use. For many people, the sting of alcohol or witch hazel causes them to wash the solution back off their skin. Unfortunately, this defeats the purpose, which is why selecting an alcohol-free toner, like Honest's Pollution Solution Purifying Toner could be your best bet.


The third goal of facial toners is to smooth the skin because balanced skin is smooth skin. The acidity or alkalinity of skin is referred to as its pH level. Naturally, human skin should have a pH of around 5.5. Tap water has a pH of around 7.0. Most soaps have a pH of around 6.0. 

This means that in order to both cleanse and hydrate your skin, you need a product that can return your skin to its ideal pH. This is where toner comes in. Toners have a pH that is slightly acidic to balance the natural alkalinity of your skin. In turn, having a balanced skin pH leads to smoother, clearer skin.

How to Choose a Toner

Now that you understand what toners can do, you’re more equipped to choose the right toner for you. When choosing a toner, it is important to first understand how to determine your skin type. Are you:

  • Normal
  • Dry
  • Oily
  • Combo
  • Acne-prone
  • Mature
  • Sensitive

Remember, you don’t have to choose just one type. Most people fall into more than one category. Correctly identifying your skin type and understanding how it reacts to different components matters when choosing the right toner—or any skincare product—for your face. Toner definitely is not a one-size-fits-all solution.

Once you’ve identified your skin type, ask yourself, what do I want from my toner? Carefully read the label on the toner bottle or box to find out exactly what benefits it offers. 

Here are some common benefits you might see:

  • Oil Reduction
  • Moisturizing
  • Purifying
  • Smoothing
  • Refreshing
  • Soothing
  • Exfoliating
  • Shine Reduction

Because there are so many different toners on the market today, it’s important that you understand what you need and what every single ingredient in your toner will do. Don’t hesitate to do a little research, and look up the name of each active ingredient. After all, if something is going to be interacting with your skin cells, shouldn’t you know what it does?

For example, if you have oily or acne-prone skin, it’s best to avoid toners that make primary claims of moisturizing and soothing benefits. Instead, look for a toner that addresses your needs via oil- or shine-reduction. 

On the other hand, if you have mature or sensitive skin, it’s best to avoid an oil-reducing toner. The best skincare for mature skin or sensitive skin should provide collagen, vitamins, and minerals that keep it smooth and supple.

Who Benefits from Toner?

If you’re wondering who can benefit from toner, the simple answer is: everyone! There is no skin type, texture, or age that toner can’t improve. 

From youthful, oily skin to mature, combination skin, there is a toner that’s right for every skincare routine. The trick is finding the best toner for you.

How To Use Toner

Once you’ve settled on the perfect toner for your skin type and your skin goals, it’s crucial to use the toner correctly. Most toners are applied to the skin with a:

Skin toner is much too thin to be applied by splashing on (à la Macaulay in Home Alone), with the fingertips, or with a cotton swab. Instead, lightly soak a cotton ball or round with the toner, then rub it on the skin in outward strokes from the mid-line.

You should apply a layer of toner such that it evenly coats the skin without dripping. It should be thin enough to dry quickly.

When To Use Toner

As important as the correct mode of application, the correct timing of toner is equally critical. 

Whether you have a simple skincare routine or a complex series of steps that you use daily, toner should always be used after cleansing, but before both exfoliating and moisturizing. As discussed earlier, toner is never to be washed off the skin. Rather it becomes the base upon which exfoliants, serums, and lotions are placed.

Here’s the correct order of face products that should be used in your skincare routine:

  • Always start with a cleanser. Before adding anything to your skin, it’s important to remove all impurities. You can cleanse once or twice a day, as needed. 
  • As you may know, there are many benefits of steaming your face. If you really want to reap the benefits of your skincare routine, consider steaming your face after you’ve cleansed your skin of any makeup, oil, or residue.
  • Follow your cleanser with toner. Remember to leave it on your skin. Like the cleanser, toner can be used once or twice a day depending on need and formulation. 
  • After toner, use an exfoliator. This is a once-daily treatment, at most. 
  • Next, moisturize in the form of lotions, serums, and creams. 


  • Always finish a daytime skincare routine with an SPF-containing product, such as a tinted sunscreen, to protect your skin from the effects of the sun.


Own Your Tone with Honest®

Here at Honest®, we can’t help but get excited about empowering your skincare routine. That’s why we’ve formulated a toner that’s perfect for all skin types. Our Pollution Solution Purifying Toner is an alcohol-free deep seawater solution that contains Zinc PCA and Microalgae extracts to wipe away impurities, and defend against environmental stressors. What it doesn’t contain are synthetic fragrances, silicones, synthetic dyes, or the chemical preservative butylated hydroxyanisole (BHT).

Like all of our products, our Pollution Solution Purifying Toner is also certified Animal-Test Free by PETA and has been verified For Your Health by the Environmental Working Group (EWG).

At Honest®, our mission is to provide you with clean and well-designed self care essentials that work for you. Give our Pollution Solution Purifying Toner a try today to see how a skin toner can set the tone for your perfect skincare routine! Cheers to clean pores and overall healthy skin!


Smithsonian Institution. (2020, July 16). Cosmetics and Personal Care Products in the Medicine and Science Collections. National Museum of American History. https://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/object-groups/health-hygiene-and-beauty/skin-care

Migala, J., & Radusky, R., MD. (2020, April 7). Alcohol in Skin Care: Is It Ever Okay? | Everyday Health. EverydayHealth.Com. https://www.everydayhealth.com/smart-skin/alcohol-in-skin-care-is-it-ever-okay/

Skin care for acne-prone skin. (2019, September 26). National Center For Biotechnology Information. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279208/

Varani, J. V. (2006, June). Decreased Collagen Production In Chronologically Aged Skin: National Library of Medicine. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16723701/

Mohd Nani, S. Z., Majid, F. A., Jaafar, A. B., Mahdzir, A., & Musa, M. N. (2016). Potential Health Benefits of Deep Sea Water: A Review. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM, 2016, 6520475. https://doi.org/10.1155/2016/6520475

We aim to provide you with the most honest and credible information possible. This article was reviewed for accuracy by The Honest Team and was written based on trusted sources that are linked at the bottom of the article.

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