Written by Nicola Meir Holistic Therapies
To tone or not to tone? That is the question!
If you’ve ditched toning in the past I’m here to ask you to give it a second chance. It may have behaved badly in the past but it’s turned over a new leaf. I think you’d actually be surprised now by its positive traits. You’d also be forgiven if you are somebody who has never given it a chance in the first place. Toners have been very misunderstood.
Historically they have been the second step in any skincare routine after cleansing, usually in the form of a liquid poured onto a cotton pad and swept over the face and neck. However, many contained large amounts of alcohol which stripped the skin of natural oil. Their aim was to make the skin feel ‘squeaky’ clean as this was associated with having a clean face. But it left skin dry, flaky, sensitive, uncomfortable and understandably confused. So you wouldn’t be alone if you have decided in the past to give this (often) badly behaved skincare step the heave-ho!
Good news! Modern day good quality toners are much kinder and more sophisticated. Long gone are the harsh astringent based toners, making way for more complex formulas. They may look just like water in a bottle but they are so much more. They target many specific skin care concerns, whether that be signs of ageing, blemishes, dehydration, sensitivity or discomfort and offer fantastic results. They can soften the skin, balance the pH levels of the skin, remove any residue from the cleansing process, slough off dry dead skin cells, brighten the complexion and in turn prep the skin for further products. They can really complement subsequently applied skincare products.
It’s important to say that many toners nowadays contain acids. Don’t let the name put you off. They aren’t going to strip your skin and leave you looking like you’ve been in the sun with a piece of tin foil and no sun cream! They derive from sugar cane, willow bark, sour milk etc and they can be used every day as part of your normal skincare routine. Some acid toners have been in existence for several years, the oldest having been around for fifty, but they’ve only gained popularity over recent years. They will exfoliate without containing any physical granules in the product and will brighten, hydrate and balance the skin. They usually come in the form of liquids, pre-soaked pads and gels. However, there is a wide choice of toners on the market that don’t contain acids so the choice is yours! Rest assured there is a toner out there just for you!
What types of toners are available?
The easiest way to categorise toners are to put them into three sections:
Exfoliating and brightening
Let’s take each of them in turn:
These toners are great for anyone who has noticed their skin is dehydrated. You could have a dull complexion, fine lines and wrinkles, increased sensitivity, oiliness, breakouts, make up that doesn’t last or goes patchy, moisturiser which gets absorbed super quick and possible itchiness. Your skin can be dehydrated no matter what your normal skin type. So it’s entirely possible for you to have oily or combination skin that is dehydrated.
These toners are packed with lots of water-attracting ingredients to keep the skin hydrated and comfortable. These may include glycerin and hyaluronic acid among others. They may also feature powerful antioxidants which help to fight free radical damage. These have a detrimental effect on the skin so antioxidant ingredients act like a super hero to restore the skins protective barrier.
When your skin is properly hydrated it will be able to absorb subsequently applied products much more effectively, for example, serums, oils, aftershave balms and moisturisers and will feel comfortable and supple. Think of these types of toners as adding an extra boost of hydration to your skin after cleansing or shaving.
These toners work well for anyone who has oily, blemish prone skin, or skin that feels a little upset or confused. Some have the ability to effectively manage blocked pores and treat breakouts.
These formulas are great to balance the skin’s pH level. Our skin’s normal pH level is around 5.5. The acidity level is an essential part of our skin barrier which helps to protect against external irritants entering our skin layers and helps prevent water being lost from our skin. Cleansing our face will naturally raise our skin’s pH level (pH of water is normally 7.0) therefore your toner will rebalance the skin by reducing the pH to its normal state.
Exfoliating & Brightening
These toners work well for anyone who has noticed signs of ageing. They usually contain an acid as these are most effective at gently removing dry dead skin cells from the surface of the skin which in turn stimulates skin cell turnover to reveal a fresher brighter looking complexion. They can hydrate and many stimulate collagen product to keep the skin looking plump.
Let’s quickly talk through the three main acids you might see (although there are many more):
Glycolic Acid (an AHA – Alpha Hydroxy Acid) - it’s derived from sugar cane. It mainly concentrates on signs of ageing i.e. increasing new cell production, evening out skin tone, stimulating collagen production for plumper skin, reducing the appearance of wrinkles. It’s considered by many to be the most effective AHA because it contains very small molecules to penetrate the skin and is an excellent exfoliator. Use an SPF (sun cream) after your moisturiser to protect your skin afterwards as you normally would.
Lactic Acid (another AHA) is derived from sour milk although now it’s made synthetically so that it remains stable within a product. It mainly concentrates on dull, dry or dehydrated skin. It gently dissolves dead skin cells and helps to resurface so that skin is left smoother. It offers a good hit of hydration. The molecules are larger which means penetration is slower and less likely to irritate or cause any redness. This is a great one to start with if you are new to acids. Use an SPF after your moisturiser to protect your skin.
Salicylic Acid (a BHA – Beta Hydroxy Acid) is derived from willow bark. Fantastic for oily skin and breakouts. It is oil – soluble and is able to breakdown what causes breakouts and oily skin by cleaning out the inside of the pores. This then allows excess sebum (oil) production to be released rather than being held prisoner which in turn can create blocked pores and breakouts. It’s anti-inflammatory and antibacterial. It’s possible it can have a drying effect on the skin but this can be counteracted with using other more hydrating products. This BHA doesn’t make the skin more susceptible to sun damage. But it’s good to get into the habit of using a SPF (sun cream) every day after your moisturiser if you don’t already.
I’ve added these into this blog because they are a great way to keep the skin hydrated and comfortable throughout the day without applying heavier products like moisturisers. They look like toners and come under the toner umbrella. Often containing glycerin or hyaluronic acid which are amazing hydrators. They are designed to be sprayed on the face and neck at any time – after toning (as a second tone), before moisturiser, after moisturiser, after shaving, before applying makeup, after applying makeup, etc. etc. They can really be sprayed at any time of day whenever you feel your skin needs a pick me up, or more hydration, a revitalising boost, a soothing veil, to cool down or to set your make up. I always keep one of these in my bag, especially in the hotter months or when I am on holiday (they are a real blessing on flights), as they are wonderfully cooling and refreshing on the skin.
As a side note I wanted to mention Hyaluronic Acid. You may have heard of it as it features a lot in television and magazine ads as a key ingredient in lots of skincare products. It is in fact not an acid. But I wanted to include some information as it’s called an acid. It’s basically a very large sugar found naturally within our bodies, 50% of it within our skin. It holds moisture in the spaces between the cells of the skin helping them to stay plump. Babies have very high levels of it, but it depletes as we get older and most noticeably from our 40s onwards. It’s usually found in serums (which you’d apply after cleansing and toning, and before moisturising) and it is safe to use morning and night.
I hope this has given you some insight into toners and how they have evolved over the years.
So let’s look at some of the fantastic toners available at Perfumery & Co. The guys there are excellent at advising on the best product for your skin.
Clarins Super Restorative Treatment Essence
Wow, what a product! This beautifully fragranced treatment essence, for all types of skin, targets signs of ageing. This is definitely a toner for you if you have noticed your skin ageing. Hibiscus gently sloughs away dead skin cells from the surface of the skin. Green coffee and ginseng wake the skin up improving radiance. Glycerin helps to boosts hydration so the skin doesn’t feel tight or uncomfortable. It’s also a great way to prepare the skin for further products. It has a gel/lotion texture which feels very luxurious. Pour onto a cotton pad and apply to your face and neck or pour into your hands and dab directly onto skin. I personally prefer the cotton pad route. It can be applied after cleansing morning and/or evening.
Nourish London – Relax Soothing Toning Mist
A fantastic toner that not only soothes and balances the pH levels of sensitive skin, which is prone to allergic responses, but it’s also a great product for delivering a hit of hydration with the use of glycerin. One of the main ingredients is carrot which contains carotene, a natural antioxidant. This is very effective at providing protection to skin that has experienced irritations, stress and pollutants. Lavender also features because it’s so good at calming discomfort and irritations. As well as using this as your toner, by spraying it onto a cotton pad and sweeping over the face, it’s the perfect product to keep in your bag and spritz any time you need to soothe or cool the skin. A real multi tasker.
(Nourish London also offer other toning mists – Radiance Refreshing Toning Mist, Protect Cooling Toning Mist, Antioxidant Peptide Mist & Balancing Refining Toning Mist)
Neals Yard Remedies Rehydrating Rose Toner
One of Neals Yards best sellers, this is a great choice for all skin types. It not only helps to hydrate the skin with glycerin, but also balances and cools, prepping skin for further products. It has a delicate floral fragrance largely due to the beautiful damask roses. Close your eyes whilst using it and you could be transported into the middle of a beautiful rose garden. Aloe Vera works wonders to cool and soothe. Apply to a cotton pad and sweep over the face and neck.
Clarins Toning Lotion with Iris
This toner is an effective gentle toner for oily and combination skin types. It works to help purify the skin without upsetting the pH level. Therefore it’s not going to strip the skin of natural oil which in turn encourages it to produce more oil as a result. Iris is very refreshing and glycerin offers hydration to keep the skin supple and comfortable. It’s delicately fragranced. Apply to cotton pads and sweep over the face and neck.
I hope that this article has helped to answer the much asked question “To Tone, or not to tone?”
This skincare step has featured within my routine for many years. Why not give it a go if it hasn’t featured in yours.