Do Dermatologists Recommend Toner?

Some do and some don’t, it depends on who you ask. 

Let’s start with the basics: why use toner? Well, it’s there to get rid of any lingering dirt, debris, and other nasties left behind after you have used a cleanser to wash your face in the morning and at night.

It is a major part of the three-step skincare routine that the average person follows: cleansing, toning, and moisturizing. Toners are designed to help tighten up those pores, as well as fight against the signs of aging, like wrinkles and fine lines.

Moreover, certain kinds of toner have also been formulated to correct your skin’s pH level and restore it to its natural acidic level, as well as helping to reduce unsightly rough patches and darkened areas of the face, to create an even complexion.

Some folks believe that toners are bad for you because they contain a lot of alcohol and are therefore quite drying. As Dr. Divya Shokeen MD explains, however, “most cleansers are pH-balanced” these days, and “astringents that are alcohol-based are barely recommended.” 

It’s important, she adds, to “look for toners that suit your skin concern: oily, dry, acne-prone or anti-aging,” depending on your needs. Picking out a toner that suits your skin type is imperative for success in regular use and getting good results.

Dr. Shokeen explains that “anti-aging and oily skin types can benefit from a mild glycolic acid toner or alpha hydroxy acid-based toner,” as this will provide the necessary chemical exfoliation to reduce oil buildup.

You should keep toning as the second step in your skincare routine specifically, as it works to prepare your face and ensure the skin is ready to properly absorb your moisturizer, as well as any additional skin treatments used afterward.

Speaking of treatments, Dr. Elizabeth Bahar Houshmand, a Dallas-based dermatologist, advises that “toners can help prep the skin for serums,” because they are able to get rid of unwanted oil or dirt. 

Ingredients she advises you look out for include “rose water, glycolic and hyaluronic acids and vitamins that can exfoliate, soothe and hydrate.” This will ensure you create a good base for the rest of your routine to build upon.

Those who commonly experience breakouts, regularly wear makeup, or have naturally oily skin should be especially careful to use toner, in particular one that contains salicylic acid. This should help to keep those pores unclogged!

According to Dr. Kenneth Beer, MD, it is moderation that is important, because “as with anything, overuse can produce irritation;” this does not mean you should dismiss “the witch hazel and other ingredients” found in toner, however, as these are ideal for “removing dirt, debris, and oil” from your face.

It would be remiss if we did not give you additional perspectives from dermatologists who don’t believe toner is necessary, like Dr. Mathew Elias, who states that “all modern-day cleansers are pH-balanced already and typically do not leave a residue behind, so for most patients, toners are not necessary.” 

He does go on to add, however, that “there are specialized toners that can target specific skin concerns, so if you know what type of problem you are trying to treat, which toner to use and you like them, by all means, you can use them.”

There is also Dr. Amelia K. Hausauer, MD, who argues that “most people use toners that overly strip the stratum corneum,” or the top layer of the skin, which can actually make the skin condition worse by compromising its protective barriers.

The belief that toner strips the skin of its natural oils is one held by many dermatologists, who also feel it has become obsolete because it no longer contains any alcohol and will not have the same dramatic effects as it used to.

So, now that we’ve heard the pros and the cons of this argument, we should go over how to actually use toner if you’ve decided that you want to go ahead and give it a trial run. In our opinion, it’s worth trying for anybody – you can always stop again!

Toner should be applied to a dry face, immediately after cleansing. First, pat down your freshly washed face with a clean towel, so it’s free of any residual water. Then, using a cotton pad, reusable pad, or your fingertips, gently wipe the toner across your face and neck using sweeping motions.

Whatever the formula, it should absorb fairly quickly and leave you with a dry, tight-feeling face: there’s no need to wash it off, in the same way, you wouldn’t wipe away micellar water after taking off your makeup.

After about half a minute, you should find that your skin is totally dried off, which means it’s time to apply your moisturizer and any other serums and treatments you use as part of your routine.

Presenting both sides of the argument has probably made things a little more confusing for you, so let’s run back over the basics:

  • If you’re suffering from oily or acne-prone skin, you’ll want to use a toner to remove excess sebum and keep your pores unclogged, so that when you apply your moisturizer it can actually be absorbed into the face and do its job!
  • Be sure to choose a toner that’s suited for your skin type, for instance, one containing alpha hydroxy if you’re looking for anti-aging properties or another that contains glycolic, hyaluronic or salicylic acid for reducing oil and acne
  • When your skin is already clear and in good condition and acne is not really a problem for you, you can probably skip toning, as it’s likely the cleanser you have is doing all of the hard work and removing all of the debris anyway
  • If you suffer with dry skin but want to persevere in using toner, try to get one designed especially for use with sensitive skin, and also only use it once a day, at night, to see if this helps clear up the dry patches