What 8 Dermatologists Have to Say About Toner

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In my nearly 10 years as a beauty editor, one debate that has yet to be settled is whether or not toner is a necessary skin-care step. Some experts suggest they’re becoming—or have already become—obsolete; others deem them highly beneficial for certain skin types. Here’s what eight dermatologists have to say.

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PRO
“Toners were initially created as alcohol-based solutions meant to balance your skin’s pH and remove residue from traditional facial lye-based soaps. However, now, most cleansers are pH-balanced, and astringents that are alcohol-based are rarely recommended. Instead, look for toners that suit your skin concern: oily, dry, acne-prone or anti-aging. For example, anti-aging and oily skin types can benefit from a mild glycolic acid toner or alphahydroxy acid–based toner, and can be used twice or three times a week to provide chemical exfoliation in conjunction with retinols/retinoids. Applying moisturizer after using toner is important to maintain pH balance and minimize disruption of your skin barrier.” —Los Angeles dermatologist Divya Shokeen, MD

“Toners can be a gentle way to cleanse the skin in the morning when washing twice a day is too much for those with sensitive skin. I love SkinMedica's Rejuvenative Toner ($38), which prepares the skin for the fragile growth factors and peptides in anti-aging products applied after. I also recommend treatment toners for my acne patients. Those that contain witch hazel, like ZO Skin Health Calming Toner ($37), can soothe the skin and help with acne.” —Birmingham, AL dermatologist Holly Gunn, MD

“Toners can help prep the skin for serums and moisturizers by getting rid of excess oil or dirt that your cleanser might have missed. Some toners can provide similar benefits to your serums, too. It is important to look for ingredients such as rose water, glycolic and hyaluronic acids, and vitamins—that can exfoliate, soothe and hydrate. I tell patients to soak a cotton pad with the toner and swipe it over just-washed skin before applying other products. Some of my favorites are Kiehl’s Calendula Herbal Extract Alcohol-Free Toner ($21) and PCA Skin Nutrient Toner ($40).” —Dallas dermatologist Elizabeth Bahar Houshmand, MD

CON
“I don’t recommend toner. It’s obsolete and there is no need for it. I think it tends to cause dryness and irritation." —Lake Forest, IL dermatologist Heather Downes, MD

“Toner is a fad of the past—no need. Just irritating with no proven clinical benefits.” —Georgetown, TX dermatologist Sarah Gee, MD

“I do not recommend toner to my patients. They can strip skin of its natural oils and allow the products applied afterward to penetrate deeper, both of which can cause dryness and irritation.” —New Orleans dermatologist Skylar Souyoul, MD

“I believe toner is obsolete and not needed as part of an everyday skin-care routine. However, those who wear a lot of makeup or have oily/acne-prone skin may benefit from toner’s astringent benefits, and in this case, they should use it after cleansing. Apply it on a clean, dry cotton ball.” —Germantown, TN dermatologist Purvisha Patel, MD

“Toners were used in the past to counteract the effects of soap, which left a residue on the skin. Some patients feel clean, or like their pores are tighter, after applying a toner, but those benefits are usually temporary and the skin’s natural reaction to the harsh effects is first to dry out, and next, to become oilier. Good cleansers and a daily routine with glycolic or salicylic acid (depending on your age), are better ways to accomplish those benefits.” —Fort Lauderdale, FL dermatologist Dr. Igor Chaplik