What 12 Dermatologists Have to Say About Toner

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To use a toner or not to use a toner? Some dermatologists suggest toners can do more harm than good, and are becoming—or have already become—obsolete (as far as necessary skin-care steps go); others deem them highly beneficial for certain skin types. Here’s the expert insight straight from the pros themselves.

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“I am in the ‘pro toner’ camp. For many people, the witch hazel and other ingredients found in toners are great ways to remove dirt, debris and oil from their skin. As with anything, overuse can produce irritation, so moderation is the key.” —West Palm Beach, FL dermatologist Kenneth Beer, MD  

“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


“Toning is not necessary for skin health. While their original use was two-fold to both balance the skin’s pH and remove excess oil after using cleansers, all modern-day cleansers are pH-balanced already and typically do not leave a residue behind. So for most patients, toners are not necessary. Now 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. For most patients though, toners are not necessary and I typically do not recommend them.” —Fort Lauderdale, FL dermatologist Dr. Matthew Elias

“In general, I fall on the ‘con’ side. This is patient-specific, but I feel that most people use toners that overly strip the stratum corneum—top layer of the skin—and contribute to barrier compromise. Plus, of all the science-backed, critical steps in your routine—sunscreen, retinoids, antioxidants)—toner is not one of them, so if you want a streamlined routine, this can just overcomplicate it or patients will select a toner over something more beneficial.” —Campbell, CA dermatologist Amelia K. Hausauer, MD

“I tend to avoid recommending a general toner for every daily use, especially as many ‘toners’ are harsh astringents that contain alcohol or preservatives that can irritate or dry out the skin. However, there are exceptions for acne-prone skin if the toner contains some oil-controlling ingredients like glycolic acid or salicylic acid.” —Bay Harbor Islands, FL dermatologist Lucy L. Chen, MD  

“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

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