Are Skin Toners Necessary?

Find out what the experts have to say about toner

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Many women assume they need toner. They believe the marketing hype that it removes the extra makeup and oils on your skin while minimizing pores. There are hundreds of toners on the market. Every brand sells it. But is toner really necessary?

No, not unless you have really oily skin. "Toners just add an extra step and expense," said Jeffrey Dover, MD, associate clinical professor of dermatology at Yale University School of Medicine in ​ O, the Oprah Magazine.

While many people feel toners truly cleanse their faces, removing any excess makeup residue, most beauty editors agree toners are not a "must-have" part of most people's skincare regimen. Since most modern toners aren't as drying as the ones of the past, they probably aren't harmful to most skin types. However, this is up for debate, as you'll see below.

So who should use toner? People with extremely oily or acne-prone skin and those of us who want extra cleansing after wearing a lot of makeup. If you love your toner and sincerely believe it works, then by all means do not throw it out. What's most important is your own skin's reaction to it, not the hype surrounding toner's necessity in the beauty world.

What the Experts Say

"Today most dermatologists agree toner isn't necessary. Its main purpose is to remove traces of makeup and residual cleanser, but a high-quality cleanser, even a creamy one, should rinse off easily with water alone.

Some women like the fact that toner leaves their face tight and smooth. But that taut, tingly sensation actually indicates dryness." -- InStyle's "Getting Gorgeous."

"Skip the toner. When we say this in the magazine, we always get outraged letters from aestheticians saying skin isn't truly clean until it's been swabbed down.

But dermatologists say toner can be overly drying on all but the oiliest skin. If you can't resist the lure of the cotton ball, make sure your bottle is alcohol free." -- Allure's "Confessions of a Beauty Editor" (buy it from Amazon).

"For many women, toners are the logical next step in a skincare regimen, but I don't buy it. Literally. Whether they are called balancers, clarifying lotions, skin purifiers, or astringents (the strongest ones), toners are a pricey broth of water, color, preservatives, witch hazel, alcohol -- and not much else. In fact, for most women, toners are a redundant product: toners are supposed to remove every last trace of oil, sweat, and makeup from your face -- but so will a good cleanser. A toner will make your pores look smaller by swelling the tissue around the pore, but a moisturizer will do the same thing -- and more." -- "Beauty, the New Basics" by Rona Berg (buy it from Amazon)

"Often sold as a must-use step, toners are truly optional." -- Bobbi Brown in "Bobbi Brown Beauty" (buy it from Amazon)

"Fact: you probably don't need toner. Many skincare companies insist that cleanse/tone/moisturize should be the basic, three-step skincare regime, but we disagree.

(And so do some of the world's leading facialist "gurus" including Eve Lom, Amanda Lacey and Janet Filderman.)" -- "Total Beauty" by Sarah Stacey and Josephine Fairley (buy it from Amazon)

"Beauticians often try to sell us that by using toner during a facial, they're 'closing the pores.' Baloney. Pores aren't elevator doors which can open and shut." -- "Total Beauty" by Sarah Stacey and Josephine Fairley (buy it from Amazon)

"There's something about toners that people love. Toners are actually relics of the days when most cleansers left a heavy residue on the skin and one needed to remove it by taking this extra step. Today's cleansers pretty much clean up after themselves, so a toner with strong astringent action is unnecessary, in some case, not to mention dehydrating." -- "Age-Less" by Fredric Brandt, MD  (buy it from Amazon)

The Beauty Experts Who Promote Toner

Of all my beauty books, these are three that mention toner as a bonus (still, they don't consider them "must-have"):

"If skin feels too oily or you're wearing a lot of makeup, a toner can clean away anything your cleanser has left behind. The newest formulas are alcohol-free and don't strip skin of its necessary oils." Bobbi Brown in "Bobbi Brown Living Beauty" (buy it from Amazon)

"Irritant-free toners are an excellent skincare option for all skin types. They are fine as an cleansing step after removing the cleanser. Toners can also soothe skin, lightly moisturize it, and provide some antioxidant and anti-irritant protection." -- "The Beauty Bible" by Paula Begoun (buy it from Amazon)

"A toner is a curious thing ... it's meant to refresh and rejuvenate the skin whenever you feel you need it. It cleans, smooths, acts as an anti-inflammatory, and helps minimize pores while also preventing breakouts. We love it because it gives your skin a boost, good tone and a healthy glow." -- "The Beauty Buyble, The Best Beauty Products 2007" by Paula Conway and Maureen Regan (buy it from Amazon)

My Readers Weigh In

My faithful readers have opinions, too. I wrote a blog asking if toner was necessary and so many wrote in with pros and cons of toner. Here they are:

"I use my toner about 3 times a week, only when I have a pimple. I’ve always had a problem with acne, and after using Kiehl’s Alcohol-Free Calendula Toner (buy it from Amazon), my acne has been clearing up a lot." -- Julia

"First, I do work for a cosmetics counter in a department store and I recommend using toner. There are 2 great reasons for toner. Reason one it gets any little traces of your makeup you may have left after you wash your face at night. The second reason is you will use less moisturizer." -- Kimberly

"I am a licensed skin care professional and have been in the business for 20 years. I have never heard anyone say toners are useless." -- Odette

"I’ve had oily skin ever since my teen years and have found that using toner only made my skin overly dry ...

while I respect the opinions/comments that are pro-toner, I have to strongly disagree." -- LS Brown

"As Odette says, toner is used to restore the natural acidic PH of the skin (acid mantel) that an alkaline soap or cleanser destroys, leaving toner out of your routine means the skin is left unprotected from the elements and pollution and moisturiser can not cope alone." -- Lorna