• MDermatology

Toners: A complete guide to understanding their role

The key point to start with is that the word “toner” does not necessarily apply to one group of products or uses. What I have discovered is that the modern day use of the word “toner” in skin care truly refers to a leave-on product applied post-cleanse with a cotton ball or gauze pad. The “first generation” of toners, so-to-speak, played an astringent role.  They were designed to pH balance the skin and degrease or strip away extra oil left on the skin after a routine cleanse.  This is technically no longer needed as cleansers have evolved to address this concern without the need of an additional product. Modern day toners tend to have different ingredients to target different concerns. For example, several contain rosewater. This is an age old ingredient that has anti acne and anti aging properties. Chamomile is seen is some and thought to have calming qualities. And, some do have salicylic acid for acne.


Many toners still have a percentage of alcohol in them.  People with dry or sensitive skin will feel like these burn or sting when applied.  This is just uncomfortable!

The “new-generation” toners actually may help people with dry or sensitive skin depending on the ingredients.  If you consider the “new definition” of toners, a post-cleanse leave-on product, if you choose a hydrating formulation with milder ingredients, you very well could see some extra hydration for dry sensitive skin.  Applying a moisturizer on top will only seal in some of these benefits.

Ingredients to look for:

-Hyaluronic acid. Most people think this is an “anti-aging” product. It is actually a hydrating product that gives the appearance of anti-aging when used topically.  It draws hydration and moisture to the product and holds it in the superficial layers of skin.  It is best used with a moisturizer on top to enhance its effects.

-Antioxidants such as green tea are calming to the skin.

-Glycerin: similar to hyaluronic acid, this product can draw moisture to the skin.

-Vitamin E: this has a lubricating effect to the skin.

- Chamomile is seen is some and thought to have calming qualities.

Ingredients to avoid:

-Salicylic acid: this is really meant for acne prone skin and will dry your skin out further!

-Alcohol, or at least a very very low percentage of alcohol.

-Alpha hydroxy acids: these are meant for anti-aging and will also dry your skin out further

Toners are best used post-cleanse.  I worry that some people try to substitute washing their face with just using a toner.  The problem with this method is that most people will end up using way too much product.  They will keep wiping until their cotton ball is clean which can take a lot more wipes and leave a lot more product behind!

Always remember, toners are not just stripping away some oil from the skin- they are leaving a product behind!

Best results are seen if these are applied after each cleanse, ideally am and pm. Essentially they will help replace some hydration that may have been stripped away from cleansing if using the hydrating formulations.

Read more as Dr ILYAS discusses Toners with Dermstore...

Montgomery  Dermatology, LLC

Phone (610) 265-1166

FAX (610) 265-1186

860 1st Ave #8b, King of Prussia, PA 19406
10000 Shannondell Drive, Audubon, PA 19403

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