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What is Skin Toner?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 21, 2024
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A skin toner is a liquid or light lotion that is used in several different applications of skin care. Of these, the most common is to use a toner, usually with witch hazel or alcohol, to clean the skin and perhaps reduce oil and prevent acne breakouts. These are often called astringents.

Another type of toner used is called a tonic. This type typically contains a smaller amount of alcohol than do astringents, but it may still have that somewhat prickly or stingy feel that users often note when they place alcohol on the face. They also often feel cooler than plain water. Tonics do help clean the skin, and women or men who have combination type skin, with dry skin on the cheeks and more oily skin on the forehead and nose (called the T-zone), may prefer a tonic to an astringent.

Some skin toners contain little to no alcohol. Instead, they might use citric acid, rosewater, or a variety of other ingredients to simply freshen the skin. This explains the names used for this type: fresheners or bracers. Using a small amount of acid can help give a freshening feel to the skin.

Often, people buy a skin toner as part of a cosmetics line. Many companies sell lines of cleaning and treatment products for the skin; combinations of a specially formulated soap, a toner, and a light moisturizer are very popular. Of course, shoppers don’t have to buy every product in a skin cleaning line, and some people prefer to use regular soap and a toner, or just a toner and water to cleanse the skin.

Women and men may use products that are available in local drug stores and even many grocery stores. In fact, aftershave, with its high alcohol content is a toner of sorts. Some common brands come in simple bottles and are not feminized, which means that teens of either gender are likely to use them, though they’re still used more often by women.

The common method for applying skin toner is to dab some on a cotton ball and apply it to the face. A few toners come in spray bottles, and users just spritz the face with them. In most cases, the user doesn’t have to wash off the toner, as it’s meant to be a finishing step in a skin-cleaning regimen. People should be careful when applying toner, especially any types that contain alcohol, and avoid getting it too close to the eyes. Individuals who have areas of the skin that are badly broken out may want to dab those areas last, so they don’t transfer bacteria from one part of the skin to the other, which may result in more breakouts.

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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a BeautyAnswered contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By bluedolphin — On Mar 06, 2013

Are those cooling facial sprays considered skin toners? I've been noticing more and more brands coming up with these facial sprays, especially in the summer.

By discographer — On Mar 05, 2013

When I went to Egypt, I saw many women purchasing rose water at cosmetic stores. I asked what they use it for and they said that they use it as toner.

I had never thought of rose water as a toner before but I started using it in Egypt and it works great. It cleanses skin but doesn't over-dry it. It's very mild and I love the scent. I think it's the best natural skin toner.

But I should warn that some brands label their product as rose water but it's not real. They mix rose perfume with water and sell it off as rose water. So check ingredients, it should say distilled rose water, not rose scent and water. And rose water cannot be too cheap if it's the real thing.

By bear78 — On Mar 05, 2013

@anon39086-- I think vitamin C is good for hyperpigmentation but I don't know if there are toners with vitamin C out there. You could buy cosmetic grade powder vitamin C and add it to your toner.

Exfoliating ingredients also help fade pigmentation, so buy any facial skin toner with salyclic acid or witch hazel. These help remove dead skin cells allowing new skin to come up.

By ZipLine — On Jan 27, 2013

I like a natural skin toner with exfoliating ingredients and astringents that minimize pores. Right now I'm using one with glycolic acid which is an exfoliant made from fruits.

By stoneMason — On Jan 26, 2013

@anon170000-- No, but alcohol is drying for the skin. Facial skin toners with alcohol are formulated for people with oily or combination skin. If someone with dry skin uses it, it will dry out their skin further.

Doctors say that those with dry skin are more prone to getting wrinkles. So in the long term, it could be said that skin toners with alcohol contribute to aging, but it's not a primary cause.

If you have dry skin, just avoid toners with alcohol and other drying ingredients like witch hazel. Also, regardless of what type of skin you have, it's necessary to apply a moisturizing face lotion or cream after using a toner. It's not meant to be used alone.

By donasmrs — On Jan 26, 2013

@anon18551-- Skin toners are used after washing face with a cleanser and before applying moisturizer.

After washing your face, dry your face with a towel. Then apply the skin toner with a cotton ball. Do not wipe your face afterward, let it dry on its own. After a few minutes when the toner has dried, you can apply your moisturizer.

If you're also using a face serum, apply the toner before applying the serum.

By anon227531 — On Nov 05, 2011

use toner after cleansing and before applying moisturizer.

By anon170000 — On Apr 24, 2011

does the alcohol in toners cause aging?

By anon123114 — On Oct 31, 2010

You have to apply the toner after washing the face.

By anon101339 — On Aug 02, 2010

i am using Ayur Herbal Skin Toner.Do i apply it after washing my face or before? Reply to me fast.

By anon99326 — On Jul 26, 2010

you need to apply moisturizer when the toner is dried. if you have concerns about your skin consult a specialist.

By anon39086 — On Jul 30, 2009

i have pigmentation on my face. please suggest

By anon18551 — On Sep 25, 2008

how and when should I use skin toner?

By ysult1 — On Sep 10, 2008

I m using Ayur Herbal Skin Toner. Do I apply it after washing my face or before?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a BeautyAnswered contributor, Tricia...
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