In the world of skin care, there are many, many strategies for finding the “right” ritual. Korean beauty calls for a 10-step regimen. Clinique can be credited with the three-part system many of us have tried: cleanse, tone, moisturize. Some people love double cleansing, while others skip morning cleansing altogether.
Using a toner falls squarely into a gray area, until now. Holistic dermatologist Cybele Fishman, M.D., who prescribes a balance of holistic and Western-inclined regimens to her patients, says that she’s not a huge fan of the multistep regimen because it can irritate the skin. She sees many patients who are using toner incorrectly, using it to take off makeup for example. “Toners can also strip the skin of good oils,” she said. It’s true—toners containing alcohol can leave skin feeling dry and “clean,” sure, but they ultimately can cause a cycle of sebum overproduction. When you strip the skin of its natural oils, it secretes more to compensate, and the cycle continues.
Using a toner isn’t essential if you wash your face with water-infused products. However, with increasing interest in using facial oils for cleansing and moisturizing, using a toner becomes crucial. “In an age when facial oils are all the rage, toner is a wonderful way to deliver water-soluble ingredients before applying oil-based products,” said Sarah Villafranco, M.D., founder of skin care line Osmia Organics. While oil itself doesn’t moisturize (crazy, right?), it does when paired with a water-based toner.
Which brings us to hydrosols, which are an excellent, natural alternative to traditional alcohol-based toners. Think of hydrosol as toner’s cooler, older sister. Hydrosols have been around forever, but with increasing interest in natural beauty, they’re just starting to go mainstream. “As products have evolved, hydrosol has become the new toner. Rather than rebalancing pH or stripping the skin, its role is to be the water-based, hydration portion of the skin routine, plumping cells, providing water-soluble vitamins and minerals, and preparing skin to receive the oil serum,” said Britta Plug, one of New York’s most in-demand estheticians.
If you’re a die-hard face oil user inspired to add a toner to your regimen, Dr. Fishman recommends rose water that is alcohol-free, especially for anyone with rosacea. For oily skin, she recommends targeted formulas with targeted ingredients like Neal’s Yard Remedies Palmarosa toner or Neostrata Oily Skin solution. When it comes to purchasing a natural toner, Plug has shared some sage advice. “Rose is universally cooling, calming, and hydrating; chamomile soothing and anti-inflammatory; and lemon thyme is balancing for oily or acne-prone skin types,” said Plug. Duly noted.