Here’s Exactly How Often You Should Be Using a Facial Toner
Main image – Tatyanarow/Adobe
To tone or not to tone (and when), that is the question!
Gone are the days of a ‘one size fits all’ skincare routine – and don’t we know it! With *sooo* many products and ingredients on the shelves, nailing your skincare routine can be overwhelming.
From exfoliating to hydrating, toners promise to do everything from gently refreshing your skin without removing any of that essential moisture to combating breakouts and revealing glowing skin.
But how often should be using your toner and which one is best for your skin type?
We spoke with two experts to get the goss on all things toner. Introducing blogger and celeb aesthetician Ian Michael Crumm, and nurse practitioner and founder of Nu Glow Aesthetics Deidre ‘Dee’ Albanese.
How often should I be using a toner?
First up though, how often should we use toner?
Albanese tells us this all comes down to your own skin type and the type of toner you’re using. Generally, she suggests using one between once every other day up to twice a day, depending on your skin type and the ingredients you’re using.
Take a look at her exact suggestions for how often to use your toner according to own skin type below.
Normal or combination skin:
Normal and combination skin can generally use a hydrating toner twice a day.
“If you have normal or combination skin, using toner once or twice a day, preferably after cleansing, is typically sufficient. This helps to maintain a balanced pH level and hydrate your skin,” Albanese confirms.
If you’re using a toner with chemical exfoliants though, keep this to 2 – 3 times a week until your skin is able to tolerate daily use.
Oily or acne-prone skin:
“Individuals with oily or acne-prone skin may benefit from using toner twice a day, morning and evening. Toner can help control excess oil, unclog pores, and reduce the occurrence of breakouts.”
Again, if you’re using a toner with AHAs or other acids, use them a maximum of once a day and start by using them 2 – 3 times a week to avoid sensitising skin.
Finally, use the right ingredients. “Look for toners formulated with ingredients like salicylic acid or tea tree oil, which can be beneficial for oily or acne-prone skin,” she says.
Dry or sensitive skin:
“If your skin is dry or sensitive, select an alcohol-free and hydrating toner, and use it once a day or every other day. Overuse of toner with alcohol can potentially dry out and irritate your skin.”
You may still be able to use exfoliating toners if you have dry skin, but you’ll want to stick to gentler ingredients like lactic acid or PHAs (polyhydroxy acids). How often you can use them will depend on how sensitive your skin is. Start slowly, says Albanese. “Pay attention to how your skin responds and adjust the frequency accordingly.”
Reactive or sensitive skin:
If you have reactive or highly sensitive skin, it is advisable to patch test the toner first and consult with a dermatologist or skincare professional before incorporating it into your routine. They can provide personalised guidance on the suitability and frequency of toner use,” the expert explains.
What actually is toner?
Ok, now we know how often we should be using one, but what does toner really do for us and what’s the best way to use one?
In short, a toner is used as a liquid solution designed to be applied to the skin after cleansing.
Depending on their formulation and ingredients, toners have various purposes, but they are generally designed to “help to balance the skin’s pH, remove any remaining traces of dirt or makeup, and prepare the skin to absorb subsequent skincare products better,” says Crumm.
Toners will often come packed with hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid. They sometimes also contain acids like AHAs, BHAs and PHAs to gently exfoliate. Just be sure to look out for harsh ingredients like alcohols that can all strip the skin, causing damage to its barrier’s function.
What does it do?
Albanese talks LTG HQ through some of the main benefits of toner.
- Balancing pH levels:
“Toner may help to restore the skin’s natural pH balance, which can get disrupted after cleansing with alkaline-based products. Restoring the pH balance promotes healthier skin function.”
“Toner often contains hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid, glycerin, or botanical extracts. It can help to replenish moisture and keep the skin hydrated, especially if you have dry or dehydrated skin.”
- Cleansing residual impurities:
“Toner can help remove any remaining traces of dirt, makeup, or cleanser that may have been left behind after cleansing. It can provide an extra level of cleanliness to the skin and unclog pores.”
- Tightening and refining pores:
“Some toners contain ingredients that can help temporarily tighten and minimise the appearance of pores, giving the skin a smoother and more refined look.”
- Prepping the skin for better product absorption:
“Toner can create a clean canvas for subsequent skincare products such as serums, moisturisers, and treatments. It aids in the absorption of these products into the skin, enhancing their effectiveness.”
Depending on your skin type, toners can also provide additional skincare benefits using a range of *fab* skin-saving ingredients, meaning there are multiple types of toner available. Read on for some of our favourites below.
Depending on the ingredients your toner contains, it may also help to exfoliate your skin.
Are there ever any side effects from using toner?
Albanese warns that it’s important to “remember that everyone’s skin is unique, and it may take some trial and error to find the frequency that works best for you.
“Keep an eye out for any signs of irritation, dryness, or excessive oiliness, as these may indicate that you are either using the toner too frequently or it may not be suitable for your skin. Adjust the frequency accordingly and listen to your skin’s needs.”
“While toners are generally safe and well-tolerated, some individuals may experience side effects depending on their skin type, sensitivity, and the specific formulation of the toners” she adds.
Albanese goes on to tell us that toners *could* cause dryness and irritation, particularly for those with dry or sensitive skin. This can lead to “tightness, flakiness, or irritation. If you experience these symptoms, consider switching to an alcohol-free or hydrating toner.”
In some cases, a toner can create an allergic reaction from “certain ingredients such as fragrance, preservatives, or botanical extracts. This can result in redness, itching, or a rash. If you notice any allergic reactions, discontinue use and consult a dermatologist,” advises Albanese.
Using a toner in the wrong way or excessively can also disrupt your skin’s natural balance and lead to side effects like dryness, sensitivity and an over-production of oil (big no-no!)
Albanese says that, to avoid this “it is important to follow the recommended usage instructions and listen to your skin’s response.”
How do you use toner?
When you use your toner within your skincare routine is *pretty* important.
A toner is usually used after cleansing and exfoliating. However, this comes down to the type of toner and exfoliant you are using.
If you use a chemical exfoliant (like chemical peels or masks containing ingredients for chemical exfoliation), then Albanese says toner should be used “before you exfoliate to prep your skin. This will help balance your skin’s pH level and will remove any remaining makeup, oil or impurities.”
If your toner is your exfoliant (for example, if it contains AHAs, BHAs or PHAs) you can also skip the additional exfoliator and simply use your exfoliating toner as your final step (after cleansing and before applying serums, moisturiser and SPF).
If you’re using a physical exfoliant (eg a face scrub, washcloth or cleansing brush), use your toner afterwards. This will help to remove any traces of product and prep your skin for your next steps (like vitamin C serum, facial oils and moisturiser).
Albanese tells us *exactly* how to apply a toner properly in 4 super-simple steps:
1. Cleanse your face
“Start by washing your face with a gentle cleanser suitable for your skin type. Pat your skin dry with a clean towel,” she explains.
2. Apply the toner
“Pour a small amount of toner onto a cotton pad or the palm of your hands, depending on the product’s instructions. Gently dab or swipe the toner all over your face and neck. Avoid pulling or rubbing your skin too vigorously to prevent irritation.”
3. Let it absorb
“Allow the toner to fully absorb into your skin for a few moments. You can gently pat your face to help with absorption,” Albanese says.
4. Follow with the rest of your skincare routine
“Once the toner is absorbed, proceed with the rest of your skincare routine, such as applying serums, moisturisers, or treatments.”
Our favourite toners
How and when you use your toner really depends on the type of toner, but which one is best for you?
“It’s important to note that toners come in various formulations, including those suitable for specific skin concerns like acne-prone skin or sensitive skin.
“Choose a toner that is appropriate for your skin type and concerns. If you have any doubts, consult with a dermatologist or skincare professional for personalised advice,” Albanese advises.
This skin type will benefit from an exfoliating toner containing skin-saving ingredients like witch hazel, AHAs, and BHAs to help remove dead skin cells and excess oils, such as the REN Clean Skincare Ready Steady Glow Daily AHA Toner (from £17 from REN UK /$22 from REN US).
Those with dry skin will want to go for a toner containing ingredients like glycerin or hyaluronic acid to help lock in moisture. We love Fresh’s Rose & Hyaluronic Acid Deep Hydration Toner (from £18 from Cult Beauty UK /from $28 from Fresh US)
Got red or sensitive skin:
A toner with aloe vera, chamomile or ceramides will help to restore your skin’s natural barrier, such as Pili Ani’s Purifying Toner ($30.00 from Pili Ani US), containing calming and antioxidant-rich ingredients.
If you’re thinking of incorporating a toner into your skincare regime, you’re now armed with *everything* you need to know about how, what, when and where!
It’s really important to choose a toner that has ingredients that will complement and improve your skin, being careful to read the instructions on the packaging about how to use your specific product.
Whether you’re looking to tackle fine lines and wrinkles, soothe dry and sensitive skin, or improve your sore and inflamed acne, there’s a toner for us all.
However, it’s essential not to OVERUSE any skincare product – and toner is no exception.
And, as always, if you are unlucky enough to have an adverse allergic reaction or you’re just not sure which toner is best for your skin type, it’s best to see a trusted derm to make sure you don’t cause any damage to your skin.
Meet the experts
Celebrity aesthetician and beauty expert Ian Michael Crumm is co-host of the BeautyCurious podcast with Dr Elyse Love.
Ian is known for his passion for skincare and sun safety and is actively involved in philanthropic efforts to promote skin cancer awareness, believing that #ProtectedSkinWins.
Deidre ‘Dee’ Albanese is a nurse practitioner who founded Nu Glow Aesthetics in 2019. With her conservative approach to injectables, Deidre has a passion for making people look and feel like the best version of themselves.