What Does Toner Do?
What is the role of water in skin care?
Toners have a PR problem. They’re thought of as misters that refresh skin, or astringents that dry it out—or they’re just disregarded altogether. But we would argue that a good toner is the foundation of every skin care routine.
When most people find their facial care ritual, they do something that involves at its most basic—cleansing and moisturising. So how does toner fit into that daily routine? And why use it?
To understand toners, we need to look at what it means to hydrate and moisturize your skin. Hydration is simply applying water to your skin. Moisturizing is sealing the water in your skin. For hydration, we use water-based gels, serums and toners, and to moisturize we use oils, creams and balms.
WHAT DOES TONER DO?
Our skin is mostly made up of water and it needs to maintain water to function properly.
Skin becomes dry and dehydrated when water evaporates from it. It’s part of a natural occurrence called Transepidermal Water Loss, or, the way your skin regulates its water content.
What does this mean?
Well, water leaves the body and diffuses to the outside world through your skin. This is especially noticeable in dry or humid climates. Think about the last time you were in humid weather and it felt like you had an oil slick on your face. Or that parched-lip feeling you had in the desert...
Many people skip the toner step and go right to their face oil, but face oils themselves are not complete moisturizers. It would be more accurate to call a face oil a “seal” or a “protectant” against moisture loss. This is the fundamental role of any occlusive (oil), but occlusives also recondition the natural oils in your skin. Reconditioning means that your skin’s own oils become more lubricant, looser—not as sticky or thick. This results in less clogged pores but also better skin cell turnover, which is a fancy way of just describing your skin making new skin.
To make sure that your skin is getting enough hydration, we always recommend surface hydration (aka, toner) between the cleansing and moisturizing steps of your facial care regimen.
Toners Are Hydrating
Drinking enough water helps blood circulation, and blood circulation is essential for a well functioning lymphatic system, of which your skin is a part. If you’re dehydrated, your body will divert hydration to more vital areas of the body. However, most people don’t drink enough water. And since your cells are 70% water and those cells need water to function, it’s important to apply water topically, too.
Many mass-produced and conventional toners on the market contain things that aren’t beneficial and can actually be aggravating to skin. The common culprits are alcohol, salicylic acid, fragrance, petroleum-based ingredients and impurities in… tap water.
Toners Are Nutritive
Plants, ahhhhh, they are so wonderful. The bases of our toner formulations are hydrosols; these are plant waters that are extracted and distilled from organic plant matter. Hydrosols carry the benefits of the plants they are derived from. For instance, the witch hazel and rose hydrosol in our Geranium Palmarosa Face Toner contribute anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties. Look to botanical ingredients like palmarosa, lavender and aloe vera to give your toner that antioxidant and vitamin kick your skin needs to fight UV damage and environmental pollution. In our Gel Toner, chamomile and yarrow hydrosols reduce redness and soothe.
Your skincare doesn’t need to “mask” or hide anything. It should simply support skin health, so your skin can do what it is meant to do—renew. A good toner feeds your skin the nutrients it needs to do its job well.
Toners Are Humectant
Toners that contain humectants draw moisture to the skin and offer a little bit of moisture, too. The thing that’s tricky about humectants is that they will draw the moisture from anywhere… so if there’s no water in the air (humidity), they will draw moisture from your skin, which can result in dry skin. This is why formulation is key and also why in dry climate situations, you should either mix a face oil with your toner or immediately follow with one. Don’t just mist your face and walk away!
Toners Can Balance pH
But we don’t need them to. The surface of human skin has a thin, slightly acidic film called the acid mantle. (It’s like, if your skin was a fireplace mantle, it would be draped with luscious fruits of varying acidity à la some 19th-century Dutch still life painting.)
Sebum, the oily lubricant that your skin makes all on its own with the help of the sebaceous gland, pushes skin cells to the surface where they can slough off and renew. When sebum mixes with sweat, it becomes the acid mantle. The acid mantle is a barrier to potential contaminants that could penetrate the skin, like pollution. (And speaking of still life paintings, the acid mantle is the reason that people should never touch art in museums. Thousands of people touching a painting over and over will ruin it with the transference of acid from the skin)
The skin can easily recover its own pH (acidity) with a balanced diet, enough water, limited stress, and no underlying health factors. Toners as a way to recover and rebalance skin's pH is a holdover from the days of using harsh detergents and cleansers that strip your skin of it’s natural oils. But if you’re here, you’re not using that stuff. Eh-hem, eh-hem, cough, cough.
Toners Can Exfoliate
Some toners (like our Geranium Palmarosa Face Toner) contain acids that are mildly exfoliating. This is why we recommend that people use that toner as an aftershave—the mild exfoliation is a boon for ingrown hairs. (All aftershave is essentially toner.)
MEOW MEOW TWEET TONERS
Chamomile Yarrow Gel Face Toner joined our lineup in 2020. We formulated this super-hydration booster specifically for people with dry, damaged, sensitive or mature skin.
Geranium Palmarosa Face Toner is a balancing toner that works for all skin types, but is especially helpful for oily and combination skin.
A good toner is foundational. It’s like using a really good olive oil or an excellent salt when you’re cooking—the final dish will be so much better, more delicious. It might seem somewhat unnecessary at first, to add that little bit of mist or gel to your face before your “real” hero (face oil! skin balm!) goes on—but toner is actually one of the most supportive and beneficial things you can put on your face. It makes all of the other ingredients sing and it has beneficial properties in its own right.
photo: Kelly Ishikawa
The Meow Meow Tweet blog is a collaborative thought project between the founders of Meow Meow Tweet and our editorial team. This post was written by Tara Pelletier, co-founder, and Vera Kachouh, writer.