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Toners: is there any point?

Is a Solution for:
Dull Skin, Oily Skin, Dry Skin
February 11, 2008 Reviewed by Marta 4 Comments

Ms T, the inspiration for my post on how and when to use retinol, is once more my muse. Incidentally, she's completely given up the retin cream because she found it super irritating. She has, however, started to use the glycolic toner that her derm gave her. And that got me thinking about toners, glycolic or otherwise.

I remember — I was probably in my 20s — having my first introduction to a skin care "routine" with Clinique's 3-step: cleanse, tone, moisturize. I have a friend, now in her 50s, who has been using Clinique's Clarifying Lotion 2 for 25 years and she still swears by it. Over a similar period of time, I have become equally convinced that toners are a waste of time and money; they are basically an unnecessary step in one's already burgeoning beauty routine.

So I thought I'd do a little research just to make sure that I am not indulging (yet another, my husband would probably add) prejudice. I have poked around various professional dermatological web sites, rummaged around trying to find evidence of clinical trials, and consulted some professionals (including of course my esthetician, the redoubtable Ildi Pekar).

I can't a shred of evidence to convince me that there is any point to using a toner. Taking the most common justifications in turn:

Toners make your skin really clean. So should a good cleanser. If you are wiping off grime with toner, then you aren't cleansing properly or are using a poor cleanser. I use Tracie Martyn's Amla.

Toners close open pores. This is true. But so should a good cleanser. If you have a real problem with open pores, a Japanese charcoal cleanser will do the trick.

Toners remove dead skin cells. They do, but in a harsh way (often with astringents and/or alcohol) and every day is way too much. A gentle enzyme exfollient is a better way to go. And I am a recent, but fervent convert to the Clarisonic brush: this gently removes dead cells and helps the skin absorb the cleanser and subsequently administered lotions and potions.

Toners with glycolic acid prevents wrinkles. Glycolic acid definitely helps because it sloughs of dead skin and triggers new cell production. It is powerful stuff and even in concentrations as low as 4% can increase the risk of sunburn. I would rather use a low concentration along with other ingredients such as nourishing anti-oxidants. Glycolic acid is in my matrixyl (a good anti-oxidant) based serum, Image Skincare's Ageless.

So my bottom line is use a good cleanser, the Clarisonic brush every few days and a well balanced serum and skip the toner.

  • January 31, 2014

    by Luisa Lewis

    I use toners to cleanse my face, neck and chest. I use lactic acid and love it.

  • July 12, 2008

    by mike626

    <p>Interestingly, Isomers Laboratories agrees with you for exactly the same reasons:</p>

    <p><a href="" rel="nofollow"></a></p>

  • February 11, 2008

    by Marta

    <p>I can be reached at I have updated my 'about' page accordingly. Beware, this address has an excellent spam filter programed to sniff out PR firms and lawyers.</p>

  • February 11, 2008

    by Farrah

    <p>Hi I'd like to know if you have an e-mail address available for contact? Thanks.</p>

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