To tone or not to tone? That's been the question on my mind for quite some time now, and there seems to be numerous, varying answers: Yes (it's a fundamental step in your beauty routine); No (it's pointless or counter-productive or sometimes even damaging); and Maybe (depending on what kind of toner and what kind of skin type).

So, let's get to the bottom of this: What are toners and what do they do?

Toners are known just as much for what they give to your skin as they are for what they take away. Typically, toners are understood to help cleansers finish the job by 1) removing leftover cellular debris, such as excess oil and any remaining cleansing solution, and then by 2) restoring the skin's natural pH balance acid mantle (which purportedly has been disturbed by the cleanser). 3) In addition, toners will help close up and tighten the pores. 4) And, with the inclusion of a few select ingredients, may be called in for extra duties, such as exfoliation, hydration, and free-radical protection.

Which route your toner takes depends on its type, and there are three: fresheners, tonics and astringents.

Astringents. Astringents are the real work-horses of the toner family, and should be avoided by all except the especially oily and acne-prone. They contain a high proportion of alcohol (20-60%) to control excess oil production, plus (typically) other astringent (such as witch hazel) and humectant ingredients. To apply, you'll want to soak a cotton ball in the solution, and then wipe all over the face. Special attention may be shown to the t-zone or other blemished areas.

Tonics. Tonics fall in between the two extremes, with a small quantity of alcohol (up to 20%), plus water, a humectant and other ingredients.

Fresheners. Fresheners are the mildest form of the toners. Typically, they'll contain little to no alcohol (0-10%), water, a humectant, and any other number of value-added ingredients, such as soothing, antioxidant-rich botanicals or age-fighting peptides. Their primary aim is to enrich, refreshen or moisturize the skin, and are best suited for those with dry or sensitive skin.

Removing leftover cellular debris. Now, if you're using a good cleanser (and have full use of both of your hands) then you should be quite capable of removing all of the cleansing solution when you wash. And if you have a large amount of makeup, it probably would be a good idea to apply makeup remover specifically before you even begin to cleanse. What's more, employing a cleanser with exfoliating properties should be enough to remove any extra cellular debris.

That said, I don't think a toner would be that necessary of an addition. For those of us with a particularly oily complexion, I do understand the need for controlling excess oil. However, it must be noted that too much alcohol will dehydrate your skin (which is never a good thing). For those of us with normal to combination to dry complexions, we should avoid at all costs any kind of astringent toners, choosing instead from the tonic and freshener categories.

Nevertheless, there is still something in me that wants to believe. Should I just give up on those stubborn blackheads and large pores that despite all the scrubbing persistently remain? It just seems that a toner would make sense, targeting the two main culprits afflicting my nose: excessive sebum (oil) and dead skin cells.

Continue reading: What is it? Toners and do we need them? Part2