Toners are a crucial (and often overlooked) component of any good skincare regimen. Gone are the days of harsh astringents – modern day toners (also referred to as lotions) do so much more than the alcohol-laden versions you remember from those tween years. (Sea Breeze, anyone?) Toner is so important because it exfoliates your skin, regulates sebum production, corrects your skin’s pH level and maintains hydration. Importantly, toners also prep skin so that it is able to fully absorb and benefit from all of the anti-aging, wrinkle-reducing, complexion-brightening goodness found in the serums, eye creams and moisturizers that come next.
I use two types of toners: acid and hydrating. Use the acid toner first after cleansing. Apply it to a cotton ball and gently wipe over your entire face, neck and décolletage. I also apply any excess to the top of my hands. (You probably look at your hands more then your face on any given day, so why not show them so love too?) Next, spritz your hydrating toner over your face prior to applying your serum(s). Just remember to apply sunscreen at the end of your morning routine wherever you apply toner, since the exfoliants in acid toners make skin extra sensitive to the sun.
I use both acid and hydrating toners everyday, twice a day, after cleansing. (See this post for my favorite cleansers.)
Always Read Your Labels
Before we get into my favorite picks, there are certain ingredients I always look for in a toner. To help even out complexion and encourage cell turnover, scan the label for exfoliants: alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), such as glycolic and lactic acids, and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs), such as salicylic acid, do the trick. To soothe skin and calm redness, look for witch hazel, aloe, rose water, green tea, and cucumber. I also look for humectants (compounds that bind moisture to skin) to lock in moisture and boost skin’s plumpness, which minimizes the appearance of wrinkles. Examples include hyaluronic acid, sodium PCA, glycerin, and amino acids, among others. In general, I always like to read the labels of any product I put on my skin.
Alright – onto my picks!
Biologique Recherche Lotion P50: This toner is seriously amazing and has a cult-like following for a reason. If you are into skincare, you have probably heard of it or tried it. I started using this stuff about six months ago and have never looked back. It has done a superb job evening out my skin and keeping it clear. Along with other highly effective ingredients, it is packed with AHAs like lactic acid as well as niacinamide, the super-duper anti-aging, pigment-fading derivative of vitamin B3. It also includes glycerin, which helps skin stay hydrated. Lotion P50 is available in different strengths – I use the “W” formulation, which is the least potent in the product lineup. It works really well on my hypersensitive skin. For more information on the available options, check out this article – it helped me make sense of my options before purchasing.
This toner is made by a French company and can be somewhat difficult to track down. I buy it at Vicki Morav, which has the most helpful staff. Prior to purchasing, I recommend calling to explain your skin type so they can suggest which formula you should start with. (I think most people start at the “V” level and work up in strength from there.) It is somewhat pricey compared to most toners, so I suggest starting with the smallest size to see how your skin reacts. That way you can move to a stronger or more gentle version if needed without wasting a bundle. I use this 3 days per week, morning and night. (Holy grail status)
Pixi Glow Tonic: This is another phenomenal toner. It isn’t as strong as BR Lotion P50, but still works wonders on your skin. It balances skin, evens out pigmentation and hydrates. With regular use, it reveals a brighter, smoother complexion. I use this on most days I am not using the Lotion P50. Plus, it is less expensive and still highly effective, thanks to noteworthy ingredients like glycolic acid, aloe, glycerin and witch hazel. It isn’t an understatement to say I would freak out if this stuff suddenly disappeared. Big winner. (Holy grail status)
First Aid Beauty Facial Radiance Pads: This is a gentle acid toner that comes in convenient pads presoaked with toner. I love these for traveling since I don’t have to worry about limits on liquids or any spillage. It is the most gentle of the three acid toners I am discussing here, but effective nonetheless. It is packed with good-for-your-skin ingredients like AHAs (lactic and glycolic acids), aloe, hyaluronic acid and glycerin. I reach for this one if my skin is in any way irritated. (Like when I accidentally over-do it on the Retin-A the night before.) I also opt for this toner in the evening when applying nighttime serums that have high concentrations of AHAs like lactic acid (think Sunday Riley Good Genes). (I have learned the hard way that there is too much of a good thing like lactic acid!) Overall, this is a great option that I have repurchased countless times.
Tata Harper Hydrating Floral Essence: For starters, I must confess that I am seriously addicted to this stuff. There are a ton of hydrating toner options out there but I have yet to find one that even comes close to Tata Harper’s Hydrating Floral Essence. It just feels so luxurious and refreshing that I always end up reaching for this over any others. I have tried 4-5 other hydrating toners, but I always come back to this one after a couple of days. The others work fine I’m sure, but they don’t even begin to compare to this pick.
It comes in a spritz form, which makes it almost too easy to apply. Give it a gentle shake before using and spritz away. I use this after my acid toner/before my serum, after I apply makeup and throughout the day when I need a refreshing boost. I literally have a bottle next to my computer and have spritzed since I started writing this post. (Seriously – I have a problem!) The more you use it, the better it gets. Because it is from Tata Harper, you know it is 100% natural and good for your skin. It smells slightly floral (not surprising given the name) and does an amazing job locking in and retaining skin’s moisture.
If you want glowing skin, you have to try this. Your skin will thank you after just one spritz. Plus, it will save your skin after all those hours spent in obnoxiously over-air conditioned offices during the summer. I’ll admit that it is kind of expensive for a hydrating toner, but I can’t help myself. This is hands down, without a doubt, one of my favorite skincare products of all time. It belongs in a class all its own. (Ultimate holy grail status)
Claudalie Grape Water: This is a lovely product. It is pure grape water, so it calms redness and refreshes skin. I keep this one in my workout bag, as it helps reduce flushing. (Where most people get a gorgeous glow after working out, I get full-on lobster face. I spray this stuff with reckless abandon post-workout to help combat that.) It also works well over makeup to avoid that icky caked-on look. It smells like raisins and, while it took some time, I have grown to (almost) like the scent. I will be carrying this with me all summer to hydrate and eradicate redness. It may not be fancy, but it works.
Recap? Toners are a key step in any skincare routine for a bunch of reasons, not least of which is prepping your skin for the serums you apply after. The next post in this series will cover these super concentrated, highly effective products that prevent and correct a whole host of skincare concerns (think aging, hyper-pigmentation and dullness). This is where it gets fun, since serums allow you to really customize your regimen and tailor it to your specific concerns. Can’t wait!