Skin + Hair Basics

What is Toner?

Toner is a terrific skincare product for acne-prone, oily, and easily irritated skin. Here is how toner works to keep skin clear and balanced.
What is Toner?

Toner Explained: How Toner Helps Skin Stay Clear and Balanced

Toner is a terrific skincare product for acne-prone, oily, and easily irritated skin. Here is how toner works to keep skin clear and balanced.

Toner is one of the most underappreciated products in skincare, and probably one of the least understood products too. That’s largely because different people have different ideas of what a toner can be, and what kind of person should use it. So let’s clear a few things up: If you want clear, bright, calm, and non-irritated skin, then toner is for you.

Specifically, toner is a lifesaver for people with oily, combination, or acne-prone skin, or anyone with stressed-out skin seeking a soothing solution. It’s like a ‘reset’ on your skin’s natural chemistry that doubles as a gentle detox. Allow us to explain further....

What does toner do?

Toner has a lot of use cases. In the most universal sense, toners “tone” skin, meaning they balance your pH and oil levels. Here’s more on both of those functions (which aren’t always the only functions of many toners, as we’ll discuss later):

Toner balances pH levels: Our skin and the products we use all have a pH level, based on how acidic or alkaline something is. On a 0-14 scale, 0 is most acidic, 14 most alkaline. The skin’s natural pH is between 4.7-5.5, so it leans slightly acidic. Many skincare products—and environmental elements—can send the skin’s pH levels away from this harmonious point, by drying it out or overdosing it on certain ingredients. In a simple hydrating swipe, toner can bring the skin’s pH levels back to this natural range, and significantly reduce irritation, inflammation, blemishes, and more.

Toner balances oil production: If you have overactive pores (read: oily or combination skin), then you’re constantly wishing you could wash your face, and you probably experience breakouts more than your more oil-balanced brethren. A good toner helps flush pores of excess grime, while also tempering sebum (oil) production to a more manageable, healthy level. (You don’t want to get rid of the oil entirely, as it keeps your skin naturally moisturized and soft.) And regarding those with combination skin, toner is an easy way to target the more oily parts of your face (the T-Zone across the brow and down the nose) that experience more sebum production than the cheeks.

Toner primes skin for other products: Since toner is a “reset” on skin, it’s a great way to ready yourself for whichever products you apply after cleansing. (After all, some cleansers can buck with your pH levels, too, and leave skin dried out.)

Some toners exfoliate: Some toners also double as exfoliants, depending on the ingredients they deploy. Many liquid or chemical exfoliants can alter the skin’s pH levels, and can seep deep into the skin for high-grade pore declogging. However, certain toner formulas utilize gentler exfoliating agents such as poly hydroxy acids, which dissolve dead skin cells on the surface of the skin, to help promote brighter complexion and combat breakouts.

Toners can work as an after shave: Toner makes for a great after-shave splash, too, thanks to its harmonizing prowess. This is when the skin is significantly susceptible from the razor blade, and needs a neutralizing, balancing, but non-abrasive agent to restore calm. (You should follow with a moisturizer, too.) We just feel bad for all of our dads who used stinging and drying alcohol-based splashes back in the day. Ouch!

How to Apply Toner

Toner should be applied after cleansing the face (and gently patting it dry). It should be applied before anything like a serum, moisturizer, or eye cream. Because cleansers tend to dry out the skin, this is the prime time to harmonize things, before letting any hydrating and nourishing ingredients seep into the pores and work their magic.

Toners will come as a watery liquid or as individual wipes. If you get a liquid toner, you’ll need to buy cotton balls or pads to apply the product, since it’s simply too runny (and since a simple wipe delivers all of the balancing benefits).This is why many brands sell toner wipes, so that you get the product and the means of delivery together as one.

Target problem areas—anything overly sensitive, dry, oily, or breakout-prone. Let the toner seep into the skin for a minute before applying any hydrating products.

The Best Ingredients in Toner

As for the ingredients you should look for in toner: you’ve got options. That’s because many brands choose to add even more benefits to their toners.

One thing toner is not is an astringent, skin-drying agent. Toners should not include alcohol and act as overly harsh cleansers. They exist to create balance, not obliterate everything in their wake. A refreshing tingle is good, but a stinging, burning, or drying sensation is far from ideal.

1. To balance oil levels

First, look for something that balances oil levels, like witch hazel, oleanolic acid, or enantia chlorantha bark extract. Witch hazel is one of the more common toning ingredients, but it is not well tolerated by dry or sensitive skin. This is why Cardon uses oleanolic acid and enantia chlorantha in its toner wipes formula, to clear pores of excess oil and dead skin cells.

2. To minimize pores

Next, choose something that minimizes the appearance of pores, like caffeine. We chose it because caffeine even stimulates circulation beneath the skin, which improves nutrient delivery and cellular health (and keeps your skin looking alert).

3. To calm

You also want soothing and calming ingredients. Cardon’s formula centers on heartleaf, centella asiatica, and cactus extract, which work together to reduce to counter irritation, prevent inflammation, and restore the skin to more natural pH levels.

4. To exfoliate

If you want exfoliation from your toner, then pick one with poly hydroxy acid (PHA), since it dissolves dead skin cells on the surface of the skin, without disrupting any pH levels (like the more abrasive chemical exfoliating ingredients on the market).

4. To hydrate

Your toner can offer additional benefits too, ideally centered on hydration. Cardon has included ingredients like hyaluronic acid and cactus extract in our toner, to help boost moisture and improve its retention in the skin.

Cardon Products Are