What is a Face Toner for the Skin?

What is a Face Toner for the Skin?

Toner may be the most misunderstood and mightiest product in the skincare universe. Though it may get lost in the cluster of bottles and jars in your bathroom cabinet, toner offers standout benefits to every skincare need. In fact, a toner may just be the single silver bullet solution your skin care routine has been waiting for. But what is toner for skin?

Here, we take a closer look at how this underestimated skincare product works, why it matters, and what to look for when selecting the best face toner for your skin type.

What Is Face Toner & How Does it Fit Into Your Skincare Regimen

What is a face toner exactly? It is a water-based skincare product composed of gentle astringents that can help to soak up excess oil, rebalance your skin’s barrier, exfoliate and hydrate dry skin and bring energy back to dull or tired-looking skin.

A recommended skin care routine should at least includes these steps:1

  1. Cleansing – Cleanser helps to rid the skin of excess oil, makeup, or dirt that can accumulate throughout the day. No matter what type of skin you have, cleansing is an important step for protecting against environmental pollutants that most of us encounter any time we’re out and about. Cleansing helps keep your skin clear of agents that can cause blemishes, inflammation, or imbalances in your skin.2

  2. Moisturizing – Moisturizers can help rehydrate the outermost layer of skin. Moisturizing can restore radiance, combat free radicals and visibly reduce the appearance of hyperpigmentation.

  3. SPF – Sunscreen should always be included in your morning skincare routine to protect against harmful UV rays. Even if you’re not heading outside during the day, be sure to include a clean sunscreen in your routine to protect your skin barrier.

Each of these steps is undeniably an important component of any skincare routine. However, hustling straight from the cleansing stage to your moisturizer skips one key step that can make or break the others: toning the skin.

Toners are liquid solutions that serve this purpose. Their job is to:

  1. Complete the cleansing process – Many cleansers, particularly oil-based solutions, cannot completely remove makeup and dirt in a single wash. Single washes tend to remove the most superficial layer of residue without completely purifying the skin itself. That’s where toners come in. Toners help to get rid of stubborn makeup, grime, and other particles that cleansers may need extra help removing.3

  2. Prep the skin for moisture – Toner preps the skin for maximum moisture absorption, by dispelling excess oil from pores, making the skin prepared to absorb the humectants in your moisturizer compounds that help boost your skin’s moisture content.4 Bonus? By removing excess oil, toners can help minimize the appearance of pores on the skin.

What Type of Toner Should I Look For?

While everyone’s skincare needs are different, there are certain things to look for when choosing a toner that’s right for your skin. A solid choice should contain these active ingredients:

  1. Water
  2. Oil-absorbing ingredients like willow bark
  3. Hydrating, skin-calming herbal and floral extracts like lavender or citrus

Not all toners are created equal—nor are they created for every skin type.

Toners For Your Skin Type

Your skin will best be served by a toner that is geared toward your unique skin, whether you have oily skin, dry skin or combination skin.

#1. Combination Skin: Clarifying Toner

For people with combination skin, oil tends to accumulate in the T-zone—that lengthwise stretch from forehead to chin that stretches across the forehead horizontally forming a “T.”

People with combination skin may feel like they’re constantly having to micromanage their skin to keep it happy. Fortunately, clarifying toners are formulated to take this balancing act on themselves.

Check the ingredients label for clarifying toners that contain these helpful ingredients:5

  • Willow bark extract
  • Alcohol denat. (denatured alcohol)
  • AHA complexes (Glycolic and Lactic Acid)

Combination or oily skin types can reach for a toner like the Clarimatte Clarifying Toner, formulated with lavender and passionflower to help calm the skin while dispelling excess oil and AHA complexes that work to gently exfoliate, leaving your skin with a clearer and smoother appearance.

#2. Dry Skin: Exfoliating & Hydrating Toners

Moisturizer can be a huge help when addressing dry skin, but an exfoliating and hydrating skin toner supersizes its impact. To nourish dry skin, reach for an exfoliating toner between your cleanser and moisturizer. Ideally, an exfoliating toner should also have hydrating ingredients as well such as:5

  • Lactic acid
  • Glycerin
  • Azelaic Acid

Hydrating toners like the Ready Steady Glow Daily AHA Tonic uses all of the above ingredients to gently exfoliate dry skin, brighten the skin barrier and hydrate for a smooth, even and energized-looking complexion.

Will Toner Dry Out My Skin?

If you have naturally dry skin, you likely have to keep an eye on your skincare products to ensure your skin feels its best. You may have even heard that astringents in toners can be too harsh on the skin.

Actually, toners and astringents are formulated differently. While astringents primarily use alcohol to absorb excess oil, a benefitical toner should incorporate moisturizing compounds that help to reduce dry skin patches.6

In fact, toner might just be the missing link in your routine that can help you achieve nourished and moisturized.

#3. Dull Skin: Brightening Toner

If you have dull skin, the best toner for you is a brightening solution. Look for toners that have the following ingredients in their lineup:

  • Lactic acid
  • Glycerin
  • Glycolic acid
  • Aloe vera
  • Rosewater
  • Extract from fruits rich in vitamin C (citrus, anyone?)

Brightening toners like REN’s Ready Steady Glow Daily AHA Tonic assist with skin-resurfacing and keeping oil in check. The citrus ingredients (orange, tangerine and mandarin) can help to lift your complexion while keeping your skin juicy and hydrated.

Once you have chosen the toner that’s right for your skin type, learning how to use face toner properly will not only help you reap the benefits quicker, but it will also help your other skincare products do their job.

Tone Up with REN Clean Skincare

Whatever your skin type, REN Clean Skincare’s range of toners is designed to nurture and tone even the most exquisitely sensitive skin types. Cruelty-free and skin-kind, our formulas use nature’s best ingredients to calm, restore, and nourish skin for clinically proven results.

For more clean, earth-and-expert made formulas, shop REN’s full range of skincare.

About the Author:

Camille Poggi is a doctor in Pharmacy (PharmD.) and is passionate about skincare and how the skin works in general. She specializes in the cosmetic industry and worked for renowned companies in France like L’Oréal and Chanel before moving to London. After being a training manager for 4 years, Camille is at ease with explaining how products work in the skin and how to adapt her speech according to the audience.

She joined REN in January 2020 as International Training Manager and moved to the Research & Development team earlier this year to be the new Scientific Education Manager. A tailored-made role where she assesses and leads all technical communication and ensures scientific compliance is always met. She’s also involved in new product development from the earliest stages. Finding a way to create sustainable skincare products and making sure the message is properly delivered and understood is definitely a big challenge but also her favorite part working for REN.


  1. New York Times. How to Build a Skincare Routine. https://www.nytimes.com/guides/tmagazine/skincare-routine
  2. National Institute of Health. Recognizing the impact of ambient air pollution on skin health.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5916788/
  3. Healthline. A Beginner’s Guide to Double Cleansing. https://www.healthline.com/health/beauty-skin-care/double-cleansing
  4. Healthline. How Humectants Keep Hair and Skin Moisturized. https://www.healthline.com/health/humectant
  5. Insider. The best toner ingredients for your skin type, according to skincare experts. https://www.insider.com/best-toner-ingredients
  6. VeryWell Health. Astringent vs. Toner: Which Is Right for Your Skin? https://www.verywellhealth.com/astringent-vs-toner-4151988
  7. Harvard Health Publishing. Moisturizers: Do they work? https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/moisturizers-do-they-work
  8. National Institute of Health. Natural skin surface pH is on average below 5, which is beneficial for its resident flora. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18489300/
  9. Healthline. About Skin pH and Why It Matters. https://www.healthline.com/health/whats-so-important-about-skin-ph#Whats-the-best-way-to-maintain-healthy-skin-and-balanced-skin-Ph?
  10. National Institute of Health. The pH of the skin surface and its impact on the barrier function. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16864974/
  11. VeryWell Health. An Overview of Lactic Acid Skin Care.https://www.verywellhealth.com/lactic-acid-skin-care-4178819
  12. Healthline. 9 Ways to Say Goodbye to Dull Skin. https://www.healthline.com/health/dull-skin#dull-skin-causes