Toner vs Cleanser: What you need to know

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Cleansing and toning are two of the initial steps in a comprehensive skincare routine and some of the most important. However, many people will routinely use a cleanser and/or toner without ever really knowing what these steps do or why they are important. In fact, you may be wondering if you actually need both steps.

The answer is yes, both cleanser and toner are important and for different reasons. They both play a unique role in your skincare and should not be used interchangeably. Let’s break down everything you need to know about these products and how to properly incorporate them into your daily routine.

The importance of cleanser

The first step in any skincare ritual, should always be a good cleanse. Facial cleansers are designed to wash the skin, removing dirt, oils, bacteria, pollution, dead skin, makeup, and other products that cling to the skin. According to the Indian Journal of Dermatology, we need cleansers because many cosmetic and environmental impurities are not water-soluble and thus, washing the skin with just water is not enough to remove them.

During washing, cleanser interacts with the skin’s natural barrier and disrupts the pH balance. This works to emulsify dirt, oil and microorganisms on the surface of the skin, making them easier to remove. Dermatologists note that an ideal cleanser should disrupt skin balance as little as possible, cleaning the skin without damaging, irritating or drying it.

Cleansing is important not only for removing unwanted debris from the surface of the skin, but also preparing the epidermis for the application of other products. Skin that is not clean will have a hard time absorbing serums, moisturizers and the other important steps in your skincare routine. Using a face wash is only part of the cleansing ritual however. The second part is toner.

The importance of toner

Studies conducted by the International Dermal Institute found that women were only spending approximately twenty seconds washing their face. This is a problem according to IDI, because modern day environmental conditions are actually causing our skin to become less clean by default. This has a lot to do with increasing pollution and other environmental toxins as well as the use of more products like makeup and sunblock, which can form a sort of coating on top of the skin.

Because of all this, simply cleansing with a facial cleanser is not enough to tackle everything and that is where toner comes in. Toner gets the skin even more clean by removing the remaining debris or residue left behind by your cleanser. Additionally, because toner is at least partially absorbed by the skin, toner products can be used to infuse more hydration or active ingredients.

However, perhaps the most important benefit of using a toner is that it helps quickly restore balance to the skin. Following disruption to the skin’s barrier caused by cleansing, toner helps bring pH levels back to normal. This helps not only protect the skin from pollutants and bacteria but also prepares it to receive nutrition from other products.

Some other benefits of toner cited by dermatologists include: reducing the appearance of pores, refreshing dehydrated or tight skin, controlling acne and creating an extra layer of protection for the skin. For sensitive or aging skin, using a hydrating toner is ideal for boosting cleansing, rather than double washing, which can be too aggressive for some skin types.

How to properly cleanse and tone

Knowing how the practices of cleansing and toning complement each other, it should become natural to incorporate them into your routine together. Cleansing should always be followed by toner, unless you are exfoliating. On days that you use an exfoliant, you will want to cleanse, exfoliate and then tone.

For best results from your cleansing routine, aim to spend more than just twenty seconds washing. Ideally, when cleansing, you should spend about two minutes gently massaging your product into the entire face and neck area before rinsing with lukewarm water. This will help increase blood flow to the skin and encourage lymphatic drainage for natural detoxification.

Toner should be applied immediately following cleansing and exfoliation, using a clean cotton round. You will want to wet the cotton round with toner and swipe it gently over the entire face and neck. If your toner is the spray kind, you can also spritz the face with toner and let it absorb without removing it. As long as you are using a toner that is hydrating, it is safe to use throughout the day and leave on the skin, even overnight.

Follow cleansing and toning with any essences or water-based serums. Then apply oil-based serums, moisturizers, sun protection and makeup, in that order.

How to choose the right cleanser and toner

If you are ready to start cleansing and toning but don’t know how to get started, a good first step is choosing the right cleanser and toner for your skin type. Many people make the mistake of using products that are too harsh or not hydrating enough for their skin type. When this happens, you will likely not see the results you were hoping for and may be tempted to give up on your skincare routine.

If you have combination, oily or acneic skin look for a gentle gel-based cleanser for daily use. For toner, you can choose products with a low percentage of alcohol and natural astringents like witch hazel for balancing oil production. Ingredients such as salicylic acid, tea tree, antioxidants and alpha-hydroxy acids like glycolic acid can also be beneficial in small doses.

For sensitive, dry or aging skin, opt for oil or cream-based cleansers. Avoid foaming cleansers which can contain sulfates and can irritate the skin. Alcohol-free toners that contain hydrating ingredients – hyaluronic acid, rose water, vitamin E and glycerol – are best for infusing moisture into the skin and preventing unwanted water loss.

Related articles:

Cleansers and their role in various dermatological disorders by Partha Mukhopadhyay, Indian Journal of Dermatology

Skin Care Fundamentals:Toners by Emma Hobson, International Dermal Institute

Is Our Skin Dirtier Than Ever? by Dr. Diana Howard, International Dermal Institute

6 reasons why you should add face toner to your beauty routine by Ysolt Usigan,

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