Toner Cynic? This One’s For You!

Do you need a toner?
Marie-Antoinette Issa

Lifestyle Writer

Apr 09, 2024

A good cleanser, moisturiser and serum are non negotiable in even the most basic modern skin care routine. However, toners have tended to be mired in mystery. Harking back to the three step days of old. But, now a seemingly redundant addition. However, this is not completely accurate. With a new generation of toners making them an invaluable addition to those seeking smoother skin. To help you understand all of times that you might still need a toner (and some of the best options on the market) we caught up with Leighton Wainohu, founder of Leitin Skincare, who spilled his insights. (But, not his toner!)

The skin care support act (that’s as important as the starring role!)

While serums often steal the spotlight in skin care routines, Leighton emphasises the importance of toners as supplementary elements. “The amount of active ingredients you can incorporate into a moisturising cream is limited,” he says. This limitation underscores the importance of toners as supplementary elements to elevate your skin care regimen,” he says.


While recognising that toners were typically alcohol-based before the 2000s (aiming to balance the skin’s pH levels, albeit with a drying effect), Leighton asserts that the times have changed. And so too have toners. “As cleansing rituals improved, the necessity for toners to remove residual dirt and makeup diminished. Nowadays, there’s a shift towards hydrating, alcohol-free formulations. Modern toner formulations balance skin and tend to be more robust. This is because they often incorporate additional ingredients and actives to address specific skin care concerns that are significant to the user”, says Leighton. 

Shining the spotlight on skin types

For Leighton, the key to an effective toner lies in ability to address specific skin concerns,

“Toners fall into two categories, Alcohol Free (Hydrating) or Alcohol Based (Drying),” he says.
Hydrating toners suit all skin types, while skin care experts typically recommend alcohol-based toners for oily skin and acne due to their anti-microbial benefits and their ability to dissolve excess oil.

A word of warning: “Alcohol-based toners can cause oily skin to become dehydrated and can lead to over-production of oil. When the skin lacks proper hydration, it may compensate by producing more oil to try to balance moisture levels. This over production of oil can exacerbate issues such as acne and a greasy complexion,” adds Leighton.

The power of pH

Today, toner scan balance the skin’s pH, creating an optimal environment to efficiently absorb skin care products.

According to Leighton, “A good toner deliberately formulates a pH of approximately 5, aiming to gently restore the skin’s pH balance. This adjustment creates an optimal environment for your skin care routine to be absorbed efficiently, thus maximising its efficacy.”

Let’s talk different types of toners (and their benefits)

Leighton breaks down the distinctions between hydrating, exfoliating and astringent toners. While hydrating toners focus on moisturising the skin, exfoliating toners containing AHA/BHA ingredients to help to remove dead skin cells and unclog pores. Astringent toners, on the other hand, provide firming and tightening benefits, reducing the appearance of pore size.

Regardless, Leighton says that every good toner should always include the following ingredients:

  • Hydrosols: Plant waters such Rose Water, Witch Hazel and Lavender Water to name a few. They bring pH Balancing, Calming, Astringent and Antioxidant properties to formulas.
  • Niacinamide 4% (min) : Evens out skin tone, minimises the appearance of pores, helps regulate oil production and improves skin barrier.
  • Hyaluronic Acid: Draws the hydration into the skin, look for formulas that include different molecular weights so hydration is drawn throughout the entire skin profile – not just the standard ‘Sodium Hyaluronate’ which only binds water to the surface of skin.

“The above ingredients provide broad benefits to suit a wide range of skin types and concerns. Beyond this point you would look to other botanicals and actives that suit your skin concerns,” he adds.

Common misconceptions crushed

Leighton then addresses common misconceptions about toners. And, emphasises their effectiveness and suitability for various skin types.

“The common misconception is that they do nothing and are a waste of money,” he says, adding that most skin types can benefit from a toner.

Another mistake surrounds the idea that toners strip skin. “If you haven’t used a toner in the last decade they have changed to hydrating alcohol-free toners. In fact, these types of toner can actual play a key role in enhancing hydration for dehydrated skin, boosting hydration for oily skin that may feel dry and increasing skin moisture and improving overall skin health. Which can lead to the skin being able to better regulate oil production, crucial for those with excessively oily skin.

Incorporation and application

Finally, Leighton shares his tips for incorporating toners into skin care routines, advocating for simplicity and experimentation.

“In my perspective, a toner establishes a symbiotic relationship with other skin care products, functioning more effectively when used as part of a collective routine. Current wisdom says to layer products based on their thickness, which for the most part is correct. However, it is important to consider the pH of the formula as well. So, here is how I layer products: Cleanser, exfoliator, toner, serum, moisturiser and face oil.”

Finally, Leighton recommends you apply toner directly to the face like serums, without the need for cotton pads, and encourages individuals to explore different formulas to find what works best for their skin.

Top toners you can try right now

  • Essence Toner, $55, by Leitin

Leighton’s namesake toner expertly balances your skin’s pH levels and delivers an instant surge of hydration. Expect to experience minimised pores and a visibly smoother complexion, thanks to its potent blend of anti-oxidants.

Do you need a toner Leitin Toner

This KBeauty Classic features a powerhouse formula for achieving vibrant, hydrated skin. Packed with probiotics, ceramide, and Centella asiatica extract, it deeply nourishes and strengthens your skin barrier. Balancing the skin’s microbiome, it fosters a luminous complexion while Centella asiatica extract soothes irritation, ideal for sensitive or acne-prone skin. Lightweight and fast-absorbing,this toner preps your skin for subsequent skincare steps, leaving it refreshed and revitalised. With regular use, it enhances elasticity, smoothens texture, and evens out skin tone, revealing a radiant and youthful complexion

Do you need a toner Korean Skin care
  • Probiotic Toner, $39, by La Mav

La Mav’s Probiotic Toner is crafted to restore balance and vitality to your skin. Infused with probiotics and natural antioxidants, this toner replenishes moisture, refines pores, and promotes a radiant complexion. Suitable for all skin types, its gentle formula soothes and hydrates, leaving your skin feeling refreshed and revitalised.

Do you need a toner La Mav Probiotic Toner
  • Daily Glow Exfoliating PHA Tonic, $39.95, by The Jojoba Company 

This innovative tonic is infused with Polyhydroxy Acids (PHAs) to gently exfoliate, and reveal smoother, brighter skin. Enriched with natural jojoba leaf extract, it effectively removes dead skin cells and impurities while hydrating and nourishing the skin. Incorporate this PHA tonic into your daily skin care routine for a radiant, glowing complexion

Do you need a toner Jojoba Company Toner
  • Pore Relation Power Essence, $99, by Dr Naomi

The advanced formula of this toner, targets large pores, excess oil production and uneven skin texture with its potent blend of ingredients. Formulated by renowned cosmetic physician Dr. Naomi, this product offers visible results, leaving your skin smoother, refined, and more radiant.

Do you need a toner Dr Naomi Pore
  • The POREfessional Pore Care Tight n’ Toned Toner, $59, by Benefit

As the name suggests, this toner takes your skin concerns seriously. Featuring an innovative toning foam that instantly tightens pores and smooths skin texture, it gives you a refined and radiant complexion. Infused with a unique blend of ingredients,, including Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs), Polyhydroxy Acids (PHAs), Lemon Extract and Yuzu Extract, its help exfoliate, minimise the appearance of pores and leave skin feel smoother.

Do you need a toner Benefit

Formulated specifically for dry skin types, this luxurious toner replenishes moisture while balancing the skin’s pH levels. Enriched with soothing ingredients like Vitamin E and Hyaluronic Acid, it effectively restores suppleness and improves overall skin texture.

Do you need a toner, beaute pacificique

Budget. But make it good! This affordable toner is specially formulated to hydrate, balance, and rejuvenate the skin, leaving it feeling refreshed and revitalised. Packed with potent ingredients, it helps reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles while promoting smoother, more even skin.

A multi-tasking powerhouse for your skin care routine, this innovative formula combines the benefits of a toner and serum, to effectively refine pores while delivering essential hydration. Enriched with niacinamide and Barbados cherry, it helps to brighten and even out skin tone for a radiant complexion.

Do you need a toner Fenty
  • Pore Reducing Toner, $32, by Paula’s Choice

This award winning facial toner balances oily skin provides light hydration and (as the name suggests) minimises the appearance of enlarged pores for a clearer complexion.

Do you need a toner Paula's Choice

With a luxe scent, glam packaging and super hydrating qualities, there’s a lot to love about this pretty-pink toner, packed with 97% naturally derived ingredients. Including rose, jasmine and macadamia oil.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

By Marie-Antoinette Issa

Lifestyle Writer

Marie-Antoinette Issa is a contributor for The Carousel and has worked across news and women's lifestyle magazines and websites including Cosmopolitan, Cleo, Madison, Concrete Playground, The Urban List and Daily Mail, I Quit Sugar and Huffington Post.

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