What Does Toner Do? Purpose in a Skin Routine

Understanding the role of toners can be confusing. Questions often arise about what toners are, why they’re important, and the best methods for applying them.

This article will explain the role of facial toners, including how toner ingredients can help enhance the skin’s appearance.

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What a Good Facial Toner Does

Facial toner is a liquid skin care product applied after cleansing and before moisturizing. Quality facial toners are absorbed quickly and leave behind no greasy residue.

It is a good idea to speak to a healthcare provider such as a skin specialist (dermatologist) to determine the best skin care products for your skin. The primary function of facial toners depends on the formulation but generally include:

  • Hydration: Some toners contain humectants that attract moisture to the skin, aiding hydration.
  • Balancing pH: Toners help restore the skin’s natural pH, which can be disrupted by harsh cleansers.
  • Concealing pores: Some toners can make pores look less pronounced.
  • Cleansing: Toners can eliminate any remaining traces of makeup, dirt, or cleanser that the initial cleansing might have missed.
  • Skin soothing and refreshing: Certain toners contain ingredients that soothe and calm the skin, reducing redness or irritation.
  • Reduce acne: Some toners are designed to reduce oiliness that may contribute to acne.
  • Acts as a primer: Facial toners may help your other skin care products to penetrate the skin more effectively.

The benefits will depend on the ingredients in the toner, such as hyaluronic acid for hydration, witch hazel for astringent properties, or salicylic acid for acne-prone skin.

Toner Ingredients and Formulations

Facial toners can contain various ingredients, and formulations are often tailored to address specific skin concerns. Common ingredients and formulations found in toners include the following:

Hydrating Ingredients

  • Hyaluronic acid: Known for its moisture-attracting properties, hyaluronic acid helps keep the skin hydrated.
  • Glycerin: Glycerin acts as a humectant, drawing moisture to the skin’s surface.

Astringents and Pore Minimizers

  • Witch hazel: This natural astringent can help tighten pores and reduce inflammation.
  • Tea tree oil: Known for its antibacterial properties, tea tree oil is useful for acne-prone skin.


  • Glycolic acid and salicylic acid: These chemical exfoliants can help remove dead skin cells, unclog pores, and improve acne and skin texture.
  • Lactic acid: A milder AHA that exfoliates, lactic acid can improve skin’s hydration.


  • Vitamin C: Products containing this vitamin offer antioxidant benefits, brightening the skin and helping with collagen production.
  • Green tea extract: Green tea extract contains antioxidants can protect the skin from damage caused by free radicals (reactive, unstable molecules made during metabolism).
  • Niacinamide: A form of vitamin B3, niacinamide may help improve surface structure and smooth out wrinkles.

Formulations can be alcohol-free, suitable for sensitive skin, or may contain a small percentage of alcohol for those with oilier skin types. Talk to your dermatologist to determine the optimal toner for your skin.

Toner Application Order in Skin Care Routine

The order in which products are applied in a skin care routine is key. This is true of toner, which is applied after thoroughly cleansing the face.

Here’s how it can fit into a daily regimen:

  • Step 1—Cleansing: Start by washing your face with a cleanser tailored to your skin type. Gently pat dry with a clean towel.
  • Step 2—Applying toner: After cleansing, pour a small amount of toner onto a cotton pad or apply it directly to your skin based on the product’s instructions. Smooth the toner across your face and neck, covering the entire area evenly.
  • Step 3—Moisturizing: Once the toner is absorbed (give it a few moments), continue with the rest of your skin care routine. Hydrating with moisturizer helps to shield the skin from dryness, with optimal results when applied to slightly damp skin to lock in moisture.
  • Step 4—Using sun protection: While some moisturizers contain a sun protection factor (SPF) ingredient, layering with standalone sunscreen is advised, especially if your moisturizer’s SPF is below 30.

How to Use Facial Toner

An effective technique for applying toner involves saturating a cotton pad or ball with the product, then delicately sweeping it across the face, neck, and chest. For optimal results, perform this step immediately after washing your face and before proceeding with other skin care products.

What About Hair Toners?

Hair toners and face toners serve very distinct purposes and cater to different areas of the body. When applied to the face after cleansing, face toners may help to balance the skin’s pH, remove residual makeup or residual impurities, and prepare the skin to better absorb subsequent skincare products.

A hair toner, on the other hand, is primarily used in hair care to adjust or neutralize the undertones in bleached or colored hair. It helps achieve a certain hair color or tone and counteracts brassiness. Hair toners often contain ingredients that target the hair’s pigments, such as violet or blue dyes to counteract yellow or orange tones.


A facial toner is a liquid skin care product applied after cleansing and before moisturizing. It can have many benefits, such as restoring the skin’s pH balance, removing residual impurities, and prepping the skin for better absorption of subsequent skincare products. Specific benefits depend on the ingredients in the toner. Talk to your healthcare provider to determine the right toner ingredients that are right for your skin type and condition.

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Sarah Jividen, RN

Sarah Jividen, RN, BSN, is a freelance healthcare journalist and content marketing writer at Health Writing Solutions, LLC. She has over a decade of direct patient care experience working as a registered nurse specializing in neurotrauma, stroke, and the emergency room.