SKIN CARE DIARIES: I Like Toner Now? + Product Favorites

by - July 17, 2019

I talk a lot about the issues that I've personally had with my skin throughout my life, which is really what led me to this sort of obsession with learning everything I can about skin care and wanting to share what I've learned. In some cases, because what we know about skin care has changed so much over the past 20 years, there have definitely been a lot of incorrect things I've had to unlearn and things I've had to open my mind to. One of the biggest things that I had to take a new look at is Toner. At some point I decided toner was an unecessary step that I really didn't think did anything, so I just stopped using them entirely. In fact, even up until a couple of months ago, I was still sort of passing off toner as a step I didn't really care about. More recently though, as I've learned more about skin care and the market has definitely changed, toner has become an important part of my routine. SO. Let's talk about toner, shall we?

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Back when I was growing up, especially as a teenager when my skin care routine was mainly focused on trying to keep my skin clear and little else, toner was a step that absolutely hurt - and that was how we were supposed to know it was working. Toner back then was astringent and it stung and left skin feeling tight and dry, with that tight feeling that we thought meant we'd done a good job of cleansing our skin. Since then, things have definitely changed when it comes to the toner step and regardless of whether you're using an exfolating toner or a nourishing toner, I personally think it's more about the what's being left on your skin that what you're taking off it.

I mean, yes, some experts still seem to say that it's a step that's basically a fail safe to make sure that you've completely cleansed your skin, but that's definitely not how I use my toner step. In fact, I think that if you do a thorough double cleanse routine and remove your cleansers with a wash cloth, you really shouldn't have a bunch of leftover crap on your face. For me, I tend to think of the toner step in the way that Kbeauty tends to look at them, they're an opportunity to both prep my skin for the rest of my skin care routine and hopefully increase the penetration of my serums and hydrators, but also a chance to layer up a few more beneficial ingredients without adding weight.

Exfoliating Toner
I feel like this is definitely the type of toner that started me back to doing a toner step at all. Also sometimes referred to as an acid toner, this type of toner uses AHAs, BHAs or fruit enzymes to gently break down the bonds that hold onto dead skin cells and allow you to shed them more quickly to help skin look brighter and smoother. For me, using an exfolating toner 2-3 times a week during my nighttime routine has shown an incredible difference in the overall look and feel of my skin, including doing away with the little bumps caused by clogged pores that I could never seem to get rid of before and made me really insecure about my skin for a long time. 

I've personally tried more of the AHA and BHA products than the fruit enzymes and I really, really love what they do for my skin, particularly the BHA, or salicylic acid, products. Basically, the reason that I prefer BHA is that salicylic acid is  oil soluable so it penetrates a little bit more deeply into the lipid barrier and helps to deal with those stubborn clogged pores a little better. Generally I find that the recommendations tend to be AHAs for drier or more mature skin and BHAs for oilier or combination skin types.

When it comes to recommendations for exfoliating toners, the one that I absolutely always default to is the Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant, which is one that I've been using and loving for years and have been through several bottles of. I've also used and enjoyed the Pixi Glow Tonic, which is a 5% Glycolic and is generally well tolerated by a lot of people, and the VICHY Idealia Night Peeling Care*, which I don't think gets enough love. The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution is a solidly affordable option, but could definitely be a little too much if your skin isn't used to acids. If you're looking at a higher price point and strength, I really, really loved the Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel... but it is not in my budget personally.

There are also other ways that you can use acids in your skin care routine. I've personally really enjoyed cleansers that contain 2% salicylic acid and found them a really gentle way to enter the world of acids since they don't actually stay on the skin. Keep an eye out for ingredient specific Skin Care Diaries posts in the future, where I'll delve a little bit deeper into exfolating acids.

Nourishing Toner
Okay, now, I know there are going to be people who will disagree with where I'm at when it comes to nourishing toners, so I have to say straight up that this is just my opinion and my experience and it's actually been a bit of a surprise to me as well. I feel like I use the term "nourishing toner" as a sort of catch all because there are really so many different formulas that fit into this category that do different things, but ultimately I feel like they should all do a few different things. 

First, I feel like a toner should balance the pH of your skin. Cleansing can be particularly harsh on the pH of your skin, so after you cleanse you can really benefit from using a product to help balance you back out to where you need to be to maintain the healthiest skin possible. Next, it should help with hydration and add some good skin care ingredients that will stay on the skin. I know that's a little bit vague, but that's really because I personally use different toners for different states of my skin. I've actually been finding that I really like the effects of a toner that contains fermented ingredients for the morning and calming ingredients at night. Finally, I think a nourishing toner should be a prep step for the rest of your skin care routine, preparing your skin for absorption of your serums and moisturizers. If a toner balances pH, helps with hydration, and preps your skin well for the rest of your skin care routine, I really do think you'll see impressive results like I have. 

When it comes to product recommendations, I have to admit that the fact that nourishing toner hasn't been an important part of my routine for long means that I didn't have a huge selection to choose from or really long standing products to rave about. That being said, I do have some standouts in my collection that have really helped me to transition into this love for toner. Probably my absolute favorite, the It Cosmetics Miracle Water* feels really refreshing but really does make a difference the overall appearance of skin with continued use. On days when my skin is feeling sensitive and needs some soothing, I consistently reach for the Pixi Rose Tonic, because it really does beat back redness and make my skin feel soothed and comfortable. And finally, if you're looking for some serious hydration, I would definitely take a look at Korean brands that really focus on nurturing and hydrating the skin. THEFACESHOP Chia Seed Hydrating Toner is really, really gorgeous and does wonders for my skin when I use it and the Marryeco Danpoong Moisture Ampoule Toner* has a rich, thicker-than-water consistency that really boosts my hydration immediately.

If you had told me a year ago that I would write an entire post focusing on toners - and my newfound love for them - I wouldn't have believed you, but here we are. Obviously, exfoliating toners have been a part of my skin care routine for years and I always really understood what their purpose was and how they worked, but it's really the nourishing toners that have been making a difference for me lately as I've been reaching for them consistently. I highly recommend checking out the products I mentioned in this post for yourself, they all have my stamp of approval. I'd also love to hear your thoughts in comments about how you feel about toners - waste of time or vital skin care step?

Thanks for reading!

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