Many men want to start a skincare routine, but many guys are unsure if they really need to use a skin toner. Toner can help products absorb deeper into your skin, address skin concerns, and more. However, it is important to know that various kinds of skin toners work in different ways.
Men do not need skin toners. However, guys with blackheads, clogged pores, acne, dry skin, etc., can benefit from a skin toner. Some skin toners are also great for anti-aging.
If your skin type is normal, you’ll be fine without a skin toner. Toners have some benefits. For instance, an acid toner can be an exfoliant. However, in that case, you’d be better off just buying an exfoliant instead. Your skin can regulate its own pH unless you use other harsh chemicals on it.
Benefits of Skin Toners
Most newer skin toners are not a “one size fits all” product. However, the benefits that you can expect from most toners include:
A Complete Cleansing
One of the more popular benefits of a general toner is that it can “complete” the skin cleansing process. Cleanser might not be enough to clean off all the dirt, pollution, etc., from the day. Most people accomplish this by applying toner to a cotton pad and lightly swiping it on their face.
However, many people prefer to gently pat some toner into their face to get more out of their toner, especially if they already performed a double cleanse (using an oil-based cleanser then a gel-based cleanser).
Toners can control breakouts by resetting your skin’s pH, helping clear out sebum, and acting as an astringent, which removes residue from cleansing but isn’t necessary with today’s cleansers.
On the flip side, toners, or any skincare ingredient, can cause breakouts if you’re allergic to any of the ingredients or if the ingredients block your pores.
Toners that contain acids can help exfoliate your skin by stimulating new skin cell turnover. Many people prefer chemical exfoliants (usually acid toners) over physical exfoliants (facial scrubs) because physical exfoliants can irritate your skin more.
Enhances Skin Absorption
A major benefit of skin toners and why you should use them after cleansing is to help other products absorb better into your skin. Toners can remove dead skin cells and excess oils (if you use them properly) to encourage your serums, moisturizers, etc., to easily penetrate the skin.
Damp skin tends to absorb products better than dry skin. Therefore, a bit of water could accomplish this, but you get more benefits if you use an appropriate toner instead of plain water.
However, certain products that contain active ingredients, like retinol, go on dry skin to prevent over-penetration. Otherwise, applying an appropriate toner and letting it set into your skin for a minute before applying other products (preferably hydrating and calming ones) can be great for your skin.
Balances the Skin’s pH Levels
Depending on the skin toner that you use, it can help balance your skin’s pH levels. Your skin’s pH can change after cleansing (depending on the pH level of your cleanser), and your toner can bring it back to normal.
To get a quick understanding of the pH scale, it ranges from 0-14. 0 is the most acidic, whereas 14 is the most alkaline. A neutral pH is 7, but healthy skin is usually around 5 because healthy skin is slightly acidic.
According to one study, the natural skin surface pH is slightly below 5 (Lambers et al., 2006). Slightly acidic skin is better for the resident bacterial flora that are on the skin.
Of course, you do not want to reach an extreme number on either side of the pH scale. Therefore, you can choose an appropriate toner to balance your skin’s pH level after cleansing. For instance, many skin cleansers have an alkaline pH level to strip the excess oil from oily skin and make your skin feel dry after cleansing. Therefore, applying a toner after cleansing can bring the pH level down after cleansing.
You may need to do your own research for each specific product that you will use. However, most toners are formulated to be slightly acidic or bring your skin to the optimal pH level, so you might not have to worry that much.
Again, remember that most cleansers are formulated with pH in mind, and your skin also has the ability to regulate its own pH. Unless you have a special reason for needing a toner to do this, there’s no need to buy one just for regulating your skin’s pH.
Types of Skin Toners
There are many different toners, and most of them fall into different categories. It is important to know what kind of toner you are using to know if you need and how often you should use it.
Skin fresheners/braces are the mildest kinds of toners, and you will likely find this type in most stores. Since they are very gentle on the skin, they are ideal for sensitive, normal, and dry skin types. However, it is still possible for sensitive skin types to feel a burning sensation (stop use if this happens).
This kind of toner often contains none or a little alcohol (usually around 0-10%), water, and a humectant like glycerine. Humectants keep moisture in the epidermis’s upper layers to prevent evaporation.
Some examples of skin fresheners/bracers are:
- Aloe vera toner
- Hyaluronic acid toners
As stated earlier, some toners are great for exfoliating, which are categorized as acid toners. Acid toners are much stronger than skin fresheners/bracers. Acid toners contain low levels of acidic ingredients that can:
- Remove dead skin cells
- Promote collagen production
- Even out your skin tone
- Decrease the appearance of surface wrinkles and big pores
- Unclog pores
- Decrease inflammation
Acid toners are usually what people refer to when talking about “chemical exfoliation.” Most acid toners contain ingredients to exfoliate the surface of the skin, like:
- Mandelic acids
- Lactic acids
- Glycolic acids
The ingredients listed above are alpha hydroxy acids, also called AHAs. AHAs are water-soluble acids made from sugary fruits. AHAs are often best for uneven skin tone, fine lines, surface wrinkles, enlarged pores, and mild hyperpigmentation.
AHAs are often good for almost any skin type, but people with very sensitive or dry skin should be wary of them.
However, some acid toners exfoliate the skin’s deeper layers: beta hydroxy acids or BHAs. BHAs are oil-soluble, usually made from sweet birch and willow bark trees. Types of BHAs include:
- Salicylic acids (willow extract, sodium salicylate, salicylate, etc.)
- Tetrophonic acid
- Tropic acid
BHAs are lipophilic and drawn to oils deep in the skin to influence the skin’s sebum production. Some benefits BHAs can offer include:
- Reducing and preventing acne, clogged pores, and blackheads
- Hyperpigmentation (sunspots, acne marks, etc.)
- Wrinkles and fine lines
- Enhancing skin texture
BHAs are often great for people with oily or combination skin types. They are also good for fighting signs of aging, correcting hyperpigmentation, and reducing acne.
Similar to AHAs, people who have very sensitive or dry skin should be cautious when using BHAs. If you experience any reaction, you should stop using it.
Skin tonics are a bit stronger than skin fresheners/bracers. They often contain a humectant ingredient, water, and some alcohol (up to 20%). Skin tonics are good for people with normal, oily, and combination skin.
Some examples of skin tonics are orange flower water, Elizabeth Arden’s Ardena Skin Tonic, etc.
Is Alcohol a Bad Ingredient to Find in Toner?
Some toners contain alcohol. If you know the basics of skincare, you probably think that alcohol is bad and that you should avoid it at all costs. However, that is not always the case because there is good and bad alcohol.
Good alcohols are fatty alcohols, which are excellent for dry skin types. Good alcohols in small amounts are great for almost any skin type.
Good alcohols do not dry or irritate your skin. Instead, good alcohols act like emollients to keep moisture in your skin and protect your skin.
Examples of good alcohol are:
- Lauryl alcohol
- Stearyl or isostearyl alcohol
- Cetyl alcohol
- Cetearyl alcohol
However, harmful alcohols do not benefit any skin type. They may initially make your skin feel oil-free and clean, but they often irritate and dry out your skin.
Plus, alcohol can actually make your face oilier because your skin gets so dry that it creates more oil to make up for the lost oil. Therefore, people may like the initial results, but they may immediately regret it after using it a few more times.
Examples of bad alcohol include:
- Alcohol denat, aka. denatured alcohol
- Alcohol (it will simply just say alcohol in the ingredients list)
Most brands list their ingredients by highest to lowest concentration, which is why you often see water or alcohol as the first ingredient. Therefore, if you see any of the bad alcohol listed as one of the first ingredients, it could compromise almost 80% of your product.
How to Use a Skin Fresheners/Bracers and Skin Tonics
If you are using a skin freshener/bracer or a skin tonic, you can use the following methods after cleansing your face:
Cotton Pad Method:
- Soak a cotton pad in the toner.
- Lightly wipe the cotton pad across your face, neck, then chest.
- Put several drops of toner onto the palms of your hands.
- Gently pat the toner into your skin, pressing your palms into your face to encourage absorption.
Some toners come in spray bottles. Therefore, you can spray 1-2 spritzes onto your face (try to spray at least 6-8 inches away from your face) and let it sit for a minute before moving onto the next part of your skincare routine.
You can use most skin fresheners/braces and skin tonics 1-2 times a day. You can choose to use it at night, but most people benefit the most from using it once in the morning and once at night.
How to Use Acid Toners
Whether you use an AHA or BHA, remember to use them at night. Acid toners make your skin very sensitive to the sun, so going out in the daylight after using it can irritate your skin.
How to Use Liquid AHAs and BHAs:
- Apply the acid toner onto a cotton pad.
- Swipe the cotton pad across your face, avoiding your eye area.
If it is in a spray bottle, spray it on your face. Be sure to use your other hand to cover your eye area when you spray the bottle.
How to Use Gel or Lotion AHAs and BHAs:
Using your hands, apply a very thin layer onto your skin. If you are using a lotion meant to sink into your skin, continue with the rest of your skincare routine. However, if you are using a gel (particularly peeling gels like The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% peeling solution), use water to rinse it off at the indicated time.
Do not let gels set into your face longer than what the instructions say. Most instructions will say to leave it on for 10 minutes, but some people will leave it for 6-7 minutes.
When it comes to acid toners, you should only use them 1-2 times a week. If you are a beginner, use it once a week. Some people swear by using an acid toner everyday. However, that makes your skin very vulnerable to damage because it is getting over-exfoliated.
Ideally, it would help if you chose an AHA concentration of less than 10%. BHA concentration should be between 1-2% (Moghimipour et al., 2012). However, you can choose a lower concentration if available, especially if you are new to acid toners or have sensitive skin.
Remember that you should be wary of acid toners’ ingredients, especially if they are already in another part of your skin routine. For instance, let’s say that you want to use an AHA toner once a week, but your cleanser already contains salicylic acid, which is a BHA. Using both, especially if you have sensitive skin, can irritate your skin and lead to a bad reaction. Therefore, you are better off choosing a different toner or switching your cleanser.
Another thing you should know is that you should only use one kind of acid toner. For instance, if you already use a glycolic acid toner, you do not need to use a lactic acid toner. Otherwise, you run a high risk of over-exfoliating, bad skin reactions, etc.
A good rule of thumb is always to wear sunscreen. However, it is especially crucial if you use an acid toner.
Acid toners make your skin more sensitive to the sun. It can lead to more sunspots, uneven skin tone, redness, etc. You should wear sunscreen daily, even if you use an acid toner once a week.