What is a Toner? And why do I need it?

What is a Toner? And why do I need it?

Keina Yuan 
K-Beauty Editor

“Drizzle your face in this serum and it will drown away all your problems”
“This magical cream will erase all your blemishes leaving your skin soft, plump and beautiful”

But why isn’t my skin clear yet?

Toners are the underrated, misunderstood step of skin care routines and many of us overlook this step whether it's to save money, time or maybe we just don't know why we need them?. 

In the past, facial toners were deemed unnecessary, filled with harsh astringents and were even considered a taboo. What are astringents? Any group of chemicals that causes the contraction or shrinkage of skin and dry up secretions. Common astringents include: alcohol, witch hazel, silver nitrate, zinc oxide and some acids (salicylic acid). These claimed to remove remaining traces of makeup, remove any greasy shine, and ‘shrink’ your pores. But the high alcohol content actually strips the skin, leaving it taut, sensitive and dehydrated. 

Now don't get me wrong, this did ‘evoke’ the feeling of smaller pores, and maybe even make them ‘appear’ smaller. But I’m sure none of you actually ever enjoyed this stinging, arduous step in your routines.  

However, toners of today have since evolved and are actually a vital step in every skin care routine.


Toners are the primers of care. They give a quick shot of hydration and nutrients, they restore the pH balance, and in some cases*, they sweep away any dirt or dead skin cells that your cleanser might have missed. And finally, they prep the skin for the rest of your skincare; so your serums and moisturizers. 

*Usually normal/combination skin types can use a cotton pad to apply toners. This will gently exfoliate the surface of the skin. This method is not recommended for the skin types which are prone to acne, sensitivity and if you have dry skin.

How? Well here's a quick analogy to help you out. Charlotte Cho, the co-founder of Soko Glam and a licenced aesthetician says to “think of toner as prep to your pores” and to imagine that, “Your skin is like a dried-up sponge.” If you were to put a thick cream on a brittle dry sponge, it won’t accept it and it isn’t ‘prepped’ for moisture. But if you wet the sponge just a little, the cream will sink into it much more easily. By allowing the rest of your skincare to sink into your skin more efficiently, you're also boosting the effects of your products! Just remember, your serum was made to work inside your skin!

Resetting your skin? Check!

Packed with superstar ingredients, toners are able to infuse the skin with much needed nutrients and hydration leaving your skin soft and revitalized. They even help to minimise the appearance of pores. Of course, it won't ‘get rid’ of them but with the additional moisture from the toner, the ‘plumped-up’ skin helps to make your pores appear smaller! 

Now for the important part. Toners restore the pH balance of the skin. And this balance is crucial for the whole ‘skincare’ thing to work effectively and efficiently. So what is pH? And what does it have to do with skin?


    pH is the measure of how acidic or alkaline a substance is, and in this case, how acidic or alkaline our skin is. Yup! That’s right. Skin has a pH too. Surprisingly, skin is actually acidic with a pH between 4.5 and 6.2! The outermost layer of skin has a natural barrier; the acid mantle and lipid barrier, which helps to protect itself against moisture loss and external stressors. 

    So you can imagine how washing your face with soap and water will throw your skin’s balance off. In fact, the alkalinity of the soap (your cleanser) actually spikes your skin towards the more alkaline side of the scale. Not to mention that that protective barrier is now compromised. 

    This means the skin barrier isn’t working properly... Now we see the common skin concerns arising. Just a few examples include rosacea, dry patches, ace, excessive oils and even premature aging. 

    How can we improve this? Well let's take a little dive into our skin barrier and how it actually works.

    On the surface of our skin we have two very important functional barriers called the acid mantle and the lipid barrier. They are a thin film composed of a mixture of fatty acids, natural oils, lipids, and dead skin cells. 

    Both the acid mantle and the lipid barrier are vital in keeping pathogens and external stressors OUT, while keeping moisture and nutrients from skincare IN.

    Now to tie it all together. So, let's say you didn't use a toner after cleansing. This can go two ways. Either your skin produces bucket loads of oils to try and replenish the acid mantle and lipid barrier, OR your skin loses a heap of water from the deeper layers of the skin causing dryness and dehydration.Here's when the toners come into play.

    No they won’t magically erase away dryness, oiliness, acne, flaky skin… But what they do do is prevent these issues from occurring but also help prevent them from becoming worse. This allows the rest of your skincare routine to effectively address these other concerns and actually let them do their job without any other hurdle getting in the way. 

    Choosing a toner to incorporate into your routine heavily depends on your skin type, and its current condition. To see some of our recommendations head over to the article, How do I choose a toner for my skin? 

    Happy Toning everyone!


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