We're Settling The Debate: Do You Need A Facial Toner? It's (Naturally) A Little Complicated

Whether you're doing the famous Korean 10-step skincare routine or embracing a pared-down regimen with just the basics, it's likely that you still do these three things: cleansing, toning, and moisturizing. Cleansing is perhaps the most crucial as it removes traces of makeup and ensures that no acne-causing bacteria lingers on your skin, while moisturizing delivers hydration and keeps your skin soft and bouncy. It's known to aid in repairing your skin barrier, too.

The necessity of toner, however, is still quite murky. Even experts themselves are in a conundrum and have yet to form a collective stance on whether toner needs to be part of your everyday skincare regimen. "The question as to whether toners are necessary or recommended is one that continues to be up for debate in the dermatology community. You will get a different opinion depending on who you ask," Rachel Maiman MD, a board-certified dermatologist, explained to Who What Wear.

Many experts, however, don't necessarily recommend the use of toner, but they won't go out on a limb to discourage people from using it, either. If you're looking to streamline your skincare routine, you can often skip toner completely without worrying about adversely affecting your complexion. The truth is your skin probably won't miss it at all.

Skipping toner won't hurt your skin

As it turns out, toners were initially created to eliminate leftover gunk caused by ineffective soaps and cleansers. But we're long past the time when there are limited options for cleansers, with the market now brimming with ones powerful enough to remove grime from your skin without leaving any residue. "Before cleansers became so effective, people needed to do what cleansers could not, which is why people gravitated towards toners," Dr. Joshua Zeichner, the director of the cosmetic and clinical research department of dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical, told The New York Times. "But formulation and technology has helped the cleanser evolve to the point that they're so good, you don't need the toner."

If you're wondering why your toner-soaked cotton pad still collects dirt-like substances from your face even post-cleansing, dermatologist Dr. Ranella Hirsch clarified to The Cut that it's not actually dirt. "In reality, it was just your normal skin oils that had oxidized and turned kind of grey," she said, adding that you also can't expect it to address specific skin concerns. "Toner is never going to be the step in your routine that's doing the heavy lifting," she pointed out. "If acne or oiliness is a concern, a retinoid will play a bigger role, and if hydration is your goal, a targeted serum will have more of an effect."

But adding it toner to your regimen can have benefits

While you can do without a toner in your routine, it's not exactly snake oil, either. It still makes sense to use it to supplement the products you already have. Toners these days contain all sorts of ingredients that can benefit your skin, like AHAs and BHAs for gentle exfoliation or moisturizing properties like hyaluronic acid and aloe vera for delivering added hydration. If a toner happens to have beneficial ingredients that the other products in your routine don't, then you can include it in your regimen as a supplement.

Toners can also prime your skin to react to other products by eliminating build-up or a residue that can impact absorption. But, if you're using a quality cleanser and you don't have time for an added step in your skincare routine, then skipping toner shouldn't be a problem. However, if you want to indulge and find joy in adding toner to your skincare routine, then by all means, enjoy swiping the product across your face.