Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Big Beauty Debate: Is Toner Necessary?

I am sure most of you have heard this debate: is toner really necessary or is it just a big waste of money? I cannot resolve this question since many beauty experts cannot agree on this. However, I can put all the facts in front of you so that next time you are at a beauty counter, you can decide whether to hand your credit card over for that bottle of liquid for yourself. The fact is, toners actually do have many functions, but they are usually used to supplement cleansers and moisturizers. And the cleanser and moisturizers nowadays have become far more developed that their past counterparts, so much so that toners are not necessary with some cleansers and moisturizers.
In this article, I will share with you the several functions of toners, and whether they are still useful today.
Main Functions of Toners:

1. Adjusting the pH or acidity of skin: I think this is one fo the most important functions of toners, and surprisingly, one of the most neglected. In the past, most cleansers are soap based, which are too alkaline, and the use of acidic toners adjust the pH value of skin to a comfortable level. This minimizes irritation, which may cause acne or lead to sensitivity.
However, many cleansers nowadays are formulated to be near the pH value of skin, which makes toners unnecessary. On the other hand, there are still a lot of cleansers on the market that need the follow-up of a toner, so if you are not sure whether your cleanser is formulated to have the "right" pH value, I would advise you to err on the side of caution and use a toner.

2. Removing cleanser residue: Once again, many cleansers of the past were made of soap formulas, which may leave a film on skin that cannot be rinsed off. Toners generally remove that film. Nowadays, most cleansers are formulated to not leave any unwanted residues. However, sometimes, people are in a hurry in the mornings, and do not rinse off their cleanser well enough (I know this sounds ridiculous, but I know several people in my family who does exactly that. One generally needs 8 splashes of water to get the cleanser off, and a survey showed that most people only splash about 3 times). This is where toners come in handy.

3. Astringent: This is probably the most famous function of toners in the US, and actually the most abused. Toners formulated with ingredients like alcohols can act as astringents, not only removing any impurities on skin, but also any sebum or oils. Many teenagers believe that this is good for acne prevention because afterall, acne is caused by a clog of oils in the pores. However, removing all the oil is still not suggested for acne-prone skin because skin would feel dry and would compensate by over-producing oil, which is even worse for acne. None of the toners I have ever used have the functions of astringent.

4. Making Moisturizer easier to absorb: This is a major sell-point of most Japanese and Korean toners. They claim that their toners and moisturizers are supposed to work together so that the small particles of toner brings in the larger particles of moisturizer, which makes moisturizers easier to absorb. I have personally found this to be true of my Laneige White plus Renew and Mamonde Pure White toners. However, many of the moisturizers marketed today are nano-particled, which makes toners a little obsolete in some cases.

What I think of "marketing ploys" of toners:
1. Delivering Moisture:  All right, I admit it. Toners can deliver moisture, and I have seen a lot deliver moisture quite well, such as the Sofina Jenne Lotion II. However, I think delivering moisture is the moisturizer's job, and one wouldn't need to buy a separate toner just to do that.

2. Delivering this and that nutrients essential for skin health: Toners often are marketed to deliver Vitamin C or vitamin E or botanical extracts etc etc to skin. I admit that toners may contain such nutrients, which may be better absorbed in a toner form than a moisturizer form. However, I think such properties should be more suited to serums for the reason that the nutrients are better absorbed in serums. Think about it, a serum is designed to be pat into the skin in a light, easy to absorb liquid; while toners are mostly designed to be wiped across the face on a cotton pad. Wouldn't it make more sense for precious nutrients to be delivered via a serum rather than wasted on a cotton pad?
In addition, few toners can have "toning" abilities if it is loaded with nutrients because many nutrients can mess up the pH value of toners, and may make a toner too rich to properly remove the impurities it is supposed to. In addition, the way one applies a toner means that it is roughly swiped across the face, which applies more pressure than when one applies a serum, and may cause clogged pores.

Overall: I personally buy toners when a product line is marketed with one. However, I understand what I am paying for, and know that for the simple functions of a toner, I do not want to spend more than $30 on it.

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