All about toners

Toners have come a long way since the 1990s, when they were full of alcohol and reserved for acne-prone teens. The rise of Korean beauty, in particular the 10-step skincare regime, has thrust toners back into the spotlight, and they’ve had a modern makeover. So what are they, and do you need to use one?

All About Toners

What are toners? 

Toners were originally developed to balance the pH of the skin after being cleansed with soap, and to remove any residual soap or debris on the skin. These days, cleansers are pH balanced, more effective and more easily removed. Therefore, if you’re using an appropriate cleanser, for most people toners, at least for this purpose, aren’t necessary. 

These days, there are toners targeting almost every skin concern, and they’re used as an in-between step – after cleansing, and before applying serums and moisturiser. Some claim they help ‘prep’ the skin, making whatever you apply afterwards more easily absorbed. However, there isn’t really any science to back this up.  Some toners are designed to hydrate the skin, containing ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, whilst others target oily skin, with alpha and beta hydroxy acids. However, they’re really just serving as another method of delivering these ingredients. 

Do I need to use a toner? 

Controversial! Some people swear by them, others think they’re totally unnecessary. 

Here’s my take: if you’re using a gentle cleanser and a good moisturiser, there’s no real need for a hydrating toner, and if you’re using another product like a serum that contains alpha or beta hydroxy acids, you don’t need to use a toner containing these as well. 

If you’d like to use a toner instead of or as well as another product (like a serum) to deliver active ingredients, then they’re absolutely fine to use. However, they’re not an essential step of a skincare routine, and are no longer required for the original purpose they were created for. The primary role of toners nowadays is as an alternate method to deliver active ingredients to the skin. 

What should I look out for?

Some toners contain alcohol and other ingredients which can irritate the skin, so check the ingredient list carefully. Also remember – when it comes to skincare, more is not always better. Using too many products can irritate the skin and damage the skin barrier, so think carefully about what your skin actually needs.




Spotlight on Skin was created by award-winning Melbourne-based dermatologist, Dr Julia Rhodes.

Julia knows first-hand how overwhelming the skincare world can be, and that’s with over 10 years of experience practicing dermatology. Given that even she gets overwhelmed, she appreciates how hard it can be for those of you without a scientific background to make sense of all the information available, and choose products that are right for your skin…