Does Toner Wash Out?

While some believe toners are an essential step in a skincare routine, others argue they are unnecessary and a waste of money.

The truth is that toners can provide many benefits to the skin and significantly improve its health and appearance when used consistently and correctly.

This is why it’s important to understand exactly how they’re meant to be used and what kind of toner is best for your skin type.

In this article, we will break down this somewhat controversial product and explain what’s the role of a toner in a skincare routine, how using it consistently can improve the skin, whether it should be washed out or left on, and how to choose the right toner for your individual skin needs.

What Does a Toner Do To The Skin?

Toners are lightweight, quick-absorbing liquids that remove any remaining bits of oil, dirt, and debris left lingering on the skin after cleansing.

Additionally, toners also help restore the skin’s pH after a cleanser has caused it to become slightly imbalanced and can be excellent for soothing and hydrating the skin and prepping it to better absorb the following products in a skincare routine.

Many toners also contain active ingredients that help target a specific skin concern and promote a clearer, healthier, and more uniform complexion.

Types of Toners

Different types of toners perform various actions on the skin; therefore, understanding the differences between the product options can help you choose the right one for your skin needs.

Here are the three most common types of toners:

Hydrating Toners

Hydrating toners are the gentlest type of toner that can be used in your daily skincare routine.

Designed with hydrating and soothing ingredients to give the skin a quick boost of hydration, refreshment, and relief from redness, itching, and irritation, hydrating toners are suitable for all skin types but are especially useful for those with sensitive and dry skin.

Exfoliating Toners

Exfoliating toners are targeted liquid solutions that contain active ingredients with exfoliating properties.

A few standard exfoliating ingredients used in these toners are alpha-hydroxy and beta-hydroxy acids, which help remove the buildup of dead skin cells on the skin’s surface and inside the pores.

Exfoliating toners, being targeted solutions, are used to tackle particular skin concerns, including acne and acne scars, flakiness, dullness, hyperpigmentation, uneven skin tone, and even wrinkles exacerbated by the slow cellular turnover.

They are suitable for all skin types; however, they can be quite potent; therefore, exfoliating toners should only be used 2-3 times a week, depending on the skin concern you want to address and your skin’s tolerance.


Astringents are the OG toners that first became popularized in the 80s due to their ability to minimize the appearance of enlarged pores and control shine.

These types of toners are still used today and can be useful for those with excessively oily skin, but they should be used with a level of caution as they work by drawing water out of the tissues, an action that provides a matte effect, and contain a higher concentration of alcohol along with other potentially irritating components that could be over-drying and can lead to skin reactions if used too frequently.

The Benefits of Using a Toner Regularly

While toners are not necessarily an essential step in a skincare routine, the benefits of using them regularly are too good to be ignored.

Here are just a few examples of how regularly using toners can improve your skin’s health and appearance:

Balanced Oil Production

Toners are excellent hydrators, and this action can also help balance excess oil production.

Oftentimes our skin will overproduce oil when it’s dehydrated in an attempt to compensate for the lack of moisture; however, excess oil production can not only be a nuisance that will destroy your makeup and make your skin look greasy throughout the day but can also clog the pores and cause breakouts.

Therefore, hydrating your skin sufficiently will stabilize the overactivity of the oil-producing glands while giving you a beautiful glow instead of an oily sheen.

Plumped Skin

By giving your skin a shot of hydration, toners can help plump out your complexion and reduce the visible signs of damage, such as dullness, sallowness, wrinkles, and discoloration.

Furthermore, the additional layer of moisture toners provide can also help reduce the appearance of enlarged pores and give you a smoother, more even-toned complexion.

Reduced Appearance of Fine Lines and Wrinkles

Fine lines and wrinkles can appear prematurely due to excessive dryness; therefore, adding a hydrating toner into your skincare routine can help improve their appearance.

On the other hand, exfoliating toners that contain ingredients such as alpha-hydroxy acids can help shed the superficial layer of skin cells, revealing a more youthful-looking complexion with less prominent signs of aging.

Evened-Out Complexion

Toners that contain brightening components such as niacinamide, vitamin C, etc., can help fade existing hyperpigmentation from old acne scars and even out your overall complexion, giving you that natural and healthy radiance.

Increased Absorption

Finally, toners can help other products in your skincare routine absorb better and more effectively by balancing the skin’s pH.

Therefore, using a toner can help you maximize the efficacy of your products and get the most out of them.

Does Toner Wash Out?

Toners are formulated to be left on the skin and provide nourishment and hydration through various active and supporting ingredients. Washing them off will defeat this since you would remove all those ingredients before they have had the time to deliver their beneficial action.

However, that’s not to say there aren’t instances where a toner should be washed off.

If, for example, you apply a toner you’ve never used before and it ends up stinging or burning your skin, this means that your skin is reacting to one or more components in the product and is giving you a clear sign the causing factor needs to be washed off.

On the other hand, using exfoliating toners as a short-contact treatment can also be effective and is recommended for those with ultra-sensitive and reactive skin who want to address a specific skin concern, such as acne or hyperpigmentation but can’t tolerate strong ingredients for a prolonged time.

In this case, washing the toner off after 5-10 minutes can be enough to get the desired results without prolonged discomfort or potential skin damage caused by irritation.

How to Pick the Right Toner for Your Skin?

Choosing the right toner can be confusing; however, there are a few simple rules that you can follow to ensure the product you pick will be suitable for your skin type and needs and will address your major skin concerns.

Below are the three considerations you should keep in mind when choosing the right toner for your skin:

Understand the Different Types of Toners

There are many different types of toners and the best one for your skin depends greatly on your skin type and any the skin issues you are facing?

Additionally, understanding the ingredients used in toners and the effect they have on your skin can help you make sure the one you choose contains components that suit your skin type, won’t trigger irritation or cause discomfort, and will address your skin concerns as well as improve your skin’s health and appearance with consistent use.

Consider Your Skin Needs

Before choosing a toner, you need to consider your skin needs.

For example, if your skin is on the dry side, and you are dealing with occasional or frequent flaking, irritation, and discomfort that comes with a lack of moisture and hydration, choosing a toner with hydrating and soothing properties is the right way to go.

On the other hand, if your skin is excessively oily and you are dealing with skin conditions often associated with this skin type, such as breakouts and excess shine, choosing a toner with exfoliating and oil-balancing properties is more suitable.

Therefore, always think of your skin needs and concerns you want to address, as this will ultimately help you pick the right product that you will get the most out of and will be the most beneficial for your skin.

Check the Ingredients

Finally, before purchasing a product that looks like it might be suitable for your skin needs and concerns based on its label and marketing, make sure to check the ingredient list and pay close attention to the components your chosen product contains.

When it comes to toners, it’s generally best to avoid products that contain harsh ingredients, such as drying alcohol and irritating fragrance, as these can sensitize the skin and cause damage in the form of redness, irritation, and even conditions such as acne and contact dermatitis in the long run.

How to Use a Toner Correctly For The Best Results?

Like every other skincare product, toners should be used correctly to provide beneficial properties for the skin and improve its health and appearance.

Therefore, here are four steps you should follow for the best toner application:

Wash Your Face

A toner is always used on clean skin; therefore, before applying any toner, you must thoroughly cleanse your face with a gentle cleanser to remove the buildup of makeup, pollution, and environmental debris on your skin.

This ensures that, while absorbing into the skin, the toner won’t be hindered by any residue that can also make its way into the pores and cause irritation or clogging and will deliver its benefits more efficiently.

Apply Toner While the Skin is Still Damp

Avoid thoroughly drying the skin with a towel after cleansing and before applying toner, as toners work more efficiently when applied to damp skin due to the skin’s increased receptivity to hydration.

Therefore, always apply your toner with your hands or by using a cotton round on clean, damp skin to ensure your skin is getting the maximum benefit from the hydrating and soothing ingredients in the product.

Follow Up With a Hydrating Serum

To maximize hydration and achieve that plump, dewy skin, follow up with a hydrating serum while the skin is still damp from the toner.

This will ensure that your skin gets all the moisture it needs and will help make up for any of the hydration lost during cleansing.

Seal The Active Ingredients Into the Skin With a Moisturizer

Finally, you need to seal the hydrating and soothing ingredients from the more lightweight products such as toners and serums by applying a moisturizer and creating a barrier on the skin’s surface that would prevent the hydration from evaporating through the skin and allowing the active ingredients to last longer.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can Toners Harm Your Skin?

Toners can harm your skin if they contain stripping or drying ingredients such as alcohol, irritating components such as fragrance, and aggressive active ingredients such as high-strength exfoliating acids that can compromise the skin barrier and lead to irritation and damage.

Can Toners Cause Breakouts?

Toners are generally lightweight and rarely contain potentially comedogenic ingredients that can cause breakouts; however, not all toners are the same, and some can irritate the skin or clog the pores, leading to serious acne issues.
This is why it’s always best to check the ingredient list of a toner you want to try out.

Do Toners Moisturize the Skin?

Toners are not a replacement for moisturizers as they hydrate the skin and help it retain water; however, if not sealed with a thicker moisturizer that contains ingredients such as emollients, the beneficial ingredients in toners, a.k.a the actives that deliver the effects on the skin will evaporate, which can leave the skin even drier.

Originally Published: May 04, 2023

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Analyzed by Simone Sydel

Hi, I’m Simone Sydel, a licensed esthetician and acne expert dedicated to helping others solve their skin issues including acne, eczema, and UV damage. I specialize in testing and reviewing the latest acne treatments and beauty products, offering honest, practical advice for skincare. I’ve helped hundreds of clients clear their skin and my skincare product reviews have been read by several hundred thousand people. Thanks for visiting!

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