Skin Toners 101 Featured Image

Toners 101

By Bianca Hazelhurst
03/10/2022 | Read time: 5m

You know by now… great skin = great make-up. Using k-beauty toners promises to take care of dry patches and minimise pores so your foundation will sit even better on skin (you'll probably need less of it, too). But what’s the big deal about toners? Surely this watery like substance isn’t going to help my skin (at least not dramatically)? If that sounds like you, let me highlight the importance of toners and what they can do for you.

You know by now… great skin = great make-up. Using a k-beauty toner promises to take care of dry patches and minimise pores so your foundation will sit even better on skin (you’ll probably need less of it, too).

But what’s the big deal about toners? Surely this watery like substance isn’t going to help my skin (at least not dramatically)?

If that sounds like you, let me highlight the importance of toners and what they can do for you.

What is a k-beauty skin toner?

The purpose of a toner is to gently refresh your skin without stripping it of its natural moisture, preparing the skin to drink up your post-cleansing moisturizer and any other skin treatments that you put on. A toner is the first leave-on step that hydrates and treats, balancing your skin’s pH. Some even offer exfoliating properties such as the COSRX Refresh AHA BHA Vitamin C Daily Toner and the SOME BY MI AHA.BHA.PHA 30 Days Mircale Toner.

The right toner can help minimize the appearance of pores, temporarily tighten skin, and for combination or oily skin, naturally remove excess oil and dirt. For normal, dry, or sensitive skin types, toners can lessen redness and flaking. More on that later.

The idea of adding yet another step to your skincare might sound a little excessive… but using a face toner is a secret skincare weapon and your step to achieve the glass-skin glow.

Toner comes in a water-based liquid form (or a little thicker, like the PYUNKANG YUL Essence Toner, you can read a more in depth review of the PYUNKANG YUL Essence here at The Blushing Bliss), that could be be infused with skin-soothing and plumping ingredients like centella, vitamin c and hyaluronic acid. You can often find different formulas made especially for your exact skin type!

In the k-beauty world, the word ‘skin’ at the end of the product title usually equals ‘toner’. You’ll see examples of that in products such at this one and this one. At UNBLEMISH we have added the word TONER at the end to lessen the confusion!

Which k-beauty toner is good for me?

The answer to this all depends on your skin type. As we’ve previously mentioned, if you have dry skin or oily skin, the approach will be different.

Otherwise, if you’re on of the lucky few who have balanced or ‘normal skin’, then you can focus more on what you want to achieve with your k-beauty goals with the right toner.

If different areas of your skin display different degrees of dryness and oiliness, this is also quite ‘normal’. In this case, it’s best to treat each area differently too. That could mean picking and mixing your toner, such as spot-applying different skincare products.

Some skin concerns are best treated within the products that come later in your k-beauty skincare routine, but it’s always best to try to match your concerns to every product that you apply, which can start as early as oil-cleansing and even toners.

Here is a quick guide:

Dry skin – Toners with soothing and hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid, glycerin, vitamin E, chamomile, and antioxidants like green tea are ideal for dry skin. Try these: COSRX Centella Water Alchohol Free, BENTON Deep Green Tea, INNISFREE Jeju Cherry Blossom Toner (the green tea version is also lush).

Oily skin – The best toner ingredients for oily skin are salicylic acid, volcanic properties, and alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs). These are some of UNBLEMISH’s holy-grail: INNISFREE Volcanic Clusters Pore Clearing Toner, BEAUTY OF JOSEON Bubble Green Plum + AHA, and the COSRX Two in One Poreless Power Liquid.

Acne prone skin – Some toners contain active ingredients that help to heal active breakouts as well as reduce the appearance of scarring and unwanted texture caused by acne, such as alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs). Glycolic and lactic acid are AHAs that work by sloughing away dead skin cells and promoting the regeneration of cells. These one stand true to their reputation: COSRX AHA/BHA Clarifying Toner, COSRX Blackhead Power Liquid, and the COSRX AHA 7 Whitehead Power.

Combination skin – You’ll notice repeat ingredients for combination skin! Toners for combination skin including ingredients such as salicylic acid, lactic acid and witch hazel are particularly beneficial as they’re generally neutral and nourishing for both skin concerns. This one from PYUNKAG YUL and this one from BEAUTY OF JOSEON work wonders and are excellent all rounders.

When should I use a toner?

As a rule, a toner should always be applied immediately after cleansing. A good rule of thumb is that skincare products should be applied lightest to heaviest (with the exception of SPF, which mostly comes last).

Because of its water-like consistency, toner is meant to be applied immediately after cleanser and before serums, moisturizers, and oils.

After cleansing, our skin is most vulnerable to being dried out and desperately needs to be returned to a balanced pH of 4.5-5.5. Applying a toner whilst still in a humid bathroom environment is ideal as that’s when our skin is most like ‘paint me like one of your French girls’ kinda mood for moisture. Here are some of the best low pH toners out there: HEIMISH All Clean low pH Balancing Vegan Toner, ETUDE HOUSE Soon Jung PH 5.5 Relief Toner, BENTON Cacao Moist and Mild Toner.

How often should I use a toner?

Ideally you should use a toner on a regular basis to see the best results, preferably on a daily basis. The exception to this rule is that you do not want to use an exfoliating toner daily, but more like 2-3 times per week.

To do a proper job and be labelled a true k-beauty junkie, a gentle toner can be applied twice a day, once after the cleansing process in the morning and the second time, during the night-time skin care routine after thorough removal of makeup.

When actually applying the toner, you can do several layers. Maybe you have heard of the 7 Skin Method? It’s a K-beauty treatment that involves applying up to seven layers of toner in between your cleanser and serum.

It might sound a bit strange to add a product to your skin upto 7 times. You are probably thinking, surely once is enough?! But our skin is often chronically dehydrated thanks to central heating, air conditioning etc, so using the 7 skins method delivers results of plump and hydrated skin. By layering your toner multiple times, your skin gets to absorb more of the hydrating ingredients one layer at a time, ultimately giving you more hydrated and healthier skin. When your skin is fully hydrated, all the other products you use actually work better.

There are some toners that come in a mist form, which can be handy for on-the-go hydration, even over make up! Some mist toners at UNBLEMISH include the COSRX Centella Water Alcohol-Free Toner and the PYUNKANG YUL Mist Toner.

How do you put on k-beauty toner?

In k-beauty skincare, it’s best to apply toner to a dry face, especially if you’re using a pH balancing toner. You have a couple of options as to how you want to tone. There are a variety of toner pads, mist toners and your straight up drippy watery toners you can apply to clean hands or a cotton pad. It’s really up to you and your personal preference.

Generally pre-soaked cotton pad toners cost a little more and tend to be slightly wasteful. They certainly serve their purpose if you’re a little on the lazy side and like how product packed they are.

Mist toners are the handiest in my opinion because they leave an even coverage of fine mist all over your face without having to touch the bottle and then your face. Bathrooms, as much as we try, aren’t always the most hygienic place in the world. So, keep a mist toner for immediately after a shower is extremely handy.

The last two options are straight to a clean palm of your hand or a cotton pad. If applying by hand, I tend to lose a lot of products through my fingers and the application can be patchy. As for cotton pads… well, pouring my expensive toner onto thirsty little fluff-balls low-key breaks my heart. :’)

So, in my opinion, as well as basically all of South Korea’s, if you want the glow, apply toner!