Yes, You Do Need A Toner (or mist, essence, etc.)

toner blog post

I used to think toners were a huge waste of money. Why not just wipe my face with a damp $20 bill and throw it in the trash? What could a light mist possibly do for my skin that my cream or oil or serum wasn’t already doing better? Well, I was wrong. Turns out, toners, aka mists, hydrating essences, etc, are totally essential. As we head into colder weather, It’s a particularly great time to get hooked on a toner, as it can also be used throughout the day to refresh your dry skin, set your makeup, or as a nice pick-me-up after coming in from the harsh winter wind.

Toners have come a long way since I was a preteen watching my cooler, older friends use Sea Breeze and gasping at its incredibly astringent scent. I think, back then, we used Sea Breeze to strip our skin of all oil (um, yikes) but toner today means something very different. In fact, it means… nothing and everything, in that, like everything in the beauty industry, terms are largely unregulated, so “toner” doesn’t necessarily mean anything specifically. Neither does “mist” or “essence,” but that’s okay. What’s in a name, after all?

What really counts is what it does and why you need it. The very basic, short answer is that toners or mists can do two very important things. One is to help your other products absorb better, and the other is to help balance your skin’s pH level.

Founder of MŪN Skincare, Munemi Imai, explains that toners are important because of their effect on skin’s pH level, which links to the health of our skin’s ecosystem of microbiomes.

“Toners are an essential skincare step in Japan where I come from,” she explains. “We follow [these steps]: ’cleanse’ — ‘hydrate (with a toner/essence)’ —  ‘moisturize.’ And you need the right kind of toner, the ones that are pH balanced and hydrating. Skin’s natural pH is on the acidic side, 4 – 6.5, with an average of 4.8. When skin’s pH level becomes alkaline or high pH because of cleansers and such, skin’s barrier function is compromised and prone to dryness and irritations. When skin’s pH is at the optimal level, skin’s healthy microbiomes are intact and maintain healthy skin barrier protection and functions.”

Compromised skin creates so many more problems, which might make you feel like you need more and more products to ‘fix’ the issue, but too many products can also be the issue. This is why, even when we suggest that someone needs a minimalist skincare routine, that routine should include a toner.

One of my favorite brands, Josh Rosebrook, makes both a mist AND a toner— the Daily Acid Toner, to be exact. (The Daily Acid Toner is actually a different product than the “toners” we’re talking about in this article. It’s an exfoliating and brightening treatment, and is used in addition to a mist, like his cult-favorite Hydrating Acceletator, which is the kind of mist or toner we’re talking about here!)

On his blog recently, Josh explained how the Hydrating Accelerator works.

 “The secret to the formulation of the Hydrating Accelerator… is the combination of ingredients that create such an effective skin-penetrating formula. The base of [it] is the penetration-enhancing ingredient Aloe Vera combined with a specific concentration of fatty-acids from a unique oil profile that effectively reduces skin surface tension and acts as a vehicle by increasing permeability. This allows the antioxidants, minerals, vitamins, and nutrients past the skin barrier and sets up the skin to carry the actives in the next phase as well. The moisturizing phase seals in the hydration and actives while reinforcing the skins protective acid mantle barrier. ”

At Integrity Botanicals, people frequently reach out to us asking why their moisturizer or face serum/oil isn’t absorbing well or not performing as well as expected. The first thing we ask is, “what type of toner or mist are you using?” and they often say they don’t use one or didn’t think it was a necessary step. I can’t tell you how many friends I have who have been putting oils or serums on completely dry skin, and ask me why it’s not working, and it’s always that they’re not using a toner, so the oil just sits on top of their skin instead of penetrating it and sinking in to be absorbed.

Now that we know what it is and what it does, calling this kind of product a toner or mist is confusing. Many brands call it a mist, but there are so many kinds of mists! At Integrity Botanicals, we have a makeup mist by Lily Lolo,  Gressa’s purifying mist, MoMi’s hydrating mist (for hair!), a  toning mist by Kahina Giving Beauty, an everyday mist by Woodlot, Lotus Wei’s aura mists, and even a lotion mist from Rahua (not for your face, but for body!).

Then there are essences, like Vintner’s Daughter’s Active Treatment Essence. More similar to Josh Rosebrook’s Daily Acid Toner, this essence is not a mist, not an oil, but does provide hydration that is the yin to the brand’s cult Serum‘s yang. Together, they make the ultimate face treatment.

Maya Chia’s The Optimist Hydrating Essence is another example of this type of product being called an essence.  It’s made from a formula that includes sake and a proprietary blend of antioxidants, amino acids, polysaccharides, phytonutrients, and fatty acids, which together make it so much more than a mist.

Here are a few more mists/toners/etc. that we love!

Whatever you call it, a Toners/Mist is likely one of the most overlooked parts of your skincare routine. The bare truth of it is that you need some kind of water in your skincare routine. Many of us use facial oils or oil-based creams or balms, which seal hydration or moisture into your skin. But where does that hydration come from? The first part of that word, “hydro,” means water— you need wanter for the oil to seal in! That’s where toners, mists, essences, etc., come in. If you haven’t been using one before, I promise that adding one to your skincare routine now will be such an improvement. I’m excited for everyone out there who is about to try a mist for the first time, and who will then experience the better efficacy of your serums and oils as a result! Happy Misting!

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Emily Barth Isler

About Emily Barth Isler

Emily Barth Isler is a writer whose work appears on Allure.com, Mother.ly, Organic Spa Magazine, and Popsugar.com. She is also the author of 3 books for young adults and co-creator of the natural beauty blog, Product Junkies Rehab. She loves coffee and podcasts, and is so good at watching TV it should be considered a skill. Emily lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their two children. Find her on Instagram @emilybarthisler for skincare and book recommendations and pictures from her favorite California hikes.