You wash your face. Maybe next you put on a little moisturizer. If that's all you do before applying your makeup, your skincare regimen is missing a crucial step: toner.
Applied between cleansing and moisturizing, toner can help to repair and prevent a bevy of facial woes. So don't just slap moisturizer on your freshly washed face. Toners are not all alike, however.
"Different toners have different bells and whistles," says Nika Vaughan, a Chicago makeup artist and instructor who specializes in bridal, commercial and fashion makeup.
Toner types include old-fashioned, alcohol-based formulas that may also feature astringent ingredients such as witch hazel. These are usually recommended only for women with oily skin. They should be avoided by those with sensitive or irritated skin.
Newer kinds of toner are usually water-based and contain skin-repairing substances, antioxidants and cell replenishers.
Toners can exfoliate and help to cut oiliness, giving you that extra-clean feel. For women with dry skin, some toners provide additional hydration and allow moisturizers to penetrate more deeply.
A toner such as this will revive dull and tired skin, according to professional makeup artist Jill Glaser, owner of the Makeup First School of Makeup Artistry, a cosmetology school in Chicago: "This is a great tip after getting off of a long road trip or plane ride. Think of it as a pick-me-up for sluggish skin."
"Some are what we call 'softeners,' " Vaughan says. A product such as Shiseido's Hydro Balancing Softener, she says, "takes moisture to a deeper level." Other toners, she says, help to tighten your skin.
If your skin is flushed, irritated or inflamed, the cooling, soothing ingredients in a calming toner aid in taking away redness and discomfort, advises Glaser. Other toning products are especially designed to protect the skin from the elements. "Every day our skin is in contact with pollution and free radicals," Glaser notes, and such toners are "bursting with essential vitamins to keep the skin healthy and protected."
"The whole regimen," Vaughan says, "should be geared toward what you need."
Toners' principal role is to reset your skin's pH levels to the optimal, slightly acid range.
The pH scale, from 1 to 14, starts with acid, up to 6.9; 7 is neutral; and 7.1 and up are alkaline. Skin ought to balance between 4.5 and 5.5, according to esthetician Tarah Niccoli. Left in an unbalanced state, oily skin becomes oilier and dry skin drier.
The acid mantle of the outer layers of skin helps it to resist harmful bacteria. Cleansing can strip the acid mantle, depleting nutrients that protect against microorganisms, wind, pollution and other environmental dangers, Niccoli advises, and it takes up to half an hour for the skin to rebalance on its own.
On busy mornings, few women have time to wait around for their skin to restore itself. Toner speeds up the process.
Toners to Prep Skin for Moisturizer
Toners also help to remove any cleanser residue, along with the last traces of makeup, dirt and dead skin cells that your cleanser may have left behind, clearing your pores and negating the damaging effects of the fluoride, chlorine and sodium in tap water, before you moisturize. Trapping such debris under moisturizer and makeup, Niccoli warns, may force them into your pores, which can encourage bumps, blackheads, enlarged pores, rough texture and acne.
To remove the last traces of makeup and cleanser, especially at night, apply toner with a cotton ball or pad. For a fast tone, use a spray bottle to spritz the product over your face.
According to Vaughan, it's most important to pay attention to your skincare regimen at night. “When you're sleeping,” she says, “that's when your skin is regenerating.”
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