Applying toner by fingers or cotton pads?

lavera faces wildrose toner
A few weeks ago, a reader by the name of Jenny Li sent me an email to ask about the pros and cons of applying toner using cotton pads and using fingers.

I think I read that you apply toner with your fingers as opposed to a cotton ball? I’ve been doing that as well because I ran out of cotton balls, but the new toner I’m using is really runny so I find that I can’t do that anymore. I’m interested to hear your opinion on whether toner should be applied with cotton balls or fingers and the pros and cons of each.

Jenny’s question was interesting and in fact, not too long ago, I also read Kimoko’s take on this topic of applying toner.  Anyway, my answer to Jenny was that I use more cotton pads to apply toner actually.  It’s a habit which was formed in my early 20s when I started with Clinique’s 3-step skin care system.  I only started using fingers recently when I was testing the Phyto Balancing Tonic from True Bio Skin Care because that’s how Susan of True Beauty taught me how to use their toner.

Using fingers to tap on goodies from toner
I would say how you apply your toner depends on two things.  One, personal choice and the other, the function of your toner.  Those who use cotton balls/pads may like to give their face a clean sweep to get rid of any traces of dirt or their cleansers.   The toner in this case is also part of the cleansing process.  However, if you’re confident that your cleanser is doing a good job of removing all traces of debris, then there’s no need to use a cotton pad but you can use your fingers to tap the tonic and deliver the goodies from the toner to your skin.   Doing so means you won’t waste more of your toner as cotton pads tend to absorb more than needed.

Using cotton pads to prevent wastage
However, having said that, I would also qualify that it also depends on the packaging of your toner.  In my case, I was using hydrosols and Lavera Faces Calendula Toner before using Phyto Balancing Tonic from True Bio Skin Care.  Both types of toners come in bottles with open tops which meant it was highly possible for me to pour out more onto my palm.  So no, I don’t like using fingers to tap on my toner unless I can squirt the liquid out.  And to save on my toner, I sometimes damp the cotton pad with mineral water so that I don’t have to pour out so much.

So what about you ladies who use toner in your skin care regime?  Do you use cotton pads?  Fingers?  Or you simply spray it on?


  1. Ms. Blacklace says:

    fingers! Coz i’m too lazy and cheap to buy cotton pads. Haha!

  2. Reese says:

    I have to use cotton pads, I am too paranoid about the dirts or makeup residues even if my cleansers are doing a great job or even when i double cleanse!

  3. zhenling says:

    fingers! i tend to use less product that way

  4. Maureen says:

    I usually decant into a small spray bottle and either spray onto my palm and pat on, or just spray on the face and pat into the skin.

  5. Paris B says:

    I use both – I prefer cotton pads because I like patting it on my face and it seems to cool down my face. When I use my fingers I use less but I sometimes wonder if I’m using “enough”.

  6. sesame says:

    Haha…also save more toner!

  7. sesame says:

    I was like that too…especially after wearing makeup.

  8. sesame says:

    Yeah…agree. I also have to pour quite a bit on the cotton pad until I dilute it with water.

  9. sesame says:

    I’ve never decanted…always very lazy. But spraying on is a good way.

  10. sesame says:

    Should be suffficient if your entire face is wet no?

  11. pf1123 says:

    I use a cotton pad when I use my cleansing lotion.

    Currently, I introduced a day toner as I feel that my skin wld be stripped if I use my cleansing lotion as toner in the morning.

    2 weeks before I watched the taiwanese beauty show Nu Ren Wo Zhui Da, a celebrity makeup artist/skincare specialist showed a bunch of cotton pads with different textures.

    If she felt that she requires some gentle exfoliation, she will use the cotton pad with a rougher surface. If she does not, then she will use a softer surface one. She even use those 8×10 ones as a mask with her toner.

  12. Cyndi says:

    I just spray directly from my spray bottle and pat it dry

  13. pf1123 says:

    oh i forgot….I use my palms to slap on my day toner. Actually, one of the reason is because I find that my skin is sorta getting thinner nowadays. The cotton pads which felt fine previously all feels very rough now.

    I can even see the blood veins on my eyelids now. ?

  14. Connie says:

    Great info! Good to read your thoughts.
    I used to use cotton because I haven’t been using a very good cleanser but my cotton scratches my face and I’m too cheap to buy the expensive ones :p So now that I’ve had proper cleansing, I spread toner in between my palm then sweep it all over my face ?

  15. Vonvon says:

    I apply with a cotton pad, of course! My toner is just too liquid and watery.

  16. Synaesthesia says:

    I would prefer to spray toner on my face but sometimes I’m just too lazy to pour new toner into spray can. Thus my normal routine on toning is by using fingers. I don’t like the idea of tugging my face, although I know toner is also a form of cleansing but maybe I’m too used to my own way of toning. Hahaha… just my 2 cents…

  17. Raelynn says:

    i too prefer spraying toner and using fingers. but Aesop’s toner is more of a hydrating tonic and it comes with a stopper over the mouth to regulate the liquid coming out so i use my palms and fingers. it gives me an opportunity to give my face a massage. the times when i use a cotton pad with this toner is when my face doesnt feel oily in the morning and didnt use a cleanser. i avoid using cotton pads as i have the tendancy to apply too much force to sweep my face.

  18. sesame says:

    Cotton pads with different textures? Sounds interesting…it’s been awhile since I watched the program.

  19. sesame says:

    I’ve should try a toner that sprays one day.

  20. sesame says:

    Skin getting thinner? I had this problem…mine is due to a loss of collagen.

  21. sesame says:

    I actually quite like to tap the toner on with my palm and fingers. Feels rather refreshing!

  22. sesame says:

    Actually you can still pad the watery type of toner if you want to try.

  23. sesame says:

    It sounds fine to me. These days I don’t see toner as a form of cleansing but for its skin care benefits as well as to prep our skin for the next step of skin care.

  24. sesame says:

    Oh Aesop sounds good…I remember a blogging friend raving about the parsley toner.

  25. Marcy Webb says:

    I would think that, unless one is super-diligent re: washing hands while working with her face, then I vote for using cotton balls/pads.

  26. Kathleen says:

    I use a cotton pad that is soft on one side and has a rougher texture on the other. I always use the cotton pad to ensure I gte off any leftover makeup. However, the side I use depends on if I feel I need some exfoliation. My skin can get flaky, so when it is, I iwll use the “rough” side.

  27. Jenny says:

    Omg that’s me!! Haha, I never got a chance to thank you for answering my question!
    I started using cotton balls with my new toner (Dickinson’s Witch Hazel) because of how (like you said) the bottle pours out the toner but I’m going to try spritzing the toner ?
    Thank you again!!!

  28. Vicky says:

    Using your fingers sounds like a good idea for applying toners! I’ll have to try that. Btw, do you use alcohol free toners?
    On a different note, have you gotten deep cleaning for your face before? The other day an aesthetician was suggesting I go in for a treatment for my facial acne but I wonder if that would really help…

  29. min sin says:

    I using a spray to spread around my face and followed up by tapping with my finger. This will reduce a lot of waste

  30. sesame says:

    Ah I know what you mean. For me, I apply immediately after my bath and facial wash so my hands are clean.

  31. sesame says:

    So interesting. I must go and check out such cotton pads. I haven’t seen them around.

  32. sesame says:

    Hey Jenny, no problem. It was my pleasure as long as the info was useful to you.

  33. sesame says:

    Yes, strictly alcohol free toner for me now. Alcohol when used long term can cause skin to dry out.

    Deep cleansing? I’m not exactly sure what your aesthetician has in mind but I expect it involves steaming and extraction? I go to True Beauty for their facial and their products provide the deep cleansing.

  34. sesame says:

    Ya, and also savings on the cotton pads! ?

  35. molly says:

    Fingers! Cleansers should do a good job of cleansing the face. When you use your fingers for applying toners, you can feel how squeaky clean your face is. If otherwise, you should change your cleansers.

    A spray mist toner is best. I love L’occitane’s Brightening Toner. It refreshes and moisturises. Renew Rose Hip Mist is also another of my fave. I simply lurve these two toners.

  36. pf1123 says:

    I’m not sure what my skin thinning is due to. Perhaps loss of collagen as well since I’m not getting younger by the minute.

    However, for my eye area, I’m suspecting its due to my new eye treatment. I have never used eye stuff regularly before until I have dark smudges at my undereye area. I’m worried of dark circles forming. So, I bought the Kiehl’s eye brightening/line reducing serum with vitamin C.

    After using for about 3 weeks or so, I begin to notice the blood veins on my lids. Weird…

    Anyways, I’m keen to check out the facial cotton of different textures as well. Sounds very interesting.

  37. sesame says:

    Haha…then a lot of cleansers need to go to the bin. But yeah, toners shouldn’t be to remove the dirt and impurities cos it would mean the cleansers are not doing a good job.

  38. sesame says:

    Oh…most probably the new product has caused a change then.

  39. Tine says:

    I use cotton pads, always have. Didn’t actually think of applying toner with my fingers. Hmmm. Although a recent facial I went to, the beautician sprayed toner from a bottle all over my face. I haven’t experienced that before, so I had a bit of a shock ?

  40. usws says:

    Is it safe to rub the toner on (with my fingers) the same way I use the cleanser? Cause that’s what I’m doing and all this talk about dapping is making me feel sorry for my skin. Lol..

  41. Muni says:

    Ha man. I just take the bottle and squirt away at my face! Lol just playin. I use a cotton pad. And dap my face with the toner. I just found out that rubbing the toner is bad… your spreading the acne else where.

  42. Suz says:

    I tend to use my fingers since it saves me a lot of toner. with a cotton pad I seem to run out of toner faster. :/ anyways, which toner would you recommend for people like me with oily skin and prone to acne? They have soooooooooo many toners out there that are expensive and affordable I just dont know what would be the best. I just bought Laneige toner for troubled skin and have not used it yet…but if you have any recommendations I would love to hear your opinion. thanks

  43. sesame says:

    I suggest you look for toners without alcohol. I was using Kiehl’s before and they’re not bad too.

  44. Annette says:

    This is an old post… but I need to share this. What about toning cloths? They look like sterile gauze one can get at the pharmacy. This idea came to me as I was looking at Renee Rouleau line.

    So last night, I nabbed one of my baby son’s sterile gauze for cleaning his mouth and since I didn’t have toner (need to buy soon, as per your post about its importance in restoring pH level) and dripped water on it instead. It absorbs easily, and I can easily dab it around my face. According to MUA reviews, this saves them money as this method allows them to use LESS toner. Interesting, no? ?

  45. sesame says:

    I’ve never come across these toning cloths but they sound interesting. Sure…it can be used just like cotton pads. And dabbing is a good idea!

  46. Jenny Svensson says:

    I use Föllinge Produkter facial toners from Sweden and they have a spray top that you can take off and pour if you want to. I like them as they are also organic.

  47. Sylwia says:

    I have poured my toner into a spray bottle and been spritsing it on my face. It felt refreshing and I was saving product and cotton pads! But my skin became dull and drainy looking ? So I have found my perfect solution. I still use cotton pads to swipe the face with them but spray the toner onto a pad instead of pouring it. That way I still save a lot of product ?
    Maybe this will come helpful for someone ?

  48. Anonymous says:

    I developed the habit of using only my hands when applying toner when my derma told me to apply my antibiotic astringent (acne days) by putting some on a thin cotton and simply pat on the face. I think that the daily rubbing with cotton, even if it’s soft and saturated in toner can aggravate skin problems. Since then, I pour 2-3 drops of astringent on my hand, rub a little between palms, and pat on my face. This also how I apply my moisturiser. Now, I only use astringent when I breakout. Because I use a gentle cleanser, the ph level of my skin is not too affected I think (?) it’s not stripped of moisture; my cleanser does not contain surfactants. In lieu of this, I just spray my face with some Evian brumisateur and pat my face then moisturiser. I founf out that the gentler we treat our skin, the better its condition will be.

  49. Sesame says:

    Yes, you’re right. Sometimes rubbing with cotton pads may aggravate certain skin types.

  50. shweta says:

    dear .i am facing a acne proble and also my skin pores are open plz suggest me some home remedies to remove ance with spot and pores

  51. Sesame says:

    Can you look up my DIY category here There are a number of recipes you can try.

  52. Leng says:

    Has anyone ever used a cosmetic sponge to apply toner? I saw someone doing it one day and wondered if they absorb as much as cotton balls/pads.

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