How can a toner be used to hydrate our skin?

I’ve always used a toner in my skin care routine as far as I can remember. In fact, I’ve discussed toners and toning various times on this blog as well. However, I realized that over the years, my reason for using a toner has changed; from one of toning to control the oil production to one of balancing my skin and hydrating.

Old routine:
Using toner with astringent properties

When I started out using a toner, I was using a toner to remove any surface impurities left after cleansing and to ‘shrink’ the pores. Toners were more like astringents then; I didn’t know anything about ingredients but the ones I used definitely included alcohol or witch hazel.

However, as I learned more about how such ingredients can dry my skin and in turn cause more oil secretion, I switched to toners that were gentler in formulation, and started using them to ‘prepare’ my skin for the next skin care step, which is moisturizing. But initially, I still had very little inkling of what it meant for the toner to be used to more effectively receive the benefits of the moisturizer.

Current routine:
Using toners with humectants

The reason why I’ve changed my perception of toners can be attributed to new types of toners being introduced as well as more understanding of how my skin works. Many toners today are called “lotions” and contain humectants that help to bind moisture to the skin.

Popular ones include Japanese brands such as Hada Labo containing super hyaluronic acid. Such toners serve to balance pH levels and maintain moisture levels on our skin. There are also similar ones in the market that may contain beneficial ingredients such as vitamins to keep our skin clean, fresh, and balanced.

Toners I use currently
So currently, I use face mists to tone my skin. The one I use is the Infotone Face Mist, which is a refillable product containing Squalene, Phytoncide, and Vitamin C, all of which have skin benefiting properties.

Sometimes I turn to the Avene Thermal Spring Water, which is ideal for sensitive, fragile skin because it contains a unique composition of silicate and trace elements that have been demonstrated by over 300 scientific studies to soothe, soften and restore skin’s natural balance.

While some have said it is better to use a toner with lower pH level but both products I am using have a close to neutral pH, and yet they suit my skin well as I’ve not experienced any irritation.

How I use toners as hydrators
So how do these face mists hydrate my skin? From experience, I’ve learnt that it’s best not to apply the toner and just leave it on the skin to dry as the evaporation will cause the skin to become drier.

So I always mist them on my face generously after cleansing, wait a minute or two, before patting them well into my skin. And while my skin is still damp, I apply a few drops of oil before layering my moisturizer in to seal in the moisture. This has been helping to keep my combination skin hydrated and my skin do not get excessively oily (unless the weather is horribly hot) and neither do my cheeks feel too dry.

I’ve experimented not using these face mists prior to applying my oil and moisturizer (which contains high zinc oxide content that can be drying) and I do feel a difference so I am quite sure they provide a good level of hydration. And because my skin is properly hydrated, it does not secrete that much oil compared to when I was using a toner with astringent properties.

How to choose hydrating toners
Actually, I believe hydrating is the key for most skin type as a toner should not be used to strip the skin of excessive oil but rather to keep the moisture balance so that it neither becomes too oily or too dry. So a hydrating toner with humectants and botanicals extracts would help to provide some level of hydration if paired with the right moisturizer.

I would also recommend avoiding toners containing alcohol denat; one with witch hazel would be better if you really need an astringent product.  Better still, go for a hydrosol such as rose or calendula with milder astringent properties.


  1. Joyce September says:

    I prefer my toners to contain a great amount of Glycerin; hydrates and softens the skin effectively.

  2. stella says:

    in my good old teenage acne years, i used to use very harsh astringent toners that stripped my skin dry–i used to love it! now, i only use moisturizing toners, usually so-called softeners/lotions from japanese labels. when it’s super humid and my skin feels like it doesn’t need a moisturizer, i just put on hada labo with no moisturizer thereafter, so yea, i’d say the right toner can be a moisturizer for oily-combi skin like mine

    eversince i started using avene face mists before my toner a few years ago, i can’t stop! i don’t know if it makes my skin any better to be honest; but it’s always so affordable on sale (2 for $29.90!) and my skin’s never been better than in the last few years, so no complaints! anyway, i’ve been misting to set my makeup for way longer, so i’ve always a face mist around!

  3. ling ting says:

    does the new la roche posay mineral sunscreen contain avobenzone?

  4. sesame says:

    I guess one with glycerin would be a tad moisturizing too? I don’t mind glycerin in a moisturizer but not a toner. But then again, I’ve not really tried one. I’ve just made some DIY serum that feels like a toner and had to remove the glycerin because it didn’t work so well for me. But I’ve read some readers swearing by that ingredient too.

  5. sesame says:

    Oh just hada labo works for you? Wow, that’s interesting! I found the lotion okay but just didn’t feel like I want to continue using it.

    For the mist, I don’t carry it around anymore. I just use it once in the morning and once at night and that’s all. I believe it is doing something good. ?

  6. sesame says:

    Not sure which one you’re referring to but look under the ingredients and see if it list Avobenzone or its trade names – Parsol 1789, Butyl Methoxydibenzoylmethane.

  7. Swati says:

    you know I always thought toners are useless but my skin care routine changed with time and now I use rose water or homemade toners before moisturizing and I have seen that they keep the skin more supple and hydrated and yes I think hydration is the main job of a toner

  8. Tin says:

    Ah as for me, I have no idea how my toner works. @_@

    But it’s moisturizing, actually. And it has tea tree oil and olive oil. So I dunno. Not drying but it helps in preventing pimples. It’s ph balanced as well. and helps prevent blemishes.

    I just hope my skin doesn’t get immune to it.
    Btw, how long before the skin gets immune to a product?

  9. sesame says:

    Yep…I think those with astringent properties are less helpful but if you use a hydrosol, they can give your skin a hydration boost.

  10. Abby says:

    I do think toner can help hydrating skin because whenever I don’t put on toner after cleansing my face, it feels very tight and uncomfortable.

    I also agree that alcohol in toner makes skin more oily. I’ve been using the skinsensitive line toner from garnier which claims to contain no alcohol and I can see the difference compared to the other products I have tried which contained so much alcohol.

    Sad they discontinue it and I’ve just made my first batch of rose and lavender toner with vitamin E oil. More like rose and lavender herbal tea in spray bottle actually but so far so good ?

    Side question:Sesame, what kind of ingredient I can put in the concoction as natural preservative? I have combination skin but now it’s winter im Australia, I tend to have some small dry patches. Thank you!

  11. EcoBeauty says:

    Like you, i used to stick to harsh astringents when I was much younger… during those times when “squeaky clean” skin was considered healthy and seeing a dirty cotton ball after using it to apply toner on your skin was the “standard”. But now, I use toners to hydrate and prep my skin for serums.

  12. cece says:

    Hi Sesame,
    I have been a avid reader of your blog which features natural beauty products!!

    I live in Southern California and planning to go Asia for the first time, specifically going to Korea. Is there any natural brands that I should be looking for? or non-natural products that I should try?

    Thank you for your time and energy for the wealth of information and discussion that you provide for your readers.

  13. sesame says:

    Seems like we had a lot in common in the past… ?

  14. sesame says:

    Glycerin can work as a preservative but I don’t think it can be kept too long. The other more commonly used ingredient is vitamin E oil.

  15. sesame says:

    The tea tree oil is likely the ingredient helping to keep your skin blemish free. As for your question about how long your skin will get ‘immune’ to products, I really don’t know. It depends on skin type. If you suspect your skin type prone to such, then best to alternate products.

  16. Sarah Bellum says:

    There’s a lot of marketing hype behind toners. Originally, toners were just alcohol/witch hazel solutions that made the skin feel tight and a little tingly. But as you pointed out, those types of formulas can actually dry out the skin.

    If you’re using a toner that’s a “lotion” and that contains moisturizers, guess what? That’s not really a toner at all, it’s really just a form of skin lotion! Cosmetic marketers often call their products different names to encourage you to buy more (In this case you might be tempted to buy both a toner and a lotion even though they really serve the same function!)

  17. sesame says:

    I guess the names have blurred over time with different products introduced and what’s called a skin lotion can double up like a toner to balance the skin. So typically, people will just get the lotion and not an extra toner.

  18. Abby says:

    I put few drops of vit E in the toner as I hv a small bottle of it at home, but I’m not sure how much is necessary ? anyhow, thanks for answering my question, Sesame!

  19. sesame says:

    Hi Cece:

    Thanks for reading my blog. ?

    Actually, I’m not really familiar with many Korean brands. Those easily available brands are not natural. One brand I’ve tried that is fairly natural is Ecobeau. Other brands are Hwa Yong, Dermona and Enchant – considered to be premier brands with herbal ingredients – and probably cost more.

  20. Diane says:

    I remember the astringent toners sold like hotcakes in my cousin’s drugstore 20 years ago! It was an essential beauty product and people would even add a tablet of crushed vit c to make it better. I’ve never tried it though ?

    I find applying oil/moisturizer after “lotion” or hydrosols makes it glide on more smoothly and I can massage it on easily ? definitely essential now in my routine!

  21. sesame says:

    Yeah, without the hydrosol or mist, I also find it harder to apply my products. I thought it was just psychological. ?

  22. astrorainfall @ beauty box says:

    Does this mean that you don’t swipe your face with a toner + cotton pad after washing your face and before putting on moisturizers? Is this “residue” ridding step just a myth? Or should we trust that our facial wash will get rid of all dirt and grime?

    I have a friend who is a firm believer in not wiping the face with cotton pads…and one should just pat in the toner/lotion to prep the face for moisturizer.

    But, I really do feel there is a layer of “something” when I don’t swipe my face at least 2-3 times a week….Any thoughts on this?

  23. Carrie says:

    Very informative blog ? Though I do wonder, what’s the difference between toners that requires a cotton pad and those that simply sprays onto face??

  24. sesame says:

    Maybe this post I’ve written sometime back can help answer:

    But some of my views have changed somewhat – I feel that those that are sprayed on are really more to rebalance the skin.

  25. sesame says:

    I double cleanse and I don’t see any residue when I swipe with a soaked cotton pad; I used to when I only cleanse once. I think if you need to remove impurities with the toner, then the cleanser isn’t doing a good job.

    Do you see any residue on your cotton pad? If not, then it’s not necessary to swipe. Anyway, your 2 – 3 times a week sounds a bit like an exfoliation process to me so it’s okay but an exfoliator probably can do better. The swiping will not harm your skin but if your toner is a hydrating one, it’s quite a waste…it would be better to use the toner to prep the face for moisturizing. Try it for a week or so and see how you feel about it. A change will always get some getting used to.

  26. astrorainfall @ beauty box says:

    Hmmm…that’s a new thought that never occurred to me that the swiping is exfoliating…

    Actually I don’t see any residue if I do it in the morning….but I do see some if I wear foundation that day. I will give your experiment a go! Thanks!!!!

  27. sesame says:

    It’s a very mild form of exfoliating. I wrote about it some time ago and it’s here if you’re interested to read more:

  28. Mai says:

    I recently bought the Avene mist after reading your old post on the blog. Sometimes i apply it before my hada labo SHA n sometimes after. Which is actually better? Or should I even be using them together – as in if I use Avene then there is no need to use SHA.

    Since we are on the topic of toners, hope you don’t mind me asking. Is it better to apply toner before or after using a mask i.e. sheet mask n cream mask.

    Oh, did you manage to stock up on that Phyto elixir? Went to JP Watsons and saw plenty on the shelf. They are still having a 20% disc.

  29. sesame says:

    Usually the thinner goes first so in this case, Avene mist first, then Hada Labo. But Avene can also go last after makeup (just remember to pat off with tissue so that the evaporation won’t cause your skin to become drier.) Avene is not lotion so it’s okay to use with Hada Labo if you skin is fine. I probably would have use one or another.

    As for mask, I would use a toner before a cream mask. I rarely use a sheet mask but if I do, I will not apply toner at all. If you want to apply, then again, it should be before.

    Oh yes, thanks for asking about Phyto elixir. I managed to get it at Nex. Going to get one or two more cos I can finish one bottle in a month.

  30. Mai says:

    Thanks for the tips ?

    Wow you are really liking that elixir ya. Haha. Anyway I bought the set which consist of the elixir, phytocyane shampoo n serum nearly a mth ago & i must admit they are quite good. Especially love the elixir (very cooling) though the SA told me that the serum is more beneficial in helping me with my hairloss.

    I guess since you are stocking up on the elixir, then that means their shelf life is quite long..this makes me wanna stock up too!! Hehe.

  31. sesame says:

    The ones I bought have expiry date till 2013. Actually I’m just being kiasu…there’s no need to stock up cos there’s probably a sale every 2 months or so. Haha…

    I like this product because it is pre shampoo. I hate those that require me to apply post shampoo…makes my hair sticky. But yes, the serum will likely help with hair loss better.

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