Not really, says Dr. Zoe Draelos in this month's Cosmetic Conundrums. Toners are present in most commercial skin care products, but originally it was intended as a cleanser.
Toners are present in most commercial skin care regimens and are either sold through cosmetic counters or dermatologist dispensed. I am frequently asked whether toning is necessary for skin health. No, toning is not necessary for skin health.
Toners were originally developed to remove soap scum from the face when lye-based soaps combined with hard water left a sticky residue post cleansing. The alcohol-based toner removed the soap scum eliminating irritation and contributing to cleanser mildness.
Today, few people use lye-based soaps and hard well water, so the original use for toners is gone, but the product persists. Toners, also known as astringents, are liquid cosmeceuticals with tremendous formulation diversity. As mentioned previously, an alcohol-based astringent can be used post-cleansing to remove any persisting waterproof makeup residue.
Some may use the toner alone in place of a cleanser. Others may use an oily skin toner to remove any sebum left behind following cleansing to produce a clean, tight feeling many patients find desirable.
Medicated astringents are popular with acne patients based on salicylic acid and may contain sensates, such as menthol or camphor, to create a tingling feeling when applied to the skin.
Dry skin formulations largely contain propylene glycol and water to act as a humectant moisturizer attracting water to the skin, which can be trapped in place by a subsequently applied moisturizer.
Toners can be designed for special use purposes. For example, in an anti-aging routine, a toner may contain an alpha hydroxy acid to induce exfoliation. Glycolic acid is most commonly used because it can be inexpensively synthesized by combining chloroacetic acid with sodium hydroxide followed by re-acidification.
Another cosmeceutical toner variant is a two-phase toner which consists of a solvent and an immiscible oil without an emulsifier. In order for the water-soluble and oil-soluble phases to mix, the product is shaken immediately prior to use. This creates a temporary emulsion prior to facial application.
The water-soluble solvent dissolves the skin soils while the oil leaves behind a moisturizing film for amelioration of dry skin. Glitter can be added into the phases creating interesting optical effects when shaken which adds to the market appeal.