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What is Skin Toner, Do I Need It, and Is it Toxic?

I never used a toner on my face until I opened the Gimme the Good Stuff store and started sampling some safe lines we were thinking of carrying. I’m not much of a product junky when it comes to skincare. Even before I became obsessed with using only the good stuff, I used minimal products on my face–some basic face wash, a lotion, and maybe an exfoliator of some kind once or twice a week.

One of the fun parts of my job is trying all the products we review or sell. While of course we have to vet everything in terms of purity of ingredients and production process, I also  make sure everything smells nice and works the way it claims to–of course we all know many natural and non-toxic brands that don’t live up to their promises (most deodorants come to mind!).

Now, two years after my first spritz of toner, I continue to use it at least twice a day, oftentimes more.

What Exactly Is a Toner and What Does it Do?
Skin toner is designed to clear your face of dead skin cells, dirt, oil, and any traces of cleanser or soap left behind after washing. Toners also balance your skin’s pH levels (although the truth is, if you are using a good cleanser and have healthy skin, your pH shouldn’t be thrown that much from washing). Ideal skin pH is 5.5, oily enough to resist bacteria and protect against pollutants, but not so oily that you wind up with acne. If you have oily skin, toners can help prevent breakouts. For dry skin, toners can provide extra moisture.

What’s Wrong with Conventional Toners?
Most toners on the market contain petroleum distillates and other synthetic ingredients. Those made for oily skin (sometimes called astringents) may contain salicylic acid or benzyl alcohol, both of which are skin irritants potential neurotoxins. As with most cosmetics, toners often contain phthalates in their fragrance blends and parabens as preservatives. Finally, formaldehyde-releasing DMDM hydantoin is found in many conventional toners.

Two Toners to Try
When it comes to natural toners, some are better than others. I was a huge fan of the dry skin toner by Pangea Organics. Unfortunately, Pangea started adding sodium benzoate to many of their products, so we stopped carrying their stuff (actually, we’ve got a couple of bottles of the preservative-free stuff left).

Acure organics tonerWe replaced Pangea with toners by Acure Organics, which come in a formulas for either oily or dry skin and feature natural soothers like glycerin, calendula, and chamomile. I have dry skin and love that formula, and customers who use the one for oily skin have been unanimously positive in their reviews.

farmaesthetics_cool_aloe_mistWe recently expanded our selection further and now I’m hooked on Farmaesthetics Cool Aloe Mist. I originally got this product to use after sun exposure, but when I did some more research about aloe, I began using this toner daily. It turns out not only is aloe a wonderful soother for burned skin, it also fights pollution-generated free radicals. Given our constant exposure to environmental pollutants, I love the idea that my toner serves as an antioxidant-rich, free-radical banishing skin treatment.

The Bottom Line As I See it

  • Is toner as important as a good cleanser or cream? No.
  • However, my skin definitely feels more hydrated when I spritz on a gentle toner after washing my face, or sometimes just in the middle of the day if I see that my skin looks dull or congested.
  • When buying toner, make sure to choose a truly natural brand like those listed above, and one formulated for your skin type.
  • Look for toners that are free of synthetic fragrance, sodium benzoate, parabens, or phthalates (which you won’t see listed on the label).

Stay sane,






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