Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Do toners do anything?

"It seems every line is coming out with a toner/spray for face. Can you tell me if this is needed? I've heard that toners are either essential or a total waste of money, and I'd like to hear your thoughts. La Bella Figura and May Lindstrom have both said in the past that these sprays essentially don't do anything, yet they both have sprays now so I'm a little confused. Are they trying to make money or should I expect to see benefits?"
- Jasmine

Hello Jasmine, I get this question a lot. First let's figure out what toners are because the definition is a bit loose. Toners have an umbrella term that represents astringents, make-up removers, and primers for serums. Classical toners tend to have a high alcohol composition which helps as an additional cleanse. This helps remove impurities so serums can better penetrate the skin. Fancier toners will also have extracts that are beneficial to skin to ideally make it more receptive to moisture and treatments. Green beauty toners are often formulated with floral waters which in my opinion excel beyond the classical toners because they're much more nutrient rich which means your skin can receive more benefits.

Now - what do they do? In the way that a cleanser should cleanser, a moisturizer should moisturize, a toner would tone. This means ideally it should help condition your skin which can include any of the following:

  • improving moisture levels and hydration retention
  • enhancing skin texture
  • managing complexion 
  • refreshing dull skin
  • increasing absorption rate of serums
Personally, I believe a well formulated, high quality toner is very helpful for good skin and I use them in my daily regimen. I won't argue with those who say it is a waste of money because toners don't give instant results that cleansers or moisturizers do, where with those products you'll feel cleansed and moisturized, it's hard to quantify the feeling of "toned". I will say this, I consider a good toner essential to giving me my best skin and going without it does indeed hinder the performance of every other product in my regimen. I can see/feel when my skin getting better after regularly using a toner versus when I do not. It's the subtleties. I consider it similar to drinking tea and juices, your skin is not going to show anything right away but stick with it and your skin will get that glow. Juicers and tea drinkers should know what I'm talking about.

As for La Bella Figura and May Lindstrom, I can't tell you what their intents are but if they said that, I'd guess that it's a mix of the two. Perhaps they changed their minds from when they originally had that stance and they now believe that toners are effective products. It sure doesn't hurt that they're selling a product. I do think it's a bad business move for them ti say that and then end up producing a toner, because it makes me wonder how authentic it is when they champion their product when they don't even seem to believe in it. Though keep in mind that neither of these brands have a dermatological or chemistry background so perhaps as they gained more experience in this field and had exposure to more information, their perspective on this changed. I'd respect them more if they didn't disparage this when others were selling toners but are now fully embracing it when they have a toner to sell.

Regardless, some good ingredients to look for in toners depend on your skin type. Firstly, I recommend floral waters because they contain a lot of nutrients including antioxidants and minerals that your skin can absorb. Look for the ingredients that can have anti-inflammation properties because it helps counter all types of problems like aging, redness, and breakouts. I personally don't like for toners to contain any oils because it should be light. In order to use oils (which are mainly used for fragrance) and maintain a light texture, toners often use emulsifiers and my personal philosophy is that there should not be too many chemicals in the toner especially if it is a spray since you will ingest some of it (through your nose). For dry skin, look for hyaluronic acid that is biologically identical to the ones already present in our skin, as a lot of chemical hyaluronic acid is actually not able to be effectively absorbed. Go for smaller particles that will absorb easily into skin, try to stay away from alcohol not only for what it can do to skin but the fact that it also destroys beneficial ingredients. Because this is a very pure product, try to buy products where the first five ingredients are organic or wild grown. 

Beyond this guideline, I'd urge you to give toners a good long test run to help make up your mind. 


  1. This is a timely post since it seems that lately, the attitude toward toner is becoming more favorable. I think, like you said, it depends on what your skin needs are; personally, I have oily/combination skin and enjoy both gentle astringent toners and hydrating mists, depending on what condition my skin is in. From a financial perspective, I would still prioritize face oils and masks, but the difference between a low-quality toner and a high-quality one is significant. A good toner does all the things you described above and, for me, anyway, leaves the skin soft. It is so frustrating to apply one and have a sticky feeling on your face afterward. Finding a good one is kind of tricky, though, especially with so many nontraditional ingredients appearing in them, like flower essences, peptides, coconut water, and prebiotics. What are your thoughts? Are these just fad ingredients or do any of them have some scientific justification for their use in skincare? Thanks!

    1. Hey Alexa,

      Yeah you definitely don't want to get that sticky feeling. Flower essences supposedly have high vibrational energy that can be measured and this is said to be healing. It isn't really western science but that doesn't mean it isn't true, so I'm not opposed to it. I think Lotus Wei uses this in their formulas and I like it. Prebiotics/Probiotics, I just haven't seen enough compelling evidence through studies that really back up whether these do anything to skin. They're beneficial microfauna in the digestive system but I just don't think they're meant to work with the dermal system. It's a neat marketing idea though. Coconut water is really hydrating but it is similar to sugar water which may leave your face a little sticky depending on concentration, and it goes bad really easily so if coconut water is used there are probably not so great ingredients like preservatives or alcohol to keep the product from going bad. Peptides are "new" in skincare and there has been evidence shown that they help cells communicate. With that said what type of peptides are beneficial and in what type of formula are not as clear cut. I personally leave peptides to serum treatments rather than toners just because I think it really needs another agent to carry it into cells.

      Hope this helps.

    2. Thank you, that was a very helpful response. My last question is why nearly every toner contains water? Is it a necessity (to, for example, regulate pH) or just a filler ingredient to cut cost? Even Yuli elixirs, which are some of the best formulated toners I have yet encountered, contain water and I don't understand why when they already contain aloe, glycerin, and various hydrosols. Where does water fit in here?

    3. Good question! I think in the old days and even now a lot of toners are made of: water + alcohol + fragrance. These new green toners which use those good ingredients generally use water to help control the texture so it isn't "sticky" and can actually be absorbed by skin. For example Tata Harper's Hydrating Floral Essence has water listed as the primary ingredient but it has an EXTENSIVE list of extracts and those need a base to dissolve into. Yuli's elixirs use frequency enhanced water which is a misleadingly simple name for quite a complex ingredient which is pretty new in the field of chiral skincare. It ultimately structures and ionizes the water in such a way that it is of a beneficial pH for human skin, improves hydration, and carries other benefits. I think the main reason they use this is because no natural skincare company has access to this technology so it helps set them apart, what I don't think they're doing correctly is that they don't make a bigger deal out of it so people might just think it's "normal" water when really there is a whole process behind it.

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  3. Great post and explainer, green derm; thank you! Laura

  4. So Pure Skincare Radiance Flower Nectar never contains water, only contains pure organic hydrosols like Rose, Neroli, Linden blossom, Hyaluronic Acid, Edelweiss extract and

  5. Dear Green Derm,

    Will you kindly provide your email and name so that we may send you an email? I would love to discuss how we came up with our toner and a few other products that you have bashed on this blog. I feel strongly that once you hear about our research and product formulations you may have a more non-biased opinion. Also, it is fair play to not like a product or a brand for whatever the reason, but to question our business ethics is completely unprofessional. In any case, I feel if you can write about our products (which it seems you have not tried yourself) and about experience and business intellect we should be able to respond directly, don't you think? You can also write to us at and maybe we can chat about toners, vitamin c or anything else you'd like. Thank you! La Bella Figura

    1. I saw that you posted this at 9AM and we've already spoken through direct messages today. To clarify, I never attacked your business ethics, I answered her question. I have since emailed her back to get her source and this is the link she was referring to:

      I don't have any issues with you responding directly and that is why I have published your comment. But when you asked me to have a phone call and give you my full name without even telling me who I was speaking to, that is extremely inappropriate and to borrow one of your words - unprofessional.

      I have not bashed your products on this blog. I gave my opinion on the best form of Vitamin C because I disagree with your philosophy on it and I've defended it. Besides that, I have not reviewed your products on here.

      After our conversation on direct message, I thought we had reached a peaceful understanding but you continued to post passive aggressive messages all day through social media. When I approached you to ask you what the deal was, you were condescending and rude, I'm really bothered that you called me missy.

      These aren't interactions I should be having with a brand period and I should be able to write my opinions on my blog without you attacking me so aggressively. You even tweeted to your followers that I was the source of "baseless ugliness" today when you were the one who kept messaging me (I only wrote you back because it was about the 2nd/3rd time you had reached out).

      You have a lot of adoring fans, I've said you're not my style, I've explained why, I've defended my words and Jasmine has defended the source of her stance. I have not attacked you for any of the unsubstantiated remarks you've thrown my way.

      I don't understand how you can treat people like this, I'm really stunned that this is okay behavior for your brand.

  6. Wow...I saw the Twitter conversation with La Bella Figura. They sounded so hostile when in fact, you were not the one with the comment on their opinion of toners. I'm sorry for their attitude towards you as that seems unnecessary when the post states that a reader asked the question. I was so so interested in their products but now I'll stay far away! The fact that they dealt with an issue that they had a problem with in a public manner turns me off. Keep up the good work, green derm! Thank you!

    1. I appreciate your support and encouragement Amelia. For what it is worth, even though their behavior is one I'm still trying to...digest.. right now.. I don't wish them ill will. I had a relatively good conversation with them through direct message and assured them I never meant to hurt their feelings but that my views would stay on my blog and I don't feel what I said was baseless or ugly. I felt we ended on a positive note with them even saying if I'm ever in Chicago that we should grab a bite together. I felt good after our conversation, so I was surprised to see them continue to speak negatively referencing me on social media, saying I will get my karma, etc. I found the passive aggressive nature really immature. Overall, I just don't want to deal with them and I still can't believe how this brand is treating me it is really just something and I don't understand all this energy over one persons opinions on their own blog.

  7. Hi Green Derm,

    Just wanted to leave a message to say thank you. Although it must be hard for you when a brand/someone treats another such rudely and to me, they apparently over reacted and have their own presumption. What I thank you for is this brand was on my wishlist and now forever crossed after seeing how they deal with different voices and unreasonable behaviour.

    Yes, so please keep up the good work, I really enjoy your posts. =)

  8. I am simply stunned. I couldn't believe my eyes last night when I was seeing this whole argument transpire on social media. I read this post when you published it and, although it does sound a little harsh (emphasis on little), it's your own opinion on YOUR blog. I am the same with the commentors above and am really turned off that a company of any measure would call you out so publicly, especially when you never really went any further than this post to question their ethics.

    This is one of the main reasons why I don't take PR samples and buy the products I want to use (with the exception of giveaways). I feel obligated to write positive reviews and I might get scrutinized by the company for giving my honest opinion. It's such a shame because I believe they host the Night for Green Beauty event and this year it's close to me - Los Angeles. But after this whole public display, I'm not sure I want to support said event.

    Now this is just me but it seemed that they even went as far as calling you out for not being the person that you are. As if you were fake. Did I misread that? Haha. Anyways, I hope others caught onto the passive aggressive tweets and figure out that it's not ok for a company to behave in such a manner. Again, I truly appreciate like your opinion and posts!

    1. Thanks Brenda for the support. Yeah I was a definitely not expecting that treatment.

      Re-reading what I said for the upteenth time, I felt like I was defending that they may have just changed their perspective or as they did more research, they decided a toner could be good, but I was also honest about the fact that their perspective did seem to change when they themselves were coming out with a toner. It was my observation, and from the source (LBF's own tweet) that Jasmine who asked this question, it does seem like they're saying mists aren't that effective at moisturizing and will dry out quickly so you should just use a serum but their mist lists the moisturizing qualities as a key draw, the description on their site even says "A Hydrating Floral And Enzyme Mist ".

      So they've been slandering me on their social media for quite a while, saying I need to be "held accountable" and that I don't validate my source, when I was answering a question that was speculative in nature. What really surprised me was that after a constructive conversation with them, they would continue to issue these passive aggressive attacks, rallying green beauty bloggers and saying karma will get me. Then calling me homophobic names while condescendingly acknowledging me as the baseless and ugly. They reached out to me, they posted those things about me, they called me those names. I had not even looked at this post for months nor did I have any interaction with them until they forced my hand. They say said they dealt with "nonsense all day" - I wasn't even the one who approached them or wanted to have a conversation, I felt it was out of line to be reached out by a brand, I would never be contacted if I said something about a line like Dr. Perricone or Ren.

      They tried to insinuate that I was fake because they asked for my full name and wanted my number to call me, meanwhile when I asked who I was speaking to, they refrained from delving that information. I didn't and I still don't feel it was an appropriate request from a brand.

      Overall, having a nights sleep to consider everything, I think all this interaction did for me was reaffirm my belief in their unprofessional, uneducated, immature behavior.

  9. Hey Greenderm, I saw those feeds and could not believe it! I really really like your blog and your honest opinions. Please keep up your great work! You really do fill a loophole and should be proud in what you are doing. Laura

  10. Hi Britanie, thanks for your message. I don't believe I ever said anyone made false claims to sell products but it's nice that you're defending your friends. Hope you'll excuse me for my lack of positive energy for LBF. I also was not the one to instigate any of the "drama", I wanted to avoid it which is why I felt it un-necessary and unprofessional to have a conversation with a brand in the first place, and also why I turned down their request for a phone conversation to which they said “Karma finds even the ones who wish to remain anonymous”. As I said earlier, I only responded to them after continued messages from them and cryptic passive-aggressive postings.

    End of the day after these experiences, I stand by what I said and I defended myself and my beliefs about their lack of education, professionalism, and integrity. To be completely honest with you, this is my first interaction with you and the part that rubs me the wrong way is that you would almost lay out a message implicating me as part of the hindrance to achieving a kumbaya type balance between brand and blogger when in reality I was the one who was attacked by this line who after others saw, silently retreated and tried to sweep this under the rug. Someone does need to take ownership for the negative and detrimental effects of their actions but it isn’t here.

  11. La Bella Figura was so obviously threatened by your honesty regarding their product and reacted to it in a most unprofessional, unkind, rude manner. Do they not have a PR team to advise them, "Hey, want more customers, don't be rude, unkind and unprofessional!" Kind of basic business sense! Keep up your wonderful blogging efforts! They are much appreciated, very honest and highly PROFESSIONAL!