Every so often, I get questions from clients on skincare. Here's an interesting one from my sister: “Should I be using a toner?” Read on to find out.
There are multiple categories of skin care products: cleanser, toner, essence, serum, moisturizer, mask … what else am I missing? The function of cleansers and moisturizers are the easiest to understand. Cleansers remove dirt and oil from your skin. Moisturizers add hydration (or moisture) to your skin. Toners fall into a grey zone in terms of functionality. Some define the function as cleansing of your skin pores. Some define the function as adding more hydration or other additives. Hyaluronic acid and vegetable glycerin are examples of humectants that help with extra hydration while vitamins are other beneficial additives that can be added.
A toner, essence, water, or serum can all provide similar functionality. They are typically used after cleansing and before applying moisturizer and are watery in consistency. Some toners have alcohol in them. These are sometimes labeled as astringent toners. They are marketed as products that "tighten pores". Technically, pores do not open, close, or tighten. What happens is that the skin around the pores tightens because of dryness (alcohol is very drying) giving you the impression that your pores are tighter.
Coming back to the question “Should I use a toner?” - below are three reasons to use one
I personally use real soap to cleanse my body and sometimes my face. The reason is because I made a choice to eliminate plastic from my skin care regimen as much as possible. (Saroya offers a solid shampoo bar that is neutral in pH that can double as body soap, but I prefer real soap because it can be made from scratch from plant oils.) The pH of the soap I make is around 8 so I use an acidic toner immediately after to neutralize the alkalinity.
This toner from Keihl’s has calendula and burdock botanical extracts meant to soothe sensitive skin.
This toner from Neutrogena is just water and butylene glycol and not terribly useful in my opinion. Other than a humectant and panthenol, it has no other nourishing ingredients.
Some toners contain witch hazel, a bark with astringent properties, that constricts skin and gives the feeling of tightening pores. It is debatable if astringents do any good. However, witch hazel extract contains other beneficial skin nutrients such as polyphenols which are antioxidants. But beware of commercial products containing witch hazel as they can contain significant amounts of alcohol which is extra drying.
Saroya makes a botanical toner called Queen of Hungary Water. Apple cider vinegar is used to make a tincture of ten different botanicals selected to manage acne as well provide a bunch of antioxidants. The toner also serves the purpose of balancing the pH of skin (as vinegar is acidic) This product can also be used on underarms to fight body odor as acetic acid, a key ingredient of vinegar, is an effective antibacterial. It’s a truly multi-purpose product.
(You will rarely find skin care products containing vinegar. SW Basics, a natural skin care company sells a toner with apple cider vinegar).
Vinegar is chosen as a solvent for extracting the actives from botanicals. In herbalism, some common solvents are alcohol, vinegar, and glycerin. These solvents are good because they are unfriendly to mold and bacteria while being good solvents to extract the actives. While none of these solvents is ideal (alcohol is too drying, vinegar stinks, glycerin is too sticky), they do a good job of extraction to deliver high doses of actives than would be possible in a cream for example.
In conclusion, consider a toner if you would like to get some new functionality that you aren’t getting from your regular routine. Do not simply pick a product based on the cover - read the ingredients and understand what they can do for you!
Several years ago, I fell for it too. Browsing the hair color section in Whole Food, I saw these green packages of hair color boldly claiming "NO AMMONIA", "NO PARABENS", "With ingredients of NATURAL origin". Without a second thought, I picked up a box and colored my hair. It was cheap, quick, and fast. The color didn't stay very long but hey, I could keep doing this every 3 weeks and no harm, right? WRONG!!! So here are five things you most probably do not know (but should) about hair color.
One: It does not matter what the brand is, the fact is almost all dark hair dyes contain a monstrous chemical called para phenlylenediamine (or PPD). This chemical can also be found in "black henna" - also used to color hair or in instant temporary tattoos. Read more about PPD on the EWG database.
So why is this chemical so terrible? According to this paper, exposure to PPD can cause "primary sensitization, resulting in subsequent allergic contact dermatitis. Skin and mucosal manifestations may differ, but they are usually characterized by pruritus, erythema, and vesicular or even bullous dermatitis in severely affected patients". To translate - symptoms of allergic reaction to PPD include itching, reddening or rashes on skin, or in the extreme cases, inflammation of skin accompanied by pus.
The scary part is that sensitization of the skin to PPD is cumulative - meaning the more you're exposed, the more sensitized your skin becomes. So even though the green box with the leaf logo says "Contains natural ingredients" run away from dark hair dyes.
Two: what is in a developer? Most semi or permanent hair dyes come with a developer. This cream contains hydrogen peroxide - a bleaching agent that penetrates the hair cuticle to enable the color to bind with hair. Hydrogen peroxide is a very reactive molecule - all the antioxidants that are the rage of the day are intended to quench this molecule that is produced as part of a chemical reaction when your skin is exposed to ultraviolet rays of the sun for example. So treating your hair with hydrogen peroxide is going to damage your hair eventually.
Three: "With ingredients of natural origin" is a marketing phrase intended to cheat you.
You see the green color packaging, the two leaves on the box, a stamp "With ingredients of natural origin" and you pick up the box with a smile thinking "here at last is a product that is safe for my hair. It has no ammonia, no parabens, no sulfates, no cyande". Here's the thing - if you make a dish of meat with some vegetables thrown in and present it to a vegetarian as "Gourmet dish containing fresh, locally, grown organic vegetables" that is not the same as "This dish is vegetarian". So next time you see a line like this, tell yourself that the brand is not to be trusted.
Four: A product that advertises what it does NOT have is also not to be trusted. "No parabens", "no sulfates", "no ammonia", "no artificial fragrance" ... can mean NOTHING. In the case of the Naturtint dyes, "NO AMMONIA" but "YES PPD". What good is that? "NO SULFATES" in a shampoo but "YES DMDM hydantoin" (a preservative). How is a consumer expected to make choices when factually a product advertises it does not have one ingredient that is bad but does not advertise two that are terrible???
And finally, Five: There is a gene that has been linked to going grey. While genetics is not the only reason why hair becomes deficient in melanin (the pigment giving it its color), it can be one reason why some people grey faster than others. And if that happens to be a predominant reason, there is not a thing you can do to stop it! So the healthy options to deal with dark hair going grey are:
1) Use plant based dyes - a mixture of henna and indigo works well. However this is time consuming and messy
2) Let it go grey!
Leave a comment with your thoughts!