When a customer recently asked me ‘What does a toner actually do for my skin?”, the question took me a little by surprise, as it was something I hadn’t stopped to think about for a long time. Although I’m very familiar with the purpose and value of our Pure Hydrosol Toner, I also know that not all toners are equal, and that some can be downright damaging to the skin. It dawned on me that the role of a modern day toner in a skin care routine is not clear-cut. I thought it would be interesting to look at why toners were invented, and what today's toners aim to do, so you can make an informed choice when deciding what toner is the best addition to your skin care routine.
It Started with Rose Petal-Infused Water
Rose petal-infused water was used by the ancient Greeks and Romans both for its anti-ageing, beautifying and medicinal properties, and was likely made simply by steeping rose petals in water. In medieval times, Persian chemists learned to steam distil rose petals, allowing them to extract the precious rose oil, or attar, which was used extensively in perfumery, as well as the beautiful rose petal-infused water, known as rose hydrosol.
Toners were used to counteract the effects of soap
Mass produced soap bars first became available in the late 1800’s, making it a more common practice for all sectors of society to routinely wash the face and body. Because soap is quite alkaline, toners were introduced to help restore the skin’s acid pH. In addition, toners frequently contained ‘astringent’ substances, designed to remove the last remnants of soap and skin oils and to ‘shrink’ the skin’s pores. We now know that it’s not possible to shrink pores - they may seem smaller when they are clean, but they remain the same size, no matter how much astringent material is applied. Astringent substances include alcohol and witch hazel, which are both known to deplete the skin of oils. Unsurprisingly, they carry the risk of disrupting the skin’s barrier function.
In recent decades, alkaline soaps are rarely used for cleansing the face, and have been replaced with detergent cleansers that are frequently in the acidic range. As a result, the pH balancing effect of toners is less important. That said, a well-formulated toner should be within the pH range of 4.5-5.5 to restore and maintain the all-important acid mantle of the skin.
A range of ingredients is commonly included in toners these days:
Rose and other botanical hydrosols
Still highly valued for its anti-ageing and anti-inflammatory benefits to the skin, rose hydrosol is still a beloved and precious inclusion in many toners. In our Pure Hydrosol Toner we combine rose with melissa hydrosol, derived from lemon balm, another medicinal plant valued for its anti-inflammatory benefits. Both rose and melissa are calming to the skin and are known to have the aromatherapeutic benefit of calming the mind and lifting the spirits. Note that ‘rose water’ is not rose hydrosol - it is simply water mixed with rose oil or synthetic rose fragrance and an emulsifier (detergent) to make the oil soluble in water. It is a cheaper product that has a similar scent but does not offer the same benefits as a true hydrosol.
Still commonly added to many toners, alcohol's main function is to remove oils and dirt that remain after cleansing. Alcohol can deplete the skin of oils that are critical to maintaining an effective barrier to the environment, and can also damage skin proteins, causing further barrier disruption. It is not tolerated well by many skin types.
Witch hazel is included in toners for its astringent effects and is commonly recommended for oily skin to remove excess oils. Most consider it too drying for the skin when used in the the long term because of its potential to interfere with the skin’s barrier function.
Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHA’s) and Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHA’s) are often added for their exfoliating effects and other skin benefits. Formulations containing these acids normally include an emulsifier (detergent) and a preservative.
Mokosh Pure Hydrosol Toner
As you may already know, our Pure Hydrosol Toner is formulated like the rest of our range - without the preservatives, emulsifiers and other synthetic ingredients that can disturb our skin’s equliibrium, and result in accelerated ageing (read more here). Our toner is made of a simple, yet highly beneficial blend of certified organic hydrosols of rose and melissa. Its anti-ageing and medicinal benefits, noted since ancient times, likely derive from its anti-inflammatory and calming effects on both the skin and the mind. Its pH range is 4.5-5.5, ideal for the skin's acid mantle and can be sprayed directly on the skin throughout the day to refresh and hydrate the skin and uplift the mood. It also provides the perfect aqueous base on which to apply our water-free moisturisers.
Most toners on the market include both preservatives and emulsifiers, together with a range of other synthetic ingredients. We believe that our skin remains healthier and more vibrant when it is not exposed to the preservatives that disturb the skin’s microbiome (read more here), or emulsifiers that disrupt the skin’s barrier function (read more here). Instead, our products are formulated to deliver key nutrients that protect and restore the skin’s barrier, reduce inflammation, and deliver vital nutrients to keep our skin in optimal health.