You may have noticed that a string of new beauty products called skin tonics have been cropping up across the internet – including pore-refining tonics, balancing tonics, AHA tonics, and exfoliating tonics. Is a skin tonic another product you should add to your beauty routine?
Well, here’s a little secret…
Tonics may sound like the next cool trend, but they’ve actually been around since the early 1900s. In fact, skin tonics were the precursor for what we today call… toners. Today, they’re just a toner with a fancier name!
A Brief History of Skin Tonics
Ingredients in early skin tonics often varied greatly, as did dubious claims about them. Magazines published recipes with ingredients that most women could easily purchase and make themselves. As for the medicinal claims, they were often out there. It wasn’t uncommon to see tonics advertised as being able to soothe fragile nerves.
In 1925, cosmetics giant Elizabeth Arden proclaimed its face tonic could “lift and mold” facial muscles, “brace and strengthen” tissues, and generally help maintain the appearance of youth.
While some tonics were simply perfumed water and alcohol, others contained ingredients that would make you squirm today, especially if you have sensitive skin. Think camphor, borax, and even ammonia! In 1930, women were even encouraged to use Listerine mouthwash as a tonic for their face. Ouch! 1
The Role of Facial Toner and Skin Tonic
Thankfully, we’ve come a long way since these harsh skin tonics. But the phrase “skin tonic” does hold a certain romanticism of bygone days. That seems to be why a lot of companies are choosing to bring it back in place of the word toner.
Be it a skin tonic or toner, the mechanism is the same. They both penetrate the skin to hydrate and prime the skin for the next steps in your skin care routine – often addressing specific skin issues at the same time.
Toners may help bring your skin back to a more naturally acidic pH balance while helping it to absorb other skincare products.
If your skin is too dry, it won’t properly absorb moisture effectively.2 Toners and tonics also help remove those last traces of dirt that your cleanser may have missed.
Tonics and toners used to be incredibly drying (no thanks to a heavy-handed approach to alcohol). Today, they’re mostly alcohol-free and can be incredibly moisturizing for your skin health.
How Do I Choose the Right Toner or Skin Tonic?
With so many options on the market, there really is a toner for every skin type and issue. For example, if you have:3
- Dull or aging skin – seek out toners with AHAs (like glycolic or lactic acids) to help remove dead skin cells.
- Oily skin – witch hazel can be a terrific ingredient for helping to remove excess oils, as can salicylic acid (a BHA).
- Dry and sensitive skin – you’ll want to ensure there is zero alcohol in your toner. Look for hydrating ingredients like glycerin, hyaluronic acid, lecithin, aloe vera, or rose water.
Toners and tonics should be applied immediately after cleansing but before your serum or moisturizer. Rinse off your cleanser completely with water, and then gently sweep the toner across your face and neck with a soft cotton pad.
Note: If your toner contains an exfoliating ingredient, like an AHA or BHA, you may find it too irritating to use twice a day, so just stick to once a day.
Revitalize Your Skin Health
Originally, astringent skin tonics were a well-employed way to get women to move away from using harsh soaps and water on their face and to start spending more on beauty products. The problem was, most of these skin tonics weren’t any gentler.
Tonics have evolved a great deal since then. In fact, they’ve come a long way from some of the harsher alcohol-based toners of just a decade ago.
Today you’re spoiled for choice. You can pick the very best toner, or tonic, for your skin type. While “tonic” does sound a bit more romantic, no matter what you call it, a good one can help make your skin more radiant!
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