There are certain skincare staples that we know like the back of our hands: cleanser, body wash and moisturizer, just to name a few. But toner and astringent? Admit it, you’ve heard of them (and probably use one or both of them) but you can’t explain how they differ or if they even differ at all. To get to the bottom of this great debate, we enlisted the help of two skincare pros to tell us all about toners and astringents (and which one is right for us!).
How Are They Different?
The better question might actually be, “How are they NOT different?” According to the experts, toner and astringent are formulated very differently and therefore serve completely different purposes. “The main differentiator between an astringent and toner is the ingredients,” says Dr. Adam Friedman, associate professor of dermatology at George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences in New York. “Toners often contain glycerin and some form of glycol, which both draw water into the skin and help soothe and buffer its pH levels.”
Los Angeles–based esthetician Stacy Cox refers to toner as a preparatory agent. “Toner primes the skin for moisturizers and serums,” she explains. “It allows for these solutions to penetrate deeper into your skin, helps hydrate the skin and removes any excess dirt or grime that wasn’t cleaned off by your facial cleanser.”
Astringents on the other hand, are much more potent, alcohol-based and designed to remove excess oil from the skin, adds Dr.Friedman. Because of this, they have a tendency to dry out your complexion. “Astringents reduce the acid mantle in your skin as well as the pH balance,” says Cox. “You can’t overdose on toner, but you can definitely overdose on astringents.”
Which One Is Right for Me?
Now that you know the general components and roles of both toner and astringents, you’re probably wondering which one is right for your lovely skin. Well, when it comes to toner, our experts both agree that it’s an equal-opportunity product with many faces. “Toner covers most skin types and basically works for everybody,” says Cox. In fact, there’s a variety of toners out there that address specific skin types. Toners can target everything from aging, dark spots, acne, oil, dryness and even sensitivity and irritability.
Astringents have more of a one-track mind and mainly treat oily, acneic complexions. Even then, Dr. Friedman advises proceeding with caution when using these super-potent formulas. Cox seconds this notion and says she often recommends an ingredient that is a “hybrid” of toner and astringents: witch hazel. “I love witch hazel because it tones and and kills pore-clogging bacteria in one shot,” she explains. “It’s affordable and a safe bet.” Want to try this ingredient for yourself? Try the The Body Shop Tea Tree Skin Clearing Toner, which contains a cocktail of witch hazel and tea tree oil to thoroughly clear the skin of bacteria and oil without over-drying.