Facts Checked By Freewill Beauty Experts - Written by Rupali Goswami (Beauty Expert) on 19th Nov 2020

Toner vs. Astringent: What's your pick?

What is toner?

At first glance, toners and astringents may seem nearly identical but have some key differences between them. You can choose which is better than the other depending on your skin type. Many people with oily skin are especially advised by the experts either to introduce a toner or an astringent in their skincare routine.

Toners and astringents both have their own set of functionalities that work differently on different skin types. There are chances that you may not be using the right product according to your concerns.

Both toners and astringents are water-based cleansers that are supposed to be used right after washing your face and before starting the process of moisturizing. They help tighten your pores and remove residue from the skin.

Toners are more on the milder side because toners do not contain any alcohol, and thus, the chances of skin irritation are fairly less, which works amazingly well for people with dry and sensitive skin. People with oily or combination skin can choose either of them. At the same time, people with acne-prone skin can experience more benefits by using astringents. 

What is toner? 

A toner is a water-based cleanser used in skincare products for different purposes, such as cleaning skin residue and makeup removal that may still be on your skin after washing the face. Due to the prime ingredients like glycerin and other humectants, a toner help hydrate the skin leaving it soft and smooth.

Toners also contain other ingredients like herbal extracts, floral waters, anti-aging ingredients like niacinamide, and antioxidants. These cosmeceuticals (active ingredients) ingredients help even out the skin out, improve skin texture, and brighten the complexion.

On the milder side, toners can be used by any skin type because of no alcohol properties but work well with normal to dry or sensitive skin.  

Some of the common benefits that you can experience by using a toner are: 

  • Restoration in pH levels of the skin 
  • Helpful in removing stubborn dirt 
  • Help shrink pores and remove excess oil from the skin 
  • Helps protect skin by forming an additional protective layer  
  • Help maintain soft and healthy skin 

What is astringent?

Like toner astringent is also a water-based skincare product used for the general purpose of cleansing and removing remaining makeup that may not be cleaned properly with just a face wash. But here's how astringents are different from toner. While a toner's purpose is only cleaning residue and left-over makeup, astringent can remove excess oil from the skin.

Astringents are formulated with a higher concentration of alcohol and are much stronger than a toner. To help fight pimples, blackheads, and various acne forms, astringent contains ingredients like salicylic acid.

Alcohol, when included in astringents, skincare products, or in general, can be very drying and may cause serious irritation to the skin. However, alcohol-free toners can also remove excess oil from the skin's surface while providing other anti-aging and exfoliation benefits. Acidic ingredients like beta-hydroxy, alpha, malic, lactic, or glycolic are very effective.

Astringents are suitable for combination and oily skin and are mainly used to treat acne-prone skin. Some of the common benefits that you can experience by using an astringent are: 

  • Cleansing irritants from the skin 
  • Skin tightening 
  • Lessen the appearance of pores
  • Decrease in inflammation 
  • Reduce acne 
  • Anti-bacterial benefits 

How to use toners and astringents? 

It is important to prep before you put all those skincare products on your skin. Applying toners and astringents is a step that comes after you are done washing your face with a face wash of your choice and before going with a moisturizer.

Take a slightly wet cotton pad with either a toner or an astringent and gently pat over your entire face (keeping it away from the eye area, though) and neck area. You can also opt for toners and astringents in mist forms that only require you to spray it directly on your face.

You don't need to rewash your face after applying toner or astringent as they are leave-on products. Just use a moisturizer on the damp skin immediately after applying toner or astringent. This will help lock the moisture inside the skin. After that, you can continue using other skincare products in your regular serums, eye creams, and face oils.

If you are using any products to treat acne-prone skin like topical retinoids or sunscreen, make sure your skin is completely dry. Using acne treatments on damp skin can lead to irritation and allergies. 

How are toners and astringents different? 

  • Toners are generally water-based, whereas astringents are either alcohol or chemical-based.
  • Toners are a milder form of astringents and are much gentler on the skin, whereas astringents are much stronger than toners, especially for acne-prone skin.
  • Toners often contain herbal extracts or floral water, whereas astringents may contain alcohol-based ingredients. 
  • Toners are mostly made of natural ingredients like aloe vera extract, rose water, chamomile, etc. Salicylic acid and hazel are used in astringent.  
  • Toners are advised to be used by people with dry and sensitive skin. At the same time, astringent is more suitable for people with oily skin. 
  • Toners are suitable for dry skin due to its hydrating properties. Astringent can make dry skin worse because of alcohol concentration. 

How to know what's right for your skin type? 

It can be overwhelming to choose the right product for yourself as the skincare market is filled with various toners and astringents. This confusion becomes more when brands introduce their products as cleansing waters, balancers, and fresheners.

Whatever the product name is, ingredients are what our skin will absorb, which should be our main concern. Ingredients work differently for every skin type. Here are some things that can help you decide what the right product is for you and what is supposed to be at a distance.  

Dry Skin: 

People with dry skin should stay away from products containing alcohol anyway, let alone be toner or astringent. Dry skin needs products or ingredients that bring more moisture and hydration into the skin.

Ingredients like humectants can be a savior in this case because they help to hold the moisture inside the skin. Humectants are used in many products, including skincare, foods, cosmetics, medicines, and pesticides.  

Look for these ingredients the next time you are out shopping for toners or astringents:

  • Sodium lactate
  • Glycerin 
  • Propylene glycol 
  • Butylene glycol 
  • Hyaluronic acid 
  • Aloe Vera 

Sensitive Skin: 

Sensitive skin needs more care. Remember this while choosing the right product for your skin. Keep alcohol-based products as far away as you can, as it can irritate your skin and may cause allergies. Alcohol-free and astringent can be a good option for sensitive yet oily skin types, and the rest can opt for a toner. If your skin is extremely sensitive, then you might want to stay away from some ingredients like: 

  • Alcohol 
  • Fragrance 
  • Menthol 
  • Colorants 
  • Sodium lauryl sulfate 

Normal or combination skin:

People with this skin type have many options to choose from as they are not too oily or not too dry. You don't need the oil grabbing properties of an astringent, so a toner would be the right product for you. More than that, dry and tight effect, you need a product that makes you feel fresh and clean without leaving any residue behind.

If necessary, combination skin only requires astringent in more oily areas like T-zone, including the forehead, nose, and chin. Remember not to apply astringent on dry areas as it can dry your skin even further due to alcohol-based ingredients.

Oily Skin: 

Removing excess oil can be a bit tricky, but the product you are looking for is astringent. It will help remove excess oil from your face leaving your skin fresh and giving a matte effect to your skin. Alcohol is a common ingredient that leaves behind a tingling sensation on your skin. Many professionals are now advised to avoid this ingredient that can further irritate your skin and make your acne worse as our skin compensates by producing more oil.

Remember, overusing astringent can dry your skin out. If your skin isn't that oily, try incorporating any new product in your skincare routine slowly. Try and understand what works best for your skin. 

Acne-prone skin: 

Astringent single-handedly can not clear acne. Even though astringents help remove the oil from the skin's surface, surface oil is not the reason for breakouts. The oil that sits deeper in the layers of the skin triggers acne. To reduce these oils within the pores, you need an astringent with an ingredient that fights blemishes. Astringents containing acids like lactic, glycolic, and salicylic can be very beneficial.

If you are dealing with acne, it doesn't necessarily mean that you need an astringent. If your skin is not too oily or already under an acne treatment medication, don't reach out for astringent. If that's the case, go for a toner instead.  

The last word  

It is important to keep in mind that toners can be used daily for up to twice a day, whereas astringents are more powerful in comparison to toners, so make sure you don't overdo it.

Too much astringent can cause a problem even on oily skin and cause unwanted dryness, irritation, and sensitivity.

Pay attention to what your skin is telling you. If you are new to the concept of toners and astringent and you are confused about what to choose, then test the product on a small patch of your skin and see how it reacts.

Follow the rules/ instructions (if any) given on the product packaging and give it some time to work on your skin.