What Is the Difference Between a Toner and an Astringent?

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Astringents provide an intense cleansing, penetrating deep through the skin's layers and contain more synthetic chemicals than toners, which contain more natural ingredients that have a cooling effect when applied to the skin. Toners and astringents both clean the skin.

Astringents penetrate the skin’s layers deeper than toners, deplete the skin’s natural oils while cleansing pores and cause a tightening effect. Toners are ideal for sensitive skin types because the ingredients are less invasive. Although toners and most astringents do not require doctors’ prescriptions, deeper-cleansing astringents contain potent chemicals, such as salicylic acid or hydroxy acid, that damage the skin if the astringents are not used properly. Although, dermatologists recommend ideal percentages of these chemicals in astringent solutions based on a patient’s skin type, 2 percent or less is considered a safe concentration for most skin types.

Because of their invasive qualities, astringents are to be applied one or twice a day, usually after each facial cleansing. On the other hand, natural toners are applied whenever necessary. Toners have a cooling effect on the skin, and many contain natural ingredients, such as witch hazel, rose water and cucumber extracts, which calm irritated skin. Fragrant toners have aromatherapeutic qualities, whereas astringents generally give off medicinal odors.

Gentler toner solutions are ideal for cleansing areas of the body other than the face, especially when caring for dry or problematic skin. Witch hazel, for example, cleanses minor skin wounds and helps to alleviate inflammatory skin conditions, such as eczema and dermatitis. The back and folds in the neck, arms, and legs are common areas for toner cleansing. To apply toners and astringents, skin care professionals recommend dabbing the skin with astringent-saturated cotton balls or pads, while dabbing or gently brushing the skin with toner-filled cotton applicators is appropriate. Splashing toners onto the body is also a common application. However, splashing astringents onto the body may cause irritation and is not recommended.