Fashion & Beauty

Do You Really Need Toner?

October 29, 2023



By Valerie Monroe

For nearly 16 years Valerie Monroe was the beauty director at O, The Oprah Magazine, where she wrote the popular “Ask Val” column. She now splits her time between Manhattan and Tokyo.

If you’re interested in feeling happier about your appearance—especially as you age—you might like reading what she has to say about it. For more of her philosophical and practical advice, subscribe for free to How Not to F*ck Up Your Face at

Can’t get enough Valerie Monroe? There’s more at

MY 5-YEAR-OLD granddaughter, M, still deeply invested in a frothy, gaudy, multi-bejeweled stage of sartorial development, often appears before me on our FaceTime chats decked out in a gown, elbow-length gloves, drop earrings, and a tiara. The other night she informed me she was Princess Snow White and that I should address her thus. “Okay,” I said, “That’s new! And how is your family of seven little people?” She was momentarily perplexed. “Oh,” she said dismissively. “You mean that story. My Snow White is different.”


“My whole name is Snow White Monroe,” she said, “and I have a sister. She is also Snow White.”

“But how can people tell you apart?”

Her whole name is Snow White Mabel Walsh,” said M.

I burst into a laugh. “What? Where did that come from?” I said.

“Why are you laughing?” said M. “It’s her name. Don’t be unkind, Grammie.”

“You’re right,” I said, resolving to watch my tone.

Granted, it’s a leap from the level of acid in one’s voice to the level of acid in your skin but—whoopsie! Here we are! Because a curious reader—who often happens to be in my sightline [Ed. note: Read this; it’s hilarious]—has a question about whether toner is necessary in her skincare routine.

Q: I was recently told I need to use toner to rebalance my skin’s pH—that it corrects for too much acidity. Or maybe not enough? What do you and your experts think: to tone or not to tone?

A: Did you know that a hydrangea—and I hope I see some in your balcony garden this year—produces pink flowers when the soil has a pH of 6.8 or higher (more alkaline) and blue flowers when the soil has a pH of 6 or lower (more acidic)? Is that interesting or what?

Anyway, there are now more kinds of toners than you could shake a cotton ball at. Why? Not because you need one, but because toners represent a lucrative marketing opportunity for Big Beauty. Or as HNTFUYF DermDiva Heidi Waldorf  said, getting right to the bottom-line, “Using a toner is unnecessary.”

The pH of your skin is mildly acidic (a 4 to a 5 on the pH scale), and it can be impacted by age, environmental factors, and what Waldorf calls “topical care.” Soap is one of the main culprits that can alter your skin’s pH level, which happens to be the reason toner was originally marketed—to restore the skin’s pH after washing with a product that strips it, increasing its pH and making it less able to maintain a healthy barrier function and microbiome.

But who washes their face with soap today? (If you know someone who does, gently remind them that plain body soaps or traditional bar soaps typically lack moisturizing ingredients and may also contain irritating fragrances or dyes.) Rather than using a toner to “fix” your skin’s pH, Waldorf recommends washing with a non-stripping cleanser before applying a moisturizer containing humectants (the “micro-sponges” like glycerin and hyaluronidase acid) that absorb water, and occlusives (the sealants such as petrolatum, dimethicone, and oils) that keep moisture from escaping.

The Dove bar (the cleansing one, not the ice cream) became a dermatologist darling when it launched in the 1950s because it was the first syndet—synthetic detergent—that promised to cleanse without altering pH levels and that contained moisturizing ingredients. Since then, cleansers have new kinds of surfactants to separate dirt from the skin and moisturizing technologies that make cleansing less of a pH-disrupting experience. So it’s easy, said Waldorf, to maintain your skin’s pH with only your cleanser and moisturizer of choice. You can find links to several excellent cleansers and moisturizers in this post.

2 thoughts on “Do You Really Need Toner?

  1. Val Monroe says:

    You don’t! Glad you found the post helpful!

  2. Nancy G says:

    This is very timely, as I’m about to run out of my moisturizing toner. Guess I don’t need to replace it. Thanks!

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