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Shopping Writer for HuffPost
Skin care is a science. Various products composed of active ingredients are layered together in often complex ways, making it nearly impossible to fully know which serum, cream or tincture is completely necessary and which ones aren’t.
Toners and essences seem to regularly find themselves in that “unnecessary” category. However, experts in skin care say this could be a major misstep if your aim is get the most out of the skin care products you already use.
“Toners will help to restore your skin’s pH level, which can be affected by your face wash. It’s important to restore the skin’s pH to a slightly acid state because this allows for the skin to function optimally as a barrier to prevent infection or bacteria growth,” said Lydia Sarfati, a master esthetician and founder of Repêchage, a clinical skin care company.
Sarfati said toners and essences are also an essential part of promoting the skin’s natural levels of hydration because of their ability to bind moisture to the skin.
Kerry Benjamin, an esthetician and founder of the clean skin care line Stacked Skincare, said that toners and essences make all the difference when it comes to absorption and efficacy.
When applied after cleansing and before your other skin care products, toners and essences “can help your serums and creams absorb more effectively into the skin by clearing away the dead skin cells or saturating the skin with moisture,” Benjamin said. “Just like a damp sponge absorbs moisture better than a dry one, soft, moisturized skin can also absorb other ingredients better than dry skin.”
Benjamin said that although they may serve similar functions, there are still differences between toners and essences, and both can have a place on your bathroom counter.
“Many essences specifically quench the skin with water-soluble humectants like glycerin or hyaluronic acid,” she said. “Toners, on the other hand, often contain exfoliating ingredients that help control oil, remove dead skin cells and decongest clogged pores.”
Another difference lies in how and when they should be applied.
Aomi Richter, the owner and lead esthetician of New York-based Evolve Skin Studio, said toners with acids “should be used in the evening, a couple times a week, but be sure to wear an SPF daily if you are using an exfoliating toner. Essences, or hydrating toners, are more gentle and suitable for daily use.”
She also emphasized the importance to following up your toner or essence application with a good moisturizer in order lock in hydration and prevent your skin from drying out even further.
Toners have come a long way since the days of alcohol-intensive astringents. In fact, Taylor Worden, an esthetician and founder of Taylor Worden Skin, said that alcohol is one ingredient you should avoid when looking for a toner or essence because of its tendency to dry out the skin.
The components you do want to find in your toner ultimately depend on your skin type, she said, as well as the skin concern you are trying to address. Ingredients such as niacinamide can reduce redness or blotchiness, while botanical plant extracts can treat inflammation and chemical exfoliants, such as lactic or glycolic acid, can do a number of things from brightening to possibly firming the skin.
Below, we’ve created a list of both toners and essences chock full of several of the active ingredients recommended by these estheticians, as well as some of their personal favorite products.
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Shopping Writer for HuffPost

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