When I was younger, my Korean mother would splash her skin with a product called “skin.”

To me, I had zero clue what that meant except that it came in a beautiful, clear bottle, had a floral fragrance, and was something she drowned her skin in before moisturizing. Years later, I discovered that “skin,” to a Western audience meant “toner.” When I think about toners and how they’re used by most Americans, I realize just how different it is compared to Koreans and their view.

For one, toners conjure a product heavy with alcohol, a product where you dab the product on cotton balls and douse your acne-prone skin until it completely singes. Or, an astringent of sorts that helps to clear oiliness in one’s complexion. For Koreans, toners are essential to prepping the skin for hydration. They’re also free of alcohol, or anything drying. Actually, quite the opposite. Toners are used so that the pores are open for absorbing moisturizers. Without toners, moisturizing actually is pretty useless as it sits on top of the skin instead of soaking deep into the pores.

In the past few months alone, I’ve used a toner to see the difference it has made to my skin. Here’s what I ~actually~ learned.

I’d been cleansing ALL WRONG. I used to think my Clarisonic brush scuffed away all disgusting debris and dirt from my pores. But then when I started using a toner on a cotton pad, I’d see brown streaks here and there. It meant that my skin was still pretty dirty. A toner, then, was awesome for that second cleansing. But it’s also so much more than just that.

I’d been moisturizing ALL WRONG. Possibly the biggest eye opener was when I learned I’d been moisturizing incorrectly. After washing my face, I would simply dry off on a towel, moisturize and call it a day. This was wrong. All wrong. Not only was my skin completely depleted of moisture or natural oils from my cleanser, moisture was unable to seep into my pores. Because our skin is so thick, the moisturizer would simply sit on top, to be wiped away by my pillow or evaporated into the dry air.

Skin is like a sponge. A great lesson I learned from my friend Christine Chang, co-founder of the Korean skincare brand, Glow Recipe, was that dry skin is like a dry sponge. If you try to drip any water on top, the sponge will soak its top layer. It will maybe even seep to the bottom after a couple of hours. However, if the sponge is pretty damp, it’ll absorb water that much faster. That’s exactly what toner is. It allows for maximum absorption.

Your pH balance is off after cleansing. The biggest lesson from learning more about skincare was how our skin’s pH is actually slight acidic. On a pH scale, our natural state is on a 4-5. Most products on the market today are alkaline cleansers. In turn, skin goes to an 8-9 on a pH scale right after cleansing. Most toners will get your skin back to its original pH level and balance it out. V V V important.

Toners also give so much more. They not only pave a way for moisturizing, they provide lots and LOTS of nutrients. After cleansing, your face is actually in a fragile state. It’s depleted of oils, moisture and a shell of itself. Toning gives it its mojo back.

So what’s a good toner? Alcohol toners aren’t bad, per se, they’re actually efficient with oil control. But I wouldn’t say they’re good, either. For most skin types, I’d say to look for products that are pH balancing. It should say on the label or on the link’s description if it is. Calming ingredients like rosewater or chamomile are good keywords to look into, as well as plant-based ones. I currently am loving Primary Raw’s DoYou Soy Milk essence toner, Son & Park’s beauty water, Missha’s Super Aqua, CosRX’s clarifying toner, and of course, Huxley.

How do you use it? My skin has changed because I splash it 3-7 times (I know, sounds excessive, but it works!) with my toner. I simply cleanse my skin, then immediately splash toner onto it, while allowing it to seep into my pores. I’ll pat it gently, then I’ll hold my warm hands over a few areas so that it actually goes into my skin.

TLDR; In the past few months alone, I’ve incorporated toners into my regimen and my face has completely changed. I’m actually completely shook at the difference it’s made. My skin looks even, I break out far less often and my skin seems always hydrated. I know it will for you, too!

Tell us: What toners you’ve been using, below!

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