Astringent Vs. Toner: Which Is Better For Sensitive Skin?

While skincare routines these days often include several steps from two different cleansing methods to several serums, skincare fans were taught for decades that the simple essential tools for a proper regimen were three: cleanse, tone, moisturize. Clinique even calls their three-step system a "cult classic" it has been tried and true for so long (via Clinique). But where did this second step, which has classically been either toner or astringent, come from?

Originally, back when the three-step process became popular, toner was used to remove residue that cleansers left behind (via Byrdie). Since cold cream was basically the name of the game back then for cleansers, oils were often left behind on the skin. Toner, for that reason, contained alcohol to help remove this oil. But as time has gone on and cleansers have changed, toner no longer necessarily needed to strip so much oil from the skin. As such, it is now made without alcohol, and tends to be more gentle. 

Astringent, however, has taken the place of toner as the product meant to remove excess oil. It usually does contain alcohol. So if you have sensitive skin, which is better?

How to choose a toner for sensitive skin

If you have sensitive skin, you probably want to steer clear of any product that contains alcohol. According to Glamour, alcohol can dry out the skin too much, damaging its natural protective barrier and removing too much oil. Your skin's natural oils are, at the end of the day, there to moisturize and protect your skin. Over-drying that results from alcohol being applied to the skin can cause irritation and even detract from natural skin regeneration processes. 

For this reason, if you have sensitive skin, you should stay way from astringents, as they tend to be harsher than toners and contain alcohol. Instead, look for a toner made for sensitive skin and check the ingredients to ensure that no alcohol is used in the formula. This way, you can still enjoy the feeling of a little extra cleansing and prepping before using your serums or moisturizers without sensitizing or irritating your skin.