The skincare step between cleansing and moisturising can make a noticeable difference, says Janetta Mackay.

Once upon a time, skincare was a simple three-step process with toning the middle task. Things have got more complicated, with layers of extra products available now, but ensuring you don't overlook the basics is still your best bet for a healthy complexion.

No one quibbles about the need for cleansing and moisturising, but toning has had a bit of a bad rap, being blamed for drying delicate skins with astringent alcohol-based solutions. Some brands have even substituted other terminology for the word toner.

But the 1,2,3 process that Clinique popularised in the late 60s still holds true. Step 2 - or thereabouts, depending on whether you dose up additionally along the way - ensures the face is free of cleanser and ready to accept moisturiser.

This step amounts to more than rinsing off the last vestiges of cleanser, because toning has a conditioning role enabling skin to better absorb what is to come. It acts as a mild liquid exfoliator. By removing dead skin cells, and helping control any residual oil on the skin's surface, a toner ensures pores are unclogged and so are less likely to become enlarged, inflamed or start to sag.


Dermatologist Liz Baird says physical exfoliating has its place, but older skins respond to a gentle approach, which is where the right kind of toner can come in handy. Look for those containing the likes of salicylic and glycolic acids and alpha and beta hydroxy acids to help break down the bonds of those superfluous surface skin cells.

Clinique's national education manager, Tracey Pedersen, says: "When you have that dead skin sitting on the surface, serums and moisturisers don't absorb as well." Toners need to be matched to skin type for the best results, she says. In Clinique's case the chosen terminology is clarifying lotion across four skin types, offering different degrees of astringency and moisturisation.

The word lotion is now in widespread use worldwide as a sometime substitute to describe toners, and sometimes they are referred to as fresheners. In Asia they are often called softeners. Formulas for sensitive skins are best without alcohol, but it remains in many toners because it helps liquid evaporate off the skin.

To balance astringent ingredients, toners may contain glycerin and the likes of aloe for a gentler approach. Focus on wiping them primarily over the T-zone. Skin should feel fresh rather than taut after that twice-daily wipe down.

1. Elizabeth Arden Visible Difference 200ml Skin Balancing Toner $45
Restore moisture balance with this alcohol-free option, designed to deal with combination skin. It won't dry out the in-between bits. From Farmers and selected pharmacies.

2. Clinique 200ml Clarifying Lotion No.4 $45
This dermatologist-developed choice is aimed at oily skin, helping control oil build-up to deter blemish formation, or try the sensitive, combination or drier skin formulations. From selected department stores and pharmacies.

3. Neutrogena Pore-Refining Toner $15.99
A good astringent, yet non-drying, option for toning pores, this has alpha and beta hydroxy to help refresh dull looking skin. Gentle enough for most skins, and from an affordable pore refining range developed in recognition that teens aren't the only ones needing help here. From pharmacies, department stores and supermarkets.

4. Benefit Moisture Prep 177ml Toning Lotion $57
This gel-type formula goes on gently, with a more lasting moisturising feel than the evaporating style of toner, thanks to its added aloe and yeast extract. The pretty bottle is a boudoir bonus. From Smith & Caughey's.

5. Dermalogica 177ml Ultra Calming Mist $60
Designed to help calm redness and sensitivity, this spritzes on to lock in hydration and shield skin against environmental assaults. There's no added fragrance and the oat and other botanical ingredients help soothe skin discomfort and itching. Try the travel size. From selected Life pharmacies and salons, see