Exfoliants and Toners: 4 Reasons to Be Skeptical


Different skin experts recommend different skincare regimens. Curious about some recommended daily exfoliant and toners, which I have noticed you have not recommended. Could you comment on what toner is supposed to do and why you don’t list it? Also exfoliant vs antioxidant. Thank you.

Glad you asked this but… sigh. 🙂  Toners are one of my pet skin peeves because they have such a vague function. I love exfoliants, especially for oilier, thicker skin, but lately the trend has been to over exfoliate.

Patients often forget that any retinoid, or alpha or beta hydroxy acid, will already be chemically exfoliating. That’s, for most, usually enough, but if more is desired, a gentle exfoliant 1-2 times a week is plenty. Over exfoliation is just irritating to the skin, and leaves it dry due to increased TEWL (trans-epidermal water loss).

Toners: 4 reasons to be skeptical:

  1. What are they toning?  I think of the word “tone” as that “snap back” effect (elasticity), good collagen (firm), and texture (usually pore size and acne). Skin already has it’s own tone and we’re just trying to improve it, right? So then I think… there’s nothing really in any toner I’ve seen that would help the above.
  2. Skin pH. When they talk about restoring skin pH, studies have shown that skin corrects it’s own pH quite quickly after a disruption. pH is just a measurement of how acidic the skin surface is.
  3. Why not use actives instead?  Many skincare products (serums and creams) can be formulated and ARE being formulated with better bases and fewer chemicals or irritating preservatives. It’s actually one of the goals in formulating the MadisonMD Skincare line. To preserve good, medical quality actives in better, more natural or organic bases is a beneficial trend for all – us and environment.
  4. Do they sooth? And if soothing is the goal, my question would be:
    1. “Why does it need soothing?”
    2. “Is the cleanser too harsh?”
    3. “Is the balance of serums and creams with actives not good and creating irritation?”
    4. “Are you allergic to something in the base of one of your skincare products?”

You see my point. It’s more important to find the cause of the irritation.

Hope this helps,

Brandith Irwin, MD



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