Cleaning your face with plenty of soap and water leaves your skin fresh-looking, without a trace of oil and dirt. Right? No, not really.

Traditional soaps, as well as commercial-brand creamy makeup removers, can leave a greasy film on your face. This coating on your skin attracts dirt and toxins that dull your skin. Not only does the soapy or greasy residue cause your skin to look drab, but also soap may irritate skin and may even cause whiteheads to form.

Many of us have long heard the songs of praise for using toners as part of our daily skin-care routine. Why use a toner?

Toners’ popularity resulted from a series of developed needs. Women wanted makeup that wouldn’t smudge, drip, run or rub off. So waterproof mascara, water-resistant blush, and longer-lasting lipstick came on the market.

But then a new problem evolved – how to remove the water-resistant makeup that even soap couldn’t budge off the face. The result: Oil-based makeup removers. However, these cleansers will leave an oily residue on the skin. Then along came toners to dislodge the oil.

Alcohol-based toners strip skin of its oils

The traditional toners contain alcohol to cut the oil in makeup removers and allow the face to rinse clean. Unfortunately, the alcohol-based toners also remove every trace of natural and needed skin oil. Any alcohol left on the skin can create dryness, reduce skin elasticity, cause irritation, and promote skin eruptions.

Toners by any name – fresheners, astringents, clarifiers, pore lotion or toners – with an alcohol base can strip skin of oil (pore-clogging as well as beneficial). Check the label carefully or ask your health food store clerk for a toner formulated with natural ingredients. Try a toner with aloe, for natural healing of the skin, or one with an herb base to help reduce inflammation or soothe your skin.

Natural toners do more than dislodge greasy makeup cleansers without stripping skin of beneficial oil. A good toner will also help reestablish the pH balance of the skin, which may be disrupted after the use of cleansers.

What toners do not and cannot do

Many think toners tighten pores. They do, but not like you want, or how you think.

Nothing closes pores permanently – at least not so far. The so-called “pore minimizing” properties of harsh toners irritate skin. This temporary inflammation puffs up the skin. As the skin swells, your pores look smaller.

However, the pore-shrinking effect lasts, only a short time. Once the swelling subsides, your pores return.

But watch out! The worst is yet to come.

The chemicals that irritate skin can also worsen problems, like acne. So pores may “shrink” for a time, but pimples move in to stay longer than the swelling-submerged pores.

Worse, the chemicals designed to shrink pores can actually enlarge pores. As your skin dries, it loses elasticity and stretches. As skin stretches out of place, pores enlarge. The very product you thought could help your skin can make pores more pronounced.

Many so-called toners marketed as “pore lotions” contain aluminum salts diluted with alcohol. If you want to rub your face with a “pore minimizing lotion,” you might as well save your money and mix up a concoction of antiperspirant and alcohol. How good could a pore-clogging antiperspirant blended with skin-dehydrating alcohol be for your face?

Ask at your health food store for a natural toner that best suits your skin type. Toners are available in formulations for oily and dry skin. Some toners will also moisturize while others exfoliate.

How to use toners so they work best for you

Easy does it. Always treat your skin gently. Don’t rub the toner on your skin with a wash cloth or your hands. Excess rubbing can stretch skin.

Instead, saturate a 100 percent-pure cotton ball with the toner and gently wipe your face and neck. Using a cotton ball helps diminish the chances of pulling and damaging the skin.

Applying the toner with a cotton ball works better than just patting on the toner. The cotton ball helps remove any filmy residue left from soap, lifts off unwanted oil from cleansers, and takes away any remaining dirt.