Have you ever wondered if skin toner is the pet rock of beauty products – basically an attempt to get you to spend money on something you don’t need? I definitely have.
As I’ve developed my natural skincare routine over the years – homemade hyaluronic acid serum, face masks, moisturizers and more – I’ve learned a lot about the whys and why nots behind different approaches.
For consumers who slather synthetic (often hormone-disrupting) cleansers on their face, toner is probably unnecessary due to the pH of those products. However, if you use a natural cleanser, toner can really benefit your skin.
That’s because in addition to promoting skin clarity, it also helps keep skin looking youthful by supporting the “invisible veil” that holds moisture in. I’ll explain how in this post, and share a simple recipe for apple cider vinegar toner that you can make in under five minutes.
Why your skin needs acid, even if it isn’t oily
Healthy skin has an acid mantle that’s “like an invisible veil that keeps the good stuff (lipids, moisture) in and the bad stuff (pollution, bacteria) out. As the name indicates, the acid mantle is at its strongest—and therefore most naturally balanced—when the skin is slightly acidic, with an optimum pH of about 5.5.” (1)
That’s important to know because when we cleanse with soap, two things happen . . .
1. We remove debris and transient bacteria. We also rinse away some of the good bacteria that are part of our natural microbiome, but those bacteria also live in the deeper layers of our skin that water doesn’t touch and therefore quickly repopulate.
2. Unfortunately, soap also changes the skin’s pH from acid to alkaline and washes off the “protective film” part of the mantle, which is sebum produced by our skin. Or as New York dermatologist Dr. Whitney Bowe put it, “The natural acidity in our skin can be disrupted when we use harsh cleansers and soaps. This in turn destroys the acid mantle protecting our skin from harmful bacteria, germs, and pollutants.”
So, how does apple cider vinegar benefit skin?
According to Dr. Bowe, apple cider vinegar “returns acidity to your skin and the malic acid in apple cider vinegar makes it antibacterial, wiping out bacteria.” In other words, using a toner made with apple cider vinegar restores our natural pH levels, which benefits skin in several ways:
Supports Skin Clarity
For skin that is prone to acne blemishes and blackheads, apple cider vinegar may help by balancing the skin microbiome and gently dissolving dead skin cells that can lead to breakouts.
In this interview, New York dermatologist Sejal Shah, M.D., says that “While there haven’t been any scientific studies specifically evaluating apple cider vinegar for acne, the acetic acid in apple cider vinegar has both antibacterial and keratolytic properties.”
“In other words,” continues the article, “it has the potential to help zap your bumps from the source.”
May Help Prevent Premature Aging
According to this article, your skin’s “Alkalinity might also play a role in aging. A study published in British Journal of Dermatology by Greg Hillebrand, PhD, of P&G Beauty Science showed that women with an alkaline stratum corneum (the skin’s outermost layer) developed more fine lines and crow’s-feet than those with acidic skin over an eight-year period.”
Apple cider vinegar is also thought to be similar to a very mild exfoliating chemical peel that encourages skin renewal and minimizes the appearance of pores. Some people say apple cider vinegar helped even out the tone of acne scars or dark spots, and this exfoliating effect may explain why.
Incorporating Apple Cider Vinegar Toner Into Your Skincare Routine
Adding this toner to your daily routine is as simple as 1-2-3.
1. Cleanse – Using activated charcoal soap or your favorite cleansing bar, gently wash your face and neck area. If you’d prefer to skip soap altogether, try the oil cleansing method or a honey face wash instead.
2. Tone– Moisten a cotton ball with your ACV facial toner and wipe it over your face and neck, avoiding the delicate skin near your eyes.
3. Moisturize – After application, all you need to do is smooth on moisturizer and you’re done! I recommend this this hydrating skin repair face serum recipe or homemade tallow balm, which is uniquely compatible with our skin’s biology due to its similarity to the sebum that makes up our protective layer.
If you don’t have easy access to tallow or are short on time, my friend Emilie sells pre-made tallow balm blends that smell amazing. If you want to try it out, click here and use MOMMYPOTAMUS at checkout for 10% off your first order.
Optional Additions: Witch Hazel or Herbal Hydrosols
We’ve all heard that oil and water don’t mix, and that’s true when it comes to essential oils and this skin toner. Because it’s a water-based formula, the essential oils will not disperse and instead will float on the top of the toner, making it very difficult to get an even application.
That’s why for this recipe I recommend using hydrosols, which are “flower waters” that have similar therapeutic properties as their essential oil counterparts, but work better in water-based formulas.
Here are a few of my favorites for skincare:
- Organic Calendula Hydrosol – Gentle and soothing. Good for all skin types.
- Organic Lavender Hydrosol – Similar to calendula in properties, but smells like a field of lavender.
- Organic Helichrysum Hydrosol – Often called “The Everlasting Flower” due to it’s skin renewing properties.
- Organic Peppermint Hydrosol – Helpful for acne prone skin. Also makes a good homemade mouthwash.
- Organic Rose Hydrosol (also known as rose water) – Gentle and balancing. Good for anti-aging formulas.
- Organic Tea Tree Hydrosol – Helpful for acne prone skin.
- Organic Frankincense Hydrosol – Calming and hydrating.
- Organic Rosemary Hydrosol – Helpful for acne prone skin.
Witch hazel extract – which contains antioxidant tannins that ease skin irritation – is also a great addition if you have it on hand. You’ll find instructions for including it (and any of the hydrosols) in the recipe below.
Apple Cider Vinegar Toner Recipe
- raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar
- distilled water or hydrosol (see recommendations above for suggestions based on skin type)
- witch hazel extract (optional)
To Make Apple Cider Vinegar Toner
- Using the ratio that is best for your skin type (see notes sections for details), combine the apple cider vinegar and distilled water (or hydrosol) together.
- If adding witch hazel, add 1-2 teaspoons per 1/4 cup.
- Pour in a clean, airtight jar.
To Use Apple Cider Vinegar Toner
- Apply to clean skin using a cotton ball or clean cloth. Some people prefer to pour it into a small spray bottle and spritz it on – that works too!
- Allow the apple cider vinegar toner to dry, then follow with a moisturizer like this face serum recipe.
Choosing The Right Concentration For Your Skin:Because your skin is unique, the ratio of apple cider vinegar to water (or hydrosol) that works best for you may be different than what works best for someone else. I recommend starting with concentration that best matches your skin type, then increasing or decreasing the amount of apple cider vinegar if needed. This recipe is listed in “parts” instead of exact amounts so that you can make the batch size you prefer. So, for example, if it calls for 1 part apple cider vinegar to 4 parts distilled water or hydrosol, that can mean 1 tablespoon of vinegar to 4 tablespoons water/hydrosol, or 1 ounce vinegar to 4 ounces water/hydrosol. 1:4 Ratio – Recommended for dry skin/ sensitive skin: 1 part apple cider vinegar to 4 parts distilled water or hydrosol. 1:2 Ratio – Recommended for normal skin: 1 part apple cider vinegar to 2 parts distilled water or hydrosol. 1:1 Ratio – Recommended for oily skin: 1 part apple cider vinegar to 1 part distilled water or hydrosol.
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1. Elle.com (2011) How To Get Balanced Skin