DIY facial toner

Do you really need a facial toner? No, but it can be beneficial nonetheless.

I promised to share more of my DIY cosmetics experiments, so today I’m sharing my recipe for a facial toner. If you’re not sure what that is, fear not, because until recently, you were better off without it. Back in the 90s, facial toners were full of alcohol, super astringent and a supposed miracle cure for acne, but they probably did more harm than good in the long run. I remember when I was a teenager my mum bought one for acne skin that literally smelt like diluted manure and it’s probably still sitting on a shelf in that bathroom somewhere, because neither of us were inclined to actually use it. God knows what was in it, but luckily facial toners have made a comeback in the beauty industry as something that isn’t complete crap.

Toners were originally meant to balance the pH of your skin after using soap to wash it, which is alkaline. They were and still are also used for their astringent properties, which means that they visually shrink your pores and help prevent acne. These days they are mostly water-based and can tackle a variety of issues, so you’ll need to do a little bit of research to find one that’s suitable for your skin type. The main idea behind using a toner however, is to add an extra step in your skin care routine between washing and applying moisturisers or whatever creams/serums you use. Toners can help remove any excess dirt or make up that your cleaner might have missed and soak up excess oil, but depending on the formulation they can also deliver additional hydration, calming ingredients etc. It really all depends on your skin type and if you’re not willing to do a bit of research, I’d skip using a toner altogether.

In terms of natural cosmetics, hydrolates like rose or lavender floral water are often used as toners, which is also what I’m using in mine. Hydrolates are actually the by-products of essential oil production. When essential oils are extracted through distillation, the water-soluble plant compounds are left behind in distilled water, hence also the common name floral water. They have similar but milder effects than essential oils and are used as water phase ingredients in many cosmetics products – you’ve probably seen rose water everywhere.

The benefits of hydrolates depend on the plant they’re made from and since I have a mixed, relatively oily skin, I’m using witch hazel hydrolate. Witch hazel (hamamelis virginiana) is a plant often used in folk medicine, which contains tannins and has anti-inflammatory, astringent properties. It effectively removes surface oils and bacteria, so it’s particularly recommended for oily, acne-prone skin and can be drying for other skin types. It also has a calming effect and I find my toner always leaves my skin super smooth to the touch.

DIY witch hazel facial toner

  • 50 ml distilled water
  • 50 ml witch hazel hydrolate
  • 15 ml liquid aloe vera extract or 0.5 tablespoon (7.5 ml) aloe vera gel
  • 3 drops of tea tree essential oil
  • 14 – 16 drops (0.7 – 0.8 ml) of Cosgard (Ecocert approved preservative for natural cosmetics) depending on the final volume

Makes about 100 ml, depending on what you’re using. Simply stir everything together and store in a glass or plastic bottle. Shake before use and keep closed out of direct sunlight. If you’re using Cosgard as a preservative, the toner should keep for up to 3 months, so I like to make it in smaller batches. Without a preservative a batch will last only a few days.

Why these ingredients?

  • Tap water always contains limestone and traces of other compounds within safe drinking limits, so it’s best to use distilled water for cosmetic purposes. I prefer to dilute my hydrolate, because it lasts longer and witch hazel can be drying by itself, but if you’re using a different hydrolate the addition of water is optional.
  • We already discussed witch hazel benefits, but always make sure your hydrolate doesn’t contain alcohol if possible.
  • Aloe vera, it’s hydrating, calming and speeds along healing, so it’s great for skin in general. It’s most commonly found in the form of a liquid extract or gel and you can easily extract and blend the gel from an aloe plant yourself if you own one liked I do (here’s how). Recommended aloe vera content is 3-20% of total volume for liquid extracts and 3-15% for gel, but always check the instructions on whatever ingredient you’re using.
  • Tea tree oil is supposed to be antibacterial and is a common topical acne treatment, but keep in mind that undiluted essential oils can be irritating for the skin, so do a patch test or skip altogether. My skin handles it well and I use it and whitening toothpaste to quickly dry out my zits.
  • When making water-based cosmetic products it is absolutely essential to use a preservative, because they’re more susceptible to moulds, bacteria and yeasts, particularly if you’re extracting your own aloe vera gel. Cosgard is a certified broad spectrum preservative for natural organic cosmetics. It’s quite cheap and the recommended content is 0.6 – 1% of total volume, where 20 drops is about 1 ml. Although I’ve included the quantities I use, always make sure that you read the instructions on the exact ingredients you’re using and calculate the correct quantities, because the same ingredient from a different manufacturer can have a different recommended content. You can learn more about natural preservatives here.

To use the toner, pour some on a preferably reusable cotton round and wipe it allover your face. You can use your chosen toner from twice per day to once a week, depending on what you’re trying to achieve with it, and some people also use it on their neck and cleavage. However, because witch hazel can be drying, I only use my DIY facial toner once per day. Since I normally use something overnight and my skin is naturally oily, I wash it with water in the morning and leave this toner on while I’m brushing my teeth to soak up any excess oil or dirt and prepare my skin for the day before applying a serum. I’ve been using it for close to a year now and I’ve noticed a significant disappearance of blackheads and inflammatory whiteheads. Most of my whitehead breakouts are actually related to poor food choices at this point.

The ingredients I use are readily available in most countries and they’re usually quite reasonably priced, so check online for a local supplier. I buy mine at milnica.si and calendula.si in Slovenia. As you can see, making a DIY facial toner is super simple and once you’ve got your recipe down it will only take you 2 minutes to mix a fresh batch. Once again, please keep in mind that what works for me may not work for you and that these posts are meant more as inspiration posts to help you see what kind of cosmetic products you can easily make at home. Also always do a patch test of any DIY cosmetic products to avoid unwanted reactions.

If witch hazel is not a good fit for you, you can look for a different hydrolate and repurpose my recipe with it, just skip the tea tree oil. Many hydrolates like rose, lavender, chamomile etc. can even be used by themselves without mixing them with anything or only with a bit of distilled water. However, if you want a store-bought toner, I like this one, because it’s from an eco brand and comes in a recycled glass bottle (fun fact, I’m storing my toner in a thoroughly washed, sterilised kombucha glass bottle, so you know, use what you have).

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5 thoughts on “DIY facial toner

    1. Hahaha well, people on Instagram were interested in my experimental cosmetics, but I don’t see why campfire heroes couldn’t use it either, it’s the 21st century after all. 😉

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