If it isn’t already abundantly clear that I own a rather large amount of products, this post will blow my cover. To be fair to my skin care affinity obsession—ahem, I am drawn to different brands and types of products at different times, so I really do switch them up a lot.

This applies to most product categories including toners. So I figured that I’d share with you 20 ways to use toners that you may or may not have considered, plus which toners I gravitate to for the task.

There may be some people who are still on the fence about including this step in their skincare regimen. Just a guess here, but maybe toners seem like fancy water with a high price tag in a cheap spray bottle. But I beg to differ.

It’s true that some toners are made up of ingredients that don’t do much or may even weaken the skin’s protective barriers by being highly astringent. A mere scan at the label of drugstore top-seller, Sea Breeze, and you’ll breeze past that one at checkout. Actually, you’d do better avoiding certain types of alcohol because it will strip the skin and increase oil production to compensate.

However, a decent formula will benefit your skin in so many ways.

A brief word about dispensers

Some toners release a fine mist, some a heavier spray, some use a pump, a saturated pad, or simply the old-fashioned way of opening up a bottle and dabbing a cotton ball. Often the atomizer does factor into the way I use the product. If that’s the case, I’ll mention that as we go along.

So, without further ado, here are 20 ways to swab, spritz, and mix toner that prove this is one skincare step to never skip. Maybe you thought of a lot of these, but I’m hoping to share some new ways too!

1. Remove any residual dirt, grime, and makeup.

Sure, we all want to find that perfect cleanser that removes everything in one step and leaves skin silky smooth and supple. (OK, I’ve got a couple of those cleansers. Looking at you Cecilia Wong Awakening Vitamin C Cleansercurrently on sale at Gloss48—and Sally B’s Tamanu Luxury Organic Facial Cleanser!) But some days, you need a little somethin’ somethin’ to make sure everything comes off as promised. Enter your toner. With a few swipes—and gratuitous stares at the no-longer pristine white pad—you know that your face is clean with no sneaky makeup left to clog pores.

To try: Arcona Triad Pads, $32, clarify the skin with antimicrobial cranberry, neutralize free radicals with vitamin E, and replenish skin with omega 3, 6, 9, and rice milk, so that skin doesn’t dry out. (Also in Raspberry Clarifying Pads.) I love the textured pre-saturated pad that provides a bit of exfoliation, along with convenience too.

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2. Put back all the good stuff your cleanser took off

Isn’t that a great concept? It’s a revelation discovered on Wanderlusting Beauty as she related her experience talking to a salesperson about Sumbody Wipe Anew Face Pads (they sound promising too!) Cleansers aren’t perfect. Sometimes they remove a little too much—like the natural oils that we need to keep our skin feeling supple and to prevent our skin from overproducing sebum in order to replenish lost supplies. Over- doing the cleansing process can strip the skin. Adding a toner infused with nutrients and herbs to feed the skin makes this step as necessary as applying your serum. For some skin, it may even replace it.

To try: Vered Organic Botanicals Herb-Infused Toner, $55, gets its vibrant red hue from a veritable garden of herbs and therapeutic-grade essential oils chosen carefully by experienced aesthetician, Vered Back, for their holistic benefits to the skin. Don’t let the hefty price tag discourage you from this rich blast of nutrients. It’s totally worth it!

When I think of feeding the skin, Laurel Whole Plant Organics Elixirs, $44, also come to mind, thanks to 20+ beneficial active ingredients—an A to Z menu of skin-nourishing herbs and essential oils. How has my skin survived without these?!20140805_154201

3. Plump up your skin with a daily dose of vitamins

Like replenishing your body with cool sips of water, toner drenches your skin in targeted sprays of hydration. When there are added vitamins and minerals, your skin actually drinks in the benefits. Think of it as mineralizing your skin throughout the day. Doesn’t that sound refreshing? Whether you’re combating dry winter heat or the water-sapping effects of the sun’s rays, a glowing complexion is always a sign of good health and beauty.

To try: Elizabeth Dehn for One Love Organics Active Moisture Time Release Vitamin D Mist, $39, gives skin its daily dose of vitamin D plus lasting benefits. Aside from its unparalleled hydration and anti-bacterial protection, this mist smells out-of-this-world fantastic! 20140805_154357

4. Restore skin’s pH level

The skin’s pH is naturally acidic at about a 5.5 pH. When we cleanse with different types of water and cleansers, it alters the acidity levels of the skin’s surface, thus throwing it out of balance. Get it back into gear by spraying or swabbing on toner.

To try: blue morpho Apothecary, $18 , and S.W. Basics, $24, both contain unpasteurized (as in super-effective!) apple cider vinegar with an acidity level that neutralizes the skin’s pH but a milder than straight-up ACV smell. The occasional tingle proves to me that these toners do their job, so I definitely reach for these for #5 too. These are not sprays and need to be applied with a cotton round—a good thing too! ACV stings the eyes something awful (don’t ask how I know that). Not cool with waste? Use these reusable Eco Cotton Rounds instead.

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5. Act as a mild astringent to ward off unfriendly bacteria while supporting the good bacteria

Ideally, toner clarifies the skin and nabs unwanted meddlers in their tracks. When my skin needs purifying, I reach for my toner to disinfect it without over-drying the skin. For this step, I prefer to pour onto a cotton round and swipe over my skin, paying close attention to any trouble spots.

To try: I’ve been a fan of Nonie of Beverly Hills AHA! Skin Tonic, $21.99, ever since I found out that it contains witch hazel (hamamelis water), organic ACV, and a unique blend of alpha hydroxy acids from citrus-scented fruits to smooth the texture of the skin. This company has been around for 18 years—a true testament to the brand’s effectiveness.

6. Keep harmful bacteria at bay throughout the day

Some days are an endless battle trying to keep blemishes at bay. Stress, diet, weather, and hydration levels contribute to the daily battle-field on my face. It helps to reach for a toner with targeted ingredients that ward off the nasties. And any pimple-popper knows that after the damage is done, a little repair work is in order. The skin needs to be disinfected and healed.

To try: Stark Skincare White Willow Bark Perfecting Tonic, $32, contains astringent witch hazel as well as white willow bark, a.k.a. salicylic acid, to keep everything in check. Cucumber, aloe, watermelon, and no water mean that you’ll never want to run out of this super-juice. Like ever.

7. Seal in hydration before AND after serums

Applying a few sprays of toner to skin before patting on a serum traps the hydration and nourishing ingredients into the skin. It also works AFTER massaging in a serum or face balm to improve penetration of the products.

To try: In Fiore’s Vitale Toning Floral Essence, $70, contains at its base “the silent healer,” a.k.a. aloe vera, to deliver vital herbs and essential oils to the skin. Whatever you do, don’t read about the seaweed, chamomile, nettle, comfrey, myrrh, jasmine, rosehip, fennel, marshmallow root, and the 13 other potent ingredients that are also packed into this powerhouse because then you’re seriously going to have to buy it. Seriously. (I own the travel-sized version.) Instructions say to press in toner after applying the balm. I love how that feels!

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8. Calm skin down

When skin flares up, gets irritably red, and demands something soothing to calm it down, a gentle toner may be just the thing it needs.

To try: Eczema, rosacea, laser treatments, sun exposure, psoriasis, burns, and other skin irritations have met their match in CV Skinlabs Rescue + Relief Spray, $34. This range of products was developed to be gentle enough to use on patients undergoing cancer treatments whose skin may be extremely sensitive and delicate.  Chamomile, cucumber, water lily, valerian, and comfrey tame inflammation on contact. When my daughter had a painful eczema flare up, this was the only product her skin could tolerate to take down the itchiness and heat. This therapeutic spray is not only found in my beauty arsenal but also in my medicine cabinet.

9. Depuff under-eye bags

No cucumbers handy to banish the tell-tale signs of last night’s partying from your eyes? Grab your toner! The cooling effects plus the right ingredients will reduce puffiness and reduce fine lines in a pinch.

To try: This neat trick is listed right on the bottle of Sevani Botanica Rose Hyaluronic Age Defying Tonique, $39. It’s easy to see why. The aloe vera soothes a million vices, rose damascena combats fine lines, redness, and broken capillaries, hyaluronic acid delivers a hefty dose of hydration, MSM boosts collagen and elastin levels, and acai berry and pomegranate add potent anti-oxidants to the mix. This is a luxurious blend without a steep price-tag!

10. Encourage healthy cellular circulation and nutrition

Parched skin becomes dry, flaky, and dull. Much as you would drink during the day to keep your body hydrated, skin needs water supplies too. In fact, it shows the first symptoms that your body isn’t hydrated enough—before organs start indicating short supplies. A well-formulated toner supplements hydration levels to stimulate healthy circulation which in turn delivers vital nutrients and vitamins to the skin. Of course, drinking more water is absolutely in order too.

To try: Not one to cut corners, Josh Rosebrook infused his Hydrating Accelerator, $32, with an impressive roundup of anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, balancing, and all-around nutrient-dense herbs, plants, and essential oils that kick skin into prime gear. The scent is tantalizing. I’ve been reaching for this one a lot more because I know how much research and development goes into Josh’s products, making this mist nothing short of irresistible.

11. Let skin breathe

Even skin needs a break sometimes, especially when exposure to daily toxins is at a minimum and the body is at rest. Oils, balms, and lotions may be necessary to protect skin from the elements during the day. That leaves the nighttime for skin’s renewal and regenerating cycles to kick in. By allowing the dermis a little room to breathe without smothering it, it is forced to function on its own in a surprisingly effective way. Amazing, isn’t it? To ensure a successful product hiatus, a powerful toner patted on before bed gives skin a nourishing drink before calling it a night.

To try: Antonia Burrell Forest Dew, $58, and Cecilia Wong Rose Serum Spray, $40, tied in this category. Both atomizers dispense a stream, not so much a spray, on account of the viscosity of the formula. A few spritzes into your palms and massaged into skin ensure a rich shot of anti-inflammatory, pH-balancing ingredients creating a reservoir of nocturnal hydration to leave skin cashmere-like by morning. I’m always amazed how my skin glows after giving it a product sabbatical.

12. Exfoliate skin

Not every toner is cut out to exfoliate. That’s actually a good thing, since you don’t want to overdo it either. But for times that you need to remove dead skin cells and resurface the skin, you’ll want to find toners that contain alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), beta hydroxy acids (BHAs ), glycolic acid, or lactic acid.

To try: Skin Fitness Correct, $69, contains lactic acid and water. That’s it. You will feel a strong tingle as it works its magic (okay, it actually hurts in a good way). If you like to feel your products working, this is the one for you! After a few minutes of active micro-circulation, you can rinse. Skin texture dramatically changes as the surface dead skin sloughs off without abrasive scrubbing.

For a gentler version (as in, not as tingly) that’s also effective, reach for Sevani Beauty’s Advanced Complexion Corrector , $39, a formula that’s chock full of botanicals, antioxidants, and vitamins to nab wrinkles and diminish brown spots, redness, and even acne.

13. Set makeup

Years ago, at one of my first makeovers at the Lancome counter, the makeup artist finished the look by spraying my skin with a mist. I laughed thinking it an expensive way to sell water, but boy was I wrong! In particular, if you complete your makeup with a finishing powder or use mineral makeup, a fine mist is nothing short of essential. It works wonders to impart a seamless no-makeup look, in spite of the veil of foundation, concealer, and powder.

To try: rl linden thousand petal beautifying mist, $48, sends a delicate mist that’s just right for banishing any cakey makeup residue. Created by herbal geniuses, Robin King and Lynn Till, this toner contains ingredients like rose, neroli, calendula, and jojoba oils known to nourish, calm, and embrace the skin. Plus it gives an aromatherapy boost with the heady scent of roses that’s neither cloying nor heavy in any way. You’ll face the day (or night) scented by a thousand rose petals. It’s simply heavenly! (My second bottle currently sits on my nightstand for ongoing spritzes.)

14. Inspire the senses

Some toners, like the last one, allow you to immerse in a sensory experience that’s so gorgeous you’re immediately uplifted. Take the time to anoint yourself with precious oils and mystical sprays from head-to-toe. Your body, mind, and spirit will thank you for this healthy habit. When I treasure myself, I tend to expect less from others, which can lead to disappointment or feeling empty. Taking care of myself helps me develop a built-in happiness-inducing system. So when relationships or a harried schedule get me down, this default mode kicks in and soothes the spirit.

To try: Few scents are as divine as the ethereal jasmine flower, known to symbolize divine hope, elegance, nobility, femininity, sensuality, and—naturally, love. Expect the brand that epitomizes each of these virtues to deliver a mist that’s at once a sensual indulgence, as well as a ritual-forming dose of exquisite ingredients. May Lindstrom Skin’s the jasmine garden, $60, delights with jasmine, rose, ylang-ylang, vanilla, and cacao, while purifying with witch hazel and silver for a sophisticated blend that’s not to be missed. Awaken your inner OM.

15. Refresh throughout the day

Ideally a spritz of toner can provide a quick pick-me-up from morning until bedtime. I store a toner in my car console to perk me up and mist whenever necessary (while kids are arguing in the backseat, while stuck in traffic, while reading in bed, while wearing a mask—you know the drill.)

To try: Cecilia Wong Revitalizing Toner Mist, $32 for 4 oz., as well as any of the Pangea Organics toners, $28, serve me well while on the go. The refreshing blast of therapeutic herbs and oils instantly boost my mood, skin, and even my car. The addition of probiotics in Cecilia Wong’s toner keeps harmful bacteria at bay, so you can even spray your yoga mat to germ-proof your asanas.

Though I must admit that after reading about Seed to Serum’s infatuation here and The Green Product Junkies’ obsession here, I’m looking at a couple of mint-infused options to carry along with me to keep me on my toes.

16. Multi-task as gym bag companion

Girls-on-the-go, not many toners can perform in this category. Here’s the ultimate do-it-all toner. It’s the one to pack in a gym bag and use head-to-toe as a beach hair crimper, facial mist, deodorant, and foot deodorizer.

To try: Authentic Skin Remedies Balance Seawater Facial Mist, $33, quadruples as a refreshing skin mist with a unisex sandalwood fragrance that smells fantastic, a spray-on deodorant when in a pinch (yes, it works!), a shoe/foot/gym bag deodorizer, and to top it off, a hair spritzer that imparts those coveted beach waves. Really, what more could you ask for? If you want to learn more about the simply clean ingredients that make this product a standout, read this post here.

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17. Dampen skin prior to cleansing

Luxurious, yes. But Lilly at Genuine Glow does it here and here and well…need I say more?

To try: Maya Water Facial Mist, $40, imparts a fine mist of thermal spa water in several variations to quench skin on contact.  It is designed to be pH neutral with low mineral content, so it won’t upset the balance of your skin but will douse it in hydration. That’s something to drink in.

18. Combine with balm to emulsify it

Whether you’re using the balm to cleanse skin or moisturize it, starting with a damp face optimizes the effectiveness of the balm and seals in water. It’s absolutely essential, especially since balms typically don’t contain water that skin needs to stay hydrated. More on that here.

To try: I often like to pair a balm with the toner from the same line, if the company offers one. My favorite duo that suits my skin by far is the Stark Skincare GF balm + WB Toner (shown in #6).

19. Spray into serum to activate

Call me crazy but I love taking one to three drops of serum into the palm of my hand and activating it with toner before pressing it into my skin. Firstly, it thins the serum to the right consistency, and secondly, my skin drinks this in quicker than serum alone. I read this tip through Pollen & Wax who are on hiatus, or I’d send you right over to them to try one of their outstanding toner + serum duos.

To try: Fear not! Herbivore Botanicals Balancing Toner + any of their newly released facial oils will make your skin oh-so-happy with the right blend to keep your skin nourished, balanced, and in-check.

20. Mix into powdered masks

To boost a powdered mask with added nutrients, I like to mix it with a hydrosol that contains healing ingredients and enhances the effectiveness of the mask.

To try: Caru Skincare Co. Toners, $18, offer a lovely combination of therapeutic hydrosols that render these toners a no-fail hit. Quick tip: Mix masks by adding the powder to the water and not the other way around. This works like a charm every time and you waste less product trying to get the ratio right.

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photo credit: Pemberly Jones

Have you used toners in different ways? What’s your favorite way to use them? Please share your tips and tricks in the comments.