Astringents and Toner...(and a geek out about phenols)...

Ok, it's been awhile since we chatted last about skin care, or anything actually. Life happens sometimes. And I love all the Qs you send me, too - keep those coming! I had a great Q about tooth powder and cavity fighting ingredients in commercial toothpaste that I answered on FB. I'll blog about that in a future post, too. For now let's get back to our skin care discussion though because there is a lot of really interesting stuff left to cover!

This was originally posted on our interim blog at on 12/8/2021.

Toners and astringents can be confusing. They do mostly the same thing: serve as a final cleansing step, reduce the appearance of pore size, and reduce redness. The biggest difference between toners and astringents is subtle. Toners hydrate, nourish, and balance pH levels while astringents also serve to remove skin oil. We know from previous posts that removing skin oil isn't necessarily a good thing, which is why an astringent use is best limited to sparingly (once a day) when used. Toners can be used as desired because they have no astringent component.

Most astringents contain an alcohol and the molecules of oil and alcohol have similar enough polarity that they do not repel each other. The oil and alcohol mix and both can be wiped away together.

Alcohol breaks down into sugars that can crystalize your skin cells. This is known as glycation and it leads to visible deflation of skin and a dull complexion. The hormone IGF1 is also triggered by sugar and results in an overproduction of oil in your skin… All of a sudden we're right back in that vicious cycle of oily skin, using something to make it better that makes it worse again. Check out Is Your Acne Treatment Making Your Skin Worse? if you missed that post.


Toner is a thin watery liquid that hydrates, restores balance to the skin and adds a last cleansing step to your skincare routine. Toners are alcohol-free, even though the toner family also includes astringents which generally are not alcohol-free. Toners can be used freely. Sometimes it feels great to spritz a floral toner as a pick me up. Most facial sprays are actually toners. (If you smell alcohol in it….it's an astringent. Limit your use of those to one time a day if you use them.)

Do you remember when a splash of cold water was all that was recommended after cleansing? That was the super simple skincare routine before the influx of commercial products: soap for cleansing followed by a bracing splash of the coldest water your tap could run. There is actual science behind that, and is still a respectable choice. Cold water hydrates your skin and closes pores. It helps constrict pores and reduces redness by closing off capillaries at the surface. This lessens puffiness as the blood and lymph fluid is thus cleansed and removed from the body. (There's a lot of other stuff that happens in between there and I'm going to get geeky later so I'll not go into how that all happens now.) Cold water is not a long-term fix. It works temporarily until the skin warms again.

Cats Paw Farm has a full line of skin-type specific Toners, Hydrosols, and Astringent Products I'll be happy to work with you and help you determine the right one for your needs.

Hydrosols (aka Waters)

Hydrosols are the result of distillation of the plant essence. They are hydrophilic in nature and carry a plethora of benefits within them. Though they're referred to as "Waters" they are not the same as running water from your tap. Hydrosols contain nutrients and compounds that can aid in skin maladies, too. The Hydrosols we use are organic and small-batch processed.

Rose is one of the hydrosols we use and it is widely known as simply Rose Water. Rose Water is an antioxidant and an antimicrobial. It can also reduce transdermal water loss, putting it on our humectant list. Rose Water has been shown to soothe eczema, psoriasis, and environmentally damaged skin such as flaking from cold, wind, and sunburn. Rose water is high in Vitamins A & C (deficiencies in both of these have been linked to premature aging.)

Hyperpigmentation fade and fine line improvement are other benefits of Rose Water. This is because Rose Water increases new cell turnover - it is working at the basement layer of the skin! Traditional medicines around the globe have utilized rose water to alleviate fevers, breast pain and menstrual pain, to cleanse wounds, promote healing and soften scar tissue.


Usually water based, astringents are similar to toners but different in their mechanism. These are formulas used to remove irritants from skin and to even out skin tone. There is a spectrum of ingredient types in this category from liquids that are nutritious and natural, to harsh synthetics. Astringents are more likely to contain a concentration of an alcohol or witch hazel. Know your ingredients, and make good choices.

Witch Hazel

Witch Hazel is an astringent ingredient that has been back and forth on the good/bad list for years. Be sure your witch hazel ingredients are organic (ours are.) What witch hazel brings to the table are tannins and that puts it on the astringent list.

Geek Alert! 

Hang with me for a bit of an aside (geek alert)…Technically tannins break down to yield bioflavonoids. Hold on to Bioflavonoids in your head for just a minute. 

Tannins are also a form of salicylates which are a form of phenol. Whether phenol is detrimental or beneficial to human health depends on its source and therefore its concentration. Phenol is toxic if a person were to consume it straight without a carrier. Pure phenol is used medically in a few different ways and can be found in oral analgesics and sore throat sprays in very dilute concentrations over-the-counter. It's the phenol in trichloroacetic acid chemical peel that burns through the layers of skin if we harken back to Milia, and KP, and burns...oh my!

Salicylates are a type of phenol that occurs naturally in plants (and can also be synthesized in the laboratory.) The most widely known synthesized salicylate containing substance is probably Aspirin. In nature, salicylates occur in much smaller concentrations and work as antioxidants to stop the reaction of free-radicals with the molecules of your body. Anti-oxidants prevent damage to the telomeres of our DNA by replacing the missing electron of the free-radical molecule and thus render it harmless.

Think of telomeres like a series of knots that keep the DNA strand intact, or a cap on the end of the DNA strand that is unfastened each time the genetic material is replicated. Telomeres are important, and each time a cell in our bodies copy itself the telomeres get shorter. We can't prevent that, but we can prevent them from getting shortened by free radical oxidation in between copies. When a telomere gets too short to do its job our cells age and stop functioning properly. I could continue to geek out about telomeres and their role in aging, but let's save that for another time!

Phenolic antioxidants with great health effects are the Bioflavonoids broken down from Tannins, Tocopherols, Resveratrol, and oregano oil.

The bottom line with Tannins in skin care is that their anti-inflammatory properties are phenomenal. They help minimize redness, reduce cell damage, are antimicrobial. In nature, tannins precipitate out protein exudates from bacteria and fungi and render them inert to infect the host plant (this is how they are anti-fungal and anti-microbial.) Condensed tannins have been shown to protect collagen and elastin (your skin's dermal matrix) by direct protein interaction which constricts and reduces the size of pores. (yay for anything that reduces pore size, right?)

The way that compounds are inter-related is fascinating isn't it? I hope that the above led to some aha moments as a lot of skin and health 'buzz words' got strung together and their actual chemical and physiological relationships explained. All of the above to lead me eventually to this - Witch Hazel is soooo good for your skin and it can be considered a highly beneficial part of your daily skin routine.

Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple Cider Vinegar also contains a high tannin content, so it is an astringent as well. The smell of ACV will linger until it dries and is why most people are averse to using it straight. 

There are many Hydrosols, Toners, and Astringents available to choose from here on the Cats Paw website. I've tagged a few below for you. If you need assistance don't hesitate to reach out and let's chat about your particular need.

I hope you are enjoying this series on skin and the products effective in its care. Next time we'll delve into serums and humectants. Thanks for hanging out with me!

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