To tone or not to tone - that is the beauty question. Beauty camps are divided, with some dissing the clear liquid product and others missing it if it isn't part of their daily routine. Is toner essential or are we wasting our time? The case for: Until somebody discovers a surefire way to keep complexions baby beautiful, we need all the help we can get. Toners, which are also known as clarifiers, astringents and purifiers, help to balance the skin's acid and alkaline levels so it has an optimum pH of 5.5 to 6. They remove all traces of make-up, dirt and the film cleansers sometimes leave behind. Without a quick once-over with toner, pores can become clogged and you can say hello to the resulting blackheads and other crops of spots. As as well as in the morning and evening, toners can be used to perk up skin throughout the day. Competition in the beauty market is so stiff and consumers so savvy that products have to deliver. If they didn't, demand would drop and companies would stop making them. Besides, they make skin feel, look and smell good. The case against: Beauty is a billion-dollar business - according to a recent report in The Economist it is worth a staggering US$95 billion (HK$739.1 billion) - and toners are just another 'necessity' cooked up by the mega brands to encourage us to part with our cash. If you're using a cleanser correctly, you shouldn't have any residual dirt or product on your skin. Although gratification from toner usage is instant, leaving the skin feeling fresh and oil free, it can be detrimental in the long run. This is because many toners contain alcohol, which either dries out the face - and who wants to encourage wrinkles? - or can exacerbate greasy and problem complexions by stripping the skin of oil and causing sebum production to work overtime. Alcohol-free skin 'fresheners' may be the new generation of gentle toners but don't really do anything. As British beauty experts Sarah Stacey and Josephine Fairley argue in their The 21st Century Beauty Bible ($345, Dymocks) old-fashioned rosewater or a flannel soaked in cold water, to which a couple of drops of essential oil have been added, work just as well and are cheaper. That three-step routine of cleansing, toning and moisturising is so passe. Cut out the middle man and make your beauty regime quicker and easier.