Toner is one of the more hotly debated skincare products, as while some swear by it, others deem it wholly unnecessary, and claim it can even be detrimental to your complexion. That’s largely because in the past, toners had a well-earned reputation as harsh, drying and stripping products, but it’s time to forget about those alcohol-filled tonics.
There are now a whole new generation of toners that are so beneficial to helping you achieve clear, glowy skin, yet many still pass on this particular skincare step because they aren’t sure what toner actually does. So, first: what is toner, and why is it so important to include in your beauty regimen?
“Toner helps remove any dirt and residue after cleansing, balances skin’s pH and smooths and hydrates while perfectly preparing the skin for serum and moisturizer to follow,” Terese Linke, the Director of Education at Amala Beauty, told Observer.
Toner is an important step in cleansing, and it also keeps your skin balanced. The key to glowing skin and the best beauty routine is “all about balance and hydration,” Linke explained. As we age, our skin gets drier, and is thus “more prone to environmental pollutants and irritants.”
You should apply toner to just-cleansed skin, then continue with your usual skincare routine—your usual products will be so much more effective when you use them post-toner. Toners aren’t one size fits all, and it’s important to find the right formula for your individual needs, whether you’re seeking a boost of hydration, clearer skin, reduced redness, refined pores or an extra bright glow—or all of the above.
“Toners vary according to skin type,” celebrity aesthetician and dermatological nurse Natalie Aguilar pointed out. For sensitive skin types, choose a toner that’s free from “fragrance, alcohol, perfume or harsh exfoliants, such as glycolic acid, salicylic acid and phenol.”
Those with oily or breakout-prone skin shouldn’t immediately reach for an aggressive, harsh toner that strips all excess oil, as doing so will “only stimulate the oil glands to produce more serum,” Aguilar advised us. “An ideal toner for oily skin would be one that balances the skin.”
Similarly, Linke suggests oily, combination or normal skin should seek out a “toning mist or toning essence,” and to make sure it’s free from any synthetic alcohols, which can result in serious dryness and irritation.
Now that we’ve gone through the basics, let’s take a look at all the best toners we recommend for every skin type.
Saje Bliss Mist Harmonizing Facial Toner
This soothing toner is great sensitive, dry and combination skin, with a lovely mixture of rose, geranium, sandalwood, lavender and carrot that is so relaxing. We like to use it in the morning, right after a gentle cleanser. $28, Saje.
Omorovicza Silver Skin Tonic
This toner is ideal for blemish-prone, oily skin types, as it’s definitely on the stronger side, with a mixture of colloidal silver, salicylic acid and niacinamide (a form of vitamin B3) that work together to fight break-outs. $89, Omorovicza.
Naturopathica Lavender and Honey Balancing Mist
Naturopathica’s products are so wonderful for sensitive skin, and this ultra-lightweight mist helps balance and hydrate for an instant glow. Aloe vera
Skinceuticals Equalizing Exfoliating Toner
Skinceuticals makes quite a few great toners, including this equalizing and exfoliating formula that we think is best for evening use. The combo of multiple AHAs (including glycolic, citric and lactic acid) work to exfoliate while botanical extracts (witch hazel, rosemary, aloe and chamomile) soften and soothe. It’s ideal for when you’re battling a few blemishes and want to get your complexion back under control, without stripping your skin of natural oils. Plus, this one helps ease wrinkles and discoloration. $34, Skinceuticals.
Goop G.Tox Malachite + AHA Pore-Refining Tonic
This toner helps unclog pores, exfoliate and brighten thanks to glycolic acid. The Gwyneth Paltrow-approved tonic also contains hyaluronic acid and vitamin B3, which hydrate, refine and smooth out your complexion. It’s definitely on the stronger size, so start out with just once a day use (at night), max. $75, Goop.
Trilogy Vitamin C Energising Mist Toner
While we usually prefer our Vitamin C in serum form, this toner is packed with the antioxidant for a seriously refreshing (and brightening) boost to dull skin. There’s also mandarin and tangerine to pep up your complexion, as well as ylang-ylang to balance. $29, Trilogy.
Amala Beauty Rehydrating Toning Essence
Toners have long had a reputation as aggressive, oil-stripping products that are exceptionally harsh. Clearly, that’s changed, and there are even toners are actually hydrating, like this essence from Amala Beauty. This toner-essence combo contains lots of hyaluronic acid, so it’s amazing if you have super dehydrated skin, while the presence of magnesium ascorbyl phosphate (a form of vitamin C) helps protect and even out skin. $78, Amala Beauty.
Eminence Organics Stone Crop Hydrating Mist
Combination and uneven skin types will love this hydrating mist, which contains stone crop juice for hydrating and healing, lavender for calming and jasmine for nourishing. $38, Eminence Organics.
Tata Harper Hydrating Floral Essence
There’s a reason beauty mavens rave about this Tata Harper essence, as the hydrating toner really is just that good. No, it’s not the most traditional toner, but it truly is one of those sensational products that gives your skin the most incredible post-spritz glow, thanks to the infusion of hyaluronic acid. We recommend this for dry to normal skin types, and we also love to spray this one on whenever for a little extra radiance during the day. $94, Tata Harper.
Valmont Vital Falls Toner
We absolutely love this toner, which includes witch hazel, chamomile and calendula extracts that get rid of any leftover bacteria or impurities while balancing your skin’s pH levels, toning and softening, for the softest, glowiest skin. It’s great for all skin types, and especially if you want to focus on anti-aging. $95, Valmont.
Bybi Day Glow Brightening AHA Tonic
Use this vegan toner in the morning, right after you wash your face, for a gentle exfoliation. It contains ultra-gentle AHA lactic acid, which exfoliates away dead skin cells and tightens, brightens and smooths, as well as shiitake and reishi mushrooms as well as floral waters, which help give you that much-coveted dewy look. $16.99, Bybi.
Mediheal Tea Tree Biome Blemish Cica Toner
If you have super irritable skin, try this toner, which very gently balances and cleanses sans redness. It’s great for when you have stubborn break-outs, and it also minimizes pores. $22, Mediheal.
Isla Beauty Tone Balance Elixir
This toner features ultra-hydrating glycerin and aloe leaf juice, as well as antioxidant-rich wildberry complex and botanical extracts, to protect and refine your skin. And unlike many toners, it actually smells fantastic. $48, Isla Beauty.
Paula’s Choice Pore-Reducing Toner
Large pores are often one of the annoying byproducts of oily skin, and while there’s no natural way to attain a poreless aesthetic (seriously, that’s achievable only through photoshop, and pores are normal!) this facial toner does help minimize enlarged pores. It’s a good choice for oily skin types, with just a touch of hydration that won’t irritate or cause breakouts. $21, Paula’s Choice.
Freeman Beauty Nordic Birch Toner
If your main focus is getting rid of excess shine (i.e., oil) and minimizing pores, try this Nordic Birch toner, which you apply using a cotton pad instead of a spray-on formula. It’s definitely on the stronger side, though, so definitely patch test first. It’s also a very well-priced option. $5.59, Ulta.
Heritage Rosewater Toner
A simple yet effective oil-free rosewater toner, filled with rose oil, glycerin and hyaluronic acid to hydrate and even out skin tone. $11.99, Heritage.
Pai Skincare Century Flower Lotus & Orange Blossom Soothing Tonic
Sensitive skin types prone to redness will love this soothing toner; it’s hydrating and refreshing, and will help calm down irritated skin thanks to a combination of lotus and orange blossom. $39, Pai Skincare.