If you’re skincare-obsessed like me, you’re probably aware of/confused about the ongoing debate over whether or not toners are worthwhile. If you’re not as skincare-obsessed as I am and don’t know about it, a toner is a lightweight formula with a consistency like water, and it’s supposed to be dabbed onto skin after washing but before applying products. They claim to provide a wide amount of services from removing impurities to restoring the pH balance in skin.
No matter what your thoughts about toners are, you can’t ignore the facts: putting the right ingredients on your skin can completely transform it. So maybe we shouldn’t be debating whether or not toners are worthwhile—we should gain more knowledge about what your skin needs, and then make sure to use products with these ingredients.
We found that adding a toner after face wash and before moisturizer (or whatever step comes next in your extensive beauty routine) really can be beneficial to achieving the skin of your dreams. But the truth is that many toners don’t do much to your skin. A lot of toners have useless—or worse, harmful—ingredients (like harsh alcohol), and dabbing on these toners is just wasting precious seconds you could be spending on perfecting your cat-eye.
But the right ingredients can actually do wonders for your skin. What matters is not that you use (any) toner, but what’s in the toner you’re using. In general, steer clear of alcohol, fragrance, sulfates, and harsh chemicals. Instead, here’s what to look for based on your skin goals:
- Toners that contain acids meant to remove excess oil from the skin are great for preventing breakouts. Dabbing on a cleansing toner after you wash your face will sop up all the pore-clogging dirt and makeup that the face wash did not get out. It also works as a mattifying agent under your makeup.
- We know salicylic and lactic acid are important ingredients in your spot treatments and face washes, but toners with the skin-clearing ingredient can work to treat current breakouts without drying out your skin (like a spot treatment would) and can be used during daytime (like a spot treatment certainly can’t).
- Astringents contain a high alcohol content which can be drying, so opt for a hydrating toner and stay away from astringents. Always check the label to make sure it’s alcohol-free.
- To prevent and treat dryness, look for toners containing glycerin and hyaluronic acid. Toners with these ingredients are considered to be humectants, which means they bind moisture to the skin. So not only do they hydrate, but they also help the ingredients in your moisturizers and serums that you apply afterward to penetrate skin even better.
- Toning while traveling is especially important—long flights leave skin completely dried out. A TSA-approved toner mist is ideal for a no-mess way to rehydrate your skin during and/or after a flight.
- Ingredients that brighten your skin, like vitamin C or A, deliver important nutrients to your skin to make it glow.
- Antioxidants like tomato extract and bergamot get rid of the dead skin cells that can make skin dull. Antioxidants are always a must for your skin, whether your concern is dullness or aging. When it comes to the super ingredient, the more the merrier, so even if you already have an antioxidant in your serum, opt for a different one in your toner.
- Toners that are pH balancing help to reduce irritation or uneven skin tone. Our skin is naturally acidic (typically with a balance of five or six), but that balance can get thrown off just with our normal routine of face wash, makeup, or city smog. Returning the skin’s pH balance can reduce any irritation and give the skin an even tone (some experts even recommend using diluted raw apple cider vinegar as a DIY toner as the best way get these benefits).
- Plant-based extracts like chamomile or cucumber can calm any redness or irritation, including rosacea.
The Best Toners on the Market
A TEG editor-favorite and cult-classic skincare product, this exfoliator uses 2% BHA to clear pores and keep them blackhead free. Read our editor's full review.
For those with oily skin, finding a toner used to be pretty easy. You'd just use something with a drying ingredient like alcohol to remove every last drop of moisture on your face and you were good to go. Now, toners are typically alcohol-free and often very moisturizing.. so how do you mattify your face? This toner removes excess oil and shine with a matte finish so you can use it day or night. With saw palmetto, mint (which gives this a lovely cooling effect), and salicylic acid, it also works to clean pores, clear skin, and eliminate excess oil without stripping.
For those with dry skin, you want a toner that adds another layer of moisture, and this one from Laneige does that times 50. It's a thicker consistency, so once it's applied, it almost feels like a moisturizer. Drop a little bit of the product into your hands and pat into the skin, and you'll immediately notice a glowier complexion.
If you're looking to resurface your skin, remove dry patches, and liven up your dull complexion, you've come to the right place. This toner contains kojic acid and pineapple enzymes to exfoliate dead skin away, while hyaluronic acid adds moisture back in.
Editors, readers, and dermatologists alike suggest this time and time again for a gentle, soothing toner. Witch hazel is a powerhouse ingredient for calming inflammation and redness, and this product doesn't have a super extensive ingredient list, so the witch hazel shines. This is alcohol-free, so it's non-drying. This would be ideal for sensitive skin.
This AHA/BHA toner not only treats current acne, blackheads, and hyperpigmentation on your skin, but it prevents more from forming. It uses these exfoliators to reduce bacteria on the skin and improve skin's clarity and tone, but it also contains a probiotic that balances the good and bacteria, leaving you with clear skin that's still healthy, hydrated, and prepared to fight off acne in the future.
When you're prepping for a wedding, graduation, party, etc., it's important to use products that not only impact how your skin looks the day you apply it but also over time. Adding these to your arsenal in the month leading up to a big event is sure to make your skin look the best it ever has. These exfoliating pads leave an ultra-glowy finish, so they're best used in the morning before moisturizer. Over time, they resurface the skin and promote a healthy radiance, and on application, they're a glowy skin lovers' dream.
Containing 17 fruits and vitamins and antioxidant CoQ10, this is a toner to try if you live in a climate with harsh air quality and worry your skin is being affected by environmental stressors like pollution. It also moisturizes and balances the skin, leaving you with bright, supple, and smooth skin. This mist would also be ideal for traveling when your skin usually gets dry and dull after sitting on an airplane for hours.
Those with sensitive skin often deal with a damaged skin barrier from using certain products (namely too many exfoliants). This can cause dehydration, acne, congestion, and more. Moon Glow Milky Toning Lotion helps rebuild the skin barrier, nourish, and soothe skin.
Combination skin knows the struggle of needing mattifying products on half of their face and the glowiest on the other half, but what they really need is a product that will balance moisture levels and reduce oil production in the areas that it's too much. This toner will keep you looking glowy but never greasy, thanks to witch hazel, zinc PCA, green tea water, and oil capsules that seal in all that extra hydration without wreaking havoc to your T-zone.
This is one of Sephora's best-selling toners, and reviewers swear up and down that it works. It contains a high-potency AHA to exfoliate dead skin and reveal clearer, brighter skin, ultimately reducing dark spots. Because it's a high-concentration of AHA, you'll only need to use this a few times a week to see noticeable results.