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Throwing together your own skin care routine can make you feel like a mad scientist.
Maybe you’ve heard of toner, but you low-key may have no idea what it even is and what in the world it’s supposed to do. That’s where we come in.
Toners may seem optional but they’re actually super useful. After you’re done cleansing, toner swoops in for a double-down moment — getting you an even deeper clean, prepping, and soothing your skin for the next step in your lineup.
This means whatever active ingredients are in your favorite products, toner will make sure they soak in even better (which is, OFC, very appreciated).
There’s pretty much one for every skin type too. Keep scrolling for our roundup of the best ones and to see what a couple of board-certified derms had to tell us about using toners.
The best facial toners
- Best for glowing skin: MELÉ Even Tone Post Cleanse Tonic
- Best for maskne: ZO Skin Health Complexion Renewal Pads
- Best for pores: Paula’s Choice Skin Balancing Pore-Reducing Toner
- Best witch hazel: Thayers Natural Remedies Unscented Facial Toner
- Best exfoliating: The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution
- Best for acne: La Roche-Posay Effaclar Clarifying Solution Acne Toner
- Best more expensive option for acne: Dr. Hauschka Clarifying Toner
- Best for sensitive skin: ZO Skin Health Calming Toner
- Best herbal: Kiehl’s Calendula Herbal-Extract Toner
- Best for oily skin: The Body Shop Tea Tree Skin Clearing Mattifying Toner
- Best for using with makeup: Renee Rouleau Moisture Infusion Toner
- Best for hyperpigmentation: Bolden Brightening Glycolic Acid Toner
- Best for dry skin: Dickinson’s Witch Hazel Toner
- Best for combination skin: Isla Beauty Tone Balance Elixir
So, we mentioned toner loves to get you a super deep clean and get your skin ready for what’s next. But we chatted with some derms to give you more dirty (or, should we say, super clean) deets.
Dr. Anna Guanche is a board-certified dermatologist and dermatologic surgeon in Calabasas, California. (Some of her clients include celebs and supermodels, BTW.)
She says using a toner after washing your face with a cleanser gives you a deeper level of clean and preps your skin by removing any traces of residue and impurities your cleanser may leave behind.
Plus, Dr. Hadley King, a board-certified dermatologist in NYC, says toners can be either hydrating or exfoliating. “Even the ones with active exfoliating ingredients are still designed to contribute to the moisture barrier of the skin, not detract from it,” she says.
Guanche adds that toner also helps restore skin to its proper pH balance and depending on which one you pick, can add extra benefits to improve a variety of skin conditions (acne, hyperpigmentation, etc.).
When it comes to choosing any products, we always take a magnifying glass to reviews and brand reputations. We only recommend products that actual people love and that are made by brands known for making high quality products and having A+ business practices.
But skin care products deserve extra attention. When searching for the best, we scour for ideal key ingredients, keeping different skin needs in mind.
After digging into the latest research and talking with Guanche and King, we picked toners that included at least one (and oftentimes more) of these all-star ingredients:
- salicylic acid. Guanche says this is a beta hydroxy acid (BHA) and is an oil-soluble compound. It can penetrate your skin and improve oiliness, which is why it’s great for acne-prone and oily skin. King says oily or acne-prone skin types should look for a toner with salicylic acid or other exfoliating acids to dig into those pores and remove oil.
- lactic acid. This is an alpha hydroxy acid that’s fab at gently exfoliating the skin, according to Guanche. King adds that lactic acid and papaya extracts can also help minimize the appearance of pores.
- niacinamide. This baddie has a variety of beneficial properties for the skin including improving the look of enlarged pores, uneven skin tone, fine lines, and dullness, Guanche says.
- glycolic acid. Gunache says this is an alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) that works by breaking the bonds between the outer layer of skin cells to release the oldest ones, which can improve dullness and leave a bright, dewy look. It’s also good for acne-prone skin.
- hyaluronic acid. Guanche says this one helps to reduce the visibility of fine lines and wrinkles by attracting moisture to the skin, creating a plump and hydrated effect. This is also a good pick for dry skin.
- glycerin. Hydrating and soothing, this one is especially good for dry skin types, King explains. “If you have dry skin look for toners with hydrating ingredients like glycerin as well as hyaluronic acid, lecithin, aloe vera, and rose water,” she says.
- witch hazel. This one comes from a flowering plant and is known for soothing irritated skin, fighting acne, and shrinking pores. It’s helpful for people with oily skin but it’s still pretty frickin’ gentle at the same time.
- $ = under $20
- $$ = $20–$50
- $$$ = over $50
Best toner for glowing skin
- Price: $$
- Key ingredients: lactic acid, vitamin C
- Pros: good for dark skin tones
- Cons: contains fragrance, which can cause irritation for some people
- Size: 5-oz bottle
King recommends this toner, saying it’s a great choice for people with melanin-rich skin concerned about dark spots. She points out it has lactic acid to gently exfoliate and hydrate, and vitamin C to brighten (we love a multitasker).
This one is a big hit with Google reviewers who say it brightens and evens out their dull skin while also fading dark spots. This toner is also supposed to work especially well for dark skin tones.
It does contain fragrance though, so it’s not ideal for sensitive skin types or pregnant people — but for those who can handle fragrance, the scent is hella fresh.
FYI: This toner is free of alcohol, parabens, sulfates, phthalates, and mineral oil.
Best toner for maskne
- Price: $$$
- Key ingredients: glycolic acid, salicylic acid, botanical extract blend
- Pros: nondrying, convenient presoaked pads
- Cons: pricey and tingly
- Size: 60 pads per jar
There are few skin care woes more aggravating than maskne. You gotta wear your mask — but wearing it all day every day might really piss off your skin. We love these toner pads from Zo Skin Health because they’re ready to go on the go, so you can give your skin a quick refresh at any point throughout the day.
This kickass formula is nondrying, loaded with glycolic acid and salicylic acid for smoothing, brightening, and decongesting skin. It also has a blend of botanical extracts that the brand says have antioxidant benefits and get rid of redness.
Google reviewers are obsessed, pointing out how powerful but also gentle these pads are. Fair warning though, your skin may tingle the first few times you use them.
Best toner for pores
- Price: $$
- Key ingredients: niacinamide, hyaluronic acid, ceramides, chamomile and burdock root extracts
- Pros: tightens pores
- Cons: can be stripping if you overdo it
- Size: 6.4-oz bottle
If your skin is oily and your pores are mighty, this lightweight toner might be your guy.
This formula includes niacinamide, which we mentioned earlier is a known pore-shrinker but it can also get to work on fine lines, wrinkles, and dullness. Basically, when you get rid of the sh*t crammed in your pores, they look smaller. So this toner helps you clear those guys out.
This pick is also cruelty-free and made without fragrance or parabens.
I honestly didn’t believe in toners until I bought this one. I just really didn’t think they’d do anything for my combination, acne prone skin that I couldn’t get from a good cleanser or serum.
This toner truly does shrink the appearance of your pores and curb oil production (you can thank niacinamide for that). It’s really helped balance out my combo skin, which has helped nix breakouts, too.
I use it at night to make sure I’m getting off all of my tinted moisturizer (and I use Paula’s Choice 2% BHA liquid exfoliant in the morning — also a total game changer).
I 100 percent recommend for anyone with oily or combo skin. It’s def worth a shot — especially if you’re not currently using a toner at all.
Ruby Thompson, Market Editor
Best witch hazel toner
- Price: $
- Key ingredients: witch hazel, aloe vera
- Pros: natural, alcohol-free, huge bottle, great reviews
- Cons: no clinical evidence to support claims about the company’s witch hazel blend
- Size: 12-oz bottle
King is a fan of these vegan, alcohol-free toners (and no, she’s not affiliated with the brand).
She says they’re always free of all artificial fragrances, flavors, sweeteners, colors, and dyes. “They use high quality ingredients sourced from nature, are 100 percent cruelty-free, and do not use any animal ingredients — with the exception of beeswax.”
Plus, it’s made in the U.S., and is also:
We opted for the unscented choice for our list, keeping in mind people with skin sensitivity or allergies, but these are also available in scents like rose petal, lavender, coconut water, and cucumber.
Best exfoliating toner
- Price: $
- Key ingredients: glycolic acid, Tasmanian pepperberry
- Pros: affordable, large bottle, exfoliating
- Cons: strong, so avoid overuse
- Size: 8-oz bottle
Cruelty-free, vegan, and wildly affordable, this one uses glycolic acid to get to business exfoliating your skin. It also helps you say goodbye to dead skin and is supposed to help ease redness and improve texture over time.
It’s free of oil and alcohol, and is also free of:
- animal oils
- coal tar dyes
People LOVE this toner, noting gorg improvements to their complexion. One person even mentions that she uses it on her whole body before applying moisturizer post-shower (remember your SPF too though, ppl!).
Best toner for acne
- Price: $
- Key ingredients: salicylic acid, glycolic acid
- Pros: exfoliating, clarifying
- Cons: not cruelty-free, contains alcohol, which can cause irritation for some people
- Size: 6.7-oz bottle
Toner in general is nice for addressing acne (removing oil and impurities is obvi a big helper) but this one takes it a little further by battling blemishes, blackheads, and whiteheads with evidence-backed ingredients like salicylic acid and glycolic acid.
The company also says that its thermal spring water is naturally rich in minerals and selenium (an antioxidant).
Another bonus: It’s noncomedogenic, meaning it won’t clog pores (because hello, we’re out here trying to unclog them). Plus, the brand says this choice is safe for sensitive skin types.
It’s also fragrance-free, oil-free, and paraben-free. But it contains alcohol — which can be irritating to some people — and it’s not cruelty-free, which can be a major deal breaker for some.
Best more expensive toner for acne
- Price: $$
- Key ingredients: lactic acid, witch hazel, Calendula officinalis flower extract
- Pros: balances oily and acne-prone skin, cruelty-free
- Cons: contains alcohol, essential oils, and artificial fragrance, which can cause irritation for some people
- Size: 3.4-oz bottle
If you’re looking to clarify — aka zap those zits — and you have a few extra bucks to blow, this is a good pick for you. It’s made with acne blemishes and blackheads in mind and is also a solid choice for those with enlarged pores or oily/combo skin types.
It uses some natural ingredients like witch hazel and calendula — which the brand says helps soothe irritated skin — but also has lactic acid for some exfoliating action.
It’s also cruelty-free and paraben-free. BUT it does contain alcohol, essential oils, and artificial fragrance, so just a warning to our sensitive-skin peeps.
Best toner for sensitive skin
- Price: $$
- Key ingredients: witch hazel, hyaluronic acid, sodium PCA, panthenol
- Pros: soothing, hydrating
- Cons: contains artificial fragrance, which can cause irritation for some people
- Size: 6-oz bottle
Yes, ZO Skin Health lands on our list twice, and for good reason. This toner comes in a bottle (unlike the ZO toning pads we mentioned earlier) so you’ll have to apply it with a cotton pad/ball.
But the good news is this formula is made with sensitive skin in mind. It uses witch hazel to soothe irritated skin, hyaluronic acid for hydration, sodium PCA to help lock moisture into your skin, and panthenol (aka vitamin B5) — another hydrating ingredient that helps prevent skin irritation and stimulate skin regeneration.
Google reviews are impressed, calling it soothing and refreshing. One notes that she loves pairing this toner with redness-inducing retinol products to help soothe her skin. But some say the scent is too perfumy for their taste.
Best herbal toner
- Price: $$
- Key ingredients: calendula, allantoin, burdock root
- Pros: soothing, alcohol-free, gentle
- Cons: might not be a great choice for people with rosacea
- Size: 8.5-oz bottle
Calendula, allantoin, and burdock root are the key players with this toner — allow us to introduce you.
The brand says calendula extract and petals offer soothing properties and are commonly used for oily skin types. Allantoin is a compound found in the root of the comfrey plant and is also known to soothe and moisturize skin. Finally, great burdock root is used to moisturize dry skin as well as soothe (notice a trend here?) and help curb oil production.
Reviewers say it helps with acne and leaves their skin feeling clean and refreshed — though a few mention it aggravating rosacea.
Bonus: It’s made with recyclable packaging.
Best toner for oily skin
- Price: $
- Key ingredients: tea tree oil
- Pros: vegan, mattifies skin
- Cons: contains alcohol and essential oils, which can cause irritation for some people
- Size: 8.4-oz bottle
One of the more affordable on our list, this vegan toner is ideal for oily, acne-prone skin types. It’s supposed to help prevent oiliness (can we get an amen?) as well as soften and minimize pores.
A big ol’ heaping pile of Google reviewers say it works wonders for their blemishes, though some say it’s a bit drying and irritating — which is prob thanks to the addition of alcohol and essential oils.
P.S. This one is cruelty-free.
Best toner for using with makeup
- Price: $$
- Key ingredients: vitamin C, niacinamide, hyaluronic acid, panthenol, black cumin seed oil
- Pros: alcohol-free, can be used to prime makeup
- Cons: pricey
- Size: 6-oz bottle
This alcohol-free, cruelty-free toner wants you to know it can multitask. It gets the green light for dry, sensitive skin types but it can do more than tone.
The brand suggests trying it as a setting spray or makeup primer by pouring it into a spray bottle. Spray it on before makeup if you want to prime your skin or after if you want to set your makeup in place.
This is a nice choice if you’re hoping to see less redness on your face too (we’re talking to you, retinol users). This is thanks to panthenol (remember that hella soothing vitamin B5??) and black cumin seed oil — another anti-inflammatory ingredient.
Psst: It has niacinamide, which by now you know is bomb for helping out with dullness, fine lines, and wrinkles.
Best toner for hyperpigmentation
- Price: $$
- Key ingredients: witch hazel, glycolic acid, niacinamide, hyaluronic acid, panthenol, licorice root extract, algae extract
- Pros: helps with hyperpigmentation
- Cons: contains fragrance, which can cause irritation for some people
- Size: 7.5-oz bottle
Hello oily and acne-prone queens. Here’s another option for you that can also brighten you TF up and address hyperpigmentation concerns. That’s a tall order, right? This one has some promising reviews on her side though, with users noting major improvement.
Yes, it has some of our toner faves like glycolic acid, niacinamide, and hyaluronic acid, but it also adds licorice root and algae extract into the mix — two ingredients the brand says help reduce hyperpigmentation.
It does contain fragrance though, so it’s not ideal for skin types who hate that sort of thing.
Best toner for dry skin
- Price: $
- Key ingredients: witch hazel, vitamin E, hyaluronic acid
- Pros: affordable, huge bottle
- Cons: contains artificial fragrance, which can be irritating to some people
- Size: 16-oz bottle
This budget-friendly toner is alcohol-free, made from natural ingredients, and is easily found at most drug stores.
It’s formulated with vitamin E — an anti-inflammatory/antioxidant powerhouse — as well as hyaluronic acid and witch hazel extracts (some of our faves). It’s hella hydrating — every if you’re on a budget — and targets oiliness without being too drying.
It has over 26,000 Amazon ratings and slews of reviewers are in love with how affordable and effective it is. It also comes in a big ol’ bottle and is cruelty-free.
Best toner for combination skin
- Price: $$
- Key ingredients: glycerin, aloe leaf juice, vitamin E, botanical extracts
- Pros: firming
- Cons: is scented
- Size: 4.05-oz bottle
This pricey but hydrating toner zones in on skin’s firmness and texture. It’s supposed to be ideal for combo skin too. It’s a good choice for those looking for a toner made from 100 percent natural origins that still kicks ass with oil and manages to hydrate too (hello glycerin and aloe! thank you!).
Reviewers confirm how hydrating this toner manages to be while still curbing acne and oiliness. It’s also vegan and cruelty-free, BTW.
Toner formulas vary a lot from brand to brand. Obvi, avoid any ingredients that you may have had a reaction to in the past and ALWAYS make sure to read reviews to see how real customers feel about the formula and brand ahead of time.
Otherwise, the main thing you need to consider when shopping is your skin type.
Anti-aging and acne-prone skin
If you’re looking for anti-aging (or, as we like to say, pro-aging) benefits or a toner formulated for acne-prone skin, King says you can look for exfoliating ingredients like glycolic acid, lactic acid, and salicylic acid — but keep in mind that these are better tolerated by skin that’s not dry.
These active exfoliating ingredients can cause irritation for other skin types too, though: “If this happens you might consider changing to a different formulation or using this formulation less frequently. You can also follow this with soothing, hydrating, and moisturizing products.”
Dry or sensitive skin
If you have dry or sensitive skin, look for gentle, hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid, glycerin, and niacinamide.
It’s also a good idea to avoid alcohol-based toners (also called astringents).
“Some toners are alcohol-based and can be drying,” King says. “So I would avoid these if your skin is not oily.” These are best-known for cleansing, shrinking pores, and drying the sh*t out of oil. But as King points out, this can be very drying, especially for already dry skin types.
Oily or combination skin
People that constantly battle oiliness should look for salicylic acid and niacinamide. Salicylic acid helps clear out your pores and niacinamide helps curb oil production. And they’re really frickin’ good at it.
If you have combo skin, consider putting exfoliants like salicylic acid only on the oiliest parts of your face to avoid any irritation where you experience dryness or sensitivity. Niacinamide can go all over, though, since it’s a bad b*tch at moisturizing, too.
First of all, always do a patch test on your inner forearm before using new products to avoid any possible adverse reactions. It’s better to get a little redness on a small part of your inner forearm than to send your entire beautiful face into irritated hell.
Remember, toner comes after cleansing but before any other serums or moisturizers. Think of it as your forever step #2.
Applying it is easy peasy. Just soak some on a cotton ball or pad and gently swipe it over your face. Some brands offer pads already presoaked (like the ZO Skin Health pads on our list) which is a nice time-saver.
If you’re worried about saving the planet, consider getting some reusable cotton rounds like these that you can toss in the wash after each use.
You can also opt to use your fingers to apply the toner if you feel like cotton or reusable rounds steal too much of your precious product.
SPF > everything
It’s important to remember SPF every day anyway, but it’s especially true after you’re done using products with alpha-hydroxy acids (AHA) — namely glycolic acid, powerhouse chemical exfoliant. After using these ingredients, we are more vulnerable to the sun’s rays, so when you grab an AHA toner, make sure you’re grabbing your SPF next.
Toners work wonders for getting your face a deeper clean and all prepped and ready for your next products.
There are billions of them available for different skin types and at different price points. See if you can snag one perfect for your skin type and peep some added ingredients that may also help you multitask with other skin concerns (acne, oiliness, reducing signs of aging, etc.)
Some skin types might not react super well to certain ingredients, so make sure you know your skin type before hitting “add to cart.” (We have a handy guide you can check out here, too.)
Remember to patch test first to avoid any allergic reactions though and put on some SPF after you’re all done. Now get toning!
Our process and why you should trust us
We consulted with two dermatologists to get tips for choosing the best toners for different skin types and concerns. We used those tips to pick the products above.
Before writing about those products, we put them all through a thorough vetting process that checks for unsupported health claims (like “This toner gets rid of acne in one use!”), shady business practices, and lawsuits concerning a company’s products. We also checked that the main ingredients in each product are evidence-based and actually do what the company says they do.
After wrapping up our recommendations and tips, we sent this entire article to a second medical professional specializing in dermatology (in this case, Reema Patel, MPA, PA-C) for review.
So basically, you can feel good knowing that we put in WORK to get you these recommendations.