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Recently, we've fallen back in love with toners here at Byrdie HQ. It's not that we ever stopped loving them, per se, but considering the movement toward serums, oils, and other dreamy elixirs that promise to gift us with fairy-kissed skin…well, forgive us if we neglected to give our once basic toner the love it deserved. Although, mind you, our favorite toners these days are anything but basic (or rough on the skin). “The newest generation of toners are less harsh than traditional formulas and can be either hydrating or exfoliating, but either way improves the skin’s moisture barrier rather than strip it,” explains New York City board-certified dermatologist Dr. Hadley King.
Essential for nixing any lingering leftovers post-cleanse, rebalancing moisture and pH levels, and improving the results of proceeding skincare products, toners are pivotal for achieving a healthy and radiant complexion. Therefore, we've been dedicating more of our time and energy to the topic, dishing up the best toners for oily skin and the best alcohol-free toners. (You're welcome.) Yet, there's one major area we still have yet to cover: the blessed drugstore (i.e., ultra-affordable) variety.
Keep reading for the best drugstore toners that won't break the bank.
Best Overall: Thayers Alcohol-Free Rose Petal Witch Hazel Facial Toner
A true classic, this rose petal–infused drugstore toner is a dream for those with sensitive and dry skin. Free of alcohol, it will never irritate or overdry, and thanks to a helpful dose of organic aloe vera, it feels oh so soothing after a long day at the office or outside in the sun. The brand has been around since 1874, so clearly, they’re doing something right. King is a fan of the entire line, noting that they use high-quality, naturally-sourced ingredients, including the organic witch hazel, an astringent that’s the hero ingredient in all of their toners, this one included.
Best for Oily Skin: Dickinson's Original Witch Hazel Pore Perfecting Toner
This brand offers countless different takes on toner, but this original can’t be beaten, particularly if you have oily skin. The brand has relied on the same witch hazel formula since 1866, using a unique distilled kind of witch hazel that removes impurities without diluting it. Translation? The ingredient is more effective than ever at removing excess oil. This toner is also fragrance-free and consistently pulls in tons of five-star reviews from loyal customers.
Best for Dry Skin: Garnier SkinActive Hydrating Facial Mist with Aloe Juice
Okay, this may be called a mist, but for all intents and purposes, you can use it just as you would a toner (although you don’t even need a cotton pad to swipe it on, just spritz and go!). Made with 99% naturally-derived ingredients (and no parabens, dyes, silicones, or sulfates), it uses aloe juice to deeply hydrate dry skin. Best of all, you can use it post-cleansing (it creates a great base for makeup), post-makeup to help set it, or anytime throughout the day when your complexion needs a quick pick-me-up.
Best for Sensitive Skin: Simple Skincare Kind to Skin Soothing Facial Toner
Allantoin, also known as aluminum dihydroxy allantoinate, is an extract from the comfrey plant (which is native to temperate climates of Asia and Europe). It has potent healing and soothing properties, and may also help exfoliate the skin.
This checks all of the important criteria to look for when choosing a product for sensitive skin. It’s free of drying alcohol and potentially-irritating fragrance, and contains soothing and good-for-your-skin ingredients, namely soothing chamomile extract, softening allantoin, and restorative pro-vitamin B5. Made with triple-purified water to hydrate skin and better prep it for moisturizer, it also contains witch hazel to help absorb any excess oil.
Best Exfoliating Formula: Pixi Glow Tonic
Aloe vera is a naturally derived ingredient known for its soothing and moisturizing properties. The aloe plant's inner gel mucilage (the part that's used in skin care products) is made up of 99.5% water.
This toner has a cult-like following, and for good reason. Not only do you get the astringent benefits of witch hazel and the soothing benefits of aloe vera, but this also has the distinction of containing a five percent concentration of glycolic acid. With continued use, that glycolic acid helps dissolve dead skin cells, leaving your skin looking brighter, radiant, more glowy…you get the picture.
Still, because the glycolic acid in here has already been partially neutralized, there’s no need to worry about the potential for any kind of unsightly irritation. Happy customers comment on how amazing and bright it makes their skin look, especially after using it for a while.
Best Natural Formula: Burt's Bees Rosewater Toner
Glycerin is a naturally occurring compound in the body; in topical skincare, it is derived from plants. It functions to draw water to the skin and continue hydrating it, making it a great ingredient for extreme dryness.
The brand may be known for their classic lip balm, but amidst their skincare offerings this one stands out. It’s hard to find a toner more natural than this one, which is 99.9 percent natural, to get specific.
While it does contain some witch hazel, it actually uses rosewater for its mild astringent properties (bonus points for giving it a light floral scent, too). Aloe vera and glycerin soothe and hydrate, leaving your skin feeling completely fresh and clean, but somehow supremely soft at the same time.
Best All-in-One: Garnier SkinActive Micellar Cleansing Water
Underperforming in price (that's a good thing) and overperforming in effectiveness and quality, Garnier's cult-favorite micellar water is an essential, do-it-all antidote for the woes of every skin type—even the finicky. Whether you need a refresh after the gym, an extra step to lift away makeup post-cleanse, or just a soothing pick-me-up around 3 p.m. (when that stress sweat seems to kick in), this best-of-the-best drugstore toner from Garnier has your back.
Best for All Skin Types: Botanics All Bright Cleansing Toner
Formulated with natural AHAs from the hibiscus plant, this toner helps to gently exfoliate and clarify the skin by sweeping away inactive cells and removing debris. If the exfoliating part has you nervous, know that it's safe enough for all skin types to use.
Best Organic: S.W. Basics Toner
A longtime editor favorite, this back-to-basics (sorry, couldn't resist) toner features a straightforward ingredient list for straightforward results: water + raw apple cider vinegar + witch hazel + clary sage + sandalwood = a bright, balanced, blemish-free complexion. Plus, it also happens to be organic.
Best for Large Pores: Found Pore Care White Clay Toning Spray
We already wrote an ode to this all-natural drugstore brand (yes, we're just that obsessed), and this pore-refining toner just so happens to be one of the line's must-have skincare standouts. Boasting white clay (to tame oil) and willow bark and lemongrass (to tone and balance), it has the makings and efficacy of toner 10 times the price.
Best Brightening: Mele Refresh Even Tone Post Cleanse Facial Tonic
This is King’s choice for those looking to combat dark spots, particularly those with darker skin tones. (Hyperpigmentation is a common concern for those with deeper complexions.) “It contains lactic acid to gently exfoliate and hydrate, and vitamin C to brighten. Plus, it's free of alcohol, parabens, sulfates, phthalates, and mineral oil,” she explains.
Toners are back in a big way and there are plenty of great, affordable options to be found at the drugstore. The Thayers Alcohol-Free Rose Petal Witch Hazel Facial Toner is the best of the best, a cult-classic, gentle, balancing formula that won’t strip your skin. Toners are especially great for those with oily skin; Dickinson’s Original Witch Hazel Pore Perfecting Toner is ideal in this scenario. And yes, you can use a toner even if you have dry and/or sensitive skin. Both the Garnier SkinActive Hydrating Facial Mist with Aloe Juice and Simple Skincare Kind To Skin Soothing Facial Toner check all the gentle, non-irritating, hydrating toner boxes.
What to Look For in a Drugstore Toner
“If you have oily or acne-prone skin, look for a toner that contains salicylic acid, as it can penetrate pores and remove excess oil,” says King.
AHAs, specifically glycolic and lactic acids, are King’s pick for those who want a more glowing complexion; they gently dissolve cells that dull your skin, she says.
If your skin is dry, King recommends seeking out these two humectants, lightweight ingredients that will attract moisture and trap it in the skin.
Why Trust Byrdie?
Byrdie contributor Melanie Rud has over a decade of experience in the beauty industry, writing for some of the biggest magazines and websites out there. She recently re-discovered the magic of toners and loves using one, especially when her skin is feeling slick or requires a little extra cleansing.
Meet the Expert
Dr. Hadley King is a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. She is also a Clinical Instructor of Dermatology at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University and specializes in both medical and cosmetic dermatology.
According to our Diversity Pledge, 15% of products in our newly-published market roundups will feature Black-owned and/or Black-founded brands. At the time of publishing, we were not able to find any drugstore toners from a Black-owned and/or Black-founded business. If you know of one we should consider, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will evaluate the product ASAP.