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Thanks to newer formulations, skin toner today isn’t the astringent artifact of your teenage years that you remember in burning, stinging detail. Nor is it a frivolous skincare accoutrement (though some toners do overpromise). Somewhere between plain water and an essence, toners prep skin after cleansing by rebalancing pH and allowing later skincare products to permeate better. Nowadays, toners also come with a host of active ingredients to fight hyperpigmentation, smooth out texture, melt away dry patches, and even brighten. To help you choose the right one, we’ve rounded up the top toners, from a multitasking pick for oily skin to a cult classic whose pungent smell (and results) will make you do a double take.
Best Overall: Acwell Licorice Toner
Waiting lists usually indicate hype more than anything, but this toner has sold out over and over again for good reason. Overall, it preps skin incredibly well for everything you’re layering on top. This brightening, soothing, moisturizing toner relies on a mix of licorice, peony, and green tea extracts to clarify and plump up skin.
The consistency is slightly sticky, but on the watery side. It absorbs within seconds, depending on how dry your skin is, and leaves no film. Besides the ingredient list, the Acwell toner’s low pH level is also of interest: Ideally, skin hovers at a pH level of 5.5 (making it acidic), which helps fight bacteria and other contaminants. The Acwell toner rebalances skin’s pH after cleansing to bring it back to this state. Sweep away grime and impurities with a cotton pad, or pat on with your hands if you’re not in the business of wasting product.
Best Budget: The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution
This gentle acid toner fulfills two important criteria: It works very well without odd side effects, and you can snag it for a bargain. The Ordinary’s Glycolic Acid Toning Solution comes in a generous 240 mL size (the Acwell toner, to compare, is 150 mL) with an equally appealing ingredient list.
Glycolic acid, a gentle alpha hydroxy acids, sloughs off dead skin cells, which leaves skin glowing without aggressive peeling. Its tiny molecule size allows it to penetrate deeper into skin, which is why it’s so effective. This, plus circulation-boosting ginseng, boosts radiance, clarifies skin tone, and refines texture. As with any other acid toner, make sure to wear sunscreen, even if you apply the toner at night.
Best Drugstore Option: Pixi Skintreats Glow Tonic
On the other hand, the Pixi Glow Tonic, another (pricier) glycolic acid toner, comes in a slightly better formulation. The peach-colored Glow Tonic comes in a simple plastic bottle with gold lettering that makes the toner feel a little fancier than the usual drugstore fare. The solution itself leans on the watery side. Despite the glycolic acid, the Glow Tonic is gentle enough to be mistaken for a regular toner. After the initial tingling dissipates, that’s it. There’s no rawness or dry flakes, only softer, brighter skin.
The Glow Tonic also suits most people. It’s hydrating enough for dry skin, gentle enough for those new to using acids, and effective enough for skincare enthusiasts who maybe picked it up on impulse. A note of caution: The Glow Tonic is still an acid toner. Avoid layering with retinoids or other acids to ward off irritation.
Best for Oily Skin: Son & Park Beauty Water
The multitasking Beauty Water acts as a cleansing water, gentle (emphasis on gentle) exfoliant, and cleanup crew for eyeliner gone awry, but it’s most helpful as a toner for oily skin. Running very watery, the lightweight Beauty Water wipes away dirt and oil without stripping skin.
The solution does contain willow bark, a source of salicylic acid, and papaya extract to dissolve dead skin, but don’t expect the Beauty Water to have the same firepower as proper acid toners—it’s formulated to prep skin, not exfoliate. In fact, it’s better as a pre-acid toner, since it helps lower skin’s pH to prepare for exfoliation. Wipe off your face right when you get home (helpful if you live in cities, for example), or after cleansing for one final pass before serums and makeup.
Best for Dry Skin: Earth Recipe Energy-Boosting Toner
This Korean toner really only does one thing and one thing only—hydrate—but it does so very, very well. It acts as a moisture magnet, which anyone dealing with dry, flaky skin will appreciate. The Energy-Boosting Toner contains tremella mushroom, otherwise known as snow mushroom, a fluffy white fungus that can hold 500 times its weight in water. Glycerin and butylene glycol feature high on the ingredient list as additional humectants that deliver a swift dose of moisture.
The essence-like, silky consistency sinks into skin with a slight, satisfying tackiness. By melting away dry patches and plumping up dehydrated skin, this toner goes a long way toward prepping skin for the day. There is a faint herbal scent, but it doesn’t linger. Since the goal is hydration, pat on directly to your face.
Best for Acne-Prone Skin: Benton AHA Aloe Toner
One look at this toner’s ingredient list should win you over. it’s comprised of soothing, hydrating, skin-repairing actives rarely seen all together. The first ingredient, aloe barbadensis, contains vitamins A, C, and E, and fatty acids to help fight redness and acne. You might recognize the others: Hyaluronic acid, salicylic acid (a skin-clearing BHA that’s also anti-inflammatory), and snail mucin: a sticky secretion full of proteins and antioxidants that’s also helpful in treating acne.
The Aloe Toner has one shortcoming: A formula that’s slightly thicker than water and dispensed through a spray bottle. However, that’s a small trade-off for a soothing toner and a gentle BHA that treats acne and redness. The Benton AHA Aloe Toner shouldn’t interact with retinoids in your routine, but you can rotate the toner to be cautious.
Best for Mature Skin: Biologique Recherche Lotion P50
Given the extensive amount of writing about the Lotion P50, it’s tempting to say it’s overhyped, but it’s a cult classic for a reason. The Lotion P50 is known for its awful smell which, paradoxically, underpins a rite of passage. Once fans see the results, they quickly get past the odor. Oddly enough, the Lotion P50 isn’t necessarily a toner — it’s just often used as one. In any case, it regulates pH, hydrates, controls sebum, and brightens thanks to a potent mix of AHAs and BHAs, plus onion and vinegar. The spa-only P50 comes in seven versions. It does take some research to pick the right version.
The original version, “1970,” and the gentler reformulation both come in three strengths. The seventh version targets hyperpigmentation in sensitive skin. If you’re still lost, you can get your skin assessed at Rescue Spa, or fill out a form online.
All seven versions come in a rounded, pearly white tube, with a label printed in sparse computer-font lettering. Purists love the original 1970 version precisely because it’s the most aggressive. If you opt for the 1970, prepare for stinging (which goes away), a little heat, and of course the pungent fumes. Apply with a cotton pad as you would any other acid toner.
Our writers spent 40 hours researching the most popular toners on the market. Before making their final recommendations, they considered 16 different toners overall, screened options from 15 different brands and manufacturers, read over 60 user reviews (both positive and negative), and tested 3 of the toners themselves. All of this research adds up to recommendations you can trust.