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A toner may seem like a skippable step in your skincare routine, but if you’re not yet using one, it might be worth considering doing so. Forget any preconceived notions about toner you may have from your pre-teen days; today's formulas are more advanced than ever, boasting a litany of skin benefits. (To answer your burning Q, no, toners are no longer just good for oily skin.)
Straddling the line between the cleansing and treatment step in your routine, a toner is a great way to both ensure your complexion is totally clean and give it an extra dose of active ingredients.
Ready to try one? Check out our list of the best toners, below.
Best Overall: Laneige Essential Power Skin Toner
While you can definitely find a toner tailored to your specific skin needs, this do-it-all is a top choice to simultaneously address all issues. Birch sap and mineral water impart plenty of hydration, though it also gently exfoliates. Another plus: There are two variants, one for normal to dry and one for oily to combination skin.
Best Drugstore: Dickinson's Enhanced Witch Hazel Hydrating Toner with Rosewater
Pick up this guy during your next trip to the drugstore. Consider it a slightly more mild version of the OG version (which has been around since 1866, NBD). It still boasts a potent concentration of witch hazel for purifying and oil-absorbing purposes but is alcohol-free to avoid the potential for any unnecessary dryness. On top of that, there’s also hyaluronic acid and vitamin E to keep skin nice and soft.
Best Budget: The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution
At less than the cost of lunch, this exfoliating toner would be a steal, to begin with, but because you’re also getting a jumbo, 240 mL size, you’re really doing your wallet a favor. Not to mention that it contains glycolic acid, one of the best exfoliating alpha-hydroxy acids there is, to remove dead skin cells and leave your complexion radiant. FYI, it is potent though, so use it just once daily, ideally at night.
Best for Large Pores: Paula's Choice Skincare Skin Balancing Pore-Reducing Toner
Here’s the bad news: You can’t change the actual size of your pores. The good news? You can make them look smaller and less noticeable by clearing out the gunk and grime that gets lodged inside them, stretching them out, and making them appear more prominent. For that, this toner is king. It helps to keep pores clear, while also boasting plenty of soothing ingredients to tamp down any redness in the process. “I like this toner because of its ability to clear out excess sebum and dirt from the pore, but is also gentle enough for those who have sensitive skin,” says Dr. Lucy Chen, a board-certified dermatologist at Riverchase Dermatology. A bonus? “The addition of niacinamide can help minimize hyperpigmentation, wrinkles and protect against free radicals,” she says.
Best for Sensitive Skin: Renee Rouleau Moisture Infusion Toner
If you’re dealing with redness and/or irritation, you may instinctually want to avoid a toner, but go ahead and try this one, on the recommendation of Byrdie Senior Editor Lindsey Metrus. Packed with essential fatty acids plus soothing botanicals and vitamins, it quells redness and calms skin with each swipe; it’s even a good option if you have rosacea. The formula is also great to use if you’re just getting started on a retinoid, as it can help minimize the likelihood of ending up irritation, notes Chen, who’s also a fan and agrees that it’s choice for those with sensitive skin.
Best for Oily Skin: Milk Makeup Matcha Toner
The star of the show here is matcha, which helps to detoxify and purify pores, always a major boon for those with oily skin. Kombucha and witch hazel further absorb unwanted, excess oil, and we’d be remiss not to mention the fact that this is a unique solid formula. That’s right, it’s a gel-based toner-in-a-stick, ideal not only for travel, but also to keep on-hand and swipe across any slick spots that crop up throughout the day.
Best for Dry Skin: Versed Baby Cheeks Hydrating Milk Toner
The name alone immediately gives you an indication as to how moisturizing this is. Cleansing milk, makeup remover, and hydrating toner all in one, it boasts coconut water to impart plenty of moisture. You could definitely use it instead of face wash, but we like using it before and/or after to make sure the skin stays well-hydrated during the cleansing process.
Best for Combination Skin: Isla Beauty Tone Balance Elixir
Byrdie’s Editorial Director Faith Xue is a fan of this toner: “It has witch hazel to brighten and smooth skin texture, and helps with my breakouts,” she says. It’s a great pick if your skin jumps around between dry and oily, given that it both hydrates and controls oil production. Bonus points for the fact that 100% of the ingredients are from natural origin.
Best for Acne-Prone Skin: La Roche-Posay Effaclar Clarifying Solution Acne Toner
A toner can be an invaluable tool in your battle against blemishes. The key is choosing the right one that will target excess oil and keep pores clear, without over-drying your skin (and ironically end up triggering more oil and breakouts). Enter this guy, which relies on a minimal-yet-effective amount of salicylic acid to dissolve oil and prevent pore clogging, plus exfoliating glycolic acid. It’s a pairing that effectively wards off and treats blackheads, whiteheads, and pimples.
Best Exfoliating: Then I Met You Birch Milk Refining Toner
PHAs (poly-hydroxy acids) fall under the AHA family. They are much larger in size compared to the more common AHAs like glycolic and lactic acid. They're used commonly for their exfoliating, skin smoothing, moisturizing, and anti-aging benefits.
This formula, another one of Xue’s faves, boasts AHAs and the less-often used (though equally great) PHAs, polyhydroxy acids. It’s great for both brightening, minimizing the look of pores, and gently buffing off dull, dead skin. Plus, along with those exfoliating acids, it also contains soothing marshmallow root extract and squalane to combat irritation.
Best for Hyperpigmentation: Bolden Brightening Glycolic Acid Toner
No matter whether your dark marks are from sun damage or leftover acne scarring, this powerhouse pairing of glycolic acid and a ton of antioxidants can help even out your skin tone. There’s also licorice root extract in the mix, a well-known hyperpigmentation fighter, along with niacinamide to soothe any irritation.
Best Anti-Aging: Environ Youth Essentia-A Peptide Toner
For those looking to keep skin youthful, sure, serums and night creams are important, but why not choose a toner with youth-boosting benefits, too? This one fits the bill, full of a combination of peptides known for increasing skin’s elasticity and firmness, as well as antioxidants and exfoliating ingredients to keep your complexion youthful and glowing.
Best K-Beauty: Acwell Licorice Toner
The K-beauty skincare routine is well-known for having 10 extensive steps, and you better believe toner is one of them. Take a page from that book and try this K-beauty superstar, which has sold out and had a lengthy waitlist time and time again. It’s worth the hype, brightening, soothing, and moisturizing, thanks to ingredients such as peony extract, licorice water, and green tea. Also noteworthy is its slightly acidic pH, which helps ward off bacteria and help rebalance skin post-cleansing.
Best Classic: Biologique Recherche Lotion P50
Byrdie Senior Editor Hallie Gould (and about a bajillion other people) rave about this cult-favorite. Make no mistake, it’s definitely not like a traditional lotion, though it technically really isn’t considered a toner either. Still, it functions in the same manner and is often used as one, given that it brightens, hydrates, and balances pH. Keep in mind that the distinct scent is, well, distinct—there’s onion in the formula—but devoted fans quickly move past it once they see firsthand how well it works.
Best 2-in-1: Temple Zen Facial Cleanser + Toner
Eucalyptus oil is an essential oil distilled from the leaf of an evergreen tree native to Australia but can also be found in other parts of the world. It's commonly used to help alleviate chest congestion and ease cold symptoms, though in skincare, it eases inflammation and promotes moisturization.
This product doesn't just tone your skin—it acts as a cleanser too. Its refreshing formula—featuring witch hazel, eucalyptus, and rosemary essential oil—works double-time to cleanse impurities, remove any traces of makeup or grime, and balance oil production (making it especially great for those with oily skin). An added perk is that menthol vapors from the eucalyptus oil help clear your sinuses.
If you haven’t yet hopped on the toner train, you really should; there’s an option out there to suit every skin type and need. The Laneige Essential Power Skin Toner is a universal fool-proof option, a multi-tasker that works for pretty much everyone. (The Dickinson’s Enhanced Witch Hazel Hydrating Toner is an equally great failsafe, available at the drugstore.) Oily skin types can definitely benefit from using a toner, specifically the Milk Makeup Matcha Toner, which is great at absorbing excess oil. On the flip side, if your skin is dry or sensitive make sure you choose a hydrating or calming formula; the Renee Rouleau Moisture Infusion Toner and Versed Baby Cheeks Hydrating Milk Toner both fit the bill.
What to Look For In a Toner
According to Chen, you’ll want to seek out ingredients based on your particular skin type and complexion concerns. Below, a few general suggestions:
This beta-hydroxy acid, which helps dissolve oil, is ideal if you have oily or acne-prone skin, says Chen.
Dealing with discoloration? Chen recommends using a toner that contains this alpha-hydroxy acid, a gentle chemical exfoliant that can improve both the tone and texture of your skin.
You can still use a toner if you have dry and/or sensitive skin; the key is to make sure the formula contains hydrating and soothing ingredients. Chen says that niacinamide checks both of those boxes, hydrating and calming the skin.
What does toner do for your skin?
Toners act as another level of cleansing, deep cleaning pores and effectively removing dirt, oil, makeup, and other pollutants, says Chen. Many contain exfoliating acids, which also help to smooth the skin.
How do you apply toner?
“Toner should be applied after cleansing the face but before applying moisturizers or serums,” explains Chen. Pat your face dry, then soak a cotton ball or pad with the toner and lightly apply to both your face and neck, she says.
When applying a toner, try pressing it gently into skin with your fingertips, rather than using a cotton pad, which soaks up more of the liquid than it actually delivers.
Why Trust Us?
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. After years of being wary of toners, she recently rediscovered how incredible they can really be.
Meet the Expert
Dr. Lucy Chen is a board-certified dermatologist at Riverchase Dermatology in Miami, FL. She specializes in Mohs surgery, as well as skincare services and chronic skin conditions.