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When it comes to remedying dry and dehydrated skin, you might not think of toner—but it's time you should. The uses for toner are varied and help to target skin concerns that go beyond acne and oiliness. In fact, adding that one extra step to your skincare routine can make a real and visible difference in the moisture levels of the skin. That is—if you're using the right formula.
A new crop of toners on the market promise all kinds of different skincare benefits, including, you guessed it, hydration. “Traditionally, toners used to be very drying due to the alcohol and astringents that remove oil from the skin. Newer astringents used in many of today’s formulas are meant to prep your skin to receive active ingredients by restoring its natural acidic state and adding hydration to improve their penetration,” explains Dr. Jessie Cheung, a dermatologist in Willowbrook, IL.
The key is to seek out formulas that are first and foremost alcohol-free since, as mentioned, alcohol can be extremely drying (especially for skin that already tends towards dryness). Next, look for hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid, glycerin, rosewater, or aloe—they'll work to add moisture back in while balancing skin tone.
Read on for the best toners for dry skin.
Best Overall: Fresh Rose & Hyaluronic Acid Deep Hydration Toner
Not only is this crowd-favorite alcohol-free, but it also uses a gentle rose fruit extract for toning purposes, rather than some of the more astringent ingredients found in other formulas. On the hydrating side of things, rosewater and rose flower oil (there are even real rose petals in the bottle!) soothe and nourish, while hyaluronic acid also does some heavy hydration lifting. So much so that, according to the results of a clinical study, it increased hydration by an impressive 46% for six hours after application.
Best Budget: Dickinson's Enhanced Witch Hazel Hydrating Toner with Rosewater
From one of the OG toner brands comes this new hydrating option, infused with hyaluronic acid and vitamin E. Not only is it alcohol-free, but it also doesn’t contain any sulfates, soaps, or dyes (all things which can also potentially exacerbate dryness). Plus, the exclusive natural witch hazel plants Dickinson uses in all of their products are distilled for purity, and not diluted like some of the other witch hazel out there, to help ensure maximum potency and efficacy.
Best Drugstore: Garnier SkinActive Hydrating Facial Mist with Aloe Juice
Made with 99% natural ingredients, this toner relies on aloe juice for a deep hit of instant hydration. The formula works in a multitude of different ways—use it post-moisturizer and pre-makeup for an extra boost of moisture, on top of makeup to help set your look, or as a quick pick-me-up anytime your skin feels a little dry or lackluster throughout the day. Bonus points for the spray-on format that requires no cotton pads.
Best Splurge: SK-II Facial Treatment Clear Lotion Skin Toner
This SK-II toner contains AHAs to gently exfoliate dead and dry skin away from the surface of the skin, while vitamins, minerals, and amino acids nourish what's underneath. It's on the expensive side, but the benefits make it well worth it.
Best Classic: Kiehl's Ultra Facial Toner
This tried-and-true product gently exfoliates so serums and moisturizers can penetrate deeper and work more effectively. What's more is that it's pH-balanced, which results in comfortable, hydrated skin. Fans refer to it as a "holy-grail toner"— which makes sense considering it's one of the brand's most popular products. Cheung is a fan, too: “It’s both alcohol-free and has hydrating and soothing botanical extracts, such as avocado oil, apricot kernel oil, and sweet almond oil,” she says.
Best for Sensitive Skin: Renee Rouleau Moisture Infusion Toner
We get it, a toner isn’t necessarily the first product you think of for sensitive skin. This particular formula, however, definitely deserves a spot in your routine. A favorite of Byrdie Senior Editor Lindsey Metrus, it’s free of alcohol and other potential irritants (most importantly), but it’s also chock-full of soothing vitamins and fatty acids that work to both hydrate and tamp down redness (it’s even a good option for rosacea-sufferers).
Try using it along with a retinoid to help tamp down unsightly side effects like dryness and peeling.
Best Exfoliating: Bolden Brightening Glycolic Acid Toner
For those who want their toner to do more than just hydrate, this pick is choice. As the name suggests, it touts glycolic acid to dissolve away dead cells and leave skin looking generally brighter and more radiant. And while yes, glycolic acid is great for oily skin types, it’s also a unique ingredient that actually doubles as a humectant, attracting moisture to the skin. There’s also soothing and skin barrier-strengthening niacinamide in this formula, too.
Best for Soothing: First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Wild Oat Hydrating Toner
Hyaluronic acid is a naturally occurring polysaccharide found in the human body. It acts as a cushioning and lubrication agent for our joints, nerves, hair, skin, and eyes. When used in skincare, it acts as a moisture binder, which means that it will attach itself to the water in the cells (while also attracting and holding water from the air) giving them a plumping effect.
The star of the show here are oats, an ingredient that's well-known for its incredible soothing effects. Namely, there are wild oats, hydrating oat milk, and colloidal oats (an ingredient that's even used to address eczema)—all of which help to calm stressed or irritated skin. Plus, honey and hyaluronic acid in the formula impart plenty of hydration, too.
Best Natural: Indie Lee CoQ-10 Toner
Alcohol-, paraben-, and silicone-free, this clean option boasts a minimal ingredient list packed with well-known hydrating ingredients like aloe vera and hyaluronic acid. But perhaps even more noteworthy is the fact that it also contains powerful antioxidants (including the powerhouse extract, CoQ-10) to give your skin an extra layer of protection from damaging free radicals every time you use it. Now, that's always a good thing in our book.
Best Toning Lotion: Chanel Hydra Beauty Lotion
Toning lotions straddle the line between, well, toners and lotions, creamier than traditional toners but still with their same lightweight consistency. Not surprisingly, they’re a great option for dry skin, and this is one of our faves. It goes on almost like a gel (and can be applied either with your fingertips or a cotton pad) but quickly transforms into a water-like texture that instantly soaks into your complexion. At work is the brand’s magnetic water complex that attracts, captures, and retains hydration. The subtle, fresh scent is just an added bonus.
Best Mist: Pholk Beauty Honeysuckle Rose Face Mist
Part refreshing mist, part hydrating toner, this is the perfect choice when you need a quick hit of hydration anytime, anywhere. Honeysuckle both hydrates and helps keep pores clear (always a good thing), while rose soothes any irritation (and imparts a lovely scent). Try spritzing it directly onto your face if you just need a little bit of moisture, or spray it onto cotton pads and press it into the skin if you need more.
Best for Very Dry Skin: Versed Baby Cheeks Hydrating Milk Toner
If your skin is super parched, this pick can’t be beaten. A coconut water and algae base make it even more hydrating than most toners. As an added benefit, it works not only as a toner but also as a makeup remover and cleanser, too. (For maximum moisture, we like using it to remove makeup, and then we apply it again after washing with a creamy cleanser). Either way, it leaves your complexion beautifully soft and plumped.
Yes, you can use a toner if you have dry skin. The Fresh Rose Deep Hydration Facial Toner is a must-try, proven to increase skin hydration for hours on end, thanks to the addition of hyaluronic acid. We also love the moisturizing, multi-tasking, and very affordable Garnier SkinActive Hydrating Facial Mist with Aloe Juice, and the Renee Rouleau Moisture Infusion Toner, which is also great if you have sensitive skin. To that point, if your skin is already irritated or stressed out, try the mega-calming First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Wild Oat Hydrating Toner.
What To Look For In a Toner For Dry Skin
While alcohol isn’t necessarily a no-no in a toner if you have oily skin, it definitely is if you have dry skin, as it can be way too harsh and stripping.
Toners traditionally haven’t been thought of as a hydrating product, but these days they can be and are a great way to impart an extra hit of moisture into your skin even before you reach for moisturizer. Cheung recommends looking for formulas that contain ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, glycerin, panthenol, and squalane.
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. As someone who has extremely dry skin, she’s very familiar with all of the products for dry skin out there, toners included.
Meet the Expert
Dr. Jessie Cheung is a dermatologist in Willowbrook, IL. She has advanced experience with laser treatments and cosmetic dermatology, and takes a holistic approach in her practice, incorporating hormone optimization, sexual health, and regenerative medicine.