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All the beauty gurus out there blessed with sensitive skin, I'm right there with you. I'm still dealing with unsightly dark spots from using strong alcohol-based toners with other harsh ingredients that left my face itchy, inflamed, and stressed out. Not cute. I wouldn't wish that on anyone. So, to save ourselves from future skin agony, we should be cautious about the toners in our beauty arsenal.
Since there's a bit of confusion surrounding what toner actually does and whether it's a necessary step in your skincare routine, let's get the latter out of the way first: Yes, it can have real benefits. Now onto the product search. When specifically looking for gentle toners for your skin, which could be acne-prone or oil-prone, look for soothing ingredients that'll balance out your skin's pH level, like rose water, jojoba oil, and other vitamins. To help, though, we tapped top dermatologists to share their all-time favorite toners for sensitive skin.
Keep reading for the best toners for sensitive skin.
Best Overall: Paula's Choice Skin Recovery Enriched Calming Toner
Won't cause dryness or stinging
May irritate very sensitive skin
Who else recommends it? Good Housekeeping and PureWow both picked Paula's Choice Skin Recovery Calming Toner.
What do buyers say? 90% of 1,400+ Amazon reviewers rated this product 4 stars or above.
"Paula's Choice Skin Recovery Enriched Calming Toner is great for dry and sensitive skin," explains William Kwan, MD. "It contains antioxidants and niacinamide to help with fine lines and wrinkles. It can also help even out skin color on different skin tones."
Active Ingredients: Vitamin C, allantoin, niacinamide | Skin Type: Dry, balanced | Benefits: Hydrates, smooths | Size: 6.4 fl. oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best Budget: Dickinson's Enhanced Witch Hazel Hydrating Toner with Rosewater
Not overly drying
Skin feels clean
Fully removes product residue
Can cause a tingling sensation
"Dickinson's Enhanced Witch Hazel Hydrating Toner gently hydrates and nourishes skin with hyaluronic acid and vitamin E as it cleanses, tones, and refreshes skin," explains Marina Peredo of Schweiger Dermatology Group. "Because it is alcohol-free, it is best for sensitive skin, it helps maintain its natural balance as it gently removes impurities and reconditions the skin. Skin feels hydrated and clean without tightness, for soft and healthy-looking skin."
New York-based Dendy Engelman, MD, is also a fan. "Toners containing alcohols or witch hazel remove excess oil from the skin and can actually help prevent breakouts for those with acne-prone skin," she says. "I like Dickinson's Enhanced Witch Hazel Hydrating Toner. Witch hazel has natural astringent properties, which can help to remove excess sebum from the skin and reduce inflammation of pimples. This toner is alcohol-free and formulated with hyaluronic acid and vitamin E to nourish and hydrate even sensitive skin.
Active Ingredients: Witch hazel, vitamin E | Skin Type: Oily, combination | Benefits: Refines pores | Size: 16 fl. oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best Toning Lotion: Avène Gentle Toning Lotion
"While toners were previously drying as an astringent to the skin, nowadays, formulations are much more elegant and thoughtful," says Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin, MD, of New York's Downtown Dermatology. "I do recommend to all my patients, whether they are acne-prone or dry and sensitive skin, to avoid alcohol-based toners altogether. I view toners as an additional step to the cleansing process since the water aspect to it can enhance the penetration of other ingredients. Ingredients that can be beneficial for sensitive skin are moisturizing ingredients like glycerin, antioxidants like vitamin C, and anti-inflammatory ingredients."
Active Ingredients: Thermal spring water | Skin Type: Dry, balanced | Benefits: Hydrates, soothes | Size: 6.8 fl. oz. | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Mist: Knours. Double Duty Mist
Works for most skin types
A bit expensive per ounce
Jojoba oil is a natural oil produced from the seed of the Chinensis plant, a drought-resistant shrub native to southern Arizona, California, and Mexico. It mimics natural sebum and conditions and seals moisture in the skin without clogging pores or exacerbating acne.
"The Knours. Double Duty Mist is much more sophisticated than most toners," explains Sloan Kettering's Anthony M. Rossi, MD. "It contains squalene and jojoba oils to help trap and retain moisture. It is gentle enough to use when the skin is inflamed, which is different from other 'traditional toners.' Having the variety in this toner as well for when you need more moisturizing oils is great to adapt to changing skin needs."
Active Ingredients: Aloe vera, squalane, jojoba oil | Skin Type: All | Benefits: Hydrates, refreshes | Size: 1 / 3.4 fl. oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best Mist, Runner-Up: Jurlique Rosewater Balancing Mist
Contains denatured alcohol and fragrance
"Jurlique Rosewater Balancing Mist is perfect for sensitive dry skin types," explains Kwan. "It contains rose water, which is one of my favorite natural moisturizers; aloe vera; and marshmallow root to hydrate the skin without irritation."
Active Ingredients: Rosa hybrid flower extract, aloe leaf extract | Skin Type: Dry, balanced | Benefits: Hydrates, soothes, refreshes | Size: 1.7 / 3.4 fl. oz. | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best Drugstore: Thayers Alcohol-Free Rose Petal Witch Hazel Facial Toner
Available in scented and unscented varieties
Not overly drying
Minimizes appearance of pores
Made with organic ingredients
This affordable toner is a beauty staple, but it's also especially great for sensitive skin, thanks to soothing ingredients like aloe vera and the brand's proprietary witch hazel extract. There are also different scents to choose from, including lavender, cucumber, and rose petal.
Active Ingredients: Witch hazel, aloe leaf juice | Skin Type: Oily, combination, balanced | Benefits: Refines pores, smooths | Size: 12 fl. oz. | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best With Aloe Vera: Mario Badescu Aloe Vera Toner
Won't irritate sensitive skin
Doesn't leave a residue
Contains parabens and dyes
Aloe vera is a master at calming, soothing, and hydrating, so it makes total sense that this classic toner is on our list for sensitive skin. Plus, its formula is alcohol- and fragrance-free, so it's extra gentle.
Active Ingredients: Aloe leaf juice | Skin Type: Dry, balanced | Benefits: Hydrates, smooths | Size: 8 fl. oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Soothing: First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Wild Oat Hydrating Toner
Also works as a spot treatment
A little watery
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) making them plump.
When you hear the words oat milk, you may think of what you added to your iced coffee this morning. But it's also an ingredient in this First Aid Beauty toner, which harnesses the power of oats (the formula also includes wild oats and colloidal oatmeal) to soothe the skin ASAP. From there, propolis extract (a derivative of honey) and hyaluronic acid provide a calming, hydrating boost. A bonus? This product is also gluten- and cruelty-free.
Active Ingredients: Colloidal oatmeal, wild oats, honey | Skin Type: Dry, balanced | Benefits: Hydrates, soothes | Size: 6 fl. oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best Refreshing: Kiehl's Calendula Herbal Extract Alcohol Free Toner
Available in multiple sizes
Feels soothing on skin
"The Kiehl's Calendula Herbal Extract Toner cleanses and refreshes all skin types, including oily," explains dermatologic surgeon Michelle Henry, MD. "But the plant-based, soothing ingredients make it gentle enough for even the most sensitive skin types."
Active Ingredients: Calendula extract, allantoin | Skin Type: Dry, balanced | Benefits: Hydrates, smooths | Size: 4.2 / 8.4 / 16.9 fl. oz. | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Exfoliating: ProActiv Revitalizing Toner
Skin feels soft and smooth
Contains parabens and dyes
"Proactiv Revitalizing Toner is an alcohol-free toner and contains botanical extracts that gently exfoliates which is great for sensitive skin," says cosmetic dermatologist Cindy Yoon-Soo Bae, MD.
Active Ingredients: Glycolic acid | Skin Type: Dry, balanced | Benefits: Exfoliates, smooths | Size: 4 fl. oz. | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Antioxidant-Rich Formula: Dermalogica Antioxidant Hydramist Toner
Formulated with anti-aging ingredients
Skin feels clean
Won't cause breakouts or irritation
"I also like Dermalogica Antioxidant HydraMist for its vitamin C, vitamin E, green tea ingredients, for more of an anti-aging step but still for sensitive skin," Levin says.
Active Ingredients: Magnesium ascorbyl phosphate, glucosamine, vitamin C | Skin Type: All | Benefits: Hydrates, firms, evens out skin tone | Size: 5.1 fl. oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Texture: Sulwhasoo Essential Balancing Water
Light, gel-like consistency
Skin feels soft and smooth
Doesn't leave a residue
"Toners with glycerin and hyaluronic acid can help hydrate the skin and prevent dryness. I like Sulwahsoo Essential Balancing Water, which has a watery gel-like texture," explains Engelman. "Toners are essential in the K-beauty routine; Koreans look to it to provide hydration and balance the pH of the skin."
Active Ingredients: Purslane, goji berries | Skin Type: Dry, balanced | Benefits: Hydrates, smooths | Size: 4.2 fl. oz. | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Calming: ZO Skin Health Calming Toner
Feels soothing to use
Can be a tad drying
"The best toner for sensitive skin is the ZO Skin Health Calming Toner," says plastic surgeon Z. Paul Lorenc, MD, FACS. "It acts as an anti-irritant and contains a blend of conditioners that help soothe and hydrate the skin."
Active Ingredients: Witch hazel, glycolic acid | Skin Type: Oily, sensitive | Benefits: Exfoliates, soothes | Size: 6 fl. oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best Hydrating: Environ Youth EssentiA Vita-Peptide Toner
"First of all, all toners are not the same," says Francesca Fusco of Wexler Dermatology. "Our grandmothers used witch hazel, which is good in a pinch. But now, there are a variety of toners that contain skin-nourishing ingredients that can nourish, treat conditions, and be part of a great skin layering regimen. For example, the Environ Youth EssentiA Vita-Peptide Toner contains peptides, which improve skin tone and elasticity. This layers well with other products and can be used year-round without drying out the skin. It's also great for sun-damaged skin."
Active Ingredients: Peptides, witch hazel | Skin Type: Dry, mature | Benefits: Hydrates, smooths | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Contrary to popular belief, you can use a toner if you have sensitive skin—so long as it’s an appropriate formula. The Paula’s Choice Skin Recovery Enriched Calming Toner earns our top vote, which has the added benefit of containing anti-aging antioxidants and niacinamide. We also like the Sulwhasoo Essential Balancing Water, infused with hydrating and glycerin to give it a beautiful, gel-like texture. And for those who prefer an easy-to-use mist, both the Knours. Double Duty Mist and Jurlique Rosewater Balancing Mist are ideal for sensitive skin.
What To Look For in a Toner for Sensitive Skin
Your easily-stressed out skin can use all the extra soothing it can get, including from your toner. Good ones to use include rose water, jojoba oil, vitamin E, and aloe.
Alcohol isn’t bad in all toners, but if you have sensitive skin, steer clear, as it can be way too harsh and drying.
What does a toner do?
"Toners are skincare products that have the consistency of water," Joshua Zeichner, the director of Cosmetic & Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York tells Byrdie. "Traditionally, they were used to remove excess oil from the skin and were especially useful for people who had acne. Those products contain high concentrations of alcohol and therefore were drying. Today's toners contain a variety of soothing, brightening, and anti-aging ingredients." The new school of toners are meant to nourish your complexion after cleansing and help the products you layer on afterward better absorb into your skin.
How should I use a toner in my skincare routine?
Toner should be used after cleansing your skin but before applying any serums, creams, or sunscreen.
Is toner the same as astringent?
“In general, both toners and astringents are designed to manage key issues at the skin surface, such as oiliness and irritation,” Dr. Ava Shamban, a board-certified dermatologist, tells Byrdie. Astringents are usually alcohol-based, which can help dry up excess oil but also irritate the skin. Because they’re typically water-based, toners tend to be less harsh and include hydrating ingredients like rose water, flower essence, or hyaluronic acid.
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 toners for sensitive skin from a Black-owned and/or Black-founded business. If you know of one we should consider, please email us at email@example.com and we will evaluate the product ASAP.
10 Best Toners for Sensitive Skin of 2022. Good Housekeeping. https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/beauty-products/g36632810/best-toner-sensitive-skin/
The Best Toner for Sensitive Skin That Won’t Cause Stinging or Redness. PureWow. https://www.purewow.com/beauty/best-toner-for-sensitive-skin