A person with red hair holding up a cotton round to their cheek
Toners are a popular skincare product that help restore your skin to a healthy pH and remove any excess oil or impurities that your cleanser may have missed. Ahead, learn more about the skincare benefits of toners and how to incorporate one into your routine.

What Is a Toner?

According to board-certified dermatologist Dr. Marisa Garshick, a “toner is a fast-absorbing liquid formulation that, depending on the specific ingredients, may also have additional antioxidant, hydrating, anti-inflammatory or exfoliating benefits.” Think of a toner as insurance for your cleanser. The watery toner formulas can serve as a final clean sweep post-cleanser to ensure that all makeup, excess oil and impurities are removed before you move on to your treatment products like serums and moisturizer. 

“Depending on the specific ingredients, toners can hydrate, exfoliate, brighten or calm the skin,” says Dr. Garshick. Toners can also help balance your skin’s pH levels after cleansing. “By helping to restore the skin’s natural pH, toners can help to support the skin barrier,” adds the dermatologist. Plus, they can prime your skin for the rest of your skincare routine, helping products like essences and serums penetrate the skin more effectively, and some may even have breakout-fighting properties. 

When and How to Apply Toner

Apply your toner immediately after cleansing morning and night. Follow with your treatment products. 

There are two ways to use a toner: The first is to saturate a cotton pad and gently sweep it across the face. The second is to pour the formula into clean hands and press it into the skin. Neither method is better or more effective than the other — it really comes down to personal preference and your skin concerns. 

For example, if you have acne-prone skin, you might want to avoid touching your face, so the cotton pad technique could be the best choice.For more tips, check out this guide on how and when to apply toner. 

How to Choose the Right Toner

“It is best to look for a toner based on your skincare concerns and skin type,” notes Dr. Garshick. “For example, some toners can help to hydrate while others may offer added exfoliating benefits.” If you have dry skin, you’ll want to stay away from toners formulated with alcohol, which can contribute to dryness and irritation. Additionally, if you opt for an exfoliating toner, you may want to avoid using other exfoliating products in your skincare routine. 

Exfoliating Toners 

When formulated with chemical exfoliants like alpha hydroxy-acids or beta hydroxy-acids, exfoliating toners can help gently purify pores, prevent blemishes from forming and promote a smoother, more radiant complexion. 

Editor’s Pick: SkinCeuticals LHA Toner

SkinCeuticals LHA Toner

Brightening Toners

A brightening toner can be used to combat dullness and even out your skin tone. It may also contain exfoliating acids, such as salicylic acid. 

Editor’s Pick: Lancôme Absolue Rose 80 Toner

Lancôme Absolue Rose 80 Toner

Hydrating and Soothing Toners 

Dry skin types can benefit from a hydrating toner infused with ingredients like hyaluronic acid and formulated without moisture-zapping ingredients like alcohol. When it comes to hydrating toners, Dr. Garshick recommends checking out the offerings from Thayers.  “Thayers uses a specialized method to obtain their witch hazel in an alcohol-free process, so it won’t cause dryness,” she says. “In fact, [the witch hazel] has been shown in combination with aloe vera and glycerin to leave the skin feeling hydrated for up to eight hours after use.”

Editor’s Pick: Thayers Rose Petal Facial Toner
Thayers Rose Petal Facial Toner
Photographer: Chaunte Vaughn
Back to top