Toner is the step you'll regret skipping
Rewind to when you were 15 years old and rigorously applying toner with a ton of alcohol in it to rid your skin of spots. Remember how it stung and left your skin drier than the surface of a lasagne? Thankfully, the best toner today looks a lot different.
If you find the right toner for your skin type, you’ll wonder how you ever coped without it. We’re not the only ones who think this, Dr Ewoma Ukeleghe, Founder & CEO of SKNDOCTOR, can’t get enough of them either, ‘Toner is a step you definitely shouldn’t be skipping. They now come in lots of different forms each with different purposes and results; calming mist toners, exfoliating glycolic toners, moisturising toners and ones that deliver AHA’s, BHA’s, peptides and antioxidants to your skin.’
What is facial toner?
‘The primary function of a toner is to balance your skin’s pH after cleansing,’ explains Dr Ukeleghe. ‘And provides some mild exfoliation.’ It’s the step in between your cleanser and moisturiser within your skincare routine. It also removes any final traces of dirt, pollution and make-up that your cleanser might have missed.
It helps to smooth and prep the skin for serum, not to mention give it an enviable glow. Swipe over just-washed skin with a cotton pad and you’ll see your complexion transform.
Also worth noting: skipping this step can seriously hamper your skincare effects. You can slather on the best moisturiser for dry skin but unless you’re starting your skincare off right, all of this is null and void.
What are the benefits of using a toner?
‘Toners are products that don’t get much of a look in during our skincare regimes. But they can be used to clean your skin, remove excess oil and reduce pore size,’ says Dr Anjali Mahto, Consultant Dermatologist at the Cadogan Clinic. ‘They are also good for balancing the skin.’
The latter is important, especially if you have acne prone skin.
Due to the alkaline nature of soap and even the best face washes, the pH balance of our skin can get disturbed. This makes your skin work overtime to find its sweet spot again – a slightly acidic pH, around 5.5 – which can result in excess oil and breakouts.
Which skin toner should I use?
Toners will not only restore the skin’s pH after cleansing but do so much more, too. They provide similar benefits to your serum because they are infused with similar ingredients. Think vitamins, prebiotics, glycolic acid and hyaluronic acid, which can exfoliate, brighten, soothe and hydrate. PH balancing toners maintain the acid mantle of the skin – pH of healthy skin is approximately 5.5. Mattifying toners can help to balance oily skin, tighten pores, and minimize shine and are loaded with anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial ingredients.
Because they’re packed with extra skincare benefits, you need to pick a toner based on your biggest concern.
Ingredients to look out for
- Exfoliation – look for alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs), things like salicylic acid, lactic acid, and glycolic acid. ‘These acids work to gently exfoliate your skin, accelerate skin cell turnover and reveal glowing complexion,’ says Dr Ukeleghe. ‘They are particularly helpful at targeting problems like dry patches, dullness and hyperpigmentation.’
- Hydration – keep an eye out for Hyaluronic Acid. ‘The ultimate hydrating molecule, it boosts moisture and minimises fine lines,’ Dr Ukeleghe explains. ‘Glycerin, Snail Mucin and Allantoin are common substitutes.’
- Anti-aging – Vitamin C is your friend here, because it protects skin from ageing free-radicals.
Best toner for combination skin
There’s not much this toner meets chemical exfoliant doesn’t do. And that makes it ideal for those of us battling blemishes and signs of ageing. Together, salicylic acid and a hydroxy acid gently exfoliate dead skin cells and regulate sebum production for a practically poreless complexion. Simultaneously, the brand’s patented TFC8 complex helps to kickstart your skin cells’ renewal processes to improve the look of fine lines and pigmentation.
Best toner for dry skin
Dry skin needs hero ingredients like avocado oil, squalene and vitamin E. All three super hydrators can be found in Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Toner.
Best toner for sensitive skin
If you suffer from sensitivity and are worried about toner drying out your skin, choose a formula that is alcohol-free. Aloe and prebiotics are other skin soothers to look out for.
Best toner for oily skin
Likewise, excessively oily skin types may benefit from using witch hazel. This plant extract sops up oil, fights acne-causing bacteria and reduces irritation. But it isn’t as eye-waveringly astringent as those teenage alcoholic toners.
Scroll through a few more of our favourite toners in the round up below. Your skin will thank you for it…
Recommended by Dr Ukeleghe: 'This product is more than just a make-up remover. It can be used as a toner and waterless cleanser. It's particularly good because it won’t strip your skin at all and helps to calm skin after applying retinols.'
Combination and spot-prone skin will benefit from toners that have the word ‘balancing’ in the title.
Take Herbivore's Jasmine Green Tea Balancing Toner, for example. It’s a clever mix of antioxidants to protect against free radicals, salicylic acid to control oil and jasmine water to calm angry skin. So you get the best of both anti-ageing and pore-purging worlds.
Intensely nourishing and plays nicely with sensitive skin, this is rich in panthenol to sooth irritation and hyaluronic acid for an intense moisture boost.
It’s described as being like a 'power-magnet for your moisturiser', preparing your skin for optimum hydration. Grape extracts work to give your skin's moisture levels a boost, while yeast extract calms stressed-out skin. Your face looks satisfyingly glowy once you've swept this lotion over it.
Face looking dull or congested? Look for an exfoliating toner like this one, which contains alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs). These will lift away dead cells and smooth the surface texture for skin that looks lit from within.
Glycolic and salicylic acid work together here, which means this medicated formula gets right down into the pores to break apart dirt, bacteria and dead skin. The entire Effaclar range is praised by people with acne-prone skin for its ability to calm and clear a congested complexion and prevent spots from reappearing,
In Japan, toners are referred to as ‘softeners’. The idea being that they soften skin in preparation for serum, which it then drinks up more readily. This one is packed with hyaluronic acid for all-day hydration and mineral-rich spring water. We rate its non-sticky texture.
This toner sold out in Boots in four days and since then it's been a battle to keep it in stock. Why? Because it promises to reduce the appearance of dark spots after seven days thanks to a serious concentration of acids and liquorice, a natural skin brightener.
This toner harnesses the power of natural salicylic acid to fight breakouts. Used twice daily, this cleared our fashion editor's blemishes.
It might be on the spenny side, but this Sisley toner works especially well on sensitive and dry skin types. It's super gentle and contains active ingredients like rose and cornflower. Both are known to soften and soothe, getting your complexion ready for the next skincare steps.
Gentle and alcohol-free, this floral-scented skin tonic adds a fine layer of moisture to skin while refreshing, soothing and brightening. It's a great addition for any skin type.
Recommended by Dr Ukeleghe: 'Purifies, balances, and refreshes your skin and contains no alcohol.'
Never has a beauty product been so aptly named. Packed with AHAs that dissolve and buff away dead cells on the skin's surface, one swipe reveals juicy, glowing skin underneath.
Inspired by her in-clinic peels, face-friendly acids (phytic, lactic and multi-fruit) dissolve surface residue. But what makes this resurfacing toner so satisfying is that it replenishes skin with hydrating hyaluronic acid and vitamin E as well as exfoliating so you can dial up radiance without irritation.
If your skin is characterised by gaping pores and shine in all the wrong places, then this toner is for you. It immediately mattifies and takes you one step closer to those silky smooth, glass skin goals.
Alcohol free and powered by purifying floral extracts, including sage and iris, this is the gentle way to keep sebum levels under control.
True to Kaufmann's nature-first ethos, this toner is brimming with alpine herbs known for being calming and antibacterial. It's particularly well suited to oily and blemish prone skin as one sweep over the face removes every last trace of pore-clogging grime.
Recommended by Dr Ukeleghe: 'This delicate essence leaves your skin soothed and glowing, enriched with Hyaluronic Acid, Vitamin C and Gotu Kola.'