Toner helps clean and calm your skin — here’s a guide for picking the right one

Stroll through the skincare aisle at any store, and you’ll quickly notice that every cosmetic line sells some version of these products: cleanser, moisturizer, sunscreen, and toner. And while the other products may be self-explanatory, what is toner? And do you really need it? 

Here’s what you need to know about this product and how to choose the best toner for your skin type.

a woman standing in front of a mirror posing for the camera: You should apply toner right after you wash your face. bymuratdeniz/Getty Images

© bymuratdeniz/Getty Images
You should apply toner right after you wash your face. bymuratdeniz/Getty Images

Toner is a liquid that you apply to your face after you wash it and before you put on serum or moisturizer. And while every toner contains different ingredients, they are all meant to do the same basic things:

  • Remove excess residue and impurities like dirt, makeup, oils, and dead skin cells
  • Boost moisture and calm your skin
  • Balance your skin’s pH, which helps skin stay moisturized and maintain healthy microbiota.

And while toner may help some people get healthy skin, it may not work for others. Just remember that toner is an extra, not an essential, step for your skincare routine.

Choosing the right toner for you 

Your skin type will help guide you. Take a look at the ingredients on a bottle of toner.  Here are some common ingredients that you might see:

  • Rosewater: Helps with acne and has anti-aging and antimicrobial properties.
  • Chamomile: Soothes and calms skin. 
  • Hyaluronic acid: Boosts moisture and helps with aging skin.
  • Glycerin: Moisturizes and helps with dryness.
  • Vitamin E: An antioxidant that helps protect skin from damage by free radicals.
  • Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) (glycolic, citric, or lactic acids): Exfoliates, brightens, and improves the appearance of fine lines.
  • Salicylic acid: Fights acne and exfoliates skin cells.
  • Aloe Vera: Heals and soothes skin because of its anti-inflammatory properties.

Although alpha hydroxy acids can be great for people who are prone to acne and other skin issues, they may be too harsh for people with sensitive or dry skin. Salicylic acid can also have this effect, according to dermatologist Sonia Badreshia-Bansal.

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Toners that contain alcohol may also be too drying. “Alcohol-free toners that are more hydrating and calming can be used on all skin types,” says Badreshia-Bansal.

How to use toner

“A basic gentle toner can be used morning or night,” says Badreshia-Bansal.

Here’s how to use toner:

  • Wash your face first. Make sure you’ve thoroughly rinsed the cleanser away.
  • Dampen a cotton ball or gauze pad with the toner.
  • Sweep it across your damp skin.

You don’t need to use a lot of toner. In fact, if you’re using multiple swipes, you may be using too much product, cautions Ilyas. Plus, overuse wastes product (and your money).

And again, you don’t have to use one at all, says dermatologist Anne Chapas, MD, founder of Union Square Laser Dermatology.

“I typically advise people with dry skin to refrain from using a toner because it can dry them out further,” she says.

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