Being a skincare newbie can be confusing these days, with so many product options available. For example, you might wonder what, exactly, is oil control toner. And do you even need a facial toner in the first place? Both are great questions! At Curology, we believe your skincare routine should be simple: cleanse, treat, and moisturize in the evening, cleanse, moisturize, and protect with sunscreen in the morning. But sometimes, you may want a little more, especially if you have specific skin goals—like reducing excess oil.
We feel that toners are completely optional, but if you’re tired of carrying blotting paper around with you, adding a toner for oily skin to your routine may be worth a try.
Toners are typically an astringent liquid applied to the skin to reduce oiliness. Some contain specific ingredients that aim to reduce oil (sebum), hydrate, or soothe acne-inflamed skin. Toners are typically used after cleansing to prepare your skin for treating and moisturizing. Some may help reduce the appearance of pores and seem to “tighten” the skin. We don’t recommend using toners with alcohol (specifically alcohol denat). Alcohol can dry out your skin and lead to irritation, and irritated skin is more likely to break out.
Oily skin occurs when your sebaceous glands produce an excess amount of sebum. Just as people come in all shapes and sizes, some of us have skin that simply happens to be oilier than others. Genetics can play a role in the amount of oil your skin produces, as well as lifestyle factors, environment, and hormones.¹ While there's nothing you can do about genetics, there are some steps you can take to manage oily skin.
Here are some more factors that can contribute to oily skin:
Stress. Under a lot of pressure at work or school? It can cause your body to release hormones (androgens) that stimulate sebum production.²
Environment. Studies have shown an increase in sebum in spring and summer months, as well as in more humid climates.³
Hormones. Fluctuating hormonal levels—especially androgens—can also trigger your body to produce more sebum.⁴ This can occur during puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause.
Toners are typically designed to refresh your skin and prepare it for moisturizers and skin treatments. Depending on the active ingredients, they may help cleanse the skin and unclog pores. Other ingredients may provide other benefits. Here are a few to look for:
Niacinamide—may help reduce sebum production.⁵
Zinc—may also reduce sebum production.⁶
Hyaluronic acid—deeply hydrates the skin.⁷
Aloe vera—has both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and is soothing to the skin.⁸
Alpha hydroxy acids—exfoliate the skin and help improve the skin’s barrier function; help maintain skin turgor.⁹ Here you can read all about chemical exfoliation.
Salicylic acid— a chemical exfoliant that can buff away dead skin cells and treat acne.¹⁰
All it takes is a quick lap of the skincare aisle at the store to know you have a lot of choices when it comes to toners, and it can seem challenging to know which is the best toner for oily skin. So, here’s our shortlist of those our skincare experts often recommend.
Thayers Rose Petal Alcohol-Free Witch Hazel with Aloe Vera is alcohol-free, gentle, and non-drying formulated to hydrate your skin. The active ingredients include rose water to help soothe and control oil, witch hazel to help remove excess dirt and grime, and aloe to help calm irritated skin.
Paula’s Choice Skin Balancing Pore-Reducing Toner is a daily toner used to help balance oily skin and minimize the appearance of large pores. This toner contains ceramides, hydrating hyaluronic acid and niacinamide, and sensitivity-soothing chamomile and burdock root extracts.
Good Molecules Niacinamide Brightening Toner contains niacinamide and licorice root to help brighten and even skin tone and reduce the appearance of pores.
Pixi Glow Tonic is formulated with glycolic acid to gently exfoliate and brighten your skin. Pixi’s toner uses ginseng to help improve circulation and aloe vera to help soothe and hydrate.
Herbivore Botanicals Jasmine Green Tea Oil Control Toner contains jasmine water infused with green tea to create an antioxidant-rich toner. This toner targets acne and blemishes and is for oily and combination skin.
La Roche-Posay Serozinc Face Toner for Oily Skin is specifically designed to reduce oily skin. Its oil-free formula includes zinc sulfate, water, and sodium chloride. It’s dermatologist-tested and suitable for all skin types.
Ole Henriksen Balancing Force Oil Control Toner uses lactic acid, glycolic acid, and salicylic acid to reduce oil and leave your skin with a smooth appearance. This toner uses green tea, eucalyptus, algae, and Irish moss to help reduce inflammation and soak up excess facial oil.
Tula Antioxidant Water Purifying Toner Face Mist helps to calm irritated skin with soothing cucumber water and holy basil, while witch hazel and wild mint leaf work to reduce oiliness. Plus, it comes in an easy-to-use mister bottle!
You don’t want to exacerbate oiliness or use products that contain comedogenic (pore-clogging) ingredients. Choosing a toner for your skin type can be helpful, but if you can’t find something for oily skin, toners for dry, sensitive, or combination skin will typically be fine. Just follow these best practices when choosing a toner:
Read the ingredients list. Alpha-hydroxy acids and beta-hydroxy acids exfoliate the skin and unclog pores. Glycolic acid, lactic acid, and citric acid are common AHAs. Salicylic acid is a common BHA and is widely used in acne-fighting formulas. Other ingredients to look for including those with soothing, anti-inflammatory, or antioxidant properties, like niacinamide (a B vitamin), vitamin C, and aloe vera.
Avoid alcohol or other harsh ingredients. Astringents that contain alcohol can dry out your skin. Your skin should never feel "tight" after using a toner. If it does, chances are it contains harsh ingredients or you’re overdoing it.
Be aware of other skin issues. When choosing a toner, keep in mind other skin concerns, like rosacea or eczema. Conditions like these usually require extra care when selecting products.
Before you apply toner, wash your face with a gentle cleanser (like the Curology cleanser!). Then, apply toner after cleansing. Use a cotton pad to apply toner and avoid over-rubbing. Gently rub or pat it onto the skin.
Leave-on treatments, serums, and moisturizers go on after toners. Some toners are designed to be used in the morning and night, while others are meant to be used once a day at a specific time. That will depend on the active ingredients in your toner: toners that contain alpha-hydroxy acids (like glycolic or lactic acid) should not be used in the morning, because they can increase your skin’s sun sensitivity. Remember, no skincare routine is complete without a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30 (in the morning and throughout the day as needed). Here’s a list of sunscreens for oily skin.
When it comes to skincare products, Curology’s dedicated licensed dermatology providers are here to answer your questions. We cut the guesswork and uncertainty so you have a clear path forward in your skincare journey. Becoming a member is easy. Just take a short quiz and snap a few selfies. Your Curology provider evaluates your skin, skin goals, and medical history to create your personalized prescription formula and a skin care plan designed to address your unique skin concerns.
So, sign up for a free 30-day trial to get started treating acne, signs of aging, and rosacea using effective ingredients personalized to your goals, delivered right to your door. The first month’s on us—just pay $4.95 (plus tax) to cover shipping and handling on your first box.
Toners are typically an astringent liquid applied to the skin to reduce oiliness. Some contain specific ingredients that aim to reduce oil (sebum), hydrate, or soothe acne-inflamed skin. Some may help reduce the appearance of pores and seem to “tighten” the skin. We don’t recommend using toners with alcohol (specifically alcohol denat).
Oily skin occurs when your sebaceous glands produce an excess amount of sebum. Just as people come in all shapes and sizes, some of us have skin that simply happens to be oilier than others.
Toners are typically designed to refresh your skin and prepare it for moisturizers and skin treatments. Depending on the active ingredients, they may help cleanse the skin and unclog pores. Some of the ingredients to look for include Niacinamide which may help reduce sebum production, Zinc, Hyaluronic acid which deeply hydrates the skin, Aloe vera has both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and is soothing to the skin, and Alpha hydroxy acids, which help maintain skin turgor, lastly, Salicylic acid that can buff away dead skin cells and treat acne.
Endly, D. C. & Miller, R. A. Oily Skin: A review of Treatment Options. The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology. (2017).
American Academy of Dermatology. Adult acne. (n.d.).
Endly, D. C. & Miller, R. A. Oily Skin: A review of Treatment Options. Ibid.
Elsaie, M.L. Hormonal treatment of acne vulgaris: An update. Clinical, Cosmetic, and Investigational Dermatology. (2016).
Draelos Z.D., et al. The effect of 2% niacinamide on facial sebum production. Journal of Cosmetic Laser Therapy. (June 2006).
Gupta, M., et al. Zinc therapy in dermatology: A review.Dermatology Research and Practice. (2014, July 10.)
Jegasothy, S. M., at al. Efficacy of a new topical nano-hyaluronic acid in humans. Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. (March 2014).
Rahmani, A.H., et al. Aloe vera: Potential candidate in health management via modulation of biological activities. Pharmacognosy Review. (July-December 2015).
Babilas, P., et al. Cosmetic and dermatologic use of alpha hydroxy acids. Journal of the German Society of Dermatology. (July 2012).
Bettoli V., et al. Effectiveness of a combination of salicylic acid-based products for the treatment of mild comedonal-papular acne: A multicenter prospective observational study. Giornale Italiano Dermatologia e Venereologia. (December 2020).
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Meredith Hartle, DO