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Clear skin secrets: The best toners for acne-prone skin

Make sure your skincare routine is working with you, not against you, by using the right products.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Dec 29, 2023 • 6 min read
Medically reviewed by Maria Borowiec, NB-BC
Toner for Acne
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Dec 29, 2023 • 6 min read
Medically reviewed by Maria Borowiec, NB-BC
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

In this article

What is a toner?
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There’s no one-size-fits-all in skincare. What works for one person may not necessarily have the same results for someone else. But it’s only natural to want the best, so our team of licensed dermatology providers reviews and assesses countless products on the market to offer a few recommendations. So here, you’ll find the products that hold up to our standards.

Achieving a flawless complexion can often feel like an uphill battle, especially for those with acne-prone skin. Toners may be able to play a role in the journey towards clearer, healthier skin. 

Here, Curology’s team of licensed dermatology providers will explain the reasons you may want to use toners and suggest ones specifically formulated for acne-prone skin. Spoiler: You’ll want to be on the lookout for clarifying ingredients and gentle formulas. Read on to learn our recommendations for the top toners that balance oil production, and soothe inflammation.

What is a toner?

Toners, also referred to as astringents, are liquid cosmetic products used on the face. Toning can be done instead of or in addition to washing the face to ensure all traces of dirt and makeup are removed. There are numerous toner formulations available, all with various potential benefits, but their primary function revolves around dissolving skin impurities.¹

Toners can serve as an optional step in cleaning the skin, utilized after face washing but before applying moisturizer. Their primary function is to act as a supplementary cleanse, effectively eliminating any residual dirt, oil, or makeup that might have been missed during the initial wash. 

Moreover, toners can also serve as a gentle chemical exfoliant.² Some toners contain active ingredients such as alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) or beta hydroxy acids (BHAs), which aid in shedding dead skin cells. This can result in a smoother and more radiant complexion.

Beyond their cleansing and exfoliating properties, toners offer a range of potential cosmetic benefits. Some toners are formulated to reduce the appearance of pores.³ Other toners may provide hydration to dry skin, helping to improve overall skin appearance when used consistently over time.

However, some toners may contain alcohol, which can effectively remove excess oil but may also cause dryness, making them less suitable for individuals with sensitive or dry skin.⁴ As with any skincare product, it is crucial to carefully examine the key ingredients and select a toner that aligns with your specific skin type and skincare requirements.

Toners are categorized as cosmetics or over-the-counter (OTC) skincare products, depending on their claims and ingredients. Within these groups, toners are tailored to specific skin types—each with their unique formulas.

How does toner help acne-prone skin?

Acne is a skin condition that happens when the oil glands and hair follicles in our skin get clogged. It can affect people of all ages, but it’s most common during adolescence—almost everyone experiences acne by the time they reach their early twenties.⁵

Acne is a complex condition that is linked to various factors. One of the main contributors is an increase in the production of oil on our skin, along with abnormal shedding of dead skin cells.⁶

Toners may improve your skincare routine if chosen correctly for your skin type.⁷

Use toner as part of a skincare routine

Toners are an optional step in the cleansing process, helping to refresh the skin while preparing it for the application of moisturizer. After face washing, toners are commonly applied by saturating a cotton pad or ball and gently wiping it across the face.

Toners serve as a vehicle for delivering active ingredients with specific skincare benefits. 

Our picks for best toner for acne-prone skin

Here are three toners we like, and they might be just what you’re looking for if you have acne-prone skin.

Thayer's Rose Petal Facial Toner: With its alcohol-free and non-drying formula, Thayers Facial Toner can hydrate the skin, with rose water, witch hazel, and aloe vera.

Mario Badescu Facial Spray With Aloe, Herb and Rose Water: The antioxidant-rich peppermint essential water with aloe vera can moisturize the skin, while cucumber essential water and extract provide hydrating amino acids.

Farmacy Beauty Deep Sweep Pore Cleaning BHA Toner: This award-winning toner contains salicylic acid (a BHA) to help combat acne and decrease oil.

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Selecting the right toner for you shouldn’t involve guesswork—the licensed dermatology providers at Curology can provide you with personalized skincare recommendations based on your needs. All you need to do is answer a few questions and snap a few pictures of your skin concerns. Click here for a 30-day trial* today.

FAQs

Are toners good for acne?

Yes, toners can be beneficial for acne-prone skin, particularly those formulated with ingredients like salicylic acid.⁸ They can also remove residual impurities and balance your skin's pH after cleansing, which may reduce the likelihood of acne flare-ups. However, it's important to select a toner that's suitable for acne-prone skin and free of harsh ingredients that can irritate or dry out the skin.

How do I use toner?

To use a toner effectively, first cleanse your face with a gentle cleanser. Then, moisten a cotton pad with toner and gently sweep it across your face, focusing on areas prone to oiliness or breakouts. Alternatively, you can apply the toner with your hands by gently patting it on the skin. This step should be done after cleansing and before applying serums, moisturizers, or sunscreen.⁹ Speak with a dermatology provider or check the directions on the toner you purchase to nail the optimal technique.

Do you wash off toner?

No, you don’t need to wash off toner after application. Toners are usually designed to be left on your skin to allow the active ingredients to work effectively. After applying the toner, give it a moment to absorb before proceeding with your skincare routine.

Can toners cause skin dryness?

Yes, toners with high alcohol content or certain astringents can cause skin dryness, especially if you already have dry or sensitive skin.¹⁰ It's essential to choose a toner that matches your skin type.

Are there toners for different skin types?

Toners are formulated to cater to various skin types. For example, toners with salicylic acid can be a good option for oily and acne-prone skin,¹¹ while those with hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid are better for dry skin.¹² Look for toners with ingredients that address your specific skin concerns.

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don't have to: 

  1. Draelos, Z. D. Cosmeceuticals: What's Real, What's Not. Dermatologic Clinic. (January 2019).

  2. Draelos, Z. D. Cosmeceuticals: What's Real, What's Not. Dermatologic Clinic. Ibid.

  3. Anurukvorakun, O. and Numnim, S. Development and Clinical Efficacy Evaluation of Facial Toner Containing Houttuynia cordata Thunb. Cosmetics. (2023, September 21).

  4. Word Health Organization. Guidelines on Hand Hygiene in Health Care: First Global Patient Safety Challenge Clean Care Is Safer Care. Geneva: World Health Organization. (2009)

  5. Well, D. Acne vulgaris: A review of causes and treatment options. The Nurse Practitioner. (2013, October 10).

  6. Well, D. Acne vulgaris: A review of causes and treatment options. The Nurse Practitioner. Ibid.

  7. Bara, R. and Maibach, H. I. Textbook of Cosmetic Dermatology. (1998).

  8. Lu J., et al. Salicylic acid treats acne vulgaris by suppressing AMPK/SREBP1 pathway in sebocytes. Exp Dermatol. (July, 2019)

  9. Daily Med. TONER- Salicylic acid liquid KAVI Skin Solutions, Inc. National Institutes of Health. (October, 2020)

  10. Word Health Organization. Guidelines on Hand Hygiene in Health Care: First Global Patient Safety Challenge Clean Care Is Safer Care. Geneva: World Health Organization. (2009)

  11. Lu J., et al. Salicylic acid treats acne vulgaris by suppressing AMPK/SREBP1 pathway in sebocytes. Exp Dermatol. (July, 2019)

  12. Draelos, ZD., et a. Efficacy Evaluation of a Topical Hyaluronic Acid Serum in Facial Photoaging. Dermatol Ther (Heidelb). (August, 2021)

Maria Borowiec is a certified Nurse Practitioner at Curology. She received her Master in Nursing from University of California, Los Angeles in Los Angeles, CA.

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• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
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Maria Borowiec, NB-BC

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