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Glowing skin 101: What is the best toner for glowing skin?

Experts sound off on how the right toner may help you get glowing skin and how often you should use this product.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Dec 21, 2023 • 7 min read
Medically reviewed by Jessica Mefford, NP
Woman With Cotton Pad Applying Toner
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Dec 21, 2023 • 7 min read
Medically reviewed by Jessica Mefford, NP
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 makes your skin glow?

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! Luckily our team of licensed dermatology providers are regularly reviewing and assessing products on the market and are happy to offer a few recommendations! So here, you’ll find the products that hold up to our standards.

Are you on the hunt for the best toner to help give you a radiant complexion? In your pursuit of glowing skin, you’ve probably come across the dizzying array of products and ingredients that make skincare seem more like rocket science. It’s about time we untangle this complex web and get back to basics.

In this guide, we’ll discuss toners and their benefits. Are they really necessary? Should you be using one every day? And most importantly, how do they contribute to achieving that coveted glow? Let’s get into it.

What makes your skin glow?

In the spirit of keeping skincare simple at Curology, we’re big fans of sticking to a classic cleanse, treat, and moisturize routine. Toners aren’t an essential skincare step in our books, but if you’re looking for something extra in your routine to help achieve glowing skin, it’s worth finding the best toner for you.

If you’re dealing with skin issues like oily skin or acne, there are other powerful acne-fighting options like leave-on treatments with ingredients like salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide.¹ Depending on their ingredients, toners may have a variety of functions, from cleaning your skin as you remove makeup to adding antioxidants and moisturizers to protect your skin.

It helps to understand how your skin is structured so that you can better understand how toners can help you achieve that natural glow.

Our skin is divided into three primary layers:²

Epidermis: The epidermis is the outermost layer of our skin. It plays a vital role as both the first line of defense and the main waterproof barrier. Notably, it’s the epidermis that provides our skin with its distinct tone. When considering a skincare regimen and the myriad of products available, as you’re applying toners directly onto the skin, toners may start working on this layer first. 

Dermis: The dermis is located just beneath the epidermis—it’s a complex layer that contains hair follicles, sweat glands, and oil glands. While some toner ingredients may not be designed to penetrate the dermis, a well-maintained dermis is still an important aspect of your skin’s health.

Hypodermis: The hypodermis is the deepest layer of our skin; it exists for insulation and cushioning and is predominantly made up of fat cells. As it is quite deep, the hypodermis doesn’t directly interact with many skincare products, including toners.

Some people benefit from using toners, but it helps to understand the makeup of your skin to make smart skincare choices. No matter your routine, always choose what feels right and works best for your specific skin needs.

Our top toner recommendations for glowing skin 

When it comes to our toner recommendations, as a rule of thumb: go alcohol-free. This is because alcohol can damage the skin barrier.³ If you want to find out whether a toner contains volatile alcohol compounds, look for SD alcohol or denatured alcohol on the ingredient list.

We’re fans of Thayers Alcohol-Free Rose Petal Witch Hazel with Aloe Vera as a gently scented toner. If you prefer fragrance-free, their unscented variant is also a winner. The brand extracts witch hazel using a method that does not require alcohol, ensuring that the product remains alcohol-free. 

Next up on our love list is the Mario Badescu Facial Spray with aloe, herbs, and rosewater. It’s like a gentle spa in a bottle, with a light, refreshing feel that you can use on your hair too for a little scent boost.

Both these toners are suitable for most skin types—yes, even the sensitive ones. They are easy to find at your favorite chain stores and won’t break the bank either.

If you’d like a few more toner options to try out, here’s a short list to get you started. Just a disclaimer—these aren’t paid promotions. We’re just sharing the love for these brands, based purely on the wisdom of our skin experts.

  1. The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution: This toner uses natural ingredients found in sugar cane and claims to combat visible aging signs, irregular skin texture, and hyperpigmentation, leading to a more glowing complexion.

  2. Pixi Glow Tonic: The cult-favorite product, Pixi Glow Tonic, helps cleanse your skin with aloe vera, amino acids, ginseng, and a 5 percent glycolic acid solution.

  3. The Inkey List - Glycolic Acid Toner: This 10% glycolic acid exfoliator claims to reduce the appearance of pores and fine lines, as well as help you get smoother and brighter skin. We recommend trying this if you have used chemical exfoliants in the past.

  4. Bolden Brightening Glycolic Acid Toner: This toner claims to balance skin pH, while gently exfoliating and brightening dark spots. It contains licorice root and algae extract.

If you’d like to get started with chemical exfoliation to get a glowing complexion, we recommend starting with a lower concentration of glycolic acid and monitoring for any irritation, like redness, swelling, burning, and itching.⁴ To learn more about chemical exfoliation, have a look at the Curology Guide to Chemical Exfoliation.

When does toner fit into your routine?

While a good skincare routine has the potential to transform your skin, it’s important to understand the correct order to apply skincare products. We recommend going thinnest to thickest if you’re layering your products. That way each can be absorbed appropriately before the next one is added.

In particular, let’s take a closer look at where a toner fits into the routine.

Curology Products

Cleansing: This is the first step of any skincare routine. Cleansing removes makeup, dirt, oil, and other impurities from your skin. For a deep yet gentle cleanse, consider using Curology's The Cleanser. Specially formulated to suit all skin types, our cleanser provides a fresh start for your skin, preparing it for the next steps in your skincare regimen.

Toning: Toners can be used as an additional step to add some hydration or chemical exfoliation. As a general rule, a toner should follow cleansing and be used before moisturizing.

Serums: These are concentrated products that address specific skin concerns like aging, pigmentation, or dehydration.

Eye cream: To hydrate and protect the delicate skin around your eyes, you can apply an eye cream.

Spot treatment: If you’re dealing with acne or occasional breakouts, a spot treatment can be used next. Apply it directly onto the blemish to target and treat it.

Moisturizing: Moisturizing is essential for most skin types. It helps lock in hydration and protect the skin barrier. A good moisturizer can go a long way! The Curology Rich Moisturizer deeply nourishes while providing lasting protection. Its unique formula is designed to hydrate and rejuvenate your skin, leaving it feeling soft and resilient.

Oils: Depending on your skin’s needs, you might choose an oil for hydration, radiance, or soothing benefits.

SPF: Always end your morning skincare routine with sunscreen, even on cloudy days!

In a nutshell, tailor your skincare routine according to your skin’s needs and the products you use. Whether you opt for a toner or not in your daily routine, make sure you cover the essential steps to care for your skin.

The key takeaways

  • While not essential in every skincare routine, toners may help you achieve a glowing complexion. They come in various formulations and can serve multiple functions, from removing residual makeup to providing antioxidants and hydration.

  • For toners to be effective and non-damaging, choosing the right ingredients is crucial. Alcohol-free toners are recommended as they are less likely to harm the skin barrier. Ingredients like glycolic acid and natural extracts can help achieve brighter and smoother skin.

  • Understanding your skin type and choosing toners that suit your specific skin needs is essential. Whether you have oily skin, acne, or are looking for anti-aging benefits, there's a toner formulated for each purpose.

  • The effectiveness of toners also depends on their correct application in a skincare routine. They should be used after cleansing and before moisturizing, ideally from thinnest to thickest consistency for optimal absorption and benefit.

  • Curology emphasizes using clinically researched ingredients in our products. This approach ensures that your skincare routine isn’t just about following trends but about providing your skin with what it truly needs for long-term health and radiance.

Curology uses clinically researched ingredients

At Curology, we believe in the power of science-backed skincare. Our products are carefully crafted with clinically researched ingredients to provide effective solutions tailored to your unique skin needs. We don’t just focus on trendy ingredients or temporary fixes; instead, we use ingredients that have been proven to work, like niacinamideazelaic acid, and tretinoin.

We’re all about simplifying skincare. It doesn’t have to be complex with multiple steps and countless products. Instead, it should be focused and purposeful. Your skincare routine should nourish and protect your skin, giving it exactly what it needs and nothing it doesn’t.

Glowing skin comes from within, reflecting your skin's health and natural beauty. At Curology, we believe in nurturing long-term skin health for that radiant glow. Join our community and benefit from the expertise of our dermatology providers. They'll assess your unique skin needs and guide you toward a personalized skincare routine. Simplify and optimize your skincare with us, and embark on a journey to your healthiest, most radiant skin.

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Does toner improve your skin?

The simple act of rubbing your skin down with a toner and cotton pad can act as a physical cleaning step that removes any residual dirt. It’s important to make sure you aren’t using toners that contain alcohol, which can cause skin dryness.⁵

What is the best toner for daily use?

Although toners aren’t an absolute necessity in a skincare routine, they can provide additional benefits if used correctly. The toners mentioned in our list are generally safe for everyday use.

While these toners can generally be used daily, it’s essential to follow the specific instructions provided by the product manufacturer. More importantly, listen to your skin—if it reacts negatively to daily use, it may be best to reduce the frequency of use or consider another product.

Lastly, regardless of which toner you select, make sure to patch test it first to ensure it’s suitable for your skin. Not every product will suit every individual, so it’s always best to proceed with caution when incorporating a new product into your routine.

Can I use a toner if I have sensitive skin?

Yes, individuals with sensitive skin may consider a toner, but it's crucial to choose the right type. Look for toners that are alcohol-free as these formulations are gentler and less likely to cause irritation. Always do a patch test before incorporating a new toner into your routine.

Are toners effective in treating acne?

Toners can be beneficial in an acne treatment regimen, especially those containing acne-fighting ingredients. One study demonstrated that a 3-step skincare regimen, which includes a cleanser, witch-hazel-based toner, and acne treatment, significantly improved acne.⁶ However, toners should be used as part of a broader skin care strategy that includes cleansing, moisturizing, and possibly topical treatments specific to treat a particular skin concern (such as acne).

• • •

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

  1. Zaenglein, A.L., et al. Guidelines of care for the management of acne vulgaris. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. (May 2016).

  2. Lopez-Ojeda, W., et al. Anatomy, Skin (Integument). StatPearls. (2022, October 17).

  3. Cartner, T., et al. Effect of different alcohols on stratum corneum kallikrein 5 and phospholipase A2 together with epidermal keratinocytes and skin irritation. International Journal of Cosmetic Science. (2016, August 31).

  4. Tang, S.C., & Yang, J.H. Dual Effects of Alpha-Hydroxy Acids on the Skin. Molecules. (2018, April 10).

  5. Cartner, T., et al. Effect of different alcohols on stratum corneum kallikrein 5 and phospholipase A2 together with epidermal keratinocytes and skin irritation. International Journal of Cosmetic Science. Ibid.

  6. Rodan K., et al. Efficacy of a twice-daily, 3-step, over-the-counter skincare regimen for the treatment of acne vulgaris. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. (2017, Jan 4)

Jessica Lee is a certified Nurse Practitioner at Curology. She received her Master in Nursing from Samuel Merritt University in Oakland, CA.

*Cancel anytime. Subject to consultation. Results may vary.

• • •
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.
Our policy on product links:Empowering you with knowledge is our top priority. Our reviews of other brands’ products in this post are not paid endorsements—but they do meet our medically fact-checked standards for ingredients (at the time of publication).
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Jessica Mefford, NP

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