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  • Your dermatology provider prescribes your formula

  • Apply nightly for happy, healthy skin

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How to choose the best toner for your sensitive skin

You’ll have to take extra considerations—like making sure the ingredients in a product are gentle on your skin.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Sep 1, 2023 • 8 min read
Medically reviewed by Erin Pate, NP-C
woman-puts-toner-on-a-cotton-pad
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Sep 1, 2023 • 8 min read
Medically reviewed by Erin Pate, NP-C
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.

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 rigorous standards.

The key to maintaining healthy skin often lies in simplicity: A reliable regimen with a gentle cleanser, moisturizer, and sunscreen in the morning, followed by cleanser, treatment, and moisturizer at night.

Toner isn’t a mandatory part of a good skincare routine. However, some people find it helpful to sweep away lingering impurities post-cleansing. As with any skincare product, you’ll want to make sure it’s well-suited for your unique skin. So how do you find the best toner for sensitive skin that likely won’t leave you red and irritated?

We’ve got you! Here, Curology’s dermatology experts will guide you through the process of identifying potentially harsh ingredients to avoid, recommend some gentle toner options generally suitable for easily irritated skin, and show you how to seamlessly incorporate them into your skincare routine. 

What does toner do for your skin?

The primary role of a facial toner is to cleanse the skin. Used after a facial cleanser but before a moisturizer, toner acts as a secondary sweep to remove any remaining dirt, oil, or makeup that the initial cleanse may have missed. It helps to ensure your skin is as clean as possible, preparing it for the next steps in your routine.

A toner can also function as a gentle chemical exfoliant. Some toners contain active ingredients like alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) or beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) that can help to slough off dead skin cells, giving the skin a smoother and brighter appearance.

Many people appreciate toners for their potential cosmetic benefits. Some toners claim to minimize the appearance of pores, giving the skin a more refined look. Others contain anti-aging or anti-acne ingredients to address specific skin concerns. Still others claim to provide hydration to dry skin. These active ingredients claim to help improve the overall appearance of the skin when used consistently over time.

However, it’s important to be aware that many toners contain alcohol. While this ingredient can help remove oil, it may also be drying and may not be suitable for those with sensitive or dry skin. As with any skincare product, read the key ingredients and choose formulas that align with your skin type and skincare needs. 

Facial toner ingredients to avoid with sensitive skin

If you have sensitive skin, which may often be characterized by sensations of stinging, burning, and itching, selecting the right skincare products is a must. Cosmetics are primary triggers of sensitive skin reactions, especially when overused or used inappropriately.¹

When choosing a sensitive skin toner, there are several ingredients you should generally avoid to minimize potentially irritated skin:

Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs): These are often used for exfoliation but may irritate sensitive skin types, leading to redness or irritation.²

Alcohol: Alcohol is a common ingredient in many toners, used for its drying and astringent properties. However, for sensitive skin, alcohol-based toners may be overly drying and increase the possibility of irritation.³

Fragrances: These are often added to products to provide a pleasant smell, but they may lead to allergic reactions or sensitivities in some people.⁴

Essential oils: Despite being natural, essential oils can be quite potent and are known to cause skin reactions in some people.⁵

Always read the ingredient list before choosing a facial toner or any other skincare product. If you’re unsure about a product, consult with a licensed dermatology provider who can guide you to products with gentle ingredients to add to your skincare routine.

Our picks for best toner for sensitive skin

Here are a few toners that might fit the bill of what you’re looking for if you have sensitive skin and what we like about them.

Thayers Rose Petal Toner 

What we like about it:

  • Alcohol-free toner

  • Rose water to help improve the appearance of the skin

  • Aloe vera for hydrating

Thayers Milky Hydrating Face Toner With Snow Mushroom And Hyaluronic Acid

What we like about it:

  • Blend of ingredients specially formulated for sensitive skin

  • Alcohol-free formula

  • Hyaluronic acid for hydrating dry skin

Cerave Hydrating Toner 

What we like about it:

  • Alcohol-free formula

  • Ceramides to help restore the skin barrier

  • Hyaluronic acid to help hydrate

Haruharu Black Rice Hyaluronic Toner for Sensitive Skin 

What we like about it:

  • Formula with no essential oils

  • Alcohol-free formula

  • Specially formulated for sensitive skin

Paula’s Choice Nourishing Milky Toner 

What we like about it:

  • Mix of antioxidants and moisturizing ingredients

  • Can be used by all skin types

  • May help visibly reduce redness

Do you need a toner if you have sensitive skin?

While the active ingredients in toners can provide several benefits for your skin, they aren’t essential, especially if you have sensitive skin. Introducing too many skincare products into your routine may potentially overwhelm even healthy skin and cause irritation or sensitivity.⁶

The best approach for easily inflamed skin is to stick to a minimalist skincare routine focusing on the basics.⁷ This includes a gentle, non-irritating cleanser to remove dirt and oil; a moisturizer to hydrate and protect the skin barrier; and a high-quality, broad-spectrum sunscreen to protect your skin from harmful UV rays.

If you have rosacea or a related condition, using harsh astringents or toners is usually not recommended. Rosacea-prone skin may be extremely sensitive and reactive, and many toners may contain ingredients that could trigger a flare-up.⁸

Remember, skincare is individual. What works for one person may not work for another. Always listen to your skin's needs and consult with a licensed dermatology provider if you’re unsure about introducing a new product into your routine.

How to include toner in your skincare routine

Incorporating a toner into your skincare routine can offer additional cleansing and balancing benefits, but it’s essential to do so mindfully, particularly if you have sensitive skin. Here’s how:

Start with a patch test: Apply the toner to a small, discreet area of your skin, like the underside of your arm or elbow, twice daily for seven to ten days. This helps you to assess your skin’s reaction.⁹

During the test, leave the product on your skin as long as you would in a normal routine. Look for any adverse reactions like redness, itching, or swelling. If no irritation occurs after the test period, it’s likely fine to add it to your routine.¹⁰

Use the toner after cleansing your facial skin but before moisturizing or applying any other treatments. Use a cotton pad or cotton ball to apply the toner gently all over your face.

In case of a skin reaction, stop using the toner immediately. Rinse the area gently and apply a cool compress or petroleum jelly for relief. For severe reactions that don’t improve, seek help from a healthcare provider.¹¹

As always, listen to your skin and adjust your routine as needed to maintain its health and comfort.

Treat your skin to Curology’s personalized skin care

Finding the best toner for sensitive skin, or any product for sensitive skin, can be a challenge. If you have questions about which products or ingredients will work for your skin, talking to a licensed dermatology provider like the ones at Curology can help.

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

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Founded by board-certified dermatologist Dr. David Lortscher in 2014, Curology aims to make expert care and effective ingredients more accessible. So, we make it easy to connect with experts who work with you to personalize a treatment plan for your unique concerns and goals.

Getting started is simple.* Just take a quick skin quiz and snap a few photos of your skin concerns. If Curology is right for you, you’ll be paired with one of our licensed dermatology providers for a personalized prescription formula that’s based on your skin’s unique needs—whether that’s acne, dark spots, rosacea, or early signs of aging.

FAQs

What type of toner is best for sensitive skin?

If you have sensitive skin but still want to use a toner, look to select one that’s gentle and free from potential irritants. Avoid toners containing alpha-hydroxy acids, alcohol, or fragrances.¹² You’ll also want to skip most essential oils, as these could trigger sensitivity.¹³ Instead, look for toners labeled as “suitable for sensitive skin,” “alcohol-free,” or “fragrance-free.” Remember, everyone’s skin is unique, so you may want to conduct a patch test before incorporating a new product into your skincare routine.

Do dermatologists recommend toner?

As a general skincare guide, we generally recommend using a gentle cleanser to wash away dirt and oil, a broad-spectrum sunscreen to protect against damaging UV rays, and a moisturizer to hydrate and maintain your skin barrier.¹⁴ Toners are not considered a necessity and may be avoided, especially if you have sensitive or reactive skin. As always, it’s best to consult with a dermatology provider for personalized advice.

What does toner do for sensitive skin?

Toner is used by some people to help remove the last bits of dirt or makeup after cleansing. Depending on their specific formulation, some toners also claim to offer additional benefits like hydration or soothing effects. However, it’s important to note that certain toners, especially those containing alcohol, could potentially irritate sensitive skin. If you have sensitive skin and choose to use a toner, select one specifically designed for your skin type.

• • •

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

  1. Duarte, I., et al. Sensitive skin: review of an ascending concept. Anais brasileiros de dermatologia. (July-August 2017).

  2. Duarte, I., et al. Sensitive skin: review of an ascending concept. Anais brasileiros de dermatologia. Ibid.

  3. Duarte, I., et al. Sensitive skin: review of an ascending concept. Anais brasileiros de dermatologia. Ibid.

  4. Duarte, I., et al. Sensitive skin: review of an ascending concept. Anais brasileiros de dermatologia. Ibid.

  5. Sarkic, A. and Stappen, I. Essential Oils and Their Single Compounds in Cosmetics—A Critical Review. Cosmetics. (2018, January 12).

  6. American Academy of Dermatology. Skin Care Tips Dermatologists Use. (n.d.).

  7. American Academy of Dermatology. Skin Care Tips Dermatologists Use. Ibid.

  8. American Academy of Dermatology. 6 Rosacea Skin Care Tips Dermatologists Give Their Patients. (n.d.).

  9. American Academy of Dermatology. How to Test Skin Care Products. (2021, August 10).

  10. American Academy of Dermatology. How to Test Skin Care Products. Ibid.

  11. American Academy of Dermatology. How to Test Skin Care Products. Ibid.

  12. Duarte, I., et al. Sensitive skin: review of an ascending concept. Anais brasileiros de dermatologia. Ibid.

  13. Sarkic, A. and Stappen, I. Essential Oils and Their Single Compounds in Cosmetics—A Critical Review. Cosmetics. Ibid.

  14. American Academy of Dermatology. Skin Care Tips Dermatologists Use. (n.d.).

Erin Pate is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner at Curology. She earned her Masters of Science in Nursing at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, FL.

* Subject to consultation. Subscription is required. 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).
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Erin Pate Nurse Practitioner, NP-C

Erin Pate, NP-C

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