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The 3 best toners of 2023

Learn which ingredients to look for when finding the right toner for your skin.

Donna McIntyre, NP-BC
by Donna McIntyre, NP-BC
Updated on Nov 15, 2023 • 10 min read
Medically reviewed by Jessica Mefford, NP
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Donna McIntyre, NP-BC
by Donna McIntyre, NP-BC
Updated on Nov 15, 2023 • 10 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

Why are toners important in skincare?

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.

Hello, everyone! I'm Donna McIntyre, a board-certified nurse practitioner passionate about skincare. Today, I'm going to help you understand more about the role toners play in skincare and share with you some of my favorite toners on the market.

We all know that a good skincare routine is the foundation of great skin, and one product that often gets overlooked is toner. You might wonder if toners are necessary or just another marketing ploy. From balancing your skin's pH to preparing your face for serums and moisturizers, the benefits of the right toner can be a game-changer. 

So, to cut through the noise and help you make an educated choice, I’ve compiled a list of the top 3 toners of 2023. These aren’t just any toners; they’re the crème de la crème, tested by yours truly.

Stay tuned to find your perfect match!

Why are toners important in skincare?

As a nurse practitioner specializing in skincare, I certainly want to note that toners can make a difference in your skincare routine. Though they’re an optional product, toners serve as a valuable addition for several reasons. 

First, toners are applied right after cleansing, giving your skin that extra freshening touch. This step helps eliminate traces of makeup or impurities, setting the stage for any subsequent products you may apply. Prepping your skin this way can allow for better absorption of serums or moisturizers, optimizing their effectiveness. So, if you’ve ever considered adding a toner to your regimen, I’d say it’s worth a shot.

The benefits of using a toner

The benefits of using a toner can be pretty remarkable. The advantages mainly depend on the specific type of toner you choose. Some toners are excellent for exfoliating skin, removing dead cells, and revealing a brighter complexion. Others are rich in hydrating ingredients that lock in moisture, leaving your skin plump and glowing. 

Toners can also target specific skin issues like acnehyperpigmentation, or signs of aging, offering tailored treatment for your unique needs. Many toners also provide a soothing and cooling effect, which can be particularly refreshing. 

Let’s take a closer look at some scientifically backed benefits of using a toner.

Enhanced hydration

One scientific study highlighted that for those with normal skin, applying a cream followed by a toner led to the highest improvement in skin hydration.¹ This suggests that toner can work in tandem with your moisturizing routine to lock in hydration more effectively. The study also found that repeated application of toner was more effective for skin hydration than simply spraying water on the skin.²

If you’re looking to boost your skin’s moisture levels, incorporating a toner could be a game-changer for your complexion. 

Improved acne routine

A study showed that incorporating a toner containing witch hazel in a 3-step skincare routine (including cleansing and acne treatment) led to significant improvements in acne vulgaris. Witch hazel is known for its astringent and anti-inflammatory properties, which can be beneficial for acne-prone skin.³

So if you’re grappling with acne issues, take notice of the power of a good toner. It can be an integral part of your skincare routine, working synergistically with your cleanser and acne treatment to deliver better results. 

Controlled sebum

If you’re struggling with oily skin, toners may make a difference. A study demonstrated that using a toner with 6% guava extract notably reduced oiliness on the forehead and nose compared to a base toner.⁴ This research supports that a specially formulated toner can be safe and effective for daily use in managing oily skin. So, if excess oil is your concern, consider adding a toner with guava extract to your skincare regimen. 

What to look for in a toner 

It’s important to align your skincare products with your needs. In terms of toners, it’s all about what you hope to achieve with your skincare routine. Maybe you are looking to help clear clogged pores, alleviate oily or dry skin, or seeking to brighten your complexion. Depending on what you are looking to attain will dictate what toner is most appropriate for your goals.

To get a tailored recommendation for your skin, I always recommend speaking with a dermatology provider. They can guide you in selecting the ingredients that will help you achieve your skincare objectives.

Ingredients to avoid in toners

As a nurse practitioner specializing in dermatological care, I often see the impact of poorly chosen skincare products on my patients’ skin. When it comes to toners, there are some ingredients you should consider avoiding. 

One primary culprit is alcohol in its various forms, such as alcohol denat or denatured alcohol. It can be incredibly drying and irritating for the skin. Another ingredient to watch out for is sorbitol, which may give your skin that tacky or sticky feel. 

Always remember, the key to achieving your skincare goals isn't just about knowing which ingredients benefit you, but also understanding which ones you should steer clear of. One size doesn't fit all in skincare. That's where Curology comes into play. When you opt for Curology, you aren't just getting products off a shelf. Instead, you’re paired with a licensed dermatology provider who is well-equipped to answer all your skincare queries. What's more? They'll work closely with you to design a custom formula that's specifically tailored to cater to your unique skincare needs and concerns. The process is simple, starting with a quick quiz. Taking this quiz allows our experts to understand your skin better, ensuring that our recommendations are in sync with your skin's requirements. 

Your journey to beautiful skin is just a quiz away!

Top 3 toners of 2023 

I love trying and testing different skincare products! Based on my experiences, I’ve narrowed down my top recommendations for toners in 2023:

  • Mario Badescu Glycolic Acid Toner

  • Thayers Rose Petal Alcohol-Free Witch Hazel with Aloe Vera

  • Mario Badescu Facial Spray With Aloe, Herbs and Rosewater

Let’s take a closer look at each:

1. Mario Badescu Glycolic Acid Toner 

My absolute favorite! It’s reasonably priced and lasts me a long time. This is an exfoliating toner as it contains glycolic acid, an alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA). I use this roughly 3-4 times per week, and it makes my skin feel so smooth and bright afterward. AHAs are great for both acne and anti-aging concerns. They help to fade hyperpigmentation over time, treat acne, and stimulate collagen production.⁵ What more could you ask for?

2. Thayers Rose Petal Alcohol-Free Witch Hazel with Aloe Vera 

A classic! This toner feels refreshing but also calming. It contains witch hazel, which has anti-inflammatory properties, so it may be helpful for various skin conditions. I personally like using it during the summer when I am feeling extra oily and sweaty! 

Be sure to choose the alcohol-free version to help prevent potential irritation and/or dryness of the skin.

3. Mario Badescu Facial Spray with Aloe, Herbs and Rosewater 

The rose scent is gorgeous (but mild, IMHO!) and feels great on the skin. There is something about spritzing a cool mist on your face that feels energizing and revitalizing. This is another excellent product to use during the hotter summer months, but is also great for year-round. One tip: Keep it in your refrigerator for a refreshing boost when you spray it on!

There’s also the Paula’s Choice BHA toner which is a holy grail product for many people.

Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant is a cult favorite and top-selling product. It’s a gentle exfoliant with salicylic acid that can clear pores and help decrease inflammation.⁶ The lightweight formula absorbs quickly and can be used up to twice daily after cleansing for optimal results. 

Though all these toners are great, I strongly recommend doing a patch test to check for any adverse reactions before incorporating them into your skincare routine.

How to use a toner properly 

Using a toner properly can make a difference in your skincare regimen. After cleansing your face, the toner is the second step to preparing your skin for the following products. Since toners are usually water-based and have a thin consistency, they should be applied before any thicker, cream-based products to ensure optimal absorption.

If you’re using a toner with exfoliating properties, start slowly. Incorporate it into your routine once or twice a week initially, and then gradually increase the frequency as your skin gets accustomed to it. This will help you gauge your skin’s tolerance and minimize potential irritation.

This is my best advice on using toners for your skin—but always make sure to consult with a dermatology provider for personalized advice tailored to your specific skincare goals and needs!

Take our Curology skin quiz and start personalized skincare today! 

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After learning how toners can enhance your skincare routine, you may be wondering how you can optimize your skincare routine. The answer doesn’t have to be a guessing game. Take our Curology skin quiz and embark on a journey towards personalized skincare today. Start now!*

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Which toner is best for anti-aging skin?

For anti-aging concerns, a toner containing hyaluronic acid or retinol can be highly effective. Hyaluronic acid helps to retain moisture,⁷ while retinol is renowned for its wrinkle-fighting properties.⁸ Always consult a dermatology provider to determine the best product for your specific skincare needs.

Is toner good for older skin?

Yes, toner can benefit older skin as it can help prepare the skin for additional products like serums and moisturizers. However, individual skin needs vary, so consult a dermatology provider to find the right toner for your specific concerns.

Which toner is best for glowing skin?

For radiant and luminous skin, opt for toners specifically formulated to hydrate. These will help improve your skin's brightness and vibrancy, leaving you with that sought-after glow.⁹

How often should I use a toner in my skincare routine?

Based on your skin type and the toner's ingredients, you might use it a few times a week and increase from there as tolerated. However, always start slowly, especially with exfoliating toners, to gauge your skin's tolerance and avoid potential irritation. For personalized advice, it's best to consult with a dermatology provider.

Can toners help with specific skin issues like hyperpigmentation or acne?

Absolutely! Some toners target specific skin issues, offering tailored treatment. For example, toners with ingredients like witch hazel can be beneficial for acne-prone skin, while others might focus on brightening and reducing hyperpigmentation. To get the most out of a toner, it's essential to choose one aligned with your skincare goals and consult a dermatology provider for guidance.

• • •

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

  1. Yuanxi, L. et al. Comparison of skin hydration in combination and single use of common moisturizers (cream, toner, and spray water). J Cosmet Sci. (May-June 2016).

  2. Yuanxi, L. et al. Comparison of skin hydration in combination and single use of common moisturizers (cream, toner, and spray water). J Cosmet Sci. Ibid.

  3. 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, January 4).

  4. Pongsakornpaisan, P., et al. Anti-sebum efficacy of guava toner: A split-face, randomized, single-blind placebo-controlled study. J Cosmet Dermatol. (December 2019).

  5. Moghimipour, E. Hydroxy Acids, the Most Widely Used Anti-aging Agents. Jundishapur J Nat Pharm Prod. (Winter 2012).

  6. Moghimipour, E. Hydroxy Acids, the Most Widely Used Anti-aging Agents. Jundishapur J Nat Pharm Prod. Ibid.

  7. Bravo, B., et al. Benefits of topical hyaluronic acid for skin quality and signs of skin aging: From literature review to clinical evidence. Dermatol Ther. (December 2022).

  8. Mukherjee, S., et al. Retinoids in the treatment of skin aging: an overview of clinical efficacy and safety. Clin Interv Aging. (December 2006).

  9. Goldie, K., et al. Skin Quality - A Holistic 360° View: Consensus Results. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. (2021, June 14).

Donna McIntyre is a board-certified nurse practitioner at Curology. She obtained her Master of Science in Nursing at MGH Institute of Health Professions in Boston, MA.

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).
Donna McIntyre, NP-BC

Donna McIntyre, NP-BC

Jessica Lee header image square

Jessica Mefford, NP

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