Toner is one of those things you see on the shelves in the skincare aisle that seems a little bit extra. Our position is straightforward. While a printer requires toner to work, your skin doesn’t. We’re all about a simple skincare routine, and toner is often an unnecessary step. But we’re all about knowledge and transparency—so here’s everything you might want to know about toner, even if you decide not to use it.
Certain toners can bring chemical exfoliation into your skincare routine. If you want some chemical exfoliation —say, if your skin’s pretty oily or your pores are stubbornly clogged— it’s generally okay to use one. Cleansers with salicylic acid, for example, can offer exfoliation, but if your favorite cleanser doesn’t use that ingredient, or you think you need some more exfoliation in your routine then that's when a toner might help.
Toners are available as topical over-the-counter skincare products. If you do want to add-on to your skincare routine, toners are an accessible option. If you’re considering using a toner to fight acne, remember there are many alternative acne treatments available, including leave-on treatments with ingredients like benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid.
When it comes to toners, we recommend being careful about the one you choose. You generally don’t want a harsh toner that’s alcohol-based and could possibly dry out your skin. Depending on your skin type, you might experience some side effects when using a toner, such as the following:
Dried-out, irritated skin. If your toner is alcohol-based, it can be too harsh for your skin and lead to dryness. Alcohol-based toners can also cause irritation along with dryness.¹
Allergic contact dermatitis. Allergic reactions to alcohol, which is an ingredient in some toners, are also a potential side effect.²
Irritation for those with rosacea. If you have rosacea, it’s generally not advised to use toner because it may cause irritation.³ If you have rosacea or other skin conditions, speak with a dermatology provider before trying new products to avoid further irritating your skin.
If you’re thinking of adding a toner to your routine, the idea is to incorporate it as seamlessly as possible into your skincare routine. Typically, it’s recommended to use a toner after washing your face and follow with a moisturizer and any other skin treatments. Some toners are exfoliating, which is why it can be beneficial to replenish your skin afterward with a nourishing face cream. Most toners without alcohol are water-based and may contain moisturizing ingredients or active ingredients such as chemical exfoliants (AHA/BHAs), which can be an added benefit.
One of our favorite toners is Thayers Alcohol-Free Rose Petal Witch Hazel with Aloe Vera, which has a subtle rose petal scent. For an unscented version, we like Thayers Alcohol-Free Witch Hazel Toner with Aloe Vera Formula, Unscented. Both toners are gentle, designed for all skin types (including sensitive skin), and easy to find in the skincare aisle of most chain stores. After you cleanse, gently pat your skin dry, then pour some toner onto a cotton round and apply it gently to your skin.
Toners made with glycolic acid can also be a good option and a gentle way to introduce chemical exfoliation into your routine. For more info on glycolic acid (an AHA, or alpha hydroxy acid) and all things chemical exfoliation, be sure to check out the Curology Guide to Chemical Exfoliation.
Below are a few other toners you might consider trying but remember, we aren’t affiliated with any other skincare brands. We make recommendations based on what our very own professional skin experts suggest!
Claims to soothe and hydrate irritated, dehydrated skin
Contains Centella Asiatica leaf water and mineral water from Jeju Island, Korea
Alcohol and fragrance-free
A good option for sensitive, dry skin
Contains grapefruit extract
Includes glycolic acid, an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) that is a type of chemical exfoliant
Best when used slow and steady, 1–2 times per week (which is generally how you should use any new chemical exfoliant)
Bee venom supposedly acts as an astringent, no alcohol necessary
Contains niacinamide, an ingredient that can help with hyperpigmentation (we even include it in some of our custom skincare formulas)
Helps to moisturize the skin
Consider avoiding if you have dry skin and, of course, if you’re allergic to bees!
Designed for all skin types
A fragrant, earthy scent
A great option for an AHA toner
From a product line that focuses on natural ingredients
Purifying, moisturizing toner
Designed for all skin types and has great reviews
Has a soothing, thick consistency
Can be used as a moisturizing step in your routine, after cleansing and before other products
Has a light floral scent
Real talk: Most skincare companies are going to tell you to buy more products to achieve the skin of your dreams. We, on the other hand, are always excited to share ways to simplify your routine and make life easier—for you and your skin. Think of it this way: One less step in your everyday routine means a few more minutes of snoozing in the morning, and one less product to purchase means more you can save or spend elsewhere. If that sounds like laziness or cheap talking, keep in mind that getting a good night’s rest is more important to your skin’s health than using toner. Instead, apply that Curology custom cream before bed and rest easy while it does the pore-clearing dirty work for you.
When it comes to skincare products, we have your back. Whether you want to fight breakouts, reduce fine lines, or work on brightening your skin, we’re here to answer all your skincare questions. If you want to clear your skin with our Custom Formula, we’ve got you covered for acne treatment and saying goodbye to pimples.
One of the easiest ways to get personalized dermatology-backed skincare is with Curology. Just take a quick skin quiz and snap a few selfies to get paired with a dermatology provider. We’ll take a look at your skin and, if Curology is right for you, send a Custom Formula with a mix of active ingredients chosen for your unique skin directly to your door—for free* (you’ll just cover $4.95 for shipping and handling). As part of your treatment plan, you can try any of our recommended Curology skincare products at no extra cost. As an online skincare service, we’re all about making medical-grade skincare accessible to everyone, no matter where you call home.
Certain toners can bring chemical exfoliation into your skincare routine. If you want some chemical exfoliation it’s generally okay to use one. If you’re considering using a toner to fight acne, remember that many alternative acne treatments are available.
If you’re thinking of adding a toner to your routine, the idea is to incorporate it as seamlessly as possible into your skincare routine, use a toner after washing your face and follow with a moisturizer and any other skin treatments.
Lachenmeier D. W. Safety evaluation of topical applications of ethanol on the skin and inside the oral cavity.Journal of occupational medicine and toxicology (London, England), (2008 November 13).
Lachenmeier D. W. Safety evaluation of topical applications of ethanol on the skin and inside the oral cavity.Journal of occupational medicine and toxicology Ibid.
American Academy of Dermatology. 6 Rosacea skin care tips dermatologists give their patients. (n.d.).
* Subject to consultation. Subscription is required. Results may vary.
This article was originally published on February 04, 2022, and updated on June 17, 2022.
Donna McIntyre, NP-BC