Toner: the frenemy in your skincare routine

Do you need to use toner? What does it do, anyway? Let’s find out.

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Curology Team
Jul 11, 2018 · 4 min read

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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.
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Toner is one of those things you see on the shelves in the skincare aisle that seems a bit extra.

Our position: while a printer requires toner to work, your skin doesn’t. Toner is an unnecessary step in your skincare routine. But if you want a gentle hit of chemical exfoliation — say, if your skin’s pretty oily, or your pores are stubbornly clogged — it’s okay to use one.

Just be careful which one you get. You don’t want an astringent toner. Astringents are alcohol-based, and can lead to irritated, dried-out skin. Non-astringent toners are water-based and often contain moisturizing ingredients, or other active ingredients such as chemical exfoliants (AHA/BHAs), which can be an added benefit.

Our go-to? Thayers Alcohol-Free Rose Petal Witch Hazel with Aloe Vera (slightly fragrant with a nice rose petal scent), or for an unscented version: Thayers Alcohol-Free Witch Hazel Toner with Aloe Vera Formula, Unscented. This toner is gentle, good for all skin types (including sensitive skin), and easy to find in the skincare aisle of most chain stores. (Fun fact: Thayers states they’re the only brand that uses non-distilled extract from the witch hazel shrub.) After you cleanse, gently pat your skin dry, then pour some onto a cotton round and apply it gently to your skin.

Toners made with glycolic acid are also 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, check out the Curology Guide to Chemical Exfoliation!

(Remember: we aren’t affiliated with any other skincare brands. We make recommendations based on what our very own professional skin experts recommend!)

Toners we recommend, should you be so inclined

Cosrx Galactomyces Alcohol Free Toner

  • Fermented products are an Asian beauty trend

  • They claim to boost antioxidants (but we are not aware of any trials supporting this)

Mario Badescu Aloe Vera Toner

  • Really gentle

  • Alcohol and fragrance-free

  • Ideal for sensitive, dry skin

Mario Badescu Glycolic Acid Toner

  • Contains grapefruit extract

  • Glycolic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA), one type of chemical exfoliant

  • Remember to start slow and steady, 1–2 times per week, when starting any new chemical exfoliant

BENTON Snail Bee High Content Skin

Bee venom is supposed to act as an astringent without alcohol

  • Contains niacinamide, which we love and include in some of our custom skincare formulas

  • A moisturizing toner

  • Maybe avoid if you have dry skin, and of course if you’re allergic to bees!

Cosrx AHA 7 Whitehead Power Liquid

  • No color, no scent

  • Really gentle

  • Good for all skin types

Pixi Glow Tonic

  • Feels gentle

  • Interesting, earthy scent

  • As far as AHA toners go, this is a great option!

Caudalie Moisturizing Toner

  • This product line focuses on natural ingredients

  • Purifying, moisturizing toner

  • Good for all skin types, has great reviews

Whamisa Natural Fermentation Organic Flowers Skin Toner — Deep Rich

  • Very thick consistency for a toner

  • You can use this as a moisturizing step in your routine, after cleansing and before essences, serums, or ampoules

  • Has a light smell, slightly floral/earthy

When in doubt, don’t bother with toner

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. Think of it this way: one less step in your everyday routine means a few more minutes of snoozing in the morning. If that sounds like laziness 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 cream before bed and rest easy while it does the pore-clearing dirty work for you. You’re welcome!

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