Face toners don’t always get the same attention as other products in a skincare regimen, and some just skip this step entirely. But if you’re serious about good skin, don’t underestimate the power of toners.
First and foremost, toners exist to achieve a pH balance, usually of around 3.5 to 4 for a healthy glow — if this sounds a bit science-y, it’s because skincare is science-y. They also check off a handful of other important boxes, including lightly exfoliating, hydrating, and soothing the skin. Over time, you can actually improve your skin’s texture.
What you need to steer clear of, however, are toners that remove the skin’s natural oils and leave it feeling tight and dry. This step, applied after cleansing, is to prep skin for moisturizing — not leave it thirsty for hydration.
Finding the best face toner may involve some trial and error, but to save you the struggle we nerded out on them.
Here are the best face toners out there right now
Facial Treatment Clear Lotion
From the Japanese brand that introduced us to its highly-coveted essence (we’ll save essences for another article) comes an equally impressive toner: the Facial Treatment Clear Lotion. Like the essence, SK-II uses PITERA™, an ingredient taken from yeast fermentation. Translation? It contains over 50 micro-nutrients, and, combined with alpha hydroxy acids, makes for a powerful product that helps to brighten skin and smooth texture.
The Wellness Connoisseur
If you like kombucha as much as us, it’s time you add it to your skincare routine. While applying it topically sounds like a short-lived wellness trend, there are some real benefits. The probiotics in kombucha can help skin restore its barrier functions, especially if you’re prone to inflammatory skin conditions, like acne. It’s also full of vitamins (B1, B6, B12, and C).
Milk Makeup’s Matcha Toner uses kombucha, and also delivers a toner in a solid formula that rolls onto the skin via a stick (like a glue stick you rub onto your face). If for no other reason, it’s a satisfying sensory experience.
The Old Faithful
Ultra Facial Toner
Kiehl’s may not be a flex for the skincare snob, but we’re confident that if you poke around their bathroom cabinets, you’ll find a bottle or two of this tucked away. That’s because it's simply one of the best face toners out there. The Ultra Facial Toner is extremely gentle, pH balanced, and uses ingredients like squalane (a lipid derived from olives), apricot kernel oil, and avocado oil to balance the skin.
Lotion P50 Original "1970"
“In the world of skincare nerds, Lotion P50 is a highly cult-like and controversial product. It is an exfoliating glycolic acid toner that gives one the sensation of crème-brûlée-torching one’s own face — the after-effects are stunning. To add to its dangerous allure, the makers of P50 highly recommend that no one try the product unless recommended by a facialist associated with the brand, a step that almost none of its users make. P50 comes in a number of formulations, but 1970 is my favorite because it includes phenol, an ingredient that’s banned for personal care products in some countries. Phenol numbs the face a bit, reducing the sting of the toner and also giving you a American-Psycho-I’m-so-beautiful-yet-dead-inside feeling that makes it feel well worth the price tag.” - Thom Bettridge, Editor-in-Chief
Stands the Test of Time
Aloe Vera Toner
With retailers filing for bankruptcy left and right, you deserve a parade if you’ve been in operation for over 50 years. Mario Badescu launched his namesake line in 1967 in New York City with a focus on no-fuss, effective skincare. A solid example of this is his Aloe Vera Toner, which is alcohol- and fragrance-free, sensitive-skin-friendly, and leaves your face feeling refreshed both morning and night.
This toner is actually made with real rose petals, which isn’t just luxe but has real implications for your skin. The oils in roses not only help soothe skin, but they help to retain moisture, which means the next step in your routine — moisturizing — will thank you.
The Sustainable Snob
REN Clean Skincare is known for its, well, “clean” approach to beauty. It focuses on sustainably-sourced ingredients (and packaging) that’s all about easy, results-driven skincare. Designed for sensitive skin, its AHA toner gently exfoliates, brightens your complexion, and reduces the size of pores by using lactic acid and willow bark, among other ingredients, making it one of the best face toners out there.
This toner is free of alcohol, parabens, BHA, synthetic fragrances, and a whole lot more, which begs the question: what exactly is in it? Organic aloe leaf juice, omega-rich botanicals, green tea leaf extract, and cactus flower extract are just a few of the ingredients here. As one Highsnobiety staffer put it: “It’s like eating a salad. Amazing fresh herbs for when you’re feeling pure and not stained by the world.”
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