Forget the skin-stripping acne astringents of your teens — toners have come a long way since those old-school dehydrating astringents designed solely for those who want to control oily skin. Today's formulas are much more advanced, packed with skin-boosting benefits — including hydrators like glycerin and exfoliators like glycolic acid — that will leave you glowing.
"There are now less-drying formulas on the market that are alcohol- and astringent-free," says Good Housekeeping Institute Beauty Lab chemist Danusia Wnek. This new generation of milder toners (often labeled as facial essences, tonics, waters or solutions) are good for your face, no matter your skin type. "These versions contain treatment ingredients similar to serums and moisturizers, so they’re gentler,” says Joshua Zeichner, M.D., Director of Cosmetic & Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
What is a face toner, and what does it do for your skin?
Toners are a water-based skin care liquid that's applied to dry skin after face cleansing using fingers, a cotton ball or cloth, and before using other leave-on skincare treatments like serums and moisturizers."The goal of a toner is to remove any excess residue from cleansing and prep the skin for other skincare products," Wnek says. A good toner can help make sure your skin is totally clean and gunk-free, plus give it an extra dose of active ingredients. And yes, you should use a toner every day: You can apply it once or twice per day, in the morning and/or evening.
Are toners really necessary?
Many multi-step skincare routines tout the use of a toner, but while toners may feel like a skippable step, you may want to consider using one if you're looking for additional complexion-purifying and brightening benefits, or you want to swap out heavier serums and creams for a lighter complexion-boosting liquid in warmer months.
What to look for in a toner
Toners can make many claims, such as removing oil, tightening pores, restoring the skin's pH balance and cleaning pores deeply. Sounds great, right? Before you grab any ol' toner off the shelf, you should consider your current skin care regimen and skin type, as the strengths and ingredients of these products can vary.
It may take a little trial and error to find which kind of toner you like best. The trick is to find a product that isn't too irritating to your skin type. If you use a deep-cleansing face wash, then you may want to try a mild toner. On the other hand, if you use something rich like a cold cream to remove makeup and cleanse, a stronger toner can be perfect for zapping excess oil and refreshing skin. Those with sensitive skin should only use very mild toners to avoid any unnecessary irritation.
Our advice: When shopping for a toner, look for formulations tailored to your complexion type or primary skin concern or goal. Here are Wnek's suggestions:
- To shrink pores, look for astringents, such as alcohols or witch hazel, that tighten skin. An astringent is a toner formula that's made with ingredients like alcohol that help remove excess oil from the skin.
- To exfoliate skin or reduce hyperpigmentation, can the label for hydroxy acids, including salicylic acid and lactic acid, which increase cell turnover and make your skin glow.
- For dry skin or sensitive skin, opt for soothing, hydrating ingredients and humectants like glycerin, niacinamide or aloe to hydrate without irritation.
The best toner is the one that's right for your skin type and concerns. We chose these toners based on recommendations from GH Beauty Lab scientists and experts of all skin types, who rigorously test hundreds of skincare product formulas each year, including toners, evaluating them on factors such as ease of use (including application and scent) and look and feel of skin after use both instantly and over time.
- Best Overall Toner: Pixi Glow Tonic
- Best Value Drugstore Toner: Clean & Clear Brightening Lemon Juice Facial Toner
- Best Toner for Glowing Skin: HydroPeptide Hydraflora Probiotic Essence
- Best Toner for Dry Skin: Fresh Rose Deep Hydration Facial Toner
- Best Toner for Acne: GlamGlow SuperToner Exfoliating Acid Solution
- Best Toner for Combination Skin: BioEffect EGF Hydrating Essence
- Best Toner for Oily Skin: Herbivore Botanicals Jasmine Green Tea Balancing Toner
- Best Toner for Sensitive Skin: L'Occitane Immortelle Essential Water
- Best Toner for Tightening Pores: Bioré Witch Hazel Pore Clarifying Toner
- Best Brightening Toner: Caudalie Vinoperfect Brightening Glycolic Essence
- Best Anti-Aging Toner: SK-II Facial Treatment Essence
- Best Hydrating Toner: Yves Saint Laurent Pure Shots Hydra Bounce Essence-in-Lotion
- Best Natural Toner: Thayer's Alcohol-Free Witch Hazel Toner
- Best Toner for Redness: Paula's Choice Clear Anti-Redness Exfoliating Solution
- Best K-Beauty Toner: Glow Recipe Watermelon Glow PHA + BHA Pore-Tight Toner
Here, more on the best face toners you can buy for all skin types, including the best toners for oily skin, the best toners for sensitive skin, the best toners for combination skin and the best toners for acne-prone skin.
- Gently exfoliates skin while also hydrating
- Great for all skin types
Pixi's exfoliating toner has become a cult classic and a go-to for the analysts in the GH Beauty Lab. Why? This does-it-all pick works to address multiple skin concerns. “It contains oil-nixing astringents, soothing aloe, exfoliating glycolic acid and moisturizing humectants, all effective ingredients in a toner,” Wnek says. “It smells great and noticeably makes my skin glow in the morning after applying it before bed."
Main Benefits: Exfoliating, radiance-boosting
Key Ingredients: Glycolic acid, witch hazel
Size: 4.2 oz.
- Affordable price
- Oil- and alcohol-free
- Brightens and softens skin
Pick up this oil-free Clean & Clear formula if you're looking for a no-frills formula that will keep skin bright and soft. It's made without alcohol, which can over-dry skin, and with skincare ingredients like softening glycerin as well as brightening lemon extract and vitamin C. "It smells amazing and keeps my skin looking bright and clear," one Amazon reviewer said.
Main Benefits: Purifying, brightening
Key Ingredients: Vitamin C, lemon extract
Size: 7.5 oz.
- Contains brightening ingredients
- Leaves skin dewy
The ingredients in HydroPeptide's toner essence sound like a refreshing smoothie, loaded with coconut water, probiotics and a laundry list of vibrancy-boosting fruit extracts, from lemon to orange and grapefruit. “I dispense some with the convenient pump, then splash it directly onto my face,” says GH Beauty Lab Director Birnur Aral, Ph.D. “It gives my skin an overall glistening finish and feels refreshing.”
Main Benefits: Glow-boosting, refreshing
Key Ingredients: Probiotics
Size: 4 oz.
- Softens skin
- Rose water and oil are non-drying
- Not clarifying for acne-prone skin
Fresh's nourishing treatment toner, made with glycerin, rose flower water and oil, proves that toners don't have to strip skin and leave it dehydrated. This all-in-one formulas works to remove impurities and soften skin. As GH's Beauty Director, my parched skin drinks this right up and it feels really quenching. Plus, I love that you can see the real rose petals floating inside — so luxurious.
Main Benefits: Softening, soothing
Key Ingredients: Rose extracts, hyaluronic acid
Size: 8.4 oz.
- Contains powerful acne-fighting ingredients
- Makes pores less visible
- May be dehydrating for dry skin
This GlamGlow toner solution is packed with blemish-fighting actives like salicylic, glycolic and lactic acids to remove dead skin cells, plus astringent witch hazel to keep your skin smooth and breakout-free. “It’s really helpful if I’m breaking out, as it cleans out my pores, curbs blemishes and helps clarify,” says former GH beauty assistant Katie Berohn. “It's also fun to use — it’s an emulsion formula so you shake it to activate, and it looks shimmery and pretty.”
Main Benefits: Acne-fighting, pore-clearing
Key Ingredients: Glycolic and salicylic acids
Size: 7 oz.
- Ingredients work to balance skin
- Refreshing and softening
This alcohol-, oil-, and fragrance-free formula from BioEffect is perfect for balancing combination skin with both dry and oily areas. “I wasn’t an essence user until this came along — it contains the same potent growth factors found in the brand's serums,” Dr. Aral says. “It refreshes and hydrates skin at the same time, especially in the summer when I don’t need heavy moisturization."
Main Benefits: Softening, refreshing
Key Ingredients: Epidermal growth factor, citric acid
Size: 3.38 oz.
- Minimizes oil
- Pleasant scent
- Easy-to-use spray
- Glass bottle not portable
Combat a greasy complexion with this toner spray, made with oil-reducing witch hazel and willow bark (a form of salicylic acid), plus jasmine water for a subtle floral, not medicinal, scent. "It immediately makes my face feel less oily," one Dermstore reviewer raved. Meanwhile, antioxidant-loaded green tea extract helps reduce the appearance of fine lines.
Main Benefits: Purifying, oil-reducing
Key Ingredients: Witch hazel, willow bark
Size: 4 oz.
- Soothes skin
- Contains natural ingredients
- Botanical scent
- Not astringent for oily or acne-prone skin
L'Occitane's toner water is infused with soothing botanicals like helichrysum (immortelle) extract, rose water and sunflower seed oil to tamp down on redness and calm skin. When I use this, my face feels instantly cooled and calm. Plus, it smells herbal and warm, like immortelle flowers dried in the Corsican sun, where the ingredient is harvested.
Main Benefit: Soothing
Key Ingredients: Botanical oils and waters, hyaluronic acid
Size: 6.7 oz.
- Contains powerful pore-clearing ingredients
- Bargain price
- May be drying or irritating for dry/sensitive skin
Infused with the skin-clearing active ingredient salicylic acid plus astringent witch hazel and alcohol, this Bioré toner helps dissolve oil and prevent clogged complexions and enlarged pores. "It made my blackheads disappear!" one Amazon reviewer raved.
Main Benefits: Oil-reducing, pore clarifying
Key Ingredients: Salicylic acid, witch hazel
Size: 8 oz.
- Exfoliates skin to brighten
- Natural scent
- Glass bottle not portable
Even out skin tone with this Caudalie essence toner, made with exfoliating, brightening glycolic and citric acids, plus nourishing glycerin and grape and orange flower waters. A GH beauty team favorite, it's also earned rave reviews on Dermstore. "After one week, my dark spots vanished," a reviewer marveled.
Main Benefits: Exfolating, brightening
Key Ingredients: Glycolic and citric acids
- Smooths skin
- Glass bottle not portable
A pioneer in the treatment essence category, SK-II's powerful liquid is a cult classic for its skin-smoothing effects on mature skin, thanks to a proprietary yeast extract that gently exfoliates skin. "My skin texture and tone really improved shortly after I started using this," a Dermstore reviewer said.
Main Benefits: Smoothing, exfoliating
Key Ingredients: Yeast extract
Size: 2.5 oz.
- Plumps dry skin
- Contains softening ingredients
- Doesn't contain purifying or acne-fighting ingredients
Another GH beauty editor favorite for dry complexions, Yves Saint Laurent's essence is formulated with nourishing ingredients like vitamins E and B3. "This toner is more viscous than other more liquidy formulas, so it feels cushiony going on dehydrated skin and leaves it feeling fresh and plump," one GH beauty editor notes.
Main Benefits: Softening, plumping
Key Ingredients: Vitamin E and B3
Size: 3.4 oz.
- Made with plant-based ingredients
- Great value
- May be dehydrating
Go back to basics with this classic, unscented Thayers toner that contains no alcohol. It's based on just a few naturally-derived ingredients, including witch hazel and aloe, making it a great choice for any skin type.
Main Benefits: Purifying
Key Ingredients: Witch hazel, aloe
Size: 12 oz.
- Minimizes inflammation
- Contains acne treatment ingredients
- Could irritate those sensitive to acids
Tackle both redness and breakouts at once with this exfoliating toner from Paula's Choice. "It absorbs quickly, reducing the appearance of redness and pores," Wnek says. "It also contains salicylic acid for acne-fighting, so checks off many boxes for my unique skin."
Main Benefits: Redness-reducing, acne-fighting
Key Ingredients: Salicylic acid, hyaluronic acid
Size: 4 oz.
- Minimizes appearance of pores
- Increases radiance
- Fruity scent may be polarizing
From the brand inspired by Korean beauty, Glow Recipe, this toner is part of the Watermelon Glow collection, which has gained a cult following. Made with salicylic acid and a long list of botanical extracts, "this toner managed to boost radiance, reduce the look of my pores and keep my breakouts to a minimum," a Sephora reviewer raved.
Main Benefits: Exfolating, radiance-boosting
Key Ingredients: Salicylic acid
Size: 5.07 oz