Best Toner: What It Is, How It’s Used, and Why You Need It in Your Skin Care Routine

Many guys, even those of us who are swimming pretty deep into the skincare deep end, haven’t bothered finding the best toner. Unlike a powerful serum or moisturizer or retinol, the results after a month aren’t super tangible. There are no flashy before/after pictures floating around skincare Reddit singing the praises of toner.

But skipping toner is a mistake: it’s a crucial component of a serious skin care routine. You apply it to freshly cleansed skin, before any other products. It works to restore balance to your skin before the rest of your routine, whether that’s out-of-whack pH or imbalanced oil production (skin that’s too oily or too dry.) A good toner helps oily skin dry out; it helps dry skin get more hydrated. A good toner also “resets” the skin to a healthy pH level (roughly 5.5 out of 14.)

Then, on your balanced and neutral skin, your other products are able to work that much more effectively. Using toner is like putting down a coat of primer before painting your walls—you won’t see it in the end, but you’ve gotta do it if you want to do a good job.

What makes a good toner?

There’s just one hard rule: Never use a toner with alcohol—in fact, avoid astringents at all costs. These were common in toners in an earlier age of skin care; some of them have stuck around. They will try out your skin to the point of redness, inflammation, and acne. Beyond that, the best toner will depend on what you’re using it for—read on.

Who needs a toner?

People with excessively oily or persistently dry skin, those who are acne prone, and those who use lots of products are the best candidates for toners—in short, anyone with skin. You can deploy a toner ad hoc, too, if you’re experiencing any momentary imbalances stressed, like if you’re especially and notice unusual acne. Or, if you wore a bunch of makeup (and then used a bunch of cleansers to remove it) and as a result want to recalibrate your skin to prevent dryness or breakouts.

Of course, talk to your dermatologist if you are experiencing chronic redness, acne, inflammation, and even excess sebum production in the skin. Your doctor can determine what is the best path forward, and that would be a good time to get their recommendations on toners.

How do you use toner?

After washing your face, you can either splash the toner onto a cotton pad or onto your freshly washed finger tips. Toners are really runny, essentially like water, so go easy with it. Either way, massage it onto your face. You can either spot-apply to a specific problem area, or apply evenly. Just start down the middle of the forehead, applying outward to the temples. Then at the nose, and apply outward underneath the eyes. Then the same from the chin, outward onto the cheeks. (And don’t forget your upper lip!)

Let it set and absorb for 15-30 seconds, then proceed with any serums before finishing with moisturizer.

Which toner is best for me?

This can vary based on your needs. But here are ones that we suggest, for different concerns, all of which are alcohol free and filled with nourishing ingredients.

If your skin is oily or acne prone

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Biossance willowbark extract and squalane toner

Biossance’s toner is the quintessential best: It reduces the appearance of pores while also unclogging them and preventing future buildup. It hydrates skin with squalane, too, making it equally helpful on dry skin.

If you have sensitive skin

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Thayers witch hazel toner

The big boss in the toner game, Thayers calms skin with aloe vera while it balances oil levels and pH alike.

If your skin is overly dry

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innisfree hydrating toner

Infused with green tea extract and seed oil as well as panthenol, this toner restores dry skin to a state of hydrated harmony.

If fighting aging is your main skincare goal

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Cardon exfoliating toner wipes

Cardon’s wipes soothe skin with cactus extract, stimulate circulation with caffeine, and gently exfoliate with poly hydroxy acids. Their gentle, daily use promotes firm, bright, clear complexion. (And of course, they balance oil and pH levels, too.)

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