13 best face toners for every skin type

Toners. We’ve all heard of them, we’ve seen them on our granny’s dresser and we’ve been told to “cleanse, tone and moisturise“. Except, does anyone know what they’re actually supposed to do?

We spoke to Alise Mihai, aesthetic skin practitioner at Skin+IQ Clinic to work out what’s what.

What is a face toner and how can it benefit skin?

“The primary purpose of a toner is to remove any excess oil, dirt and impurities that may have been left on your skin after cleansing,” says Alise. It can also help to lift away any residue left behind by your cleanser. “This prepares skin for a much better serum or moisturiser absorption and it should also help to restore your skin’s PH balance [which can be disrupted when cleansing].” 

But because we love an opportunity to level-up our skincare steps, most toners come with additional benefits that can help skin. “You can now find a toner suitable for all kinds of skin types and many different individual needs,” says Alise. “You can find toners with various active ingredients incorporated to target different skin concerns.” For instance, a toner with salicylic acid (such as Obaig’s Pore Therapy) can help to calm spots, a toner with exfoliating acids (such as Pixi’s Glow Tonic) can help smooth and brighten skin and a toner with nourishing ingredients like honey can help to soothe sensitivity – all of which can help to improve the texture and appearance of skin.

Who is a toner best for?

“A toner is particularly helpful if you have oily and acne prone skin,” says Alise, but anyone can benefit from one, especially if you choose one tailored to your skin concerns.

How/when to use a toner?

“Apply it straight after cleansing as most people don’t know that active ingredients (like vitamin C, retinol and glycolic acids) in skincare products work better when applied onto moist skin,” says Alise. Then leave it to sink in before applying next steps like a  serum and face cream.

A history on toners

A bit of background: when toners first arrived on the skincare scene, they tended to be very harsh and packed with drying alcohol to reduce oil production. “Decades ago we used to wash our faces and bodies with lye-based soaps, which left residues on our skin, so toners were used to remove that excess scum,” explains Alise. “They were first made with rosewater, however later alcohol was incorporated as it removed the residue much better. It was then also discovered that alcohol helped with spots due to its drying and antibacterial properties. So toners were around long before they were called ‘toners’ and long before they started gaining mass popularity in the 1980’s. Instead, they used to be called Skin Tonics and Astringents. They were usually quite harsh with perfumes, ammonia and alcohol as women were looking for something that would help tighten facial muscles and that’s exactly how toners were advertised – to give life to tired facial muscles, and all those harsh ingredients had a tightening effect – unfortunately short lasting,” Alise adds. But toners have come on a long way since then. 

Do we really need a toner?

“Is a toner a 100% necessary part of your skin care routine? Probably not. But it can make you feel like your skin has had an extra boost, so the choice is yours,” says Alise. “Personally I think if you have acne prone and oily skin then a toner should definitely be the second step in your everyday routine.”

Here are a few of the best toners for every skin type…