What Is a Toner Used For? Plus, the Best Pick for Your Skin Type

BY Jessica Griffiths · August 28, 2017

woman applying toner to her face

The skin care arsenal is an ever-growing stronghold as celebrities and experts weigh in on what we need to best equip ourselves in the battle against aging. Toner is one of those weapons we hear so much about, but what is toner and how does it work for your skin? 

What Is a Toner Used For?

A toner is used to complete the cleansing of the skin, effectively removing impurities that remain after washing your face. A well-formulated toner can enhance and replenish the skin after you remove your makeup and cleanse. Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Erin Gilbert, MD, PHD describes toners as a nice “self-care moment that gives you that spa feeling.”

The Best Toner for Your Skin Type

In discussing the myriad qualities of toners, Dr. Gilbert explains they offer different benefits—depending on your skin type and the ingredients in the formula. She gives a few examples, stating that toners can soothe skin, tighten skin or balance out oil production. The efficacy of the toner depends on its active ingredients, and you should be particularly conscious of your skin type when selecting a toner. Here are the ingredients to look for when choosing a toner for your skin type—along with our top recommendations.

Acne-Prone Skin: Salicylic Acid

Dr. Gilbert says, “For people who are acne prone and need to get rid of excess oil, that can be achieved by a toner.” Look for products with salicylic acid as the active ingredient as it gently exfoliates and removes dead skin, while also increasing cell turnover and collagen production.

Try: Glytone Acne Clearing Toner

Combination Skin: Lactic Acid

For combination skin, lactic acid is a godsend. This is because it hydrates dry skin, but does so gently and thus works for sensitive skin as well. Additionally, it does not thin the skin.

Try: PCA Skin Nutrient Toner

Dry Skin: Glycerin or Essential Oils

Got dry skin? Stay away from toners with alcohol in them, as it dries you out. Dr. Gilbert suggests you look for products containing glycerin, a moisturizer with emollient-like properties that will soften the skin. Essential oils can also work great for dry skin as they nourish and smooth, but Dr. Gilbert warns that “some people have hypersensitivity to essential oils, which can create contact dermatitis.”

Try: Yon-Ka Lotion Yon-Ka – Dry Skin Toner

Mature Skin: Aloe Vera or Vitamin C

If you have mature skin, Dr. Gilbert advises using aloe vera as it is “soothing and moisturizes without breaking people out.” Also, look for vitamin C because it’s rich in antioxidants, which target free radicals and protect the skin in the fight against aging.

Try: Dermalogica AGE Smart Antioxidant HydraMist

Normal Skin: Coenzyme Q10 or Hyaluronic Acid

With normal skin, look for toners containing ingredients such coenzyme Q10 and hyaluronic acid. Coenzyme Q10 is a powerful antioxidant and Hyaluronic Acid will replenish moisture, giving your skin a hydrated, softer look and feel.

Try: Indie Lee CoQ-10 Toner

Oily Skin: Bentonite Clay or Witch Hazel

For oily skin, look for products that contain bentonite clay, as it can control shine and purify the skin, which is crucial for congested pores. Additionally, Dr. Gilbert notes that witch hazel is an ideal active ingredient for oily skin as it’s a natural astringent andcan tighten your skin.”

Try: Sunday Riley Martian Mattifying Melting Water-Gel Toner

Sensitive Skin: Algae or Amino Acids

If you have sensitive skin, you’ll also want to look for Aloe Vera in your toner because of its soothing qualities. Additionally, algae will benefit your skin as it contains amino acids, which work to detoxify and remove impurities that can irritate the skin.

Try: Exuviance Soothing Toning Lotion


While utilizing the right toner for your skin type will undoubtedly yield benefits, Dr. Gilbert believes in a smart skin care regimen and that if you’re using an effective cleanser, serum, moisturizer and sunscreen, you might not need toner. Basically, she says, “Toner is not the biggest gun in your anti-aging armamentarium.” The biggest gun? Moisturizer. Find your ideal protection: “The Best Moisturizer for Your Skin Type.” 

Jessica Griffiths

Jessica Griffiths is a writer living in Los Angeles. Her essays have been published on The Hairpin and Narratively. She loves many things including puns, pups and police procedurals. She strongly believes there’s no wrong way to eat a Reese’s.... Read More >

Related Products

You Might Also Like