Of all the core skincare products of our youth, a toner perhaps brings back the worst memories. If acne was a problem during your teenage years, you’re likely familiar with alcohol-heavy astringent toners.
Inevitably, our efforts would leave us with overly dry, even flaky skin. The good news is the beauty world has moved past these harsh formulas. Indeed, today’s toners are crafted to rebalance the pH levels of your skin after deep-cleansing.
And, if you’re facing harsh weather or just have dry skin, you’re in luck, too. The best toners for dry skin today help refresh, brighten and moisturize your face. We tapped some of our favorite beauty editors and writers for their top picks.
The classic one that’s classic for good reason
I’ve tried many toners, but I always make my way back to Clinique’s Clarifying Lotion. They have five different formulas for varying skin types, and I use the number two. I discovered it eight years ago in grad school, and no toner has made my skin look more even and feel more clean since.
Now it does smell like an astringent, but not in an overbearing way. Also, the bottle is freakin’ HUGE, so it lasts forever. You shouldn’t need to buy more than two to three a year. (Using it once a day should be enough.) You’re using WAY too much if you’re going through more than that and I’m gonna need you to reel it in, sis.
—Essence Gant, Sr. beauty editor, BuzzFeed’s As/Is
I have dry skin and have been using Clinique’s Clarifying Lotion since I was a teenager. It’s an exfoliating lotion, which means it helps the moisturizers I apply afterwards (like serums and oils) absorb better into my skin. It smells slightly herbal-y and leaves my face feeling squeaky clean but never stripped of moisture!
—Tomoko Takeda Canel, beauty writer, editor
The one that’s a worthy splurge
Oddly, people (namely derms and beauty editors) are on the fence about whether you actually need a toner. While I don’t use one daily, it is something I like to keep in my arsenal to wake up my complexion—and make sure every last bit of makeup is gone.
A few of my faves include Dickinson’s Enhanced Witch Hazel Hydrating Toner ($5.97), La Prairie Cellular Softening and Balancing Lotion ($180), and Fresh Black Tea Kombucha Facial Treatment Essence ($68). Each of them cover different needs—Dickinson’s for acne, La Prairie for dry skin, and Fresh for when my skin looks a bit dull.
—Janell M. Hickman, freelance beauty editor and creative consultant
The one that’s made for oily, breakout-prone skin
As someone who had some bad experiences with toners in my wayward youth (looking at you, Sea Breeze astringent), I’ve always been wary of them. Perhaps that’s why I’m so fond flower waters—they have some of the same oil-controlling properties as regular toners, but won’t leave your face feeling like you got up close and personal with a piece of sandpaper.
After years of testing and a small lake’s worth of face mists, I can confidently say that the best toner around has got to be Shea Terra Organics Moroccan Orange Flower Beauty Water. Made for oily, breakout-prone skin, this lush-smelling, certified-organic tonic has legitimately one ingredient in it: steam-distilled water from the neroli flower.
In addition to keeping your oil in check, it’s anti-bacterial, meaning it helps ward off the bacteria responsible for acne. It’s also anti-inflammatory as well as hydrating. A few mists of this in the morning before applying my gel moisturizer and my skin is dewy, soft, and glowy. Also, it costs $16, so there’s that.
—Megan McIntyre, beauty and wellness writer
The one that gentle enough for sensitive skin
I really love Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid. I used to think using a toner that has salicylic acid in would be too much for my sensitive/rosacea-prone skin…but it’s actually the total opposite. The toner is super gentle and does an AMAZING job at exfoliating off any dead skin and evening out my skin tone. My skin legit glows after I use this stuff.
—Jamie Stone, founder and editor of Honestly Jamie
The one that’s a great for deep-cleansing
My skin leans dehydrated with a side of blemish-prone, and I’ve learned that gentle toners keep my skin more balanced. Strictly speaking, this cleansing water isn’t a traditional toner, but it’s a brilliant post-cleansing step. I pour a few drops on a pad and am always amazed by how much it picks up: dirt, oil, makeup. More importantly, it leaves my skin feeling comforted, soft, and hydrated.
—Annie Tomlin, editorial director, Rose Inc.