Best toner: liquid formulas to exfoliate, hydrate and balance every skin type

Our beauty team selects the best toners for smoother, more radiant skin

Best toner selection including La Roche-Posay, Pixi and Liz Earle
(Image credit: Future)

The best toner will help to bring your skin back to its natural pH level after cleansing, prime it for serums and moisturizers, and many offer additional benefits with targeted ingredients to address specific concerns.

If you don’t already use a toner, then crowbarring this extra step into an already-time-consuming skincare routine might seem unnecessary. Experts do agree that, historically, even the best toner wasn’t entirely essential. “Toners were previously used to remove whatever was left behind of your make-up after cleansing,” explains Cosmetic Doctor Dr Sonia Khorana. “However, cleansers are pretty good at doing this job now, and most are also pH-balanced.”

Luckily, toners work harder these days too. “Today toners can be a lot of things, from hydrating to refining to exfoliating," says Dr Marie Drago, microbiome expert and founder of Gallinée. Indeed, toners are no longer a one-size-fits-all and contain active ingredients similar to those you’d find in a supercharged serum or the best night cream. There are toners that target pigmentation and mottled patches, others that gently exfoliate, improving skin texture and luminosity. And if you’re prone to redness, there are gentle, cosseting versions that will slot into a skincare routine for sensitive skin

How to choose the best toner for your skin type

While most experts agree that healthy skin doesn't hinge on using toner, this liquid skincare does offer worthwhile perks. The key is to choose a formulation tailored to your skin type or concern. 

  • If you have visible pores: Nothing is going to physically tighten and constrict your pores, not even the most alcohol-laden toner. However, what an astringent toner does is thoroughly de-gunk pores, purging whatever residue and oil might emphasize their appearance.
  • If you have sensitive skin: The skin barrier is your skin’s frontline defense, keeping moisture locked in and irritants locked out. A weakened skin barrier can lead to redness, irritation, and sensitized skin. Strengthening this outer layer is crucial for healthy skin, and can be supported by the right toner, according to Dr Marie Drago who recommends choosing “a slightly acidic toner to help rebuild the skin barrier”.
  • If your skin is off-balance: Your skin’s pH level sits around 5.5, while water has a level of 7, which means that splashing your face after cleansing can throw your skin off-kilter and cause issues such as redness, excess oil, or flaky skin. Choosing a gentle acid-based toner can work to bring the skin back to a comfortable pH level.
  • If you're dehydrated: Hydrating toners make your skin more receptive to any serums and creams you apply thereafter. When water affects the skin's pH, your moisturizer has to work harder to restore equilibrium before it can begin treating dehydration. A supercharged toner can address the PH issue and give skin an easily-absorbed early moisture boost.  

Toners can also be referred to as essences, tonics or waters. Once you've found the best toner for you, apply it on a daily basis, either splashed onto a cotton pad (reusable for extra eco points) or sprayed directly onto the skin. Always apply to dry skin after cleansing and before other skincare, to make your best eye cream or best retinol cream even more effective.

The best toner for all skin types, chosen by our beauty team

Pixi Glow Tonic Exfoliating Toner

(Image credit: Pixi)

1. Pixi Glow Tonic

The best toner for most people

Specifications

RRP: $29/£18
Key ingredients: Glycolic acid, aloe vera, red ginseng
Designed to: Exfoliate and brighten lacklustre skin

Reasons to buy

+
Alcohol free
+
Boosts luminosity
+
Smells great

Reasons to avoid

-
No downsides, we love it

Pixi Glow Tonic is a cult skincare staple that has acquired legions of adoring fans thanks to its ability to switch on the skin’s glow like a light switch. The 5% glycolic acid formula unglues the bonds that lock dead cells to the surface to purge pores, smooth skin and accelerate cell turnover. All this exfoliating goodness is offset by soothing aloe vera to keep skin feeling nice and comfortable. 

All of this together made make-up application a much smoother task—even the best foundation can look a little uneven if your skin texture isn't quite right, but after using this my base seemed to sit better on my skin, looking more even and natural. From the very first evening, my face looked a lot perkier, and within a week I was waking up to noticeably brighter, healthier-looking skin. This is a great toner to have in your arsenal when your skin is looking a little fatigued and dull.  

Gallinée Face Vinegar

(Image credit: Gallinée)

2. Gallinée Face Vinegar

The best probiotic toner

Specifications

RRP: $35/£23
Key ingredients: Prebiotics, postbiotics
Designed to: Soothe and brighten

Reasons to buy

+
Softens from the first use
+
Soothes sensitive skin
+
Removes leftover make-up amazingly well
+
pH balanced

Reasons to avoid

-
Faint vinegar aroma

Did you know that human skin has one million microbiomes per square centimeter? In nourishing this bacteria with pre- and probiotic skincare, you can strengthen the skin barrier, which translates to smoother, brighter, more resilient and healthy-looking skin. This toner is like plant food for your microbiome, giving those good guys the perfect environment to thrive. We’ll admit, the idea of face vinegar didn’t exactly have us at “Hello” but rest assured, there is only the faintest tang as you splash it on a cotton pad, and you won’t notice it at all once it’s swept over your skin. 

I am lucky in that I don’t have particularly sensitive skin, but in winter it can get a little tight, dry and flaky, all traces of which vanished within days of using this tonic. My skin felt so soft after each daily sweep, and after a week my complexion looked a lot brighter and clearer. What was particularly impressive was how much extra make-up it managed to purge from my pores. As a faithful double cleanser, I never thought I’d need this extra step in my regime but looking at the grimy evidence on the cotton pad has completely convinced me that I need a toner going forwards. And this one is a great, suits-all option.

Philosophy Microdelivery Resurfacing Solution

(Image credit: Philosophy)

3. Philosophy Microdelivery Resurfacing Solution

The best toner for uneven skin tone

Specifications

RRP: $40/£28
Key ingredients: Vitamin C, glycolic acid, niacinamide
Designed to: Exfoliate, brighten and smooth

Reasons to buy

+
Makes skin look glowy
+
Evens out mottled skin tone
+
Gentle exfoliation

Reasons to avoid

-
Pump can be a little messy

People generally fall into two camps—those who love the satisfyingly abrasive feel of a face scrub and those who prefer the softly-softly approach of skincare acid liquid exfoliants. But even those in the former group might be swayed by this daily resurfacing tonic and its baby-like softening effect on the skin. I have always loved the 'feels like it's really doing something' aspect of a physical exfoliator, and Philosophy's groundbreaking at-home, two-step Microdelivery Peel Kit set the bar on that product type. This new liquid variant contains a good dose of resurfacing actives (the 4% alpha-hydroxy acid blend is gentle enough to use daily) but simultaneously boosts skin hydration. 

It has a pump dispenser, a bit like some nail polish removers, which should make things easier by giving you the option to saturate a cotton pad one-handed, but the applicator is a little bit haphazard. Once you apply it, the liquid glides across the face without the slightest tingle despite the presence of glycolic acid, which will be a relief to those with sensitive skin. If you’re worried that this liquid exfoliant might leave dry skin even drier, don't be. There is zero tightness. In fact, this leaves skin plump with moisture after each application, thanks to the welcome addition of hyaluronic acid.

Liz Earle Instant Boost Skin Tonic

(Image credit: Liz Earle)

4. Liz Earle Instant Boost Skin Tonic

The best toner for dry skin

Specifications

RRP: $23/£16.50
Key ingredients: Aloe vera, calendula, cucumber
Designed to: Replenish thirsty skin

Reasons to buy

+
Alcohol-free formula
+
Suitable for sensitive skin
+
Deeply hydrating

Reasons to avoid

-
Leaves skin a little tacky

If plant-powered natural skincare is important to you, treat your skin to this tonic, created back in 1995. It has a lovely, soft botanical scent, fragranced with a blend of essential oils, which belies the naturally active ingredients within the formulation. 

Don't be thrown by the gentle, radiance-enhancing botanical ingredients. This toner produces tangible results. Even after double cleansing, it removed a lot of extra muck on the cotton pad. When the skin feels slightly tight and uncomfortable after cleansing, this tonic cures that symptom—a testament to its pH-balancing credentials, replacing stiffness with a soft and sated feeling. Aloe vera offers instant refreshment and cucumber extract provides a calming, cooling effect. If you have a regime already filled with high-powered actives in serums and creams, this gentle and soothing tonic will be a sympathetic pairing. 

Hylamide Pore Flush

(Image credit: Deciem)

5. Hylamide Pore Flush

The best toner for enlarged pores

Specifications

RRP: $11/£12
Key ingredients: Bridewort bioderivatives, natural marine polymers
Designed to: Purge pores and minimise their appearance

Reasons to buy

+
Alcohol-free formula
+
Mattifying effect 
+
Immediate pore-minimising results

Reasons to avoid

-
Spray won't suit everyone

This toner would make a strong choice for skincare for oily skin or combination skin. The mist takes a two-pronged attack on pores. First, it flushes out congestion and then it reduces sebum overactivity—both of which result in pores eventually appearing smaller. It also provides a more immediate effect by forming a natural marine-derived matrix over the face to constrict pores instantly, and I’d say there definitely was a slight improvement from the get-go. 

I don’t have excessively oily skin, and yet my pores are perceptible from outer space. Well, maybe not, but I’ve always been aware of them. This spray-on mist is directed straight onto the skin. In one respect, this is great. It’s quick, easy, and doesn’t require a cotton pad. However, I found the spray a little gung-ho, so it took a couple of minutes for my skin to dry. Plus, my pores are confined to my T-zone and cheeks, so a spray makes it a little trickier to target those areas. Expect it to take a good few weeks to really see the full effect of a good pore flush but it's definitely worth the wait for oily types.

The Inkey List PHA Toner

(Image credit: The Inkey List)

6. The Inkey List PHA Toner

The best toner for sensitive skin

Specifications

RRP: $10.99/£9.99
Key ingredients: Polyhydroxy acids, niacinamide, aloe barbadensis leaf juice
Designed to: Gently exfoliate and brighten dull, rough, sensitive skin

Reasons to buy

+
Gentle formula
+
Reasonably priced
+
Leaves skin extremely soft

Reasons to avoid

-
Smaller-sized bottle

Polyhydroxy acids (PHAs) provide gentle exfoliation on the skin's surface and are ideal for congested, dull and rough complexions. PHAs also have humectant properties, meaning they help your skin attract and maintain moisture. So if you're weighing up AHA vs BHA, which are often associated with side effects such as dryness and irritation, PHA could be worth a try instead. These polyhydroxy acids help to enrich the complexion as they slough off dead skin and clear out pores. 

I can certainly speak to its gentle approach. I didn’t experience a hint of tingling or stinging, and my skin felt comfortable afterwards, rather than gagging for serum and moisturizer. Of all the toners on this list, this left my skin with the softest, silkiest feeling, and a glow akin to having emerged from a facial. Some reviews say it has visibly helped users who are learning how to get rid of acne scars, and while I don’t have much in the way of scarring, my skin already feels less bumpy and rough.

Scientia Peach & Glow Hydra Skin Tonic

(Image credit: Scientia)

7. Scientia Peach & Glow Hydra Skin Tonic

The best toner for pigmentation

Specifications

RRP: $33.12/£24
Key ingredients: Tranexamic acid, Matrixyl 300, glycerin, bakuchiol
Designed to: Target pigmentation and brighten

Reasons to buy

+
Aesthetically pleasing
+
Enhances radiance
+
Feels refreshing

Reasons to avoid

-
Peach scent may be polarising 

This splash-on tonic is immediately inviting, from the delicate pastel packaging to the weighty glass bottle. Even the font is beguiling. Once all the aesthetics are taken in, there’s the scent of peach for the senses to contend with. It’s quite subtle, like one of the best lip balms in a fruity summer edition, but others may find it a bit sweet for their liking. The website recommends squirting the tonic into the palms of your hands and sweeping it directly over your skin. They say this means that lovely peachy nectar won’t be soaked up by your cotton pad, which is true, but it can be a little messy. 

The formula itself is enriched with collagen-boosting Matrixyl 3000 (the famous peptide also found in No7 Protect and Perfect Serum) and tranexamic acid, a hot-right-now ingredient that reduces skin discoloration and fades pigmentation—perfect to help atone for past sun damage. The generous splash-on application meant my skin looked radiant, juicy and dewy immediately. It was also plump and bouncy to the touch and ironed out creases around my eyes very nicely. I hope it can do the same for my post-sun freckles too. 

Zelens Provitamin D3 Fortifying Mist

(Image credit: Zelens)

8. Zelens Provitamin D3 Fortifying Mist

The best toner for protecting skin

Specifications

RRP: $74/£48
Key ingredients: Provitamin D3, Hyaluronic acid
Designed to: Support a healthy skin barrier to protect against environmental aggressors

Reasons to buy

+
Can be layered under and over make-up
+
Tops up thirsty skin
+
Strengthens the skin barrier

Reasons to avoid

-
Spritz was a little direct

Perfect for those living in a high-pollution, urban environment, this spray-on shield helps bolster the skin against environmental aggressors. The star ingredient is an encapsulated form of provitamin D3, which is converted to vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. This helps to support the skin barrier function, keeping goodness locked in and irritants and pollution locked out. 

It’s a spray-on formula, which means you can top up throughout the day whenever you need a big slurp of moisture and an extra layer of environmental defense. However, I found the applicator to be a little too direct so I preferred to spray it into my palm and press it into my skin, which seemed to work well. Expect skin that's juicy with moisture and that looks a lot brighter and healthier with every spritz—it’s perfect for dehydrated skin and my current desk staple for hydration top-ups.

Typology Hydrolate Organic Orange Blossom

(Image credit: Typology)

9. Typology Hydrolate Organic Orange Blossom

The best toner for tired skin

Specifications

RRP: $13.40/£9.80
Key ingredients: Orange blossom
Designed to: Illuminate skin and tone weakened skin

Reasons to buy

+
99.4% naturally-derived ingredients
+
Beautiful aroma
+
Tightening effect

Reasons to avoid

-
Small-sized bottle

Pixi Glow Tonic is a cult skincare staple that has acquired legions of adoring fans thanks to its ability to switch on the skin’s glow like a light switch. The 5% glycolic acid formula unglues the bonds that lock dead cells to the surface to purge pores, smooth skin and accelerate cell turnover. All this exfoliating goodness is offset by soothing aloe vera to keep skin feeling nice and comfortable. 

All of this together made make-up application a much smoother task—even the best foundation can look a little uneven if your skin texture isn't quite right, but after using this my base seemed to sit better on my skin, looking more even and natural. From the very first evening, my face looked a lot perkier, and within a week I was waking up to noticeably brighter, healthier-looking skin. This is a great toner to have in your arsenal when your skin is looking a little fatigued and dull.  

La Roche-Posay Effaclar Clarifying Lotion

(Image credit: La Roche Posay)

10. La Roche-Posay Effaclar Clarifying Lotion

The best toner for blemish-prone skin

Specifications

RRP: $17.93/£12.50
Key ingredients: Lipo-hydroxy acid
Designed to: Remove blackheads and minimise pores

Reasons to buy

+
Unlikely to irritate
+
Curbs excess oil
+
Dermatologist-recommended

Reasons to avoid

-
Slight tingling sensation

The worry with astringent toners is that they will be a little too efficient at eliminating excess oil, and will leave skin feeling stripped and tight. That is far from the case with La Roche Posay’s hypoallergenic, minimalist formula, which has been specifically developed with reactive skin in mind. So yes, it helps to regulate oil production, prevent blemishes and unblock pores but not at the cost of irritating or drying out the skin. 

It was amazing (and hugely satisfying) to see how much residue came off my face when using this toner after cleansing, and my pores certainly looked less gapingly obvious. With a complexion that errs on the dry side, I may not be the target audience for this toning lotion but my skin felt refreshed, softer, and looked more refined—proving that every skin type can benefit from gentle clarifying.


woman&home thanks Dr Sonia Khorana, GP with Special Interest in Dermatology and Cosmetic Doctor, and Dr. Marie Drago of Gallinée for their time and expertise.

Stephanie Maylor is a Beauty Editor working across five national magazine titles, with almost 15 years' experience in the industry.  She has written for many brands, including woman&home, Grazia, Now, More!, Fabulous, NW, Woman, Woman's Own, Woman's Weekly, Essentials, Best, Chat, and OK! online. 


In 2010 she launched her own beauty blog, which was shortlisted for Best Beauty Blog in the 2011 and 2012 Johnson & Johnson Beauty Journalism Awards. She has interviewed many high profile industry experts and celebrities including Alesha Dixon, Twiggy and Christina Hendricks.