Best face toners: What is it and do you need one? An expert explains the benefits

Posted by for Skincare

Previously written off for their drying and irritating formulas, toners are slowly creeping into our skincare routines. But are they actually necessary? Here, an aesthetician explains all you need to know about toners.

Toners. It’s a word that’s often bandied about in skincare but still, the Stylist beauty team is often asked: “what exactly is a toner?”

Growing up, toners may have formed a part of your three-step routine: cleanse, tone and moisturise – but as we learn more about skincare and the need for things like retinol, vitamin C and SPF, toners may have fallen out of your skincare rotation.

Previously, toners were associated with drying formulas that stung the face upon application. But now, brands have created formulas that address a multitude of skin concerns. From toners that exfoliate and brighten to options that hydrate and mop up excess sebum, there’s one for every skin issue.

In fact, there are so many that have shot up to cult status within the skincare industry in recent years – just look at REN’s Ready Steady Glow Daily AHA Tonic and Pixi’s Glow Tonic.

But still, the question remains: what are toners? What do they do? And are they even necessary in a skincare routine?

Here, Dr Nina Bal runs through everything we should know about toners.

What exactly is a face toner?

“A toner is a fast-acting liquid that delivers the skin a quick hit of hydration, can chemically exfoliate the skin and removes any last traces of dirt, grime and impurities stuck in your pores.”

What are the benefits of a toner?

“Toners have many benefits, including refreshing the skin, chemical exfoliation, tightening the pores, restoring the skins pH balance, adding a layer of protection and hydration, to even preventing ingrown hairs.”

Where does a toner fit into your skincare routine?

“You should use toner after washing your face, and before using serum or moisturising. You should soak a reusable cotton pad with the toner and sweep across your face and neck, avoiding the eyes.”

Which skin types are best suited to face toners?

“There are a range of different skin toners on the market for every skin type. Face toners have come a long way since the dehydrating astringents made to control oily skin and now contain all kinds different ingredients to be gentler and support all skin types.”

Is face toner an optional step?

“The right one, when used correctly can greatly improve your skin. So I would say it is a necessary step.”

What ingredients should we look for in a toner?

“You should look for toners with antioxidants and hydrating ingredients such as glycerin and hyaluronic acid. Toners that also contain natural exfoliants, like lactic acid, are great for brightening the skin. For oily skin, I would recommend a salicylic acid-based toner.”

Best toners, picked by the Stylist team

  • Charlotte Tilbury Glow Toner


    Packed with peptides, niacinamide and resurfacing prickily pear active, Charlotte Tilbury’s brand new Glow Toner resurfaces, hydrates and refines the look of pores in one. Like a workout for your skin, your complexion’s left glowing and renewed. 

    Shop Charlotte Tilbury Glow Toner, £40

  • REN Ready Steady Glow Daily AHA Tonic

    best face toners REN Ready Steady Glow Daily AHA Tonic
    Best face toners: REN Ready Steady Glow Daily AHA Tonic

    This cult toner contains lactic acid and willow bark extract. The two work together to slough away dull, dead skin cells and leave skin feeling softer.

    Shop REN Ready Steady Glow Daily AHA Tonic at lookfantastic, £25

  • Pixi Glow Tonic

    best face toners Pixi Glow Tonic
    Best face toners: Pixi Glow Tonic

    Another cult product, Pixi’s Glow Tonic contains glycolic acid to buff away dead skin cells while ginseng and aloe vera keep skin soothed and hydrated.

    Shop Pixi Glow Tonic at lookfantastic, £18

  • Medik8 Press & Glow

    best face toners Medik8 Press and Glow
    Best face toners: Medik8 Press & Glow

    Utilising the skin-penetrating benefits of PHAs, this clever formula exfoliates skin (but don’t worry, aloe vera will soothe any irritation) while also protecting it against damaging free radicals, encouraging cell renewal for glowy skin and encouraging moisture retention.

    Shop Medik8 Press & Glow at Cult Beauty, £25

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