We independently select and review the products we recommend. We may earn a small commission on purchases made through our affiliate links below. Learn more about how we review products and our sources of information.
You find out that toners are the latest must-haves. Then you head on to Sephora to add one to your cart. While navigating, you see some “exfoliating toners” right next to “hydrating toners”. How can a single product be responsible for so many different -and sometimes contradicting things? I get it, you want the same simplicity from facial toners as you do from your other skincare products. Your cleanser cleans. Your moisturizer moisturizes. And what are toners supposed to do? Tone? To cut through the noise, we’re breaking down the different types of toners. So, the next time you’re shopping for one, you’ll know exactly what to look for and which one would be best for your skin type and skin issue.
First of all, there are no rules or literature out there clearly drawing the line between different types of facial toners. So, this is, by no means, an attempt to do so.
However, lumping these toners into main categories will help you map out the way towards finding the right one for you without the confusing labels like “astringents” or “essences”.
What are toners, again?
Toners are water-based formulations that can be utilized towards targeting a specific skin issue. But basically, they amplify cleansing, provide quick replenishment, and prep the skin for absorption of the upcoming skincare products.
Originally, toners, sometimes called tonics, were used as secondary cleansers. They were meant to “balance” the skin’s pH level that’d be upset after cleansing using soaps. Yeah, thank god that era is over.
And because of their alcohol-based formulation, they’d temporarily shrink up the pores, which made them highly popular among oily skin types. Now that “harsh skin from soaps” is no longer an issue, toners are utilized differently. And most of them are alcohol-free.
What are the different types of toners?
Basically, there are 3 types of toners; hydrating toners, exfoliating toners, and treatment toners.
1. Hydrating Toners
These are the gentlest facial toners that contain humectants like hyaluronic acid or glycerin. The whole point of a hydrating toner is to give the skin a quick boost of hydration and refreshment. Also, these toners get rid of the tight feeling some cleansers leave on the skin as well as any residual dirt.
In that sense, hydrating toners don’t have much to do with deep cleansing. Because they don’t take much away from the skin but put on an extra layer of hydration. And as they don’t sweep off anything, you don’t necessarily need to use cotton pads. You just press the liquid onto the skin and let it absorb.
Hydrating toners are suitable for all skin types; normal, combination, and oily. But they’re especially helpful for dry skin types. This extra layer of hydration right after cleansing will normalize the skin and plump it up.
Fresh Rose & Hyaluronic Acid Deep Hydration Toner
2. Exfoliating Toners
These types of toners are the “secret to glowing skin”. Exfoliating toners usually contain a type of hydroxy acid or fruit enzymes. The most popular types of exfoliating toners are glycolic acid toners and salicylic acid toners. Exfoliating toners enhance cleansing significantly.
They get rid of the dead skin cells on the top layer of the skin. They get rid of flakiness, dullness, and roughness on the skin. Exfoliating toners keep the pores clean and reduce their visibility. From congestion to fine lines, they address a broad range of skin concerns.
Exfoliating toners are more suitable for normal, combination, and oily skin types. Because they can be irritating for dry and sensitive skin. However, with the help of super gentle exfoliating acids, dry and sensitive skin types can benefit from the trend as well. Toners with lactic acid or poly-hydroxy acids lightly exfoliate and are usually way more gentle on the skin.
Mario Badescu Glycolic Acid Toner
Related: The Best Toners for Rosacea
3. Treatment Toners
Treatment toners are more targeted and are intended to solve specific skin problems. They’re usually marketed as soothing toners, brightening toners, anti-aging toners, balancing toners, and so on. They do more than hydrate the skin because they contain potent active ingredients. For example, a brightening toner would be formulated around vitamin C to get rid of discolorations.
Similarly, a soothing toner would contain soothing plant extracts like chamomile or allantoin to get rid of irritation and redness on the skin. An anti-aging toner would contain antioxidants to neutralize wrinkle-causing free radicals. Incidentally, exfoliating toners can be treatment toners as well.
Depending on the actives, treatment toners are suitable for all skin types to target skin concerns like excess oil, enlarged pores, scarring, or sensitivity.
Herbivore Jasmine Green Tea Balancing Toner
So these are the three main types of toners out there. And the best way to find the right one for your skin is by identifying your main skin concern. Are you trying to boost hydration? Go for hydrating toners. Do you have acne, large pores, or texture irregularities? Go for exfoliating toners. Are you looking to create a targeted routine for anti-aging? Go for treatment toners.