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Best toner 2020: Pick a toner to suit every skin type and every lifestyle

Keep your skin looking fresh and rejuvenated with a quality toner

Whether you’re a skincare newbie or you’re well versed in the art of dermatological upkeep, there’s no harm in switching up or extending your routine with the best toners for your skin type.

With challenging weather conditions and the effects of exercise, makeup and diet, it can be difficult to maintain perfect skin. Sometimes we need some extra help in the form of serums, toners, creams and cleansers. Below, you’ll find our guide to buying the best toner for you, alongside our pick of the best toners available right now.

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How to pick the best toner for you

What is a toner?

Put simply, a toner is a liquid used in-between cleansing and moisturising to remove excess traces of dirt and unclog pores.

It can be used morning and night, depending on the strength of the formula and the sensitivity of your skin. If it’s water-based as opposed to gel, you should douse a cotton pad with the product and apply to all areas of your face.

A common misconception is that a good toner will leave your cotton pad dirty with excess makeup, but this is not the case. This simply means that your cleanser is not doing its job properly. Toning should remove dirt and excess sebum (oil produced by the sebaceous glands in the skin) and not left-over foundation.

Is toner necessary?

In the 1990s, toners became a popular treatment for acne-prone skin and not much else. They would leave skin very dry owing to the high concentration of alcohol used to combat the excess greasiness and oil that comes with the condition.

Newer formulas, however, are less astringent and aimed at a wider audience, not just acne-prone teenagers. This means, if you look hard enough, there should be a toner for your skin type.

The general consensus, from most skincare experts, is that toners are not as necessary as cleansing and moisturising. They are, however, a very effective addition to your routine when used correctly.

Which toner should I buy?

There is an ever-expanding range of toners on the market meaning there really is something for everyone. This is a massive improvement from the limited options ten years ago but with such an overwhelming choice, it can be tricky knowing where to look and what to look for.

Dry skin: If you have dry skin that has a tendency to flake, you should avoid formulas that contain alcohol at all costs. Salicylic acid is also another ingredient to steer clear of as it will also contribute to dryness. Try and look for toners with soothing ingredients such as aloe vera, essential oils and fruit extracts. Hyaluronic acid is also a great choice for dry and ageing skin.

Oily skin: If you have oily skin, then a toner could be a complete game-changer in your skincare regime. Look for products with low alcohol content and/or salicylic acid if you have severely oily skin. If possible, a product with mandelic acid would be desirable. It prevents the spread of bacteria but is more gentle than other hydroxy acids, making it good for sensitive skin.

Combination skin: Combination skin is a trickier problem to solve. Most people with combination skin find that patches of their skin are either oily or dry consistently. Usually the T-zone (the forehead and the nose) and the chin make up the oilier part of the face. To combat this, it’s best to look for ingredients like salicylic acid to reduce the appearance of pores around the T-zone area as well as natural ingredients that will soothe dry areas like the cheeks.

The best toners to buy

1. Mavala Pore Detox Toning Lotion: Best toner under £10

Price: From £8 (200ml) | Buy now from Look Fantastic

This soap-free lotion from Mavala consists of natural ingredients like witch hazel that will leave your skin feeling clean and refreshed. I found immediately after using the product in my evening routine that my skin felt tighter and although it began to look shinier, once I applied my moisturiser it gave a nice, dewy appearance to my skin.

The smell from the witch hazel is also very pleasant, but this lotion is best suited to oily skin, as it contains alcohol that might damage dryer skin.

Alcohol-free: No; Cruelty-free: Yes

Buy now from Look Fantastic

2. Carbon Theory Purifying Tonic: Best for breakouts

Price: From £14 (250ml) | Buy now from Boots

Carbon Theory has managed to garner something of a cult following since its inception in 2018. Its Purifying Tonic comprises tea tree oil and pink grapefruit extract that produce a lovely, fresh scent without the drying qualities of many synthetically fragranced products.

When put to the test I have to say that although I don’t have particularly spotty skin, there were visible improvements to the feel of my skin. A lot of toners can leave your skin feeling tighter, which is good, but also rougher, which you don’t want. However, I felt this toner actually left my skin feeling softer. Indeed, the next day my skin looked smoother and healthier with the application of makeup.

Alcohol-free: Yes; Cruelty-free: Yes and suitable for vegans

Buy now from Boots

3. Pixi Vitamin-C Tonic: Best for evening skin tone

Price: From £10 (100ml) | Buy now from Cult Beauty

Pixi tonics are great for people taking their first step into skincare. The Vitamin C tonic is an especially good choice if you have sensitive skin and want to avoid harsh formulas. It contains ferulic acid, which is great for evening skin tone as it inhibits the enzymes responsible for the production of melanin, the main cause of pigmentation.

Vitamin C, the antioxidant of the moment, works especially well with the ferulic acid as it helps repair damage from UV rays. Although you won’t wake up beaming after one use, over time I found it did make a difference. My skin looked smoother and a little brighter, with makeup sitting nicely on top.

Alcohol-free: Yes; Cruelty-free: Yes and suitable for vegans

Buy now from Cult Beauty

4. Ren Ready Steady Glow Toner: Best for bigger budgets

Price: From £6 (50ml) | Buy now from Space NK

Ren is a respected brand with a reliable track record and, more recently, a focus on sustainable sources and packaging. Its products generally fall towards the higher end of skincare brands, making it pricier than our other options.

The main selling point of this toner is the inclusion of AHA (alpha hydroxy acid), specifically lactic acid. Lactic acid is a natural product and sits on the milder end of the scale compared to other AHAs such as glycolic acid. This makes it a perfect option for sensitive skin and great for brightening up a dull complexion.

On first use, my skin was left looking fresh and relatively glowy. As my skin isn’t particularly sensitive, I felt a more potent AHA might have been more effective. However, for those with delicate skin, this would tick all the boxes. My one criticism is the bottle design, which feels complicated to use and messy.

Alcohol-free: Yes; Cruelty-free: Yes and suitable for vegans

Buy now from Space NK

5. Liz Earle Instant Boost Skin Tonic: Best for soothing dry skin

Price: From £16 (200ml) | Buy now from Boots

Liz Earle is a big name in skincare, having won numerous awards since it began in 1995. The Instant Boost Tonic has continued to win the brand accolades along with lots of impressive customer feedback.

The first thing I noticed with this product was the delightful smell. Unfortunately with a lovely scent, however, comes a (typically synthetic) parfum. Whilst this won’t affect everyone, it can flare up skin conditions like eczema, so if you do suffer from such ailments, it’s important to check the label.

It doesn’t, however, contain alcohol so it’s fine to use if you have dry skin but not eczema. I found the formula to be very soothing on the skin, which is probably down to the aloe vera and cucumber extract. My pores look visibly reduced and my makeup went on very smoothly.

Alcohol-free: Yes; Cruelty-free: Yes and suitable for vegans

Buy now from Boots