The One Instance When Using a Toner Is a Non-Negotiable, According to an Esthetician

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Photo: Getty Images/Maskot
Of all the skin-care products out there, toner has earned a ranking spot as one of the most confusing around. In early iterations, toners were meant to re-balance the pH of your skin after your soap-based cleanser disrupted it. But now that most cleansers on the market are formulated to be non-stripping and pH balanced, the term "toner" basically means "watery liquid" and it can exist to exfoliate, brighten, hydrate (or all three at once).  According to esthetician Simedar Jackson, however, there's one situation when you should always be following up your face wash with a toner: When you're using an acne-fighting cleanser.

Cleansers that have active ingredients such as benzoyl peroxide or glycolic acid are aggressive on the skin for a reason: to prevent breakouts. While these formulas are undoubtedly great for keeping your complexion free of pimples, they can leave your skin feeling dry. Hydrating toners swoop in to help bring balance back to the skin. "Sometimes a cleanser can be drying and that doesn't necessarily mean it's bad, but active cleansers that have higher concentrations of acids, those are going to be more likely to leave your skin a little bit more dry, so using a hydrating toner afterward is really important for reintroducing [moisture] into your skin," says Jackson.

She suggests looking for ingredients like niacinamide, which acts as an antioxidant and provides a much-needed moisturizing effect to your skin, too. Hyaluronic acid can also help, since it holds 1,000 times its weight in water and will help the other hydrating ingredients you put on top of it, like your serums and moisturizers, penetrate the skin more deeply. Below, five hydrating toners worth pairing with your favorite active cleansers. Consider your confusion officially cured.

Experts In This Article
  • Simedar Jackson, Simedar Jackson is a licensed esthetician, product developer, and beauty content creator based in New York City. She is also the founder of Skin Folks, a platform that seeks to build a bridge between the skincare industry and POC by...

Shop now: AHC Aqualuronic Hydrating Toner, $27

Photo: AHC

In K-beauty, hydration is the cornerstone of healthy skin, and this toner is made with three types of hyaluronic acid plus ceramides and seawater to keep your complexion quenched.

Shop now: SK-II Facial Treatment Clear Lotion Toner, $76

Photo: SK-II

You can't talk about hydrating toners without mentioning SK-II, which has long been a favorite in the category. This Japanese beauty staple is touted as a lotion in liquid form, and though it's primary goal is to moisturize, it's also made with gentle AHAs to remove dead skin cells for a brightening effect.

Shop now: Belif Aqua Bomb Hydrating Toner, $28

Photo: Belif

With honeysuckle, baobab, and sodium hyaluronate, this toner calms skin while infusing it with hydration and locking in moisture. It will leave your skin looking moist and dewy, creating the perfect canvas to apply the rest of your products on top of.

Shop now: Fenty Skin Fat Water Pore Refining Toner Serum, $28

Photo: Fenty Skin

Part toner, part serum, all hydration. Formulated with niacinamide and a whole slew of antioxidants, this hybrid product will soothe and smooth skin while strengthening its barrier and protecting it from environmental damage.

Shop now: Peter Thomas Roth Water Drench Hyaluronic Cloud Hydrating Toner Mist, $28

This hyaluronic-acid infused toner will maximize hydration in your skin for up to 72 hours, long after your skin-care routine is complete. It's also got witch hazel, which helps to visibly tone skin and minimizes the appearance of pores.

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