For myself, and I imagine many others, the how and the why of adding toners to my skincare routine has always been a bit of an elusive concept. When I first dove into the world of preventative skin care, toners (like admittedly most other parts of my routine) felt like a “should” minus a clear understanding of the reason why. With all the best intentions, I’d apply my toner every evening before bed. Result? An irritatingly dry complexion. So I backed off and reaped the benefits of a less-is-more approach. Another pro to many of the toners on the market? They have powerful properties that can take years off your face. When I first caught wind of that fact, I started digging in for more. So I spoke to some of the most trusted folks in the skincare industry and dove deep into the best anti-aging toners available.
If you’re a bit more well-versed than I am in the magical world of skin-brightening toners, you’re likely aware that this step in your skincare routine can transform dull and dry skin. And as we know, a healthy and hydrated complexion should be a key focus if your goal is glowy, ageless skin. To get the scoop on all things toner-related (plus their expert-backed recommendations for the best anti-aging toners available), I tapped Dr. Alexis Parcells, a board-certified plastic surgeon and founder of SUNNIE, a skincare and anti-aging clinic, and Parcells Plastic Surgery, Joomee Song, esthetician and CEO of Joomee Song Inc. and Faceworks Inc., Dr. Shuting Hu, founder of Acaderma, and board-certified dermatologist Dr. Elizabeth Geddes. They broke down everything there is to know about this powerhouse product. From how to introduce it into your routine, what skin types benefit from toners best, and everything in between—get ready to dive deep. Let’s get glowing.
Feature image by Claire Huntsberger.
Does everyone need to use a toner? What skin types benefit best from using one?
Before you go all in and book a ticket to toner town, ask yourself first: Do you really need to add one to your routine? Or, is it just another skincare “should” that’ll irritate your skin instead? Song says that if your skin falls on either the oily or dehydrated end of the skin type spectrum, a toner will be a good choice.
“Choosing the right kind of toner for your skin and using it daily is very important for hydration and anti-inflammation,” Song notes. “Oily and dehydrated skin can get the most benefit by using a toner to even out oil and water distribution on the skin and avoid dehydration since dehydrated oily skin produces more oil, leading to breakouts.”
What are the benefits of using a toner?
While I’m all about indulging in the process of a little skin-lovin’ TLC, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I’m laser-focused on what my complexion will get out of it. The good news is that toners (particularly those included in the roundup below) come with a whole range of benefits—anti-aging magic included. Dr. Hu recommends using it as the foundation for the rest of your skincare routine. “Toner is the perfect prep; it allows your skin to more effectively absorb any serum or moisturizer that you apply.” She emphasizes the importance of using a toner to balance your skin’s pH levels and lauds the product for its ability to minimize the appearance of pores and repair your skin barrier.
Dr. Parcells cites toners’ evolution as being a key reason they’re such an effective way to keep your skin glowing and ageless. When toners first came to the market, they often contained harsh alcohols that left the skin dry and irritated, increasing inflammation and exacerbating conditions such as eczema, acne, and rosacea. She notes that “after years of trial and error, the newer generation of toners still function to remove debris, but focus more on replenishing and nourishing the skin.” Needless to say, I’m convinced.
What about toners helps skin appear more youthful?
Now for the (even better) part. “Toners can contain a variety of ingredients that lead to youthful-looking skin, such as AHA, lactic acid, and hyaluronic acid,” Dr. Hu observes. “AHA and lactic acid buff away any dryness or flakiness, while hyaluronic acid moisturizes, leaving you with fresh, glowing skin.”
Building upon that list of anti-aging ingredients, Dr. Parcells adds a mix of exfoliating and hydrating heavy hitters. Her two faves? “Glycerin and aloe vera. By bringing the skin back to its natural acidic state, it assists your skin in absorbing products.”
Dr. Parcells continues: “Additionally, toners have been known to remove oil, shrink pores, and tighten cell gaps to reduce the penetration of environmental contaminants into the skin. Some toners contain humectants, which help bind moisture to the skin, resulting in a refreshed and youthful look.”
At what step in your skincare routine should you use toner?
Ah, the age-old question. So you’ve committed to incorporating an anti-aging toner in your routine, but… does it come before cleansing? After? Where does my moisturizer fit into the mix? Song clears things up: “Remember that lighter texture products come first when you’re layering.
“A toner should be applied right after you cleanse the skin and before any serums and creams. Toners are supposed to bring your skin pH to a slightly acidic level, because it is usually more alkaline after washing, which can cause bacteria growth and breakouts.” The more you know, right?
What ingredients should we look for in anti-aging toners?
It’s important to remember that though the anti-aging benefits of toners abound, the results can vary. Dr. Hu chalks this up to the active ingredients found in each formula. “When searching for anti-aging properties, ingredients including hydroxy acids, antioxidants, glycerin, and hyaluronic acid are great for hydrating, repairing, and preventing fine lines and wrinkles.
“Toners with alpha-hydroxy acids can help with cell turnover to hydrate and restore the skin,” Dr. Hu adds. Sensitive skin? Don’t worry, just keep an eye out for anti-aging toners with a couple key ingredients. “Hyaluronic acid plumps skin and plant extracts usually provide repair and soothing benefits,” says Dr. Hu.
Dr. Parcells also loves alpha-hydroxy acids because they’re effective at removing debris, makeup, and damaged cells. “Antioxidants (fruit and plant extracts) aid in brightening the skin and fighting UV damage.” The hydrating hyaluronic acid we’ve already spoken to? It plumps and calms mature skin as well, says Dr. Parcells.
Behold: The 11 Best Anti-Aging Toners for Forever-Glowing Skin
This post was originally published on March 8, 2022 and has since been updated.