The operative word here is exfoliating. Far from those toners of the spritzing floral water variety that have very little – if any – effect on skin, we’re talking about those that use acids to sweep away dead skin cells that settle in fine lines and block pores, leaving it clean and glowing. They also even out tone, attract and help the skin retain moisture, speed up cell turnover (which slows with age) and deal with excess oil and breakouts. And none of those abrasive micro-beads that only superficially resurface the top layer of skin and are bad for the environment. Are you sold yet?
All of these are best applied on a cotton pad and swept across the skin, post-cleanse and pre-serum. How often you use them depends on the strength of the product and the sensitivity of your skin; many are completely fine to use once a day, every day, but pay attention to how your skin feels and reduce or increase use accordingly.
A note on acids: AHAs, such as glycolic and lactic acid, are good for most skin types, but BHAs such as salicylic acid are best on oily and sensitive types. If you haven’t used any form of acid on your skin before, it is worth starting with application two-three times a week and increasing after a few weeks to gradually introduce it.
1. REN Clarifying Toning Lotion: £13, Marks & Spencer
You can always rely on REN to give serious results for moderate prices. Its toner packs five different acids – salicylic, lactic, citric, tartaric and glycolic – that leave skin finer, clearer and smoother, and alcohol comes far down the list of ingredients (12th), indicating its low alcohol content.
2. Estee Lauder Perfectly Clean Multi-Action Toning Lotion: £22.50, Estee Lauder
I have been using this toner for over a year and wouldn’t be without it. It does contain alcohol, so it might not be for more sensitive skins, but it leaves my skin noticeably smoother, softer and clearer without causing any dry patches or making my eyes water.
3. La Roche-Posay Effaclar Clarifying Lotion: £11, Boots
This, from the French dermatological brand, was particularly good on oily patches and blocked pores. Our tester found that it smelled fresh and the salicylic acid left her skin looking clearer than it had been in years. Not bad for £11.
4. Pixi Glow Tonic: £18, Pixi Beauty
It’s not very often that a beauty product really lives up to its name, but our tester found that “people were genuinely saying my skin was glowing without me even mentioning it”. Skin was left fresh, clean, moisturised and, yes, glowing!
5. Clarins Gentle Exfoliator Brightening Toner: £25, Clarins
This is a soft, brightening toner that has zero tingle. We found it particularly good on dull, dry skin (winter, we’re looking at you). It contains far less glycolic, salicylic and tartaric acid than Pixi’s Glow Tonic, but somehow gives great results without over-working skin.
6. Alpha H Liquid Gold: £33.50, Look Fantastic
This is slightly cheating as it is technically an ‘overnight treatment’ rather than a toner, but it uses glycolic acid to do everything the other toners listed here do, so fits in quite nicely. Apply at night a couple of times a week and don’t layer any moisturiser or oil over the top for skin that is hydrated, shiny and tight (but not dry) and evens tone after a few weeks’ use. A great choice for ageing skin.
7. Clinique Clarifying Lotion: £16.50, Clinique
This is the skincare product that my mum swears by (and that I spent most of my teenage years pinching from her dresser). I find it particularly good at sorting for combination skin, eliminating dry patches and sweeping away excess oil, but there are five toners of varying strengths in the range, starting at ‘mild’ for sensitive skins and ending at ‘4’ for oily skins.
8. Aveda Botanical Kinetics Exfoliant: £18, Aveda
This gives pretty similar results to Clarins’s option, but is seven quid cheaper and you get 25ml more for your money, so great for slightly tighter budgets. It gives supple, soft skin with no tingle or redness and is particularly effective for reducing breakouts. A good choice for teen skins.
For a mid-market, effective toner that is appropriate for most skin types, you can’t go wrong with Estee Lauder, Clarins or Pixi’s options. But for sheer acid:alcohol:pounds spent ratio, our vote goes to REN.
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