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The 12 Best Toners for Acne Will Help Take Care of Excess Oil and Breakouts

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Toner is a great add to any skincare routine, regardless of your skin type. But for people with acne-prone, oily, or combination skin, toner is a must-have to exfoliate dead skin cells and control excess oil (or sebum) that leads to blackheads and breakouts. And unlike the drying toners you used back in middle school, the best toner or astringent for acne-prone skin is all about balance.

If you have acne-prone skin and aren’t sure which toners might cause breakouts or excess oils to emerge, we’ve got you covered. First, we spoke to board-certified dermatologist Tracy Evans, MD, to find out why toners are so good for treating pimples. Then, we rounded up our top 12 best toners that will help treat breakouts and leave you with glowing skin. Keep reading below to learn more.

About the Expert:

Tracy Evans, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist, Mohs surgeon, and medical director of Pacific Skin and Cosmetic Dermatology in San Francisco.

Why Are Toners Good for Acne, Anyway?

Applied after your face wash, a lot of people may be inclined to skip toner as it feels like an extra step. But this skincare product may make all the difference. “Toners help to remove impurities on the skin such as dirt, excess oil, bacteria, and makeup,” explains Dr. Evans. “Because these impurities can trigger acne or make breakouts worse, they can be used effectively for acne-prone skin.” Plus, toner formulas have evolved significantly from the drying skincare products you remember from middle school. Instead, they have active ingredients that can actually treat breakouts, uneven skin tone, and more—without causing excess dryness.

What Ingredients to Look For 

First, says the derm, consider what not to use: “Beware that toners with alcohol or witch hazel can be very drying and irritating to skin,” she says. Still, you want ingredients that can reduce sebum, which clogs pores. “Instead, look for ingredients that gently exfoliate the skin,” says the derm. Here are some of the most effective ingredients to look out for in your toner formula:

Alpha hydroxy acids: Also known as AHAs, these ingredients clarify and brighten the complexion, and are great for treating hyperpigmentation and smoothing skin texture. Common AHAs include glycolic acid and lactic acid.

Beta hydroxy acids: Also known as BHAs, these oil-soluble ingredients help unclog pores and reduce excess sebum as they gently exfoliate skin. Salicylic acid is an example of a BHA.

Humectants: The key to avoiding a drying formula? Adding hydrating humectants in. Look for ingredients like hyaluronic acid, glycerin, and aloe vera, especially if you have dehydrated skin.

Niacinamide: This multitasking ingredient isn’t just great for gently addressing signs of acne, it also helps even skin tone and assists with hydration. 

The 12 Best Toners for Acne

1. Best Toner for Excess Oil:

LA ROCHE-POSAY Effaclar Astringent Toner for Oily Skin

LA ROCHE-POSAY Effaclar Astringent Toner for Oily Skin
Courtesy of LA ROCHE-POSAY

Manage excess oil production all day long with this powerful toner that combines natural antioxidants, ceramides to repair the skin’s barrier (since treating acne can seriously dry out your complexion), and powerful niacinamide, which will help soothe any lingering inflammation. It also gently exfoliates each time you use it, which makes it suitable for both morning and night application as it won’t strip your skin of the good, healthy oils it needs to maintain proper hydration.

2. Dermatologist Pick:

OLE HENRIKSON Balancing Force™ Oil Control Toner

OLE HENRIKSON Balancing Force™ Oil Control Toner

Dr. Evans recommends this formula for oil control, as it “reduces shine, exfoliates, and calms redness while being alcohol-free.” Made with the brand’s proprietary Green Fusion Complex™, this toner soothes skin with anti-inflammatory green tea, eucalyptus, algae, and Irish moss extracts, all while clarifying pores thanks to a blend of salicylic, glycolic, and lactic acids.

3. Most Refreshing Toner for Acne:

ORIGINS Zero Oil™ Pore Purifying Toner 

ORIGINS Zero Oil™ Pore Purifying Toner
Courtesy of ORIGINS

Dr. Evans also recommends this toner, which is made with salicylic acid to help clear your skin and reduce oil. But perhaps the best feature is the mint and palmetto, which leaves skin feeling cool and refreshed every time you use it. 

4. Best for Large Pores:

PAULA’S CHOICE Skin-Balancing Pore-Reducing Toner

PAULA’S CHOICE Skin-Balancing Pore-Reducing Toner
Courtesy of PAULA’S CHOICE

The internet is obsessed with PAULA’S CHOICE for all things acne, and this hydrating toner is no exception. The non-drying formula—it actually contains ceramides, niacinamide, and plant extracts to replenish skin—is gentle on your skin while it shrinks the appearance of pores and reduces oil. 

5. Best Toner for a Natural Glow:


Courtesy of PIXI BEAUTY

Ask any toner fan what their favorite product is, and you’re likely to hear this ultra-popular formula mentioned. Made with glycolic acid to exfoliate, ginseng to help boost that glow, and aloe vera to hydrate, this product is the perfect balancing blend for blemishes. And when your skin’s feeling particularly inflamed, try this trick from our community: “I keep it in the fridge, and it feels amazing when I use it,” one Ipster shared.

6. Best Acne Toner for Sensitive Skin:

KIEHL’S Cucumber Herbal Alcohol-Free Toner

KIEHL’S Cucumber Herbal Alcohol-Free Toner
Courtesy of KIEHL’S

Acne-prone skin and sensitive skin are often one in the same, and this skin toner can address the concerns of both. The gentle, alcohol-free formula contains skin-loving ingredients like cucumber, aloe vera, and sodium PCA to help reduce redness and bring balance back to your complexion.

7. Best Budget Toner for Acne:

NEUTROGENA Alcohol-Free Toner

NEUTROGENA Alcohol-Free Toner
Courtesy of NEUTROGENA

For a great, dermatologist -approved product under $10, Dr. Evans says you can’t go wrong with this drugstore toner. The formula is fragrance-free, non-comedogenic, and alcohol-free, and it’s suitable for pretty much every skin type, from oily to sensitive.

8. Best Gel Toner for Acne:

SUNDAY RILEY Martian Mattifying Melting Water-Gel Toner

SUNDAY RILEY Martian Mattifying Melting Water-Gel Toner
Courtesy of SUNDAY RILEY

Gel toners may not be as common as liquid formulas, but once you try this refreshing option, you may just be a convert. Bentonite clay in the formula helps make it “fantastic at oil control,” according to Ipsters, while green tea helps soothe redness. Plus, it “leaves that toner tingle,” according to another happy reviewer.

9. Best Alcohol-Free Toner for Acne:

DERMA E Essentials Radiance Toner

DERMA E Essentials Radiance Toner
Courtesy of DERMA E

You can thank rosehip oil and other botanicals for keeping this alcohol-free toner ultra-gentle, but rest assured that the formula still packs a punch thanks to resurfacing glycolic acid. “This is my nose’s best friend!” raves one user of its pore-shrinking powers.

10. Best Toner With Salicylic Acid:

NO B.S. Purifying BHA Facial Toner

NO B.S. Purifying BHA Facial Toner
Courtesy of NO B.S.

When it comes to something as essential as toner, we like to keep it simple. That’s right—just powerful, natural ingredients and none of the unnecessary ones. That’s what this NO B.S. face toner delivers. In this formula, tea tree oil draws out dirt and pore-clogging sebum, green tea extract brightens dark spots, salicylic acid purifies, and cucumber hydrates. Check the ingredient list for yourself—no surprises here. All you get is the good stuff.

11. Best Vegan Toner for Acne:

YOUTH TO THE PEOPLE Kombucha + 11% AHA Exfoliation Power Toner

YOUTH TO THE PEOPLE Kombucha + 11% AHA Exfoliation Power Toner

We’re fans of all of YOUTH TO THE PEOPLE’s 100% vegan skin products, so we were stoked when the brand introduced this exfoliating toner. The unique ingredient list includes skin-revitalizing glycolic acid, anti-aging ginger, and kombucha black tea ferment, which helps improve your skin’s natural microbiome. Yup, kombucha has benefits for your entire body, inside and out. Use this three to five times per week, working up to nightly use, depending on how oily or acne-prone your skin is.

12. Best Anti-Aging Toner for Acne:


Courtesy of INDIE LEE

The antioxidant in this formula, CoQ-10, doesn’t just help prevent signs of aging like fine lines, although it’s great for that too. It also helps balance skin’s pH level, and a balanced pH tends to reflect a more balanced complexion. The convenient spritz-on applicator is a hit, too: “Love that you just spray it on and off you go!” says one reviewer.

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Article Last Updated March 23, 2022 12:00 AM