The 7 Best Toners for Acne, According to Dermatologists

Biossance Squalane + BHA Pore-Minimizing Toner is tough on acne and moisturizing

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Toners are a beneficial addition to a skincare routine if someone experiences increased oils on the surface of the skin or acne. “A toner can provide a second cleansing step to remove residual oil, product, dirt, bacteria, pollution, and debris that may remain after washing your skin with a cleanser and water,” says Cynthia Bailey, MD, dermatologist and founder of Dr. Bailey Skin Care.

Reviewed & Approved

Incorporated with the hydrating ingredient squalane, the Biossance Squalane + BHA Pore-Minimizing Toner should remove debris from the pores without dehydrating the skin. For the budget-conscious, we also recommend The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution.

Toners have a reputation for drying your skin out and potentially causing more irritation. However, with the right ingredients, toners can be beneficial—especially if you have acne-prone skin. Active ingredients include alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs), which are both known to rid the pores of dirt and debris while smoothing the skin. “Look for glycolic and salicylic acid, which help to get rid of dead skin and unclog pores,” says Debra Jaliman, MD, dermatologist and founder of a New-York based private practice. 

Also important in toners are alcohol-free formulas and ones that incorporate moisturizing ingredients to help hydrate your skin. We spoke with dermatologists and evaluated toners for their active ingredients, how well they moisturize, packaging, and price.  

Here are the best toners for acne-prone skin that are on the market today.

Best Overall: Biossance Squalane + BHA Pore-Minimizing Toner

4.8
Biossance Squalane + BHA Pore-Minimizing Toner

Sephora

Pros
  • Has both AHAs and BHAs

  • Alcohol- and paraben-free

  • Gentle, hydrating formula

Cons
  • Expensive

The Biossance Squalane + BHA Pore-Minimizing Toner is our best overall choice because it has key active ingredients working alongside hydrating ingredients to clear acne-prone skin. This toner features white willow bark extract (a BHA) and caviar lime extract (an AHA), which exfoliate the skin. These two key ingredients are paired with hydrating squalane, which makes for a gentle formula that prevents your skin from drying out. 

Use this toner after washing your face to act as a secondary cleanser, while restoring moisture. This BIossance toner is both alcohol- and paraben-free, so it won’t cause extra irritation. While the price per ounce is higher than many of the other products on our list, we think the formula is worth it. 

Key ingredients: White willow bark extract, caviar lime extract, squalane | Dosage: Nickel-sized amount once or twice per day

Best Budget: The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution

3.7
The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution

Ulta

Pros
  • Has exfoliating AHAs

  • Inexpensive

  • Alcohol-free formula

Cons
  • High potency acid

  • Not a hydrating formula

Adding a toner into your skincare routine does not mean it has to break the bank—especially if you choose this one from The Ordinary. This toner is a helpful addition to addressing acne because it incorporates glycolic acid (an AHA) into its formula. 

The glycolic acid in this toner helps unclog and reduce the appearance of pores by gently exfoliating the skin. But, it is important to note, that this toner is higher in potency with its 7% glycolic acid. This means that you should use it at most once per day after cleansing. If you’re new to using exfoliating acids, we recommend starting even slower and using it every other day at first. 

We like that this toner is alcohol-free, a characteristic that is important to look for to avoid stripping the skin and drying it out. But that doesn’t mean it’s hydrating. In fact, this toner is better for cleansing and exfoliating. While you always want to follow toner with a moisturizer, you definitely shouldn’t skip that step when using this one from The Ordinary.

Key ingredients: Glycolic acid | Dosage: Nickel-sized amount once per day

Best for Sensitive Skin: Burt's Bees Sensitive Toner with Aloe & Witch Hazel

Burt's Bees Sensitive Toner with Aloe & Witch Hazel

Amazon

Pros
  • Cleansing and hydrating ingredients

  • Inexpensive

  • Alcohol-free formula

Cons
  • Can feel sticky on the skin

Burt’s Bees formulated this toner specifically with sensitive skin in mind by incorporating naturally occurring ingredients, such as witch hazel and aloe vera. Witch hazel is a beneficial ingredient for toner because it will work to unclog the pores and remove any impurities on the skin. It also has anti-inflammatory properties and can soothe acne-prone skin. Aloe vera will then work to add the necessary moisture back into the barrier to prevent any irritation. 

For best results, use this toner once per day on clean, dry skin after cleansing. It should work to rebalance the skin's pH and leave beyond skin looking and feeling healthier.

Key ingredients: Aloe vera, witch hazel | Dosage: Nickel-sized amount once or twice per day

Best with Vitamin C: Renee Rouleau Moisture Infusion Toner

Renee Rouleau Moisture Infusion Toner

Renee Rouleau

Pros
  • Lightweight feel

  • Can double as a primer

  • Includes hydrating ingredients

Cons
  • Expensive

  • Lacks exfoliating ingredients

One problem with toners for people with acne and sensitive skin types is that the products tend to incorporate high potency ingredients, which can be drying and cause irritation. But the Renee Rouleau Moisture Infusion Toner addresses concerns like redness and acne without irritating the skin. 

We like that it relies on vitamin C to fight dullness, while also leveraging moisturizing ingredients like niacinamide, essential fatty acids and oils, and phospholipids. The product is also alcohol-free—another plus for the hydrating formula. This toner is ideal for anyone who is experiencing skin sensitivity and flakiness from their use of retinol or retinoids because of how moisturizing it is.

Key ingredients: Vitamin C, niacinamide | Dosage: Nickel-sized amount once or twice per day

Best for Oily Skin: Farmacy Deep Sweep 2% BHA Pore Cleaning Toner

4.7
Farmacy Deep Sweep Toner

Pros
  • Contains BHAs

  • Alcohol-free formula

  • Reduces shine

Cons
  • Expensive

  • May cause tingling

Excess oil on the skin can cause acne flare-ups and breakouts. The Farmacy Deep Sweep 2% BHA Pore Cleanser Toner is a lightweight formula that draws out excess oil from the pores without stripping the skin of necessary moisture. Its key ingredient is salicylic acid, a known BHA and exfoliating ingredient, that is capable of removing impurities and oil from the pores. 

In addition to salicylic acid, this toner from Farmacy also contains moringa extract, moringa water, and papaya enzymes help it exfoliate, cleanse, and eliminate shine. Plus, the inclusion of chlorella makes this an antioxidant rich toner that can help tame redness and inflammation. Make sure to follow this toner with a good moisturizer and, if using it during the day, sun protection.

Key ingredients: Salicylic acid, moringa, papaya | Dosage: Nickel-sized amount once or twice per day

Best for Body: La Roche-Posay Effaclar Clarifying Solution Toner

La Roche-Posay Effaclar Clarifying Solution Toner

Ulta

Pros
  • Contains both AHAs and BHAs

  • Formula includes antioxidants

  • Safe for use on your face and body

Cons
  • Lacks moisturizing ingredients

Your face isn’t the only part of your body that is subject to acne. If you experience breakouts on your chest, back, or another part of your body, we recommend La Roche-Posay Clarifying Toner. It’s tough on acne thanks to a combination of glycolic and salicylic acid to remove excess dirt, debris, and oil from your pores. 

Since the product incorporates BHAs and AHAs, it is perfect for the body, while still being gentle enough for those with normal to sensitive skin types (on your face). We like that this toner from La Roche-Posay is paraben-, oil-, and fragrance-free and has antioxidant ingredients to soothe, it lacks the moisturizing ingredients present in some of the other toners on our list. Whether you use this on your face or body, make sure you follow this up with a good moisturizer.

Key ingredients: Salicylic acid, glycolic acid | Dosage: Nickel-sized amount once or twice per day

Best Brightening: Glow Recipe Watermelon Glow BHA + PHA Pore-Tight Facial Toner

Glow Recipe Watermelon Glow BHA + PHA Pore-Tight Facial Toner

Amazon

Pros
  • Contains BHAs

  • Includes moisturizing hyaluronic acid

Cons
  • Includes fragrance

  • Expensive

In addition to containing acne-fighting BHAs and moisturizing ingredients, this toner from Glow Recipe also works to remove dullness, resulting in a brighter complexion. One of the key ingredients in this product is salicylic acid, which targets blemishes by removing excess oil and debris from the pores. 

Then the hyaluronic acid works to hydrate the barrier so that it is hydrated and feels supple with a dewy glow. Watermelon extract is also incorporated into the formula to soothe the skin while providing essential vitamins and amino acids to the barrier.

Key ingredients: Salicylic acid, hyaluronic acid | Dosage: Nickel-sized amount once or twice per day

Final Verdict

If you are looking for an all-around toner that will target stubborn acne and clean out the pores all while giving the skin necessary moisture, then we recommend the Biossance Squalane + BHA Pore-minimizing Toner. For those looking to treat acne on their face and body, we recommend La Roche-Posay Clarifying Toner—it’s gentle enough for sensitive skin, while having a potent blend of AHAs and BHAs to remove dirt and debris.

How We Selected the Toners for Acne

When selecting toners for acne-prone skin, we spoke with dermatologists and spent hours researching product labels. We looked at each product and compared active ingredients (looking for clarifying AHA and BHAs, as well as moisturizing ingredients and antioxidant-boosting ingredients). We also evaluated the toners for price, recommended dosage, and things like how nice they feel on your skin. 

What to Look for in a Toner for Acne

Ingredients to Look For

The most important consideration when shopping for toners, and other skincare products, is the type of ingredients used in the formula. At minimum, you need an ingredient that clarifies and cleans dirt and debris from pores. Ideally, these clarifying ingredients will be paired with hydrating ingredients that help replenish your skin’s moisture barrier.

  • AHAs and BHAs: Toners that incorporate AHAs and BHAs, depending on the potency, are beneficial for acne-prone skin because those ingredients target stubborn blemishes. AHAs and BHAs may not be listed as such directly on the label, so it’s helpful to know some of their other names. Salicylic acid is a common BHA and glycolic acid is a common AHA.

“Toners with salicylic acid are my top choice for an acne toner,” Dr. Bailey says. “Salicylic acid has the ability to penetrate deeply into oily pores to break up pore-clogging debris and blackheads so that all other treating ingredients can better penetrate into the pores where acne lesions begin. Glycolic acid is an AHA that helps unclog pores and brightens the complexion,” Dr. Bailey says. “I like to combine it with salicylic acid in an acne toner.” 

  • Witch Hazel: If a toner doesn’t have AHAs or BHAs, chances are good the key ingredient is witch hazel. This natural astringent has anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce oil and remove impurities from your pores, effectively cleansing your skin. 
  • Moisturizers: Hydrating ingredients, like glycerin and hyaluronic acid, can help counteract the potent acne-fighting ingredients in toners. “Toners often contain salicylic acid, which is typically used for acne but can dry the skin out,” says Ronda Farah, MD, dermatologist and assistant professor in the department of dermatology at the University of Minnesota. 

Ingredients to Avoid

In addition to avoiding ingredients that you know irritate your skin, make sure you’re also avoiding products with the following ingredients. 

  • Alcohol: Keep an eye out for labels that state the product is alcohol-free. “Toners typically also contain alcohol, which can irritate the skin,” Dr. Farah says. This is one ingredient that dermatologists advise people to avoid if they decide to incorporate a toner into their skincare because of the drying effects. “[Alcohol] is a powerful degreasing agent to remove excess sebum from extremely oily skin or stubborn oily product residue,” Dr. Bailey says. “Unfortunately, it may also remove important barrier lipids in your skin’s outer layer, called the stratum corneum. Lipids in this outer protective layer of your skin help prevent skin dehydration and irritation.” Selecting alcohol-free toners will prevent the removal of barrier lipids so that the skin remains hydrated even when potent ingredients like salicylic acid are incorporated into the product. 
  • Fragrance: Put this one on the list of ingredients to avoid, especially for those with sensitive skin types. Fragrance might make your toner or skin care products smell appealing (or mask fragrances; be wary of labels that say a product is “unscented” as it might have fragrance added to mask another scented ingredient), but it can be irritating. 

Use

Skin type and the reaction to a product will help influence how often a toner should be used in a daily skincare routine. Sometimes when someone suffers from acne-prone skin they can overuse a product to remove the excess oils on the skin, but this can have the opposite impact. When you overstrip oil from your skin, it triggers an overproduction of oil that can actually lead to excess oil.

“Overuse of toners is a common mistake that can lead to excessive dryness and skin irritation,” Dr. Bailey says. “Toners remove sebum but are at risk of removing intercellular lipids that create barrier integrity in the natural waterproofing layer of your skin called the stratum corneum. You don’t ever want to remove these lipids because it leads to increased Transepidermal Water Loss (TEWL), skin dehydration, and ultimately to skin irritation.” 

Depending on the skin type, Dr. Jaliman says that the toner can be used one to two times per day. However, this advice changes among dermatologists when the skin starts to react to a new toner. “At the first sign of dryness, reduce usage until you find the sweet spot for your unique complexion,” Dr. Bailey says. For some people, they might find that a toner does not work for their skin.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can toners dry out your skin?

    Toners are prone to drying out the skin, depending on the ingredients incorporated in the formula. Alcohol is one ingredient that Dr. Jaliman recommends avoiding because of its drying effects on the barrier. Also, Dr. Bailey warns that toners that include witch hazel could cause dryness and irritation. “It’s important to know that some witch hazel sources actually include alcohol in the ingredient labeled ‘witch hazel,’” she says. Additionally, using toners can lead to other skin ailments besides dryness. “[They can] cause redness, flaking, and irritation,” Dr. Farah says. 

    If you notice that the toner you are using is causing increased dryness, then consider tapering back how often you use it or try a different product.

  • How often should you use a toner for acne?

    Dermatologists advice varies on how often to use a toner because these products can sometimes cause more harm to the skin than good. “Toners are not necessary for acne,” Dr. Farah says. “I wouldn't say anyone has to use a toner regularly.” 

    However, if you find that toners have been beneficial for your skin, then Dr. Bailey recommends using the product based on your skin type. “I usually recommend using a toner twice daily after washing and towel drying your skin,” she says. “If you have dry or sensitive skin, you may want to use a toner only when you have heavy oil or product residue or your skin is excessively soiled.” One benefit of using toners is that it acts as a second cleanse on the skin after using a cleanser to remove any lingering dirt or debris. “Most toners are applied with a cotton pad, giving you the opportunity to see how much dirt and product residue your toner is removing,” Dr. Bailey adds.

  • Can you use toner on other areas of the body?

    Toners can be used on other parts of the body, depending on if that area is experiencing excess oil or acne. “Toners are appropriate for all excessively oily areas of your skin,” Dr. Bailey says. “These are the same areas prone to acne and include your neck, chest, and upper back.” Some areas of your body should not interact with a toner. “I would not use these on the eyelids,” Dr. Farah recommends. She also advises being careful if using the product on the neck or trunk area as it might cause a “higher risk for irritation.” Consult with a dermatologist if you experience increased irritation from using a toner.

Why Trust Verywell Health

As a seasoned health writer, Danielle Zoellner knows the importance of finding just the right product to fit your medical needs. Throughout her career, Danielle has interviewed a variety of experts in the medical and health fields while reviewing dozens of products. Her experience and knowledge in the field work together to help readers like yourself find the best products for your daily life.