For basic, non-prescription skincare, toners provide your skin with restorative antioxidants, ceramides and fatty acids. Because these products overflow from drugstore shelves and cosmetics counters, you may find yourself overwhelmed with options. Ultimately, no single over-the-counter toner claims the prize of overall “best” -- the choice depends on your skin type, preferences and budget, among other personal factors.
While the very best toner choice for you boils down to individualized factors, some basic rules of thumb help narrow your options. Paula Begoun, skin care author and founder of the Paula's Choice cosmetics company, recommends that those with normal skin stick to water-based toners that feature antioxidants and the skin-friendly B vitamin niacinamide; this is preferable to alcohol-based toners, which may irritate the skin. Speaking to "The Huffington Post" in 2012, Dr. Jennifer MacGregor suggests toners with salicylic or glycolic acid, as well as ingredients such as vitamin C and witch hazel, for those with acne-prone skin. For sensitive skin, toners with anti-inflammatory ingredients like vitamin E and aloe often work best.
A Little Extra Moisture
In decades past, harsh alcohol-based toners catered mostly to those suffering from acne. Today's toners feature a wide range of ingredients for different skin types, including skin on the opposite end of the spectrum. If your skin is on the dry side, "Cosmopolitan" recommends 3LAB Perfect Balancing Toner to help hydrate your skin, prepare it for moisturizer application and protect your face from damaging environmental factors. At a substantially lower cost, Sephora Face Soothing Toner is a good choice for those with normal or dry skin, citing its alcohol-free composition and efficiency at removing dirt and makeup.
For the Acne-Prone
Some toner ingredients are more specific to those with oily or acne-prone skin. In the middle of the toner price range -- which spans from roughly $3 to upward of $90 per bottle, as of 2014 -- La Roche Posay Effaclar tops "InStyle" magazine's 2013 list of Best Beauty Buys in the toner category. This lipohydroxy-acid-based product is heralded for its ability to unclog pores, improve skin texture and reduce the appearance of acne scars. As a budget-priced option, Clean and Clear Advantage Acne Clearing Astringent helps unclog pores with salicylic acid.
For an over-the-counter toner for all skin types, including sensitive skin, the Chicago Center for Anti-Aging recommends Neaclear Plus Rejuvenating Facial Toner, a water-based, hypoallergenic tonic that features aloe vera and vitamins A, D, C and E. This toner focuses on conditioning the skin and restoring its pH balance. "Cosmopolitan" suggests the high-end La Prairie Advanced Marine Biology Tonic for eco-conscious toner users, as this antioxidant-rich product derives from marine plants harvested in an environmentally friendly fashion.