Best Toners for Acne Prone Skin

(Last Updated On: August 15, 2018)

Acne prone skin needs special care to keep it feeling and looking its best. But choosing the most effective products can be hit or miss. One important product that is often overlooked in skin care regime’s is toner, with many people believing that any old toner will do, but that’s just not the case.

In today’s article we’ll take a closer look at toner and find out which products make the best toners for acne prone skin.

Why Use Toner?

Toner has an important role to play when it comes to keeping your skin in good condition.

When you cleanse your skin, you inevitably strip moisture away, even when you’re careful to choose the most gentle soaps and cleansing products. Toner helps to rehydrate your skin.

Another problem that soaps and cleansers introduce is pH imbalance and disruption to the protective acid mantle that keeps moisture locked in to your skin and bacteria out. Toner removes the last traces of alkaline cleansing products and helps to bring pH levels back to normal.

Best Toner

A Quick Primer On The Acid Mantle

What is the acid mantle?

The acid mantle is a very thin hydrolipidic film with an acidic pH that covers your skin. It’s the very outermost layer of skin, and it forms the barrier between you and the rest of the world.

How is it made?

The mantle forms when sweat combines with your naturally secreted sebum and the fatty acids produced by friendly bacteria living on your skin.

What does it do?

The acid mantle performs some very important functions for your skin.

1) A barrier to bacteria – beneficial bacteria are not adversely affected by the acidic environment created by the mantle, but pathogenic bacteria and other harmful microbes which thrive in an alkaline environment can’t colonize and invade skin with an acidic pH.

2) Helps to keep skin hydrated – the mantle keeps skin hydrated by preventing excessive evaporation of moisture from the skin..

3) Protects your skin from the environment – many of the harmful free radicals generated by sunlight and pollution can’t get through the protective barrier.

4) Produces an important vitamin – vitamin D is made in your skin when a fatty acid in the mantle, 7 dehydrocholesterol, interacts with UV rays.

5) Controls excess sebum – enzymes secreted by the mantle break down excess sebum.

6) Provides the correct environment for enzymatic exfoliants – your skin has a built in exfoliant system which (when it’s functioning properly) removes dead skin cells efficiently. These enzymes can only do their work in an acidic environment.

When you have acne, your acid mantle isn’t forming and functioning as it should, and your skin is vulnerable to clogged pores (from sebum and dead skin cells), bacterial infection, irritation and inflammation, and dehydration.

How Do Cleansing Products Affect The Mantle?

Soaps and cleansers are alkaline, meaning they have a pH over 7. Alkaline substances remove the dirt and grease from your skin but they also strip away the acid mantle, leaving your skin vulnerable and feeling dry & tight and in need of a soothing dollop of moisturizer.

What Is Normal Skin PH?

  • According to research published in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science, the healthiest skin has a pH below 5.
  • Skin pH will fluctuate due to washing or cleansing, and excessive sweating, and a range of 4.5 to 6.5 is common.
  • Any substance with a pH below 7 is acid while those with a pH above 7 are alkaline. The range begins at 0 which is the most acidic and rises to 14 which is the most alkaline, 7 is neutral.
  • Anything that you use on your skin will disrupt its normal pH level.
  • Distilled water is neutral at 7 but tap water will differ slightly because tap water isn’t pure, it contains varying amounts of minerals and chemicals depending on where you live. The average pH of tap water is 8.
  • Soap has an average pH of 9 to 10. And the majority of cleansers have a pH over 5.5.
  • The pH scale isn’t linear it’s logarithmic, with each 1 point increase or decrease in pH actually reflecting a difference of a power of 10. So a pH of 3 is ten times more acidic than a pH of 4, and a pH of 2 is 100 times more acidic than a pH of 4.

The more alkaline your cleanser, the more disrupted your pH will be.

By using a good toner, you can remove all traces of your alkaline cleansing products and return your skin to a healthier, acidic state more quickly.

Restoring Healthy PH Isn’t The Only Function Of Toner

Maintaining a healthy pH level is important, and the right toner will help in that regard, but toners are also great for soothing inflamed skin, shrinking pores, exfoliating dead skin cells, reducing oil production, and fighting acne.

Toners, Astringents, Fresheners – What’s The Difference?

Toner is something of a catchall phrase which is used for products that contain very different ingredients.

Alcohol based toners are renowned for removing excess oils and tightening pores but they are also incredibly drying and often irritating. Traditional astringent toners are alcohol based, but there are natural astringent toners that are alcohol free.

Toners formulated with moisturizers and natural extracts are very mild and soothe inflammation.

Fresheners use natural ingredients like green tea to tighten pores.

What Should You Look For In A Good Toner For Acne Prone Skin?

The ideal toner for acne prone skin will

  • Remove all traces of alkaline cleansers
  • Return skin to its normal pH
  • Soothe inflammation
  • Hydrate after cleansing
  • Help to fight acne
  • Be non irritant

TheraTree Clarifying Toner with MSM, Tea Tree & Neem Hydrosol

This toner is packed with natural ingredients that will soothe your skin, balance pH, tighten pores, and fight acne.

You only have to glance at the list of skin friendly hydrosols to know that this toner is a top choice for acne prone skin.

  • Tea tree hydrosol – an antibacterial
  • Neem leaf hydrosol – an antibacterial, anti-inflammatory & antioxidant
  • Witch hazel hydrosol – a non alcohol based pore tightening and oil controlling astringent
  • Basil hydrosol – an antibacterial and anti-inflammatory.
  • Ginger hydrosol – a first rate anti-inflammatory.
  • Lemongrass hydrosol – an antibacterial and astringent.
  • Spearmint hydrosol – a cooling and soothing skin conditioner.

But acne fighting goodness isn’t limited to the hydrosols! This toner also included MSM.

MSM or Methylsulfonylmethane is a naturally occurring form of sulfur which is antibacterial and exfoliating, so this toner will help to gently remove the dead skin cells clogging your pores as well as deal with problematic bacteria.

MSM also works to reduce redness and the appearance of acne scars.

Other ingredients including botanical glycerin, hydrate your skin while salicylic acid from Aspen bark, along with phytic and lactic acids provide further exfoliation for your skin and help to keep oil production under control.

La Roche-Posay Effaclar Clarifying Solution

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The Effaclar range of skin care products from La Roche-Posay has been specially developed for oily and acne prone skin, and Effaclar is the number one acne skincare brand in European pharmacies.

Developed with dermatologists, Effaclar clarifying solution contains glycolic acid to penetrate clogged pores and remove dead skin cells, and salicylic acid to help to fight acne.

This toner is oil free, so it won’t add to your oil burden, and it also contains cooling menthol which will leave your skin with a tingly, fresh feeling.

Notable ingredients include

  • Tremella fuciformis or snow mushroom. This is a 100% natural hydrator with the same hydrating capacity as hyaluronic acid (hyaluronic acid can hold up to 1000 times its weight in water), but since its molecules are much smaller than those in hyaluronic acid, it penetrates skin more easily.
  • Ophiopogon japonicus root extract which draws moisture to the skin and helps to condition and smooth.
  • Scutellaria baicalensis root extract, an ancient Chinese herb and member of the mint family is renowned for its rich antioxidant properties, anti-inflammatory, and skin brightening properties.

Thayers Alcohol Free Witch Hazel & Rose Petal Toner

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Witch hazel is an all natural astringent toner with potent anti-inflammatory properties, but you can’t just go to the drugstore and pick up any old witch hazel off the shelf! Many brands of witch hazel contain alcohol which is very drying and irritating, especially when it’s used on damaged skin.

Thayers, on the other hand, give you a gentle alcohol free witch hazel made with soothing and conditioning rose petal water and aloe leaf juice.

Witch hazel is obtained from the bark and leaves of Hamamelis virginiana, a flowering shrub native to North America. With a long tradition of use in natural medicine, witch hazel is valued for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Witch hazel is so effective at calming and soothing skin that it’s been a go to remedy for poison ivy rashes and insect bites for centuries.

While acne prone skin will benefit enormously from witch hazel’s anti-inflammatories and antioxidants, witch hazel has even more skin friendly tricks up its sleeve.

Witch hazel contains tannins, which give it its natural astringent qualities and make it able to remove excess oil and tighten and shrink pores.

Other compounds found in high concentrations in witch hazel are gallate esters, which have been studied for their ability to cause apoptosis (cell death) in skin cancer cells.

And crucially for skin prone to breakouts, witch hazel is a natural antibacterial, so it will help to eradicate acne causing bacteria.

Thayers blend their witch hazel with two other lovely skin care ingredients, rosewater and aloe.

Rosewater is wonderfully refreshing and soothing while aloe contains nutrients and enzymes that will boost your skin’s health.

MISSHA Time Revolution Clear Toner

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MISSHA is a South Korean skin care brand famous for their high quality, cutting edge ingredients, and this toner doesn’t disappoint on either front.

Let’s look at some of the fantastic ingredients that make this toner so special.

Exfoliating alpha hydroxy acid removes dead surface skin cells and brightens the skin.

Beta hydroxy acid – better known as salicylic acid – penetrates into pores to remove dead skin cells and is an FDA approved acne treatment.

Fermented yeast provides natural hydration along with protective antioxidants and revitalizing and firming amino acids.

Piper Methysticum extract better known as Kava extract, conditions skin.

Camellia Oleifera seed extract is a seed oil from the tea plant, and it is one of the fastest absorbing oils with rich moisturizing and pH balancing properties. Camellia oil is also rich in skin nourishing vitamins and minerals, and in squalene.

Squalane is an important component in healthy sebum production, and those with acne actually have damaged squalene which is a huge factor in the chain of events that cause acne. By giving your skin some undamaged squalene to work with you’ll help to bring acne under control.

Wintergreen leaf extract helps to fight bacteria and improve skin tone, while Ulmus Davidiana Root Extract, Amaranthus Caudatus Seed Extract and Phellodendron Amurense Bark Extract provide, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, moisturizing, softening and antibacterial actions.

Neutrogena Rapid Clear 2-In-1 Fight & Fade Acne Toner

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This toner from trusted skin care brand Neutrogena has been specially formulated to reduce breakouts and fade acne scars.

Microclear technology removes oil, reduces inflammation and redness, exfoliates skin, and decreases pimple size fast.

The ingredients in this toner dissolve oil plugs and remove the dead skin cells from your pores, allowing acne fighting salicylic acid a clear path into your trouble spots.

Rapid Clear 2-in-1 will also help with keratin spots under the skin and blackheads.

Because this toner contains denatured alcohol, you may experience some drying, so it’s best to use this toner once a day to begin with then evaluate how your skin responds before moving on to twice daily application.

Benton Aloe BHA Skin Toner

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This toner is made with what at first glance might seem a totally weird ingredient – snail secretions! But don’t back away in horror just yet because snail secretions are actually a tried and tested skin care marvel.

What are snail secretions? As you might have guessed we’re talking about the snail slime that snails produce and leave behind in that icky, telltale-trail.

The snail slime used in skin care is filtered and purified before use and then it’s added to a variety of products because it’s such an excellent moisturizer and skin tonic.

The use of snail slime goes all the way back to the time of ancient Greece where it was used by the father of medicine himself – Hippocrates – for skin inflammation.

Modern science provides an insight into why snail slime is so beneficial to the skin, pointing out the main constituents in the slime.

Snail slime is mainly composed of sugar molecules which draw moisture to the skin; allantoin which soothes and conditions; collagen & elastin – two major components of skin itself; glycolic acid which is an alpha hydroxy acid able to remove dead surface skin cells; and hyaluronic acid, a potent moisture holding molecule.

Research has also shown that snail slime is antibacterial!

Many acne sufferers have reported improvements in the redness and the size of their acne breakout after using products containing snail secretions, and thanks to the moisturizing properties of this natural form of hyaluronic acid, skin is noticeably softer and smoother.

Other ingredients include:

  • Aloe leaf juice which hydrates, soothes away inflammation and nourishes skin.
  • BHA (salicylic acid) which is an FDA approved acne treatment.
  • Beta Glucan which is anti-inflammatory and a collagen booster.
  • Betaine which is an anti irritant and a humectant which draws moisture into the skin.

Despite the weirdness of one of the ingredients in this toner, it’s actually a very high quality product which should yield some good results for your acne.

Unfortunately this product does contain an animal sourced ingredient, and even though the snails are not harmed, it’s still unsuitable for vegans.

Foxbrim Naturals Orange Blossom Water Face Toner

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Unlike most skin care products that have a long and confusing ingredient list, this orange blossom water toner has just one ingredient – orange blossom water, alternatively known as orange blossom hydrosol.

Orange blossom is a natural skin care ingredient that has been widely used for centuries. Foxbrim Naturals Orange Blossom Water is a good choice for those with acne prone skin because it’s a very gentle, non alcohol based astringent toner.

When you use this deliciously scented toner, you’ll naturally remove all traces of soap or cleanser and balance your skin’s pH, lift any remaining grime from your skin, and tighten and refine the appearance of enlarged pores.

Orange blossom also reduces redness and inflammation, and smoothes and softens skin. As a non irritant, orange blossom is suitable for even very sensitive skins and it’s so gentle it’s a common ingredient in French baby care products.

Summing Up

Using toner is a skin care

Using toner is a skin care step that you can’t afford to miss when you have acne and breakouts.

Toning is a quick step that will rebalance your skin’s pH and help to quickly restore your skin’s protective acid mantle.

Many high quality, modern toners don’t rely on alcohols to do their work.

Toners incorporate some amazingly beneficial natural ingredients and deliver them to your skin after cleansing when it’s at its most vulnerable and in need of some quality care.


“This article is due to be re-visited, proofread and updated a maximum of 3 years from its original upload date by Dr. Kimberly Langdon, M.D. All the content and media has been uploaded by Lily Greene our webmaster, who is also is in charge of page design.”

Written by Irina Radosevic MD
Irina graduated from the University of Belgrade, School of Medicine as a Doctor of Medicine (MD) and spent over 3 years working in the Clinical Hospital Center Zvezdara, in the Department of Emergency Medicine. She also undertook a postgraduate in Cardiology from the same University and had previously worked for over a year as a Physician and Nutritionist Dietitian for the Fitness club Green Zone. She eventually left her chaotic but fulfilling job in the ER to pursue her passion of writing, travelling and mountain climbing which has included writing a first aid course for the alpine club of Belgrade. Irina currently works as a VA for PintMedia focusing on medical and travel writing. Feel free to connect with Irina on LinkedIn and FaceBook. Her CV can be seen here.