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When it comes to skincare, one of the bigger mysteries (particularly to newbies) is the mystical toner. Long a valuable part of the “cleanse, tone, and moisturise” skincare mythology, it’s the only part that still renders many asking what, precisely, it does.

Well, there’s a long and a short answer to the classic “what is a toner” question. The short one is that it depends. And the long one? Well, if you want that answer, then read on.

The first category of “toners” is those which use acids to exfoliate the skin. These are the ones that’ll give you the most obvious results in the shortest amount of time, offering a smoother, shinier skin surface. There is an absolute tonne of these on the market, but I have three I always come back to.

The first is the Paula’s Choice 2% BHA exfoliant. This is a miracle worker for those with an oilier, more clog-prone skin type, as it contains salicylic acid exclusively. A step up in terms of intensity is the Tarte Knockout Tingling Treatment, which also contains lactic acid. This one is a little more “stingy” in feel, and tends to feel nicer when used at night rather than under makeup. If both of these sound too intense, though, I point you towards the Mario Badescu Keratoplast Lotion. This is a super gentle formula, so takes a little more time to offer results – but slow and steady may win the race if you’re on the sensitive side.

Another category of toner-y product I enjoy is the astringent. These have somewhat debated skincare benefits, but when I’m feeling uber-grimy, there’s nothing I like more. A classic witch hazel can be good for this, but an excellent amped up version is the Mario Badescu Witch Hazel & Rosewater, which has added hydration and a delicious scent. The Origins Zero Oil Pore Purifying Toner is also amazing to prep skin for moisturiser or makeup, and smells like heaven on earth with a hint of toothpaste.

I’m also a fan of anything containing camphor, which seems to work wonders on my pores like no other. The Kiehl’s Blue Astringent Herbal Lotion is a skincare classic for this very reason, and always leaves me feeling cleansed as hell. But if you want more acne-busting benefits, go for the Mario Badescu Special Cleansing Lotion C, which has sulfur to help fight breakouts before they begin.

For those with a drier complexion, you’ll likely want to steer clear of anything that claims to be too deeply cleansing. But never fear – there are toners out there for you, too! One of the best options for dry skins is the Fresh Rose Deep Hydration Facial Toner, which has the added bonus of looking absolutely mesmerizing in the bottle. The Eminence Hydrating Neroli Mist is also incredible for a dehydrated complexion, with the added bonus of easy application. If you want something with more age-preventing benefits, though, the Origins Mega Mushroom Relief & Resilience Lotion is incredible. In fact, I can’t think of a skin type that wouldn’t like it.

If your skin errs more on the side of sensitive, though, I point you towards aloe vera. We’ve long known of its soothing properties – but they’re famous for a reason. Something nice and simple is the Mario Badescu Aloe Lotion, which does what it says on the tin. To boost your moisture levels though, the Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Toner is as softening as it is soothing.

My final recommendation is what I’d call a good “all-rounder.” If you don’t have a particular skin concern, but feel you want to add something toner-y to your roster, I point you to the Fatco Toner Lavender & Rosemary. It’s purifying but still hydrating, without the potential to irritate, smells good, and can be easily spritzed on to soup up your skincare routine. What more could you ask for?

Shop 12 editor picks for the only toners she recommends

Featured images via Urban Outfitters

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