Toners have a bit of a confusing reputation. Some people swear by them, others think they’re useless. A big part of the confusion when it comes to toners is that a wide variety of products with very different ingredients and purposes can all be called by that name, and a good portion of the commercial products are misleading in their advertising.
As though the world of cleansers and cosmetics weren’t already confusing enough, toner seems to take the cake when it comes to confusion.
A toner is supposed to be a product that tightens skin and minimizes pores, while absorbing any excess oil or dirt that a cleanser left behind. They also re-balance the skin’s natural pH after a cleanser would have altered it. They are usually applied after a cleanser and before a moisturizer or any makeup, but many good toners can actually replace a topical moisturizer because they leave the skin feeling soft, even, and dewy.
Many products sold as toners, ‘splashes’, or astrignents, are loaded with alcohol. Most of them also use lots of preservatives and chemical fragrance. Alcohol makes skin feel tight and clean, but it actually strips skin of its protective barrier and over-dries it, thus destroying it in the long run. Chemical fragrance and other additives can irritate skin and introduce toxins into your body. These are not the kind of ‘toners’ you want anywhere near your face.
There are a lot of natural ingredients that have amazing, skin-balancing properties, without any of the harsh side effects. One of the most famous is apple cider vinegar. Apple cider vinegar has a strong scent though, and can be overwhelming to many people. Therefore we believe the best option is witch hazel, a natural extract from the bark of the witch hazel bush. The bark is naturally astringent, meaning that it closes pores, and it’s great for treating everything from bug bites to varicose veins. One of its best uses, however, is as a facial toner.
Witch hazel does what a toner is supposed to without any of the harsh side effects. It has a natural pH of 3-4, which helps bring your skin’s pH down to its natural range after a cleanser has raised it. It also has naturally anti-inflammatory properties that make it great for use on sensitive and blemish-prone facial skin.
Although it is potent as a toner, it is also generally mild enough to use on very sensitive skin. To apply it, just pour a little bit on a cotton ball and wipe it gently across your face. Use it over your brow, nose, and cheeks, along your jaw line and around your ears. You’ll be amazed by how much junk it picks up! Let any excess dry on your face and you’re ready for the next step in your beauty routine.
Witch hazel also acts as a humectant, binding water to the skin to keep it moisturized, and the tannins constricts blood vessels. This can help in reducing broken capillaries and red patches, as well treating puffy eyes. Just soak a cotton ball or pad with the witch hazel and leave it on your eyes for five minutes for improved circulation.
When you buy a brand, it is important to choose one that hasn’t been distilled with alcohol- unlike the drugstore versions. These alcohol based versions are not suitable for use on the face because the alcohol has long-term damaging effects that counteract the benefit of the witch hazel. Instead, make sure to choose a toner that is alcohol and chemical free.
Below you will find reviews of the three best brands.
Thayers is the gold standard. The brand itself is over 150 years old and the quality is outstanding. They have a basic toner which is alcohol-based, and then a whole line of toners that are 100% alcohol-free. Their toners are made of purified water, aloe vera juice, glycerin, and undistilled witch hazel extract. The undistilled aspect means that all of the beneficial properties of the witch hazel, particularly the tannins from the bark, are undamaged and available for your skin to absorb.
The formula is soothing, astringent without the damaging effects of any alcohol, and free from any harmful additives.
Thayer’s alcohol-free witch hazel toner also comes in a variety of natural fragrances, such as rose petal, lavender, lavender-mint, peach, lemon and cucumber. The rose petal in particular is very popular. When it comes to customer satisfaction, Thayers has a bit of a cult following. Most users swear by this brand.
Thayers is also paraben and propylene-glycol free and infused with skin healing Citric Acid and Vitamin E. They exclusively use organic witch hazel grown on a family farm in Connecticut, and all of their other ingredients are sourced in the USA.
Quinn’s Witch Hazel toner is a great option for skin toning as well. The rose petal and aloe vera infusion leaves your skin feeling fantastically clean and smooth. The organic aloe vera soothes and moisturizers, while the witch hazel constricts and cleanses. The rose water gives it a fantastic scent and makes you feel fresh and invigorated.
Similar to Thayers, this brand has a purified water, aloe leaf juice, and rose base. Citric acid and grapefruit seed extract amplify the anti-inflammatory benefits. This toner is also non-distilled, meaning the tannins are readily available for your skin to use.
This toner is also very popular, not just for the skin benefits, but for the relaxing and wonderful rose scent. It smells like an old-fashioned tonic and it is such an effective humectant that you will probably end up skipping your moisturizer.
If you don’t like the simplicity of the other two, then C.S.M. has a brand with some added benefits. C.S.M witch hazel toner contains a lot of minerals and vitamins for your skin, including rejuvenating extracts from kelp to Irish moss! Vitamins A, B-5, and E all help to nourish skin, increase collagen production, and heal blemishes. Natural kelp particles fight free-radicals to resist sun damage and wrinkles.
Although slightly pricier, the bottle has a very popular misting cap. This makes it a practical product for on-the-go use. You can keep it in a bag and simply spritz a little on your skin whenever you need a quick pick-me-up.
This toner is paraben and phosphate-free, and is never tested on animals. It is also 97.5% organic certified. C.S.M. is so confident in their product that they offer a money-back guarantee if you don’t like it.
So whether you’ve tried apple cider vinegar before, have used over-the-counter toners with mixed results, or have never tried a toner before, witch hazel is the best choice for a neutral, skin balancing tonic that will help you get your glow on and feel clean and beautiful the natural way. We recommend Thayer’s witch hazel toner.