What Toner to user for Acne

How do you choose the best toner for acne? There are many different toners on the market and the ingredients they contain vary significantly. There’s no definition of ‘toner’ and so manufacturers can use this label in any way they choose. That means some toners are more effective for treating and preventing acne than others.

Here I discuss how the right toner can help you achieve clear, acne-free skin. 

How can a toner help?

Toners were originally designed to remove soap residue and restore the skin’s pH balance. That’s because old-fashioned alkaline soaps used to leave a mineral ‘scum’ on the skin that could lead to dryness and skin irritation. 

Nowadays, most people use pH balanced synthetic cleansers that don’t leave soap scum or an alkaline pH on skin. However, toners are still useful, especially for people with acne.

If your skin is prone to acne, a toner can help by removing excess oil, product, bacteria and pollutants that may remain after you have washed with a cleanser and water.

The best toners for acne also contain ingredients that reduce redness and inflammation and nourish your skin. 

4 benefits of skin toners for acne

In addition to helping remove stubborn oil and product residue from skin, a really great toner can also:
  • prevent clogged pores,
  • treat blackheads,
  • fight inflammation to prevent pimples and soften acne scars, and
  • hold water inside your skin to fight skin dehydration from acne treatment ingredients in your skin care routine.

How to choose acne toner

The most effective ingredients in toner for acne are:

  • Salicylic acid
  • Witch hazel
  • Tea tree oil
  • Glycolic acid
  • Glycerin
  • Hyaluronic acid. 

Salicylic acid

Salicylic acid is my top choice when choosing the best toner for acne.

salicylic acid acne treatment pads

Salicylic acid penetrates deeply into oily pores. It breaks up pore-clogging debris and blackheads so that other active ingredients in the toner can easily enter the pores where acne lesions begin. My Glycolic and Salicylic Acne Treatment Pads are an excellent example. They contain a full 2% medicated salicylic acid formulated in a toner pad.

Witch hazel

Witch hazel is my other top ingredient. It helps remove oil and product residue without drying the skin too much. It’s also mildly antimicrobial, which means it fights the bacteria that causes acne.


The tannins in witch hazel cause temporary contraction of the skin which makes the pores appear smaller. In addition, witch hazel has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity which soothes acne irritation and helps to calm redness.  I created my Naturally Hydrating Pore Minimizing Facial Toner to provide the benefits of witch hazel and this toner is excellent for sensitive skin struggling with acne.  

Tea tree oil

The best toner for acne will contain a small percentage (5% or under) of tea tree oil. Tea tree oil is known to help fight the acne causing bacteria called C. acnes

Glycolic acid

Glycolic acid is an AHA (alpha hydroxy acid) that helps unclog pores and brightens the complexion. The Salicylic Acid and Glycolic Acid Acne Treatment Pads contain a robust 10% glycolic acid to help brighten complexions struggling with acne. 

Glycerin and hyaluronic acid

Glycerin and hyaluronic acid are humectant ingredients, which means they hold water inside the skin. These ingredients prevent skin from becoming dehydrated and keep it looking and feeling healthy. My Naturally Hydrating Pore Minimizing Toner is rich in both of these ingredients. 

If skin becomes dehydrated it can overcompensate by producing excess oil which blocks pores and may lead to an acne outbreak. 

Ingredients to avoid

Toners contain a broad range of ingredients. Some even have a high concentration of oils so it’s important to be aware of all the ingredients in a toner for acne.

Some toners contain alcohol. Alcohol is a powerful degreasing agent that removes excess oil from the skin. Although most toners may dry out the skin to some extent, those containing alcohol are particularly drying.

Alcohol may also remove important barrier lipids in your skin’s outer layer, called the stratum corneum. Lipids in this outer protective layer of skin help prevent skin dehydration and irritation (for more about the importance of lipids, see: ‘Can you overuse toner?’ below).

It’s important to know that some witch hazel sources actually include alcohol in the ingredient labeled ‘witch hazel’.

I would also recommend avoiding toners with common allergens such as citrus-based ingredients and fragrance. Unfortunately, this is a little more difficult as they are common ingredients in toner for acne. 

Can you use toner on all areas of the body?

Toners can be applied to all areas of excessively oily skin which may be prone to acne. This includes your neck, chest and upper back. 


When should you use toner in your skin care routine?

It’s best to use toner after you have washed and lightly towel-dried your skin. 

How often should you use a toner for acne? 

I usually recommend using a toner for acne twice daily after washing and towel-drying your skin.

If you have dry or sensitive skin, you may want to use a toner only when you have heavy oil or product residue on your skin or it’s excessively soiled.

Most toners are applied with a cotton pad, so you can see what your toner has removed. 

Can you overuse toner?

Do not use toner on your skin more than twice a day. Overuse of toners is a common mistake that can lead to excessive dryness and skin irritation. When I was a teen struggling with acne, I actually did this and my skin got red and irritated.

Toners remove sebum which clogs the pores, but they can also remove intercellular lipids. These lipids create barrier integrity in the natural waterproofing layer of your skin (the stratum corneum).

Removing these lipids leads to increased Transepidermal Water Loss (TEWL), skin dehydration and ultimately to skin irritation.

When using a toner, pay attention to how your skin is responding. At the first sign of dryness, reduce usage until you find the sweet spot for your unique complexion. 

What is the best toner for acne?

salicylic acid acne treatment padsMy Salicylic and Glycolic Acid Acne Treatment Pads gently and effectively clear out pores and break up blackheads. The pads are formulated to combat the bacteria that causes acne. 

To soothe and hydrate acne-prone skin at the same time as removing tough debris from the pores I recommend using Naturally Hydrating and Pore-Minimizing Facial Toner. This formulation eliminates oil without drying the skin, leaving you with a bright, glowing complexion. 



Once you understand what ingredients to look for in a toner for acne, you have the greatest chance of achieving long-lasting clear and radiant skin.





Author: Dr. Cynthia Bailey M.D. is a Board Certified dermatologist practicing dermatology since 1987. She has done well over 200,000 skin exams during her career and authors the longest running physician written skin health blog in the world.


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