Will Using Toner Clear Acne?

Facial Toner
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Call them toners, astringents, or clarifiers, every skin care line has them.  They're especially popular for oily and acne-prone skin. 

But will using a toner clear up your acne?

What is a Toner?

First, let's clarify what a toner is and why it's used. Toners are liquid solutions that are applied to the skin with a cotton ball or pad.  You use them just after cleansing and before moisturizing.

Toners are said to remove traces of dirt, makeup, cleanser residue and excess oil.

Toner Can Help with Minor Breakouts and Blemishes

If you have just a few blemishes here and there, and they're very mild, a toner might be just enough to keep those pesky breakouts at bay.  That is, provided the toner you're using contains an acne-fighting ingredient like salicylic acid or glycolic acid

Products with these ingredients help keep pores clear and prevent blackheads and minor pimples from forming.Toners are good preventatives for those occasional bumps and blemishes that pop up, too.

Toner Alone Won't Clear Up a Persistent Case of Acne

If you have more than just a few random pimples and blackheads, toner alone isn't going to be enough to clear up your skin.  They're just not powerful enough to clear up persistent or stubborn acne.

In this case, you'd be better off using a more effective acne treatment product.  Over the counter, your best bet is a benzoyl peroxide lotion (good for mild inflammatory acne).

  Moderate acne or severe acne won't respond well to any OTC product, though, so you'll have to see a dermatologist to really get those breakouts under control.

Should You Use a Toner?

Like many skin care questions, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. The decision to use a toner depends on many factors, including the type of products and medications you're currently using on your face and your own personal preference.

A common belief is that toners are needed to close the pores. This simply isn't true. Pores aren't like doors; they don't open and close. Bottom line: toner is not a skin care necessity.

For super oily skin types, toners and astringents can help keep the skin from feeling too greasy.  They can also help reduce the oily shine that appears throughout the day, and might help your makeup wear longer.

But for especially sensitive skin types, or if you're currently using drying acne treatments, it's probably wise to forgo the toner.

Many toners are high in alcohol or other ingredients that can be drying. Using a toner can exacerbate dryness you get with many topical acne treatments (such as Retin-A, BenzaClin or other topical antibiotics).

You may even find using a toner worsens your breakouts, and if you have moderate to severe inflammatory acne or cystic acne, toner may burn or sting when applied.

If you love the way toners make their skin feel and can't imagine going without one, then go for it!  But rest easy knowing you're not doing your skin a great disservice if you choose not to use toner.

Here's What to Look for when Choosing an Acne Toner

First, take a look at the active ingredients.  If you want a product that can help fight minor blemishes, you're looking for salicylic acid primarily.

  Glycolic acid is another good one.

You'll also want to pick a product that isn't high in alcohol so it won't leave your skin feeling too dry. 

Most important is to pay attention to how the product makes your skin feel.  Burning and stinging is a big red flag that the toner is too harsh for your skin.  Instead look for one that leaves your skin feeling fresh and clean, but not stripped. 

If you're seeing a dermatologist for your acne, make sure to ask which products (if any) they recommend for you. And always get their OK before adding any new product to your skin care regimen.


"Questions and Answers About Acne." National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS). Jan 2006. National Institutes of Health.

Zaenglein AL, Pathy AL, Schlosser BJ, Alikhan A, Baldwin HE, et. al. "Guidelines of Care for the Management of Acne Vulgaris." Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. 2016; 74(5): 945-73.

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