Keep breakouts at bay with these powerful—yet gentle—formulas.

By Hana Hong
September 09, 2020
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In a sea of a thousand skincare categories—and a million skincare products in each one—it’s hard to decipher which ones you should be using in your regular routine. If you’re oily or acne-prone, you might be opposed to adding yet another product for fear of breaking out. But although its application is somewhat anticlimactic, a toner is not a mere marketing ploy. Quick fixes like blotting papers and setting powders are great in a pinch, but if you really want to tamp down the grease, a good toner makes all the difference. From replenishing vital nutrients after cleansing to returning the skin to a healthy pH level, the concentrated liquid adds a powerful punch to your lineup.

Your instinct may be to dive into harsh alcohol-based preservatives in order to quell your breakouts, but stronger isn’t always better in the world of toners. Alcohol can dry your skin out to the point that you’re much more susceptible to breakouts, since your skin will produce more oil to combat dehydration. Instead, look for gentler ingredients with anti-acne agents (like salicylic acid, alpha and beta hydroxy acids, and lactic acid) and soothing botanical extracts (like willow bark, witch hazel, and licorice root) that won’t irritate or dry out your skin. Here are some of our favorite toners for acne-prone skin worth trying. 

1

$8, target.com

Differin’s toner is targeted towards acne, but contains some pretty unconventional (read: hydrating) ingredients to clear your skin. The alcohol-free formula effectively removes excess oil and minimizes the appearance of pores with witch hazel, but also nourishes with aloe vera, making it especially great for people who are both dry and acne-prone. 

2

$6, walmart.com

Your favorite bath salts company (if you're unfamiliar, the brand is basically the holy mecca of essential oils) just came out with an acne fix. Using the same essential oils you know and love, its witch hazel facial toners are also enriched with organic witch hazel and vitamin E to protect skin delicate skin barriers. Although you can’t go wrong with the scents, we’re particularly inclined towards the aromatic lavender.

3

$7, amazon.com

Contrary to popular opinion, you can’t actually change the size of your pores. What does happen is that they can start to appear larger and prominent the more clogged they are. That’s why this formula is choice; it contains oil-dissolving salicylic acid to keep pores clear and looking small, while green tea and cucumber actively reduces redness. 

4

$29, sephora.com

Not only does this powerhouse toner effectively sop up excess oil and mattify shiny skin, it also touts a combination of two different acids to act as a gentle exfoliator. The blend of alpha hydroxy acids, lactic and glycolic, targets the two most common side effects of acne: dark spots and uneven skin texture.

5

$15, amazon.com

Acne-prone is often confused with sensitive skin as the two are usually related. With a bevy of powerful antioxidants, like squalane, green tea extract, and organic aloe, InstaNatural’s hydrating and soothing formulation is suitable for those on the sensitive end of the spectrum. Meanwhile, niacinamide and salicylic acid help unclog culprit pores responsible for recurring breakouts.

6

$66, goodhabitskin.com

A blend of three powerful acids—alpha hydroxy, beta hydroxy, and polyhydroxy acids—in this toner sloughs away dead skin cells to even out bumpy skin texture. But it doesn’t stop there; a proprietary anti-blue light technology helps prevent future signs of aging caused by artificial blue light

7

$22, ulta.com

K-beauty brand CosRX is known for its innovative ingredients in skincare (snail serum, anyone?) and its newest toner doesn’t disappoint. The star ingredient is black bee propolis extract, which has antibacterial and antioxidant properties to help nix breakouts. It also has honey extract to boost skin’s glow, but don’t be afraid of the word “glow” here: Your complexion will look refreshed, not oily.

8

$18, ulta.com

If you find yourself caught in a vicious cycle of acne, redness, and pigmentation, this zinc PCA-based serum-toner fusion from Bliss is curated to counteract all the aforementioned skin woes. Salicylic acid, witch hazel, niacinamide, and cica works in conjunction to clear pores without inadvertently overdrying your skin. 

9

$10, ambi.com

Based on the list of ingredients infused into this formula, we can see why they call this toner intense. But don’t translate that into harsh or overpowering—in addition to salicylic acid, all the ingredients (chamomile extract, cucumber extract, apple cider vinegar, and licorice root extract to name a few) are natural and suitable for sensitive skin types. Give your complexion a quick spritz for an instantaneous detox.