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Dermatologists Say These Toners Will Help Banish Oil Without Stripping Your Skin

Prevention Logo By Krissy Brady of Prevention | Slide 1 of 13: When you have oily skin, preventing that dreaded-yet-inevitable shine from taking over your face is practically a side hustle. Quick fixes like blotting papers and setting powders are great in a pinch, but if you really want to tamp down the grease, a toner—in addition to a great cleanser and lightweight moisturizer—may be helpful.“Toners used to get a bad rap because previous generations stripped the skin with alcohol-containing ingredients,” says San Diego-based board-certified dermatologist Melanie Palm, M.D. This compromised the skin barrier, leading to irritation, dryness, breakouts, and even more oil. But these days, toners focus on giving back to your skin, especially if you’re oily or acne-prone. “Modern toners usually support healthier skin turnover and prepare skin to receive other active ingredients applied after toning,” says Dr. Palm.How to choose the best toner for oily skinSeek out key ingredients: Look for beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs), alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs), or poly hydroxy acids (PHAs)—like salicylic, glycolic, or lactic acids—in lower concentrations, as they exfoliate the skin, clear your pores, and reduce sebum production, says New Jersey-based board-certified dermatologist Zain Husain, M.D.Sulfur also has anti-inflammatory and oil-regulating properties. “It’s helpful in both oily and acne-prone skin types,” says Dr. Palm. To ensure the toner you choose won’t be too drying, make sure that, in addition to these oil-fighters, it contains soothing ingredients like aloe vera, niacinamide, and antioxidants.Steer clear of harsh add-ins: Avoid a toner that’s high in alcohol or other astringents, as this will cause dryness and trigger more oil production. “Any toners that advertise ingredients like high concentrations of alcohol or witch hazel or over-glorify astringent and exfoliating properties should be avoided,” says Dr. Husain. Ditto for synthetic fragrances, he adds, which can cause irritation and breakouts. A good rule of thumb: Skip products that give your skin that too-tight feeling, adds Dr. Palm.Pay attention to other skin problems: “If you have acne in combination with oily skin, you don’t want to use an over-exfoliating toner that will dry out the skin and increase oil production,” says Dr. Husain, which will only spur more breakouts. “And if you have oily skin but also suffer from rosacea, you definitely want to avoid witch hazel and not overuse glycolic acid or benzoyl peroxide, as those can trigger a flare-up.”Trial and error may be necessary: “By just looking at the label or contents, it would be impossible to really know the best toner for your skin,” says Richard Bottiglione, M.D., board-certified dermatologist and founder of Alliance Dermatology and Mohs in Arizona. “The packaging won’t give you any hint of how strong it is.”Ultimately, only trying the product will give you the best idea of what works for you and what doesn’t—but where to start? Below, dermatologists share the toners they recommend for oily skin, with picks for every price point:

When you have oily skin, preventing that dreaded-yet-inevitable shine from taking over your face is practically a side hustle. Quick fixes like blotting papers and setting powders are great in a pinch, but if you really want to tamp down the grease, a toner—in addition to a great cleanser and lightweight moisturizer—may be helpful.

“Toners used to get a bad rap because previous generations stripped the skin with alcohol-containing ingredients,” says San Diego-based board-certified dermatologist Melanie Palm, M.D. This compromised the skin barrier, leading to irritation, dryness, breakouts, and even more oil. But these days, toners focus on giving back to your skin, especially if you’re oily or acne-prone. “Modern toners usually support healthier skin turnover and prepare skin to receive other active ingredients applied after toning,” says Dr. Palm.

How to choose the best toner for oily skin

Seek out key ingredients: Look for beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs), alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs), or poly hydroxy acids (PHAs)—like salicylic, glycolic, or lactic acids—in lower concentrations, as they exfoliate the skin, clear your pores, and reduce sebum production, says New Jersey-based board-certified dermatologist Zain Husain, M.D.

Sulfur also has anti-inflammatory and oil-regulating properties. “It’s helpful in both oily and acne-prone skin types,” says Dr. Palm. To ensure the toner you choose won’t be too drying, make sure that, in addition to these oil-fighters, it contains soothing ingredients like aloe vera, niacinamide, and antioxidants.

Steer clear of harsh add-ins: Avoid a toner that’s high in alcohol or other astringents, as this will cause dryness and trigger more oil production. “Any toners that advertise ingredients like high concentrations of alcohol or witch hazel or over-glorify astringent and exfoliating properties should be avoided,” says Dr. Husain. Ditto for synthetic fragrances, he adds, which can cause irritation and breakouts. A good rule of thumb: Skip products that give your skin that too-tight feeling, adds Dr. Palm.

Pay attention to other skin problems: “If you have acne in combination with oily skin, you don’t want to use an over-exfoliating toner that will dry out the skin and increase oil production,” says Dr. Husain, which will only spur more breakouts. “And if you have oily skin but also suffer from rosacea, you definitely want to avoid witch hazel and not overuse glycolic acid or benzoyl peroxide, as those can trigger a flare-up.”

Trial and error may be necessary: “By just looking at the label or contents, it would be impossible to really know the best toner for your skin,” says Richard Bottiglione, M.D., board-certified dermatologist and founder of Alliance Dermatology and Mohs in Arizona. “The packaging won’t give you any hint of how strong it is.”

Ultimately, only trying the product will give you the best idea of what works for you and what doesn’t—but where to start? Below, dermatologists share the toners they recommend for oily skin, with picks for every price point:

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