In Rotation: Skin Toners

March 25, 2015

I think a good toner can make a world of difference in keeping the skin clear and refreshed. This time of year my skin typically goes crazy as the seasons change, however this year right now my skin has actually been getting better, clearer and feels smoother. I attribute this to a few things I’ve switched up in my skincare routine for day and night. I’ll have a roundup of cleansers and moisturizers I’ve been using, but for now today’s focus is on toner.

Today there are so many different types of facial toners on the market, each one has a different purpose. For me I have crazy sensitive skin that will react within seconds to many toners. Others will feel great upon application but then make my skin super oily within minutes. Five I have in rotation all have different purposes. You definitely don’t need more than one toner at a time although I typically have 2-3 toners on hand to rotate depending on how my skin feels.

Estee Lauder Perfectly Clean Multi-Action Toning Lotion ($25 for 6.7 fl oz) is my most-repurchased toner. I’ve gone through a few bottles of this one. For me it’s the best everyday kind of toner if your skin is normal. It’s gentle but effective in helping clean the skin after your regular cleanser and there is a very soft exfoliating factor built in. I like that it’s good for my sensitive skin and doesn’t dry the face out or leave a film residue. If your skin is normal/combo or dry there are other toner options from Estee Lauder that you might want to check out. (There’s a gift with purchase online at Nordstrom right now in case you wanted to stock up on some items.)



The SK-II Facial Treatment Clear Lotion ($70 for  5 fl oz) is my second most-repurchased toner. This one is on the pricey side but is another good everyday kind of toner. It contains a mix of AHA and Pitera™which is unique to the SK-II skincare products. These help clarify the skin and exfoliate dead skin cells to help prep your skin for moisturizers or serums. This one is very gentle on the face and really works to clear up the skin. I had tiny little bumps on the cheekbones and this helps keep them away. It’s refreshing and it leaves the skin feeling soft. There is a slight moisture feel left on the skin after you apply it but it doesn’t feel like residue. It’s gentle enough that it doesn’t sting the skin even on days when the face is a bit tender.

Ingredients: Aqua (Water), Saccharomycopsis Ferment Filtrate*, Butylene Glycol, Polysorbate 20, Glycerin, Sodium Hyaluronate, Peg-150, Cellulose Gum, Disodium Edta, Citric Acid, Salicylic Acid, Lactic Acid, Malic Acid, Sodium Citrate, Sodium Benzoate, Methylparaben *Pitera.


Chanel recently reformulated their Le Blanc line. I was at the counter buying the new Hydra Beauty Micro Serum and my go-to sales rep said she highly recommended the new Le Blanc Brightening Moisturizing Lotion ($67.50 for fl oz) for my sensitive skin. I have never been able to use any of the Chanel toners in the past without getting tiny little red bumps within minutes, another rep commented she too could not use any of the toners from Chanel but this one was worth trying. I gave it a shot and have been really impressed. I’ve been needing extra help in the brightening area, especially with some acne scars. This one is extremely gentle. It has a texture that is thicker than most traditional toners but still absorbs nicely into the skin with a cotton pad. It helps soothe the face and really does work to help with my acne scars. After using this for a few weeks my skin feels rebalanced and clearer. There is some hydration with this which is perfect for right now as my skin needs moisture and clarifying at the same time.


Kate Somerville Clarifying Treatment Toner ($26 for 5 fl oz) came highly recommended to me by a rep who doesn’t work for the line. We were discussing face masks and treatments to help with my acne scars. By now my chin and jawline breakouts have almost completely disappeared (it’s 97% there to clear skin) and what I have to fix next is the scars and dark marks. He said hands down the Kate Somerville toner is his favorite and that it’s designed for post-acne scars. I typically don’t like tones for acne-prone or oily skin because I find them too stripping and it ends up sending my skin into overdrive oiliness. This one is alcohol-free and has witch hazel to fight acne-causing bacteria, phytic acid to lighten skin for scars, and aloe to soothe and calm.

After testing this for several weeks I think the upsides are that it really works to calm down the skin, especially if you have redness from irritation. It helped soothe areas that were tender from dry patches and acne. I do think it’s a bit drying on the forehead for me, but it worked really well on other areas of the face. I’ve seen a difference on my cheeks and chin area with this. For toners that brighten the skin and help reduce irriration, I would say it’s a toss up between the Chanel Le Blanc and Kate Somerville Clarifying Toner. The Chanel is better suited for normal to dry skin while the Kate Somerville seems to be clearly for normal to oily skin.

Ingredients: Water, Butylene Glycol, PEG-60 Almond Glycerides, Caprylyl Glycol, Glycerin, Carbomer, Nordihydroguaiaretic Acid, Oleanolic Acid, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Methyl Gluceth-10, Hamamelis Virginiana (Witch Hazel) Extract, Phytic Acid, Anthemis Nobilis Flower Extract, Lactic Acid, Disodium EDTA-Copper, Panthenol, Sodium Hydroxide, Sodium Benzoate, Potassium Sorbate, Chlorphenesin.
Last but not least is the By Terry Cellularose Hydra-Toner ($65 for 6.8 fl oz). I had used a few samples of this in the past and it comes highly recommended by a few friends. I don’t consider myself a huge fan of rose scented products but I am a big fan of the Cellularose Brightening CC Lumi Serums (review here), Baume de Rose (for lips) and the Cellularose Nutri-Baume (for a face moisturizer on dry skin days). For me to fall in love with those items even with the rose scent says a lot about the products themselves. For me the rose scent in the By Terry line is a soft rose that is wearable and soothing (at least to me). The Cellularose Hydra-Toner is their Clarifying Comfort Toner and it’s the best one to soothe skin over the entire face (not just spots). It’s designed for all skin types and I would say formula-wise this is really truly good for all skin types. It leaves the skin feeling refreshed and glowing and also works to shrink pores and remove any signs of dryness. I do think the rose scent is stronger in this compared to other By Terry products. I cannot use this in the evening because the fragrance interferes with my sleep. This one leaves the skin looking the most dewy/glowy without feeling greasy or any residue.


Good toners have helped keep the skin clear and it’s an extra step to help make sure the face is truly clean with subtle exfoliation. All except the By Terry are almost fragrance free, each has a soft clean scent that is very subtle even for my super sensitive nose. If you’re in search of a new toner as we transition seasons, I hope this roundup is helpful. I think using a good toner can really help rebalance and readjust your skin as it reacts to weather changes. Sometimes my skin just gets used to something after using a product for an extended period of time and it becomes less effective so I like to switch things up every so often. For reference, I use all of these with a cotton pad (my favorites are Cle de Peau Beaute and Chanel). In summary:
  • My everyday go-to toners are Estee Lauder Perfectly Clean and SK-II, these are good for normal sensitive skin that needs daily balancing and clearing
  • For seasonal transition, brightening and hydration, the Chanel Le Blanc is amazing, I’ve been incorporating this one into my weekly routine and I’ve been really pleased with it, it seems to be suitable for dry skin days but also works to clarify and rebalance, the skin is brightened and looks softer
  • For acne scars and soothing, the Kate Somerville is really worth looking into, although if you have normal skin, you may not see as much of a difference with this one
  • For all skintypes, the By Terry Cellularose Hydra-Toner seems the best for oily, dry, and sensitive, it will leave your skin feeling truly refreshed and glowing

Do you have a favorite toner? I would love to hear about your favorites and skin type. Do you use the same one year round or do you switch things up as the seasons change, or even on a weekly basis?

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  • SJ Sellers March 25, 2015 at 6:58 pm

    YAY! happy to see the ByTerry Toner getting recognition. i absolutely love this for daytime prep for cosmetics. my skin looks and feels refreshed after splashing this on my face (i don't use a cotton pad for this)
    i love toners! i also love SKII – it is amazing.
    another favorite is Sisley's Floral Toning Lotion. it is stupid expensive but i adore it. i let myself buy some only very occasionally. it feels amazing and i want to go swimming in it 🙂

  • waspprincess March 25, 2015 at 9:46 pm

    I have dry, mature skin and live in NYC which had the most brutal winter this year, making my skin care even more of a challenge. I rotate my toners by season. In the colder months, I swear by The Body Shop Vitamin E Hydrating Toner and Shiseido Benefiance Softener. Year round, I always have the Armani Regenessence Lotion and Mario Badescu's Rosewater Spray on hand.

  • Clever Girl Reviews March 25, 2015 at 10:08 pm

    I wish there was a By Terry counter near me. I'd love to try the toner.

  • Anonymous March 25, 2015 at 10:14 pm

    Excellent and on the market for a toner. Thanks for posting the ingredients.

  • Danielle S. March 25, 2015 at 10:35 pm

    I'm definitely going to have to give the Kate Somerville toner a try! I think toners are an important part of a skincare routine, too, but I feel like most people skip them. Thanks for the recommendations!

  • Eileen March 25, 2015 at 10:49 pm

    I have mature, dry, sensitive skin with mild rosacea. I adore SKII Cellumination Mask In Lotion and La Mer The Treatment. Both are both the Asian style toners lotions (essences) that are meant to be patted on rather than swiped on with a cotton pad. You can apply that way, but you'll waste a lot of product and these are expensive. The SKII is brightening whereas the La Mer is more about moisturizing. Both calm and sooth the skin and are excellent choices for skin such as mine. For more of a cleansing type of toner, I like Paula's Choice Skin Recovery Toner. That one I do use with a cotton pad all over my face, neck, and décolletage. None of them have any of the drying or irritating "bad" alcohols.

    • SJ Sellers March 26, 2015 at 1:38 pm

      i use both the SKII Cellumination Mask In Lotion and the La Mer The Treatment as well! i love both of these too! i don't know why i don't think of them as toners….??? weird of me. i think of them as pre-moisturizers. 🙂 i really like the La Mer – it does a great job of moisturizing and holding moisture in the skin.
      great post Eileen!

    • Soni March 26, 2015 at 4:51 pm

      Thank you Eileen! I have the same skin type as you. Now I want to try the SKII and the La Mer. I don't use a cotton pad to apply toner ever. Too much stimulation for my face & then it gets red. I spray/pour in my hand & pat on my face. Glad to hear that I'm not the only one that applies this way. (I also use PC toners & love them)
      I was surprised to see that alcohol is the 2nd ingredient in the Chanel toner. I don't think I could use that one successfully. Sadly.

    • Eileen March 26, 2015 at 5:17 pm

      And, I bet we both have beautiful skin! LOL 🙂 I don't think of these as toners, either, at least not in the Western sense of the word. I think your notion of them being "pre-moisturizers" makes a lot of sense. In Asia they're more often referred to as toner-lotions or essences. No matter what they're called, though, I think they're great products because they let me customize my skincare to fit my skin's current needs. I first discovered the essence concept when a friend gave me a gift of the classic SKII essence (the one Kate Blanchette hocks). I adored it and it became a staple in my routine up until the time I had a facial by an SKII esthetician. She suggested I use the Cellumination Mask In Lotion instead because of my mild rosacea. The Cellumination contains more niacinamide which calms irritation and evens skintone. I use it every morning and night after cleansing. As for the La Mer–wow! That's got to be the greatest moisturizing essence around! Both of these products have become "musts" in my skincare routine.

    • Eileen March 28, 2015 at 6:48 pm

      Hi Soni,
      My original reply to you got "lost" somewhere in time and space and so I thought I'd take a moment to respond again. Yes, I remember from comments on BTIB that we're skin twins 🙂 Definitely go to your La Mer counter and see if you can get a sample of The Treatment. It is more like a moisture boosting serum than an actual toner. Because of the glycerine in it, it is a bit tacky when you first apply, but it quickly smooths out to a velvety texture. I pat about a 1/4 teaspoon all over my face, neck, and décolletage. Sometimes during the day, I'll pat an extra drop on my chronically dry lips before applying balm or lipstick. I really really love the stuff :-). As for the SKII Cellumination Mask In Lotion, it is very soothing. The immediate result is subtle luminescence but it actually helps even the skin tone over time. It's all that niacinamide and other good stuff in it. I don't know exactly what "Pitera" is, but my skin loves it. So, get a sample of that one, too 🙂

  • Diana Cloudlet March 25, 2015 at 10:49 pm

    It’s such a great post! Thank you for sharing this!
    By the way, I’m in love with your blog!

    Diana Cloudlet

  • thebeautybloss.com March 26, 2015 at 12:38 am

    I have an issue with some scarring under my jawline all thanks to a post Christmas skin freak out. Like you, its mostly gone, just those horrible red marks are hanging around. The Chanel & Kate Sommerville sound really interesting to me. I never really think about Chanel & Skin care but have to say I have had a few samples of the new Micro Serum and I love it. I also (only tried at the counter) the new Hydra Beauty Spray. I think a visit to the Chanel counter is in order!

  • Fancie March 26, 2015 at 1:19 am

    I've heard good things about Estee Lauder toners. I'll have to try one soon!

    Follow me to Fancieland

  • akuhl March 26, 2015 at 1:41 am

    How do you feel about witch hazel for a toner?

  • Rachele Hunt March 26, 2015 at 2:29 am

    I was never big on toners until I went to beauty school and studied esthetics. I never realized how important they are in a skin care routine. I'll have to test one of these out when I run out of my current!


  • Anonymous March 26, 2015 at 3:53 am

    I would really recommend Dior's Velvet Peony Gentle Toning Lotion! It's alcohol free and gentle, and my face always looks brighter after swiping it with a cotton pad.

    My skin normally isn't hyper sensitive, but it became very flushed/red a few times after I tried out various toners (cough La Prairie cough). I was using the non-alcohol toner Dior had before they came out with their current (the pink bottle) version, but I'm a skincare junkie and I was curious about trying new toners. I ended up running back to this one. 3-4 years later I'm still wary about trying out liquidy essences/toners on my face.

    But I've been meaning to try the SK-II clear lotion for some time now, and this post just may finally prompt me to check it out 🙂

  • Candice Petersen March 26, 2015 at 8:17 am

    Definitely need to try these


  • Julie Cross March 26, 2015 at 12:03 pm

    I love SKII for the toner and Paula's Choice does the best ones in my opinion.
    Couldnt help but notice 2 of them including your fave the Estee Lauderdale had alcohol as the second ingredient! Alcohol is so bad for your skin, for the price of these toners the definitely shouldn't be containing alcohol as it's second ingredient.

  • Rachel Polansky March 26, 2015 at 1:23 pm

    Although it's ridiculously expensive, my favorite toner is probably the Omorovicza Queen of Hungary mist.


  • percyandpeaches March 26, 2015 at 1:40 pm

    I have been using the Proactiv toner for years because of the glycolic acid in it, which is great for my acne-prone skin and also it does not contain alcohol which is a big no-no for any skin type. I noticed that was the second ingredient in the Chanel toner. Recently though I have been using the Liz Earle Skin Tonic and it is love at first try. It's gentle, yet effective.

  • Tatiana March 26, 2015 at 6:01 pm

    Thanks for including information about how scented/perfumed the toners are. I have a sensitive nose and have a hard time with skincare that is overly perfumed. As pricey as it is, I may have to try the SK-II toner.

  • Anonymous March 26, 2015 at 7:05 pm

    Thank you for this fantastic review. I was just recently in the market for a toner and bought the Chanel Le Blanc. I like it but it doesn't seem like a toner to me, more like a softening lotion. So I miss the feel of going over my face in the evening after cleaning to get that super cleansed feeling. I may check your EL recommendation since it seems reasonably priced as well. I also like the Dr. Hauschka facial toner, you spritz it on and it feels refreshing and clean.
    Thanks again for the review.

  • DSK Steph March 26, 2015 at 8:22 pm

    I love SK-II Clear Lotion!! I just started using it again and I have never been happier with my skin.

  • The Whimsical Fox March 28, 2015 at 9:47 am

    A lot of people completely dispense with toner, but it's absolutely crucial to my routine! So I love that you dedicated a whole post to it 🙂 x

  • María Blardone March 31, 2015 at 9:52 pm

    Definitely trying Chanel's! Thanks for all the interesting data you always share
    Lots of love, xx


  • Anonymous June 15, 2015 at 8:01 am

    I love science based products from Solvaderm brand. I am using "Maxatone" a toner from solvaderm, it works effectively without drying out the skin and provides nourishing conditioners that leave it feeling soft and supple.