I was born in the early '90s, which means I grew up thinking toners were mostly bright pink liquids that smelled like alcohol and would make me look like a grown-up. As a kid, I'd dump a ton of my granny's go-to formula on a cotton ball or five, and buff my skin as if I were furiously wiping Windex on a dirty mirror. I remember feeling that tight, dry, squeaky-clean sensation afterwards and hating it. But I'd gotten off on the wrong foot, and I misjudged toners in general. Now, the product makes an almost everyday appearance in my routine—but I've leveled up when it comes to my favorite formulas. My favorite toners as of late are made to exfoliate, specifically with glycolic acid.
These days, toners do it all. In addition to their main goals—think improving the appearance of pores, evening out tone, and cleansing the skin—they're now infused with ingredients that give them and extra kick. Some hydrate as they cleanse, and some strengthen the skin barrier. Others, like glycolic acid toners, work to exfoliate and remove dead skin.
What is glycolic acid toner used for?
Glycolic acid is an MVP when it comes to removing dead skin cells and promoting cell turnover, which means eradicating dark spots and brightening the complexion. Integrating some extra exfoliating power into the first step in your routine should feel like a no brainer. (Note: glycolic acid, like all AHAs, can make the skin sensitive to the sun, so always follow up with sunscreen.) Here, our absolute favorite glycolic acid toners for your best and brightest skin ever.
For a Budget
1. The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution
Clear skin doesn't have to come with a hefty price tag. This effective solution will cleanse your skin without stripping it, and prime your skin for the rest of your routine.
For Fine Lines and Wrinkles
2. Peter Thomas Roth Glycolic Acid 8% Toner
This beloved Peter Thomas Roth formula serves to both exfoliate and moisturize the skin, thanks to a combination of witch hazel, sodium PCA, and 8 percent glycolic acid. The leave-on toner can be a little drying at first, so make sure to layer on moisturizer and wear SPF if you're heading outside.
For Sensitive Skin
3. Mario Badescu - Glycolic Acid Toner
Mario Badescu's products have been a skincare staple for beauty mavens for years, and this toner is just one example of a basic that goes the extra mile. It's mild enough to use every day, but effective enough to help clear acne-prone skin.
For Congested Pores
4. The Inkey List - Glycolic Acid Toner
Pores: you can't get rid of them, but you can sure as hell make them less noticeable. This formula contains a hefty 10 percent to smooth things over fast and help reduce the appearance of those stubborn spots on your T-zone.
For a Reboot
5. Glytone - Enhance Brightening Solution
When you're complexion is looking duller than chalk and you need a total reset, a (gentle!) cocktail of acids can help shed dead skin and impurities loose. This one is a blend of glycolic, azelaic, and salicylic acids to clear, brighten, and smooth even the most tired parts of your visage.
6. Pixi - Glow Tonic
This affordable options has a cult following for a reason. The bright, botanical blend contains aloe vera and ginseng to nourish skin, while glycolic acid brightens a dull complexion.
For Dry Skin
7. DERMAdoctor - Ain't Misbehavin' Healthy Toner
Lactic acid is ideal for dry skin since it won't draw precious moisture away, and pairing it with glycolic acid provides a one-two punch when it comes to clearing clogged pores.
A Gentle Toner
8. Pestle & Mortar - Exfoliate Glycolic Acid Toner
Daisy flower extract and green tea give a supplementary brightening boost to this toner, which is geared towards reducing uneven pigment and reducing the appearance of fine lines.
For Dehydrated Skin
9. Good Molecules - Good Molecules Glycolic Exfoliating Toner
If you're looking to brighten without breaking the bank, this gentle option is an easy addition to your routine. Its glycolic acid smooths uneven texture, while hyaluronic acid and aloe help hydrate and nourish the skin so you don't overdo it on the exfoliation.
For Acne Scars
10. Ole Henriksen - Glow2OH Dark Spot Toner
Maybe you had cystic acne as a teen, or maybe your breakouts are in full swing. Either way, there's a chance you've got some residual effects left to show for it, like dark spots or a bumpy texture. This liquid lifts that stubborn hyperpigmentation and smooths the complexion to bring you back to center. And it comes in a huge bottle, so it'll last you months.
For Acne-Prone Skin
11. SkinCeuticals LHA Toner
This toner prevents breakouts by removing dead skin cells and decongesting pores. It'll have your skin prepped and ready for the next step in your skincare routine.
For Balanced Skin
12. Moon Juice - Acid Potion Resurfacing Exfoliator
Your skin's moisture barrier protects and keeps your complexion balanced, and this potent blend includes reishi and niacinimides to hydrate and sooth while it exfoliates.
For Redness-Prone Skin
13. TULA Skincare - Get Toned Pro-Glycolic 10% Resurfacing Toner
This formula's probiotic and glycolic blend resurfaces and balances the skin's surface, while hyaluronic acid hydrates the skin so it stays bouncy and plump. And potent botanicals provide extra benefits: turmeric reduces inflammation, while blueberry extract fights free radical damage to prevent signs of aging.
14. Alpha-H Liquid Gold Exfoliating Treatment With Glycolic Acid
Apply this tonic at night and wake up with glowing, renewed skin by morning. The formula's combination of ingredients includes 5-percent glycolic acid, licorice root extract, and silk proteins which will help reduce the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and pores, while improving tone, texture, and brightness.
For Moisturizing and Soothing
15. Caudalie Vinoperfect Brightening Glycolic Essence
Refresh your skin and get a luminous complexion with this essence. The glycolic acid will get to work on your dark spots to even out your skin tone and also refine its texture. At the same time, organic grape water will soothe your skin and keep it moisturized.
For Uneven Skin Tone
16. Josh Rosebrook Daily Acid Toner
This hydrating toner brings pyruvic, malic, citric, and glycolic acids together to exfoliate and brighten. The blend of ingredients allows you to repair your damaged skin and strengthen it at the same time.
17. GLAMGLOW SUPERTONER™ Exfoliating Acid Solution Toner
Struggling with breakouts? This non-drying and non-sticky formula is a must-see. The toner uses clay, charcoal, and six acids to exfoliate and purify your skin to give you a refreshed, clear complexion.
For Large Pores
18. La Roche-Posay Effaclar Clarifying Solution Acne Toner with Salicylic Acid
Soft, clear skin can be yours, thanks to this toner. Glycolic acid and salicylic acid join forces to exfoliate, unclog your pores, cleanse, and smooth your complexion.
Taylore Glynn is the Beauty and Health Editor at Marie Claire, covering skincare, makeup, fragrance, wellness, and more. If you need her, she’s probably roasting a chicken, flying solo at the movies, or drinking a bad Negroni at JFK.
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