If you’re someone with oily, acne-prone or combination skin, a toner should most certainly be a staple in your skin care regimen. Yes—another all-important skin care product to add to the list along with your cleanser, serum, moisturizer, eye cream, etc. But if you’re like most, you might not be totally clear on what a toner is—and what it can do for your skin.

What Is a Toner

Traditionally, toners were alcohol-containing solutions that played an astringent role—they were used to help remove excess oil from the skin; however, Joshua Zeichner, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, explains that this definition has changed in recent years. “The newest generation of toners are alcohol-free and may even contain high trading or anti-aging ingredients,” he says. “Additionally, many modern-day toners go by the name of essences or tonics, depending on the product.”

What Ingredients to Look For

If you have combination skin, you might experience oiliness only in certain areas of your face, namely your T-zone, and a toner makes it easy to address these areas without drying out other areas that are less oily and not in need of stripping. “People with oily skin should look for ingredients like salicylic acid, a beta hydroxy acid that is soluble in oil and can help remove excess sebum from the face, as well as mandelic acid, an alpha hydroxy acid derived from almonds that has antimicrobial properties,” says Dr. Zeichner.

He also recommends using a toner that contains glycolic acid, which can help remove oil from the T-zone, but is also useful in dryer areas like the cheeks, Dr. Zeichner adds. “Oftentimes, toners combine multiple different alpha and beta hydroxy acids at lower concentrations, which allows them to be effective while minimizing potential irritation to the skin,” he notes.

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