Introducing The Non-Toner Toner

Toners: Most of us are familiar with these astringent liquids thanks to our teenage (and for the unfortunate few, beyond) acne years. They are the pore-gunk-dissolving and dead-skin-disappearing step in your oily-skin arsenal. But they can also be harsh AF on your skin — especially when you graduate into your "adult" years (i.e. when you can no longer chug beer, inhale nachos, and get two hours of sleep without slowly dying on the inside). Well, you no longer have to choose between your Sea Breeze and a blackhead constellation map on your face — may I present, the non-toner.
Traditional astringent toners, explains dermatologist Jeannette Graf, MD, "contain drying ingredients such as alcohol." The alcohol has antibacterial benefits, which, since we know acne is caused by the p. acnes bacteria, is a good thing. For fighting the acne, at least. She notes that most of these astringents can be balanced out by witch hazel to minimize the drying. (So if you're going to stick to your astringents, make sure witch hazel is also listed on the label.)
She also notes that these toners should be pH-balanced and contain other ingredients that are proven to help control acne (like salicylic acid), as well as those that will prevent irritation and flaking.
A non-toner(™), on the other hand, skips the alcohol and uses less drying ingredients — many of which are more natural or botanical-based — that also have antibacterial properties, without the irritation and moisture-sucking pitfalls.
Holistic skin expert Tammy Fender says ingredients like lavender — which, she notes, equalizes sebum production — and thyme, "nature’s antibiotic," can provide the acne-fighting benefits of alcohol. For those with dry skin, she recommends floral-based toners with a botanical-blend base to rehydrate. "The rose is a power rejuvenator — and rosewater does wonders," she says.
Fender says her preferred method of non-toner application is to dab it on a cotton pad and lightly sweep it over the face, prior to applying moisturizer. "In my purse, I also carry a small travel-sized spritzer bottle of Bulgarian rosewater, which I use as an instant pick-me-up several times throughout the day."
Sarah Lee, cofounder of Korean beauty hot spot Glow Recipe, notes that K-beauty is rife with multitasking products that tone and shrink pores, while cleansing, exfoliating, or hydrating — or all three. "Korean women are all about powerful hydration and treatment benefits infused in all steps of skin care. Hence the innovation and growth in the essence category, which has expanded to essence toners or treatment toners and [has] become a staple for most Korean women," she says.
And if you're not looking to buy even more beauty products, Fender notes that there is a way to get the benefits of a non-toner at home. "I think occasionally using a very mild, water-based solution of apple-cider vinegar, blended with a touch of lemon juice and honey, can rebalance the skin, while providing astringent and antibacterial properties. Cucumber water is also great for rehydrating fatigued skin," she says.
Click ahead to see some of our experts' favorite non-toner toners, and learn how to tame that oil and purge that pore sludge without traumatizing your skin.
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Instead of alcohol, Blossom Jeju's toner includes moisturizing powerhouses like aloe vera and hyaluronic acid.

Blossom Jeju Pink Camellia Soombi Blooming Flower Toner, $45, available at Glow Recipe.
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This toner from popular Korean brand Missha is free of drying ingredients like alcohol and salicylic acid. Instead, it includes gentle additions like fermented yeast extract, which both helps clear away remaining dirt and encourages cell turnover, leaving you with a bright and even complexion.

Missha Time Revolution Clear Toner, $28, available at Soko Glam.
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Dr. Graf is a fan of this cleanser and makeup remover because it "is a hydrating formula that is also alcohol-free, non-comedogenic, and hypoallergenic; gentle enough for sensitive skin; and has soothing Avène Thermal Spring Water."

Avène Micellar Lotion Cleanser and Make-Up Remover, $20, available at SkinStore.
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A pore perfector need not come in liquid form. Take Tammy Fender's Purifying Luculent Masque — a clay-based mask with rosemary and greater-burdock extracts that minimizes pores and refines the skin. "Mineral-rich clay cleanses skin deeply — without overstepping — in a way that astringents can’t," Fender explains.

Tammy Fender Purifying Luculent Masque, $215, available at Tammy Fender.
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This water-free cleanser removes dirt and oil, tightens pores, and calms your complexion thanks to a blend of fermented soybeans, aloe vera, witch hazel, and tea-tree extract. "It’s a toner with witch hazel, which is an astringent with potent antioxidant properties," notes Lee, "as well as tea-tree oil, another antioxidant with antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties."

Before the '80s, says Lee, the approach to pore and oil control was to soak up and remove all of the skin oil — which, in most cases, only exacerbated the problem. "We [now] know that even oily skin needs to be hydrated, and that dehydrated skin may compensate by producing even more oil," she says. This K-beauty spin on toner has aloe-leaf juice and chamomile to calm, as well as fermented soybean — it has brightening and skin-strengthening powers, and is an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory.

And because it wouldn't be Korean beauty if there weren't some novel application method, Lee says this multi-hyphenate marvel comes with a coin-sized disc that, when soaked in a capful of the toner, expands to become a sheet mask. Splash on a bit more toner, and then lay it on your face for double the skin-care fun.

Primary Raw DoYou Soy Milk Ferment Cleanse Toner, $35, available at Glow Recipe.
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Don't be fooled by rosewater sprays — when you look at the ingredients, most have quite a few additives, some of which include alcohol. Kind of defeats the purpose of a non-toner, no? This super-basic rosewater spray contains nothing but something called "vor-mag" water, and hydroessential rose oil.

Heritage Store Rosewater & Glycerin, $7.59, available at
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This formula from Whamisa is made of fermented dandelion and argan oils to rehydrate and clean your skin. Instead of using a cotton ball, though, you're supposed to press the concentrate into your skin with your hands to get the full effect.

Whamisa Flowers Deep Rich Essence Toner, $40, available at Glow Recipe.
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