Thankfully, toners, like the rest of your skincare routine, have evolved over the years. Today, many toners are alcohol-free, and instead, are used to refresh and treat the skin before you apply the rest of your serums and creams — without making you extra dry.
One such example is exfoliating toners, which are infused with chemical exfoliants such as AHA and BHA acids, which help to loosen and break up the dead skin cells clogging your pores, while also minimizing dark spots, and improving overall skin texture and tone. These formulas often include soothing and hydrating ingredients to balance out the exfoliation.
“The use of a toner can have the added benefit of mechanical removal of skin debris,” says Dr. Melanie Palm, board-certified dermatologist and cosmetic surgeon in San Diego, Calif. “Simple application of a skincare product such as a serum does not lift off dull skin cells.”
Dr. Palm also notes that a toner can help balance pH level for the skin microenvironment.
When choosing an exfoliating toner, it’s important to consider your skin type and its needs. Dr. Palm says that those concerned with aging can benefit from using a formula with AHAs such as lactic or glycolic acids.
Acne-prone skin can see an improvement with BHAs such as salicylic acid, or a combination of both AHAs and BHAs. As for sensitive skin types, they may fair well with PHA acids, which are larger in molecular size and more gentle on the skin. The same goes for mandelic acid, an ingredient that is great for rosacea or redness.
While an exfoliating toner can be used daily, it’s best to introduce it slowly into your routine to prevent irritation. And if you have sensitive skin, Dr. Palm recommends using a liquid exfoliant once or twice a week at first to gauge how your skin handles it. She adds that if you are using anti-aging products such as retinoids or retinol, gradually start to use the toner over a period of days to weeks. But when in doubt, follow the usage instructions on the back of the bottle.
Finally, don’t expect clear, brighter skin over night.
While you may see some instant improvement, like a bit of a glow, it can take much longer to experience the full benefits of incorporating an exfoliating toner into your skincare routine.
“It takes 30 full days for the epidermal layer of the skin to turn over,” says Dr. Palm. “Therefore, I tell most patients to use a new topical product for two to three months (two to three cycles of epidermal turnover) to gauge response by the skin to active ingredients. However, many patients may notice changes prior to the three month mark.”
Few brands have revolutionized the way we shop for skin care the way The Ordinary has. Before the Canadian brand burst onto the scene, accessibility to cheap high-quality products had mostly been restricted to makeup. Even with so much innovation among drugstore skin-care brands, few affordable options really rival what luxury serums and moisturizers have to offer.
That’s why buzz for the best The Ordinary products refuses to die down. The brand takes a clinical, science-based approach to skin care and specializes in single-ingredient-driven products that deliver targeted results. The best part? Nothing costs more than $20. In fact, the majority of it clocks in for less than $10. This is largely in part thanks to The Ordinary’s dedication to transparency, resulting in prices that aren’t significantly marked up.
But despite its low price point, the brand can be intimidating. Because the names of the products refer to skin-care ingredients–not results—they all sound like something out of an advanced medical textbook. Meaning you’re left trying to decipher what the hell ascorbyl tetraisopalmitate (a vitamin C derivative) or epigallocatechin gallatyl glucoside (an anti-inflammatory compound in green tea) does.
GLAMOUR editors went through hundreds of dollars of The Ordinary skin-care products to help explain the cryptic descriptions of each and narrow down what’s actually worth adding to our medicine cabinets.
The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5
For true, deep moisture, you’re supposed to use a serum or acid that can penetrate deeper than your standard emollient. Enter hyaluronic acid. It provides a healthy glow, leaves the skin dewy but not oily.
Yes, part of this product’s appeal is that it looks like you’re doing an at-home blood facial, but the results are just as Instagrammable. The mix of AHAs and BHAs deeply exfoliates to clear up congestion, dead skin, and hyperpigmentation. The skin looks brighter and smoother after one use—with no irritation to sensitive skin.
Apply a pea-size dollop once every day for a week after washing the face. The moisturizer comes out with a sunscreen-like consistency, but it blends in with the skin in seconds. After a week of using it, the cheeks would be plump and flake-free, probably because it has hyaluronic acid, which helps skin cells retain moisture. With such noticeable results for a low-maintenance moisturizer, we can count on this for the winter months.
The first noticeable thing about The Ordinary’s High-Adherence Silicone Primer is its texture, which feels just like a creamy moisturizing lotion. Once applied, it makes the skin feel so soft that you almost don’t want to put on makeup for fear of losing the silkiness. The makeup goes on smooth and stays matte throughout the day.
Pycnogenol is an extract derived from pine trees that has the ability to boost collagen and elastin production in your skin. Plus, it’s a great hydrator. The skin looks and feels healthier after using it.
The Ordinary 100% Organic Cold-Pressed Rose Hip Seed Oil
It’s great for moisturizing and nourishing the skin, yet it still feels lightweight. Using it in tandem with a retinol can significantly fade post-acne hyperpigmentation, and it definitely makes a difference in the glow factor. It has a slightly earthy smell.
In reality, chemical exfoliants are much gentler and better than physical exfoliants, like face scrubs or loofas. This glycolic acid visibly resurfaces the skin, and it’s pretty gentle—though you shouldn’t use it more than every other night. Plus it’s affordable and lasts forever.
I’ve always been curious about azelaic acid, since I’ve heard it can treat both acne and dark spots while being safe enough to use even during pregnancy. The texture is super luxe and absorbs nicely, can provide an improvement on a stubborn breakout, and make post-acne dark spots look less opaque.
While it doesn’t help with dark circles (sadly, not much will), the lightweight serum instantly de-puffs and smooths out any baggage. It brightens the eyes in seconds, and makes it look like you got a full eight hours of sleep.
This is an incredibly gentle retinol option. The serum is an almost milky consistency, and after a month of using it, users report that they’ve started to see a few lines on their foreheads fade. It’s also a wonder for smoothing out the texture of the skin.
The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2%
Perfect for a pre-bedtime ritual, it’s is only $5; plus, it can be mixed with your other favourite serums to reduce its somewhat gritty texture. If you’re looking to fight wrinkles and even out your skin tone, this one is a great bet.
Squalane is a fantastic hydrator—it’s nonsticky, fast-absorbing, and has humectant (meaning, moisture-drawing) properties that work in tandem to make your skin look crazy plump. The downside is that it’s traditionally derived from animals. But that’s not the case with this serum. Instead, it’s powered by plants, so you feel even better about using it when you see dewy, bouncy skin.
The Ordinary Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate Solution 20% in Vitamin F
The name of this sounds insane (and impossible to pronounce), and I’ll admit that, going in, I had no idea what it did. After a little research and a test-drive, though, I’m sold. It’s basically a form of vitamin C (which helps brighten and even out your skin tone), while vitamin F is a fatty acid rich in omega-6 that helps maintain your skin barrier (when it’s disrupted, all kinds of things like acne and redness occur). You notice a major difference in the condition of the skin after just one use—it is noticeably smoother, firmer, and overall much brighter and more radiant.
It’s lower-strength and delivered with squalane, so it’s a bit less irritating than other ones out there. Start by using it one to three times per week, use it only at night, and know that if you don’t wear sunscreen after using it, it will damage your skin.
Mandelic acid is really slept on—and hard to find—so it’s exciting to see this hyperpigmentation-fighting superstar available at a lower price point. It’s super gentle yet has helped reduce some of the acne as well as the scars it leaves behind.
This pocket-sized, super-affordable charcoal-colored mask is the only thing that’s been helping with my quarantine breakouts. I rate it highly for both skintertainment and effectiveness. It gives me a bright, exfoliated glow without irritating my skin. There is simply nothing more I want from a product.