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The best Korean toner for every budget

What is a toner?

 

“Toners are products used after skin cleansing to remove soap, sebum, or makeup residue” (Cosmetic Dermatology, Alam et al).

 

Since toners are sometimes referred to by many other names such as astringents, essences, toning lotions, or clarifying lotions, it can be quite confusing to know what you’re actually buying.

Toners have been primarily used for acne fighting purposes (to control excess sebum production). A common example of this is the popular witch hazel astringent that you may have bought in high school to control acne breakouts.

Unfortunately, these toners also typically have high alcohol content and may dry out or irritate your skin, ultimately disrupting the skin’s natural moisture barrier. As the skin becomes dry, it works even harder to produce excess oil to compensate, which in turn becomes a vicious cycle.

However, this doesn’t mean you should eschew all toners altogether. There are perfectly gentle, hydrating, alcohol-free toners out there! When used correctly, toners can help give dry, dehydrated skin the much needed hydration that creams and lotions may not be able to provide.

 

Benefits of using a toner

 

In context of the Asian Beauty skin care routine, toners are used as a layering step before applying face creams to give your skin longer lasting extra hydration. If your skin is especially dehydrated, you may even want to apply multiple layers of the toner, in the manner of the 7 skin method. Dry, dehydrated skin can lead to sagging and wrinkles, making you look more aged than your actual biological age.

With proper hydration, your skin will naturally look more plump and dewy like the model in the photo below, and you might be pleasantly surprised to find that you won’t have to spend too much on anti-aging creams now that the wrinkles are filled out!

 

 

Photo by Jessica Felicio on Unsplash

 

TL;DR Buying Guide

 

 

If you have sensitive skin and/or looking for a toner with brightening benefit: go to the ISNTREE toner review

If you have acne-prone skin and/or looking for a toner with salicylic acid: go to the Benton toner review

If you have very dry skin and/or looking for a toner with facial oil: go to the Whamisa toner review

If you are looking for a general-purpose, effective toner: go to the Klairs toner review

 

What to look for when choosing a toner:

 

  • Look for hyaluronic acid in the ingredients list. Hyaluronic acid is extremely effective at retaining water (able to attract up to 1000 times its weight in water).

 

  • Opt for alcohol-free if possible. Fatty alcohols (such as cetyl alcohol, lauryl alcohol, stearyl alcohol, cetearyl alcohol, oleyl alcohol), which are typically used in cosmetics as emollient or emulsifier, should be fine. Avoid ethanol, isopropyl alcohol, or other kinds of denatured alcohol.

 

  • Skin-friendly pH. A range of 5 to 6.5, which is close to the skin’s natural pH level is ideal. Using products with high pH levels may disrupt your skin’s natural acid mantle

 

  • Viscosity matters. A toner with a slightly bouncy, viscous texture (not runny like water) is recommended for best results. The viscosity makes it easier for the product to absorb to your skin and therefore better at retaining moisture.

 

 

Best toners under $20

Note: prices may change depends on supply and demand.

 

Best toner for all skin types: Klairs Supple Preparation Facial Toner

 

HIGHLIGHTS

Pros:

– Alcohol-free
– Contains hyaluronic acid for extra hydration
– Contains panthenol, which softens the skin
– pH of ~5

Cons:

– Contains essential oils. (The scent is pleasant and slightly medicinal, but if you’re allergic to scents, check out the unscented version)

 

This gentle, calming toner is perfect for stressed skin. In addition to the hydration boost you’d get from the hyaluronic acid, there are a lot of soothing herbal extracts in this formula (aloe, centella, and licorice root extracts). It’s good for all types of skin, and especially a lifesaver if you are dealing with breakouts, dryness, or irritation.

An unscented version of this toner just launched in March 2018 and is available at several online retailers, such as Beautytap. The unscented version doesn’t contain any of the essential oils in the original version, so if you are sensitive to essential oils, you should definitely try it out.

 

Click to see the full list of ingredients

Water, Butylene Glycol, Dimethyl Sulfone, Betaine, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Natto Gum, Sodium Hyaluronate, Disodium EDTA, Centella Asiatica Extract, Glycyrrhiza Glabra (Licorice) Root Extract, Polyquaternium-51, Chlorphenesin, Tocopheryl Acetate, Carbomer, Panthenol, Arginine, Luffa Cylindrica Fruit/Leaf/Stem Extract, Beta-Glucan, Althaea Rosea Flower Extract, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Extract, Hydroxyethylcellulose, Portulaca Oleracea Extract, Lysine HCL, Proline, Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate, Acetyl Methionine, Theanine, Lavandula Angustifolia (Lavender) Oil, Eucalyptus Globulus Leaf Oil, Pelargonium Graveolens Flower Oil, Citrus Limon (Lemon) Peel Oil, Citrus Aurantium Dulcis (Orange) Peel Oil, Cananga Odorata Flower Oil, Copper Tripeptide-1

 

 

Best toner for sensitive skin: COSRX Galactomyces Alcohol-Free Toner

 

HIGHLIGHTS

Pros:

– Alcohol free
– Low irritant
– Contains galactomyces ferment filtrate to even out skin tone
– pH of 6
– Contains hyaluronic acid for extra hydration

Cons:

– May cause irritation or breakouts if your skin is allergic to fermented ingredients. Patch test first!

 

This toner checks most of the boxes: hyaluronic acid-check, skin-friendly pH-check, alcohol-free-check. We also love that it has such a short, low irritant ingredients list and contains fermented ingredients. It’s an affordable, great buy for all skin types. However, if you have very dry skin, you may want to opt for toners that contain oils (like the Whamisa  Toner) or toners with higher concentration of hyaluronic acid (such as the aforementioned Klairs toner or the Isntree toner). All of these toners are featured in this article.

 

Click to see the full list of ingredients

Mineral Water, Galactomyces Ferment Filtrate, Butylene Glycol, 1, 2-Hexanediol, Betaine, Panthenol, Allantoin, Sodium Hyaluronate, Cassia Obtusifolia Seed Extract, Ethyl Hexanediol

 

 

Best toner for acne prone skin: Benton Aloe BHA Skin Toner

 

HIGHLIGHTS

Pros:

– Contains aloe and hyaluronic acid for extra hydration
– Alcohol-free
– Has salicylic acid to control acne breakouts
– Has snail secretion filtrate to moisturize and even out skin tone

Cons:

– May cause allergic reaction if you are allergic to snail secretion filtrate. Patch test first!

 

This one is almost a toss-up with the Klairs toner due to some of its ingredients being the same those found in the Klairs toner. For instance: hyaluronic acid, portulaca oleracea (purslane) extract, and althaea rosea (hollyhock) root extract. However, if you are dealing with acne breakout, this one may be the game changer for you. The real power of the Benton toner lies within its the acne-fighting ability, with the inclusion of salicylic acid to clear up breakouts, and snail secretion filtrate to fade hyper-pigmentation due to acne scarring. Use with patience, and your acne may be gone for good.

 

Click to see the full list of ingredients

Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Water, Aqua(Water), Butylene Glycol, lycerin, 1,2-Hexanediol, Sodium Hyaluronate, Snail Secretion Filtrate, Beta-Glucan, Polyglutamic Acid, Aspalathus Linearis Extract, Portulaca Oleracea Extract, Psidium Guajava Fruit Extract, Salicylic Acid, Althaea Rosea Root Extract, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Extract, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Arginine, Pentylene Glycol, Zanthoxylum Piperitum Fruit Extract, Pulsatilla Koreana Extract, Usnea Barbata (Lichen) Extract, Polysorbate 20, Acrylates/C10-30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer, Xanthan Gum

 

 

Best toners under $30

Note: prices may change depends on supply and demand.

 

✔✔✔ Best toner for sensitive, over-exfoliated, or inflamed skin: ISNTREE Hyaluronic Acid Toner

 

HIGHLIGHTS

Pros:

– Super gentle, non-irritating formula for sensitive skin and/or dry skin
– Contains hyaluronic acid for extra hydration
– Contains birch sap, which is loaded with amino acids & vitamin B3 to help even out skin texture and strengthen skin moisture barrier

Cons:

– None observed.

 

Hands down the best toner in this whole list, not gonna lie. We love how simple and mild the ingredients list is. Just look at the CosDNA rating on this toner. The formula is very reminiscent of Klairs toner, with the inclusion of effective ingredients such as: hyaluronic acid, phyto oligo, beta glucan, althaea rosea (hollyhock) flower extract, aloe barbadensis leaf extract, portulaca oleracea extract, and panthenol. We already know the greatness of hyaluronic acid, but this toner goes one step beyond with its 50% birch sap formulation, which is chock full of amino acids, vitamin C, and vitamin B3 (niacinamide) to moisturize your skin while brightening it at the same time.

 

Click to see the full list of ingredients

Sodium Hyaluronate, Water, Glycerin, Butylene Glycol, Trehalose, Betula Alba Juice, Beta-Glucan, Soluble collagen, Althaea Rosea Flower Extract, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Extract, Portulaca Oleracea Extract, Panthenol, Zanthoxylum Piperitum Fruit Extract, Pulsatilla Koreana Extract, Usnea Barbata Extract, Hydroxy Ethyl Cellulose

 

 

Best toners under $40

Note: prices may change depends on supply and demand.

 

Best toner for dry, dehydrated skin: Whamisa Organic Flowers Deep Rich Essence Toner

 

HIGHLIGHTS

Pros:

– Alcohol-free
– 97.5% organic botanical formula
– Contains galactomyces filtrate (nutrient dense yeast from fermented sake) to even out skin tone
– Contains argan oil and aloe extract, for extra moisture
– Free of: parabens, synthetic dyes, and fragrances

Cons:

– Price

 

Looking at the ingredients list, it’s clear that the Whamisa Organic Flowers Deep Rich Essence Toner is chock full of skin-nourishing organic botanical goodness. You get the hydration plus vitamin A, E, and C from the aloe extract. If you are dealing with an acne breakout or trying to soothe inflamed skin, the chrysanthemum extract is great for those purposes due to its anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, and anti-bacterial properties. To boot, you’d also get the moisturizing effect from avocado oil and gentle exfoliation from the lotus extract.

 

Click to see the full list of ingredients

*Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Extract , *Chrysanthemum Morifolium Flower Extract, *Avena Sativa (Oat) Kernel Extract, *Lactobacillus/Chrysanthemum Sinense Flower Ferment Filtrate, *Lactobacillus/Nelumbo Nucifera Flower Ferment Filtrate, *Lactobacillus/Teraxacum Officinale (Dandelion) Rhizome/Root Ferment Filtrate, Galactomyces Ferment Filtrate, *Persea Gratissima (Avocado) Oil, *Argania Spinosa Kernel Oil, *Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, *Helichrysum Arenarium Flower Extract, *Brassica Oleracea Italica (Broccoli) Extract, *Glycerin, Propanediol, **Scutellaria Baicalensis Root Extract, **Paeonia Suffruticosa Root Extract, **Glycyrrhiza Glabra (Licorice) Root Extract, Hibiscus Sabdariffa Flower Extract, Lithospermum Erythrorhizon Root Extract, Xanthan Gum, Aniba Rosaeodora (Rosewood) Wood Oil, *Citrus Aurantium Bergamia (Bergamot) Oil, Cymbopogon Schoenanthus Oil, *Fragrance

 

 

Best anti-aging toner: Earth’s Recipe Energy Boosting Toner

 

HIGHLIGHTS

Pros:

– Free of parabens, synthetic dyes, fragrances, and mineral oils
– Contains Tremella mushroom extract, which are high in collagen
– Great for aging or tired skin

Cons:

– Price

 

We looked up what Tremella mushroom is, to see if it actually has any worthwhile benefits. Turns out there are quite a lot. Tremella mushroom, also known as snow fungus or white jelly fungus, is one of the most popularly cultivated mushrooms in East Asia and has been used in Chinese medicine all the way back to the Tang dynasty. Culinary-wise, people have used it to cook with, make desserts, beverages, and health tonics to boost the immune system. Preliminary research has found that extract from suggest that Tremella mushroom “might potentially be used as a precautionary agent in neurodegenerative disease, such as Alzheimer’s disease” (Park et al, 2007). Like hyaluronic acid, tremella mushroom can hold a tremendous amount of water (up to 500 times its weight). It also contains collagen, which your skin produces less of as you age. With this anti-aging toner, you’re not only hydrating your skin, you’re repairing skin damage at the cellular level too.

 

Click to see the full list of ingredients

Water, Butylene Glycol, Glycerin, Betaine, Dipropylene Glycol, Piper Methysticum Leaf/Root/Stem Extract, Dioscorea Japonica Root Extract, Phellinus Linteus Extract, Arctium Lappa Root Extract, Poria Cocos Sclerotium Extract, Epilobium Angustifolium Flower/Leaf/Stem Extract, Portulaca Oleracea Extract, Pueraria Thunbergiana Root Extract, Glycyrrhiza Glabra (Licorice) Root Extract, Paeonia Lactiflora Root Extract, Cnidium Officinale Root Extract, Lactobacillus/Soybean Ferment Extract, Amorphophallus Konjac Root Extract, Tremella Fuciformis (Mushroom) Extract, Soluble Collagen, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Sodium Hyaluronate, Hydrogenated Lecithin, Citrus Aurantium Dulcis (Orange) Oil, Citrus Limon (Lemon) Fruit Oil, Cymbopogon Schoenanthus Oil, Citrus Aurantium Bergamia (Bergamot) Fruit Oil, Cymbopogon Nardus (Citronella) Oil, Geranium Maculatum Oil, Peg-60 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Polyquaternium-51, Raffinose, 1,2-Hexanediol, Ammonium Acryloyldimethyltaurate/Vp Copolymer, Ethylhexylglycerin, Cellulose Gum, Adenosine, Disodium Edta, Glycosyl Trehalose, Hydrogenated Starch Hydrolysate, Biosaccharide Gum-1, Sodium Polyacrylate, Pvm/Ma Copolymer, Panthenol, Lecithin, Xanthan Gum, Folic Acid, Ceramide 3, Cholesterol, Tromethamine, Palmitoyl Pentapeptide-4, Phenoxyethanol

 

 

 

References

Kum Ju Park, Sang-Yun Lee, Hyun-Su Kim, Matsumi Yamazaki, Kenzo Chiba, and Hyo-Cheol Ha. The Neuroprotective and Neurotrophic Effects of Tremella fuciformis in PC12h Cells. 2007. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3763079/