How to pick a toner for your needs, plus the best picks for exfoliation, hydration, and soothing irritation.

If you’re into taking care of your skin, chances are at some point or another you’ve asked yourself a few questions, chief among them: what is a toner and why would I need to add it to my routine? Turns out, the skincare step isn’t quite as retro as you may believe. Dr. Noelle Sherber, MD and FAAD explains it most simply: “Years ago, toners were a reductive step removing residue from and undoing the pH imbalance caused by soap cleansers. Cleansers have improved with time so that they now rinse cleanly and are pH balanced.” This means, of course, that a toner step can now be additive, adding hydration or other water-soluble actives to the skin before occlusive products like moisturizers to follow. A pro secret: Essences generally are formulated with this additive ingredient approach.

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