When you hear the word “toner” it’s highly likely that the first thing that pops into your head is “dry”—and that’s not something one aspires to when it comes to skin.In America, the product that is meant to be used after your cleanser and before your serum or moisturizer has gotten—for right or wrong—a pretty bad rap. But the next generation of treatment toners from skincare companies is hoping to change all that.“The concept of the alcohol-based astringent or toner has become passé,” says dermatologist Dr. Jessica Weiser of the New York Dermatology Group. “We’ve realized the error of prior products in that they were stripping and drying the skin.” The latest wave of toners entering the U.S. market such as from Clinique and Fresh are taking cues from formulas long popular in Asia. (And it’s probably not an accident that the word toner is missing from their labels. Clinique calls it the “watery lotion” category.)Dr. Weiser says these new toners help hydrate the skin and add antioxidants and other nutrients to it while also prepping it to receive the active ingredients that follow in your skincare routine via serums or moisturizers. “It’s about putting in what is missing, not stripping and depriving or pulling oils out of the skin,” she adds.She explains that the active ingredients in many of these products are micronutrients for the skin that mimic the skin’s natural hydrators. The toners themselves often contain many active ingredients that can penetrate the skin but they also allow those from products applied immediately after to piggyback on them. (Many Asian skin regimens include between five and 10 products nightly!) Also, these products increase cell turnover thereby eliminating dead skin cells and increasing new cell production allowing for skin renewal and incorporation of active ingredients in the process.These new products aim to make skin look younger, plumper, smoother and more radiant. But they still come into play in the same slot in your skincare routine that you would have used a typical toner. Dr. Weiser recommends you cleanse your face first. And rather than scraping your face squeaky clean like we all did with the toners of yore, gently pat (don’t rub!) on your essence or infusion onto the skin with a cotton pad or your fingers. Remember, it’s meant to be a quenching—not cleaning—step. Follow this with your serums and/or moisturizers of choice. “I think this is going to be a nice change,” says Dr. Weiser. “Seeing people enriching, moisturizing, and hydrating.” We definitely agree.Products to try:
SK-II Facial Treatment Essence, $100Born in Japan and known as the gold standard of the category. “People see dramatic results with this product,” says Dr. Weisler. The main ingredient is Pitera which is derived from yeast and is based on its rapid dividing properties to help speed up skin turnover and recovery. Over the past 25 years it has often been called “miracle water,” and with good reason.Hada Labo Tokyo Replenishing Hydrator, $18One bottle of this megadose of hydration is sold every two seconds in Japan. The star ingredient is the company’s proprietary Super Hyaluronic Acid, which penetrates deep into the skin and provides long-lasting moisture. We also love the affordable price.Sulwhasoo Essential Balancing Water, $55Hailing from Korea, this gel-textured toner includes traditional medicinal herbs to soothe sensitivity and decrease dreaded inflammation—the cause of basically all skin aging.
Clinique Even Better Essence Lotion, $32Clinique’s new launch (available now exclusively at Sephora and Sephora.com) comes in formulas for both dry and oily skin. Botanicals make up their new NMF complex, which hydrates and conditions the skin while ingredients like hyaluronic acid and caffeine brighten and calm respectively.Fresh Black Tea Age-Delay Instant Infusion, $48This treatment toner is all about moisturizing and refining the texture of your skin. It blocks free radical damage with a combination of antioxidants including the black tea of its name, lychee seed extract and blackberry leaf extract.MORE: Get the Dewy Skin You’ve Always Dreamed Of