Beauty Q&A: What’s the Difference Between Toners and Astringents?

September 28, 2022
Marisa Petrarca
By: Marisa Petrarca | by L'Oréal
two toner bottles on a blue background
There are certain skincare staples we’ve been using for as long we can remember, like cleanser, sunscreen, and face moisturizer. Toners and astringents are newer discoveries. While you’ve probably heard of both of these products and may even use one of them in your everyday skincare routine, sometimes it can be confusing to tell the difference between the two. To learn more about toners and astringents, including how to figure out which one is right for you, we consulted with skincare experts. Check out their advice ahead.

What Is a Toner and an Astringent?

According to the experts, toner and astringent are formulated very differently and serve completely different purposes. “The main differentiator between an astringent and toner is the ingredients,” says Dr. Adam Friedman, associate professor of dermatology at George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences in New York. “Toners often contain glycerin and some form of glycol, which both draw water into the skin to help soothe and buffer its pH levels.”

Stacy Cox, a Los Angeles–based esthetician, refers to toner as a preparatory agent. “Toner primes the skin for moisturizers and serums,” she explains. “It allows for these solutions to penetrate deeper into your skin, helps hydrate the skin and removes any excess dirt or grime that wasn’t cleaned off by your facial cleanser.”

Astringents, on the other hand, are more potent, alcohol-based and designed to remove excess oil from the skin, adds Dr. Friedman. Because of this, they have the potential to dry out your complexion. “Astringents reduce the acid mantle in your skin as well as the pH balance,” says Cox. “You can’t ‘overdose’ on toner, but you can definitely ‘overdose’ on an astringent.”

Which One Is Right for You?

“Toner covers most skin types and basically works for everybody,” says Cox. In fact, there are a variety of toners out there that address specific skin concerns. Toners can target everything from aging, dark spots, acne, dryness and even sensitivity. This is also how toner helps makeup application: making skin smooth and primed for your makeup to go on evenly. An example of a toner that’s formulated to revitalize, soothe and brighten the skin is the Lancôme Absolue Rose 80 Toner. Its multitasking formula is infused with rosewater to help soothe and hydrate the skin, as well as salicylic acid to exfoliate and address texture. For a hydration-focused toner, we love the Thayers Hydrating Milky Toner, formulated with snow mushroom and hyaluronic acid. Not sure which type of toner is for you? Check out the Thayers Toners Hub to find your perfect match.


Astringents are mainly used to treat oily and acne-prone skin. Dr. Friedman advises proceeding with caution when using these formulas. A formula we know we can rely on is the Kiehl’s Blue Astringent Herbal Lotion because it contains witch hazel that kills pore-clogging bacteria. 

Designer: Juliana Campisi

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