Not too long ago, toners were alcohol-ridden formulas that stripped your skin of natural moisture and left it dry, irritated and, ultimately, oilier than ever. But now we’re in a skincare renaissance. The right toner can do the unthinkable and take oily complexions from greasy to glowing with just a few drops a day.
Depending on their ingredient lists, the main way toners help oily skin is by exfoliating and rebalancing your skin after cleansing. Some rely on alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs), beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs) and poly-hydroxy acids (PHAs) to target congestion and the appearance of pores, while others focus on maintaining your skin’s precious moisture barrier.
As with any skincare products, finding the right one for your complexion can require some trial and error. While many people with oily complexions can tolerate frequent usage of products with high acid concentrations, others may find themselves too sensitive.
The key is to introduce the toner into your routine slowly and gradually increase usage. Remember that a lot of toners tingle at first, but nothing should feel anything close to burning. And if any product makes your skin feel extremely tight, odds are it’s dehydrating – which, contrary to popular belief, is the exact opposite of what you want to do to tackle oiliness.
On the other hand, a lot of toners aren’t powerful enough to have any real impact on an oily complexion. All the toners on this list are products that made a visible difference to our skin.
Our goal in life is to end the day looking dewy – not shinier than a disco ball – but each of these toners also tackled other side-effects of oiliness such as congestion and hyperpigmentation over the course of a few weeks.
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Pixi glow tonic
This is it – our skincare ride or die. Formulated with five per cent glycolic acid for exfoliation, soothing aloe vera and ginseng to energise your complexion, it covers all bases. While you usually find glycolic acid in powerful peeling products, this concentration is efficacious enough to exfoliate away dead skin cells and minimise the appearance of pores while leaving your moisture barrier intact.
Not only does it exfoliate, but it also nourishes your complexion. Usually when products reduce oiliness, they do so at the expense of your skin’s natural glow. This product does the opposite – it substitutes greasiness for a subtle, healthy luminescence. We also experience significantly fewer breakouts when this product features in our routine.
Although suitable for daily use, we prefer to use it every other evening. We wipe a cotton pad saturated with tonic across our entire complexion, avoiding both the eye area and the space between our lip and nose where we’re prone to dryness. Just remember to use SPF afterwards, as with any product containing acids.
Buy now £18.00, Pixibeauty.co.uk
We’ve been through multiple bottles of Glossier solution in our lifetime. This is the ideal toner for smoothing out your complexion and reducing blemishes, as it features a blend of AHAs, BHAs and PHAs that work to remove dead skin.
With a pump dispenser to keep product waste to a minimum, it’s really easy to use. One or two pumps onto a cotton pad, swept over your face nightly post-cleansing, feels like nothing but goes a long way. Results are shockingly quick. There was a reduction in oiliness after just a few days, with the most improvement on our forehead. Redness of lingering acne scars also began fading a few weeks later.
You do experience a bit of tingling at first and overuse can lead to damage to your skin barrier, as we learnt the hard way. We recommend easing into it, starting with once a week and avoiding the temptation to whip it out for twice-daily use once you start seeing results.
Buy now £19.00, Glossier.com
Milk Makeup matcha toner
This is completely different to any other toner we tried. Similar in appearance to Milk Makeup’s signature stick bronzers and blushers, it’s a solid product that you swipe across your face then gently massage into your skin. We thought this would feel strange, but it’s actually very soothing and cooling, and is obviously much better for the environment than whipping out a cotton pad or two a day.
As for its actual performance, it’s made of a blend of matcha green tea, kombucha and witch hazel. While this sounds more like a drink recipe than a skincare product, these ingredients boast anti-inflammatory, detoxifying and mattifying properties. Together they left our skin smooth and hydrated. It didn’t reduce oiliness as dramatically as some other toners, and did a better job at this on our forehead than our nose, but this may be more to do with how awkward it was to apply in the latter area. Also, don’t worry – it’s invisible on your skin, not green.
Buy now £24.00, Cultbeauty.co.uk
La Roche-Posay effaclar clarifying lotion
Formulated for oily yet sensitive skin, this toner uses lipo-hydroxy acid, a microfoliant that targets sebum production. We specifically integrated this into our routine to tackle a breakout, hoping its promises of gentleness would mean it went easy on our painful under the skin spots. Thankfully it did the trick, speeding up the healing process and noticeably minimising congestion on our nose. Don’t let the initial strong alcohol scent put you off – this is one of the most gentle products on this list, and perfect for easily triggered teenage skin.
Buy now £10.00, Laroche-posay.co.uk
Revolution Skincare 2.5% glycolic acid toner
This toner comes in two different strengths – 2.5 per cent for those new to glycolic acid and five per cent for the more experienced. Both also contain aloe vera and ginseng. We tried and loved both, but definitely recommend starting out with the lower concentration. Its brightening effects were instantly noticeable, but it took longer to see a difference in oiliness. After a few weeks, we did see less shine across our forehead and cheeks, but it was still stubborn on our nose, our worst area. But it had made a strong start on fading hyperpigmentation in the meantime.
Buy now £8.00, Revolutionbeauty.com
REN Clean Skincare ready steady glow daily AHA tonic
Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can’t use glow-based products on oily skin. Packing a powerful punch of lactic acid and salicin, REN Clean Skincare’s tonic simultaneously exfoliates, brightens, tightens and hydrates skin. In action, this helped encourage the right kind of glow – one that veers more towards purposeful dewiness than greasiness. It also broke up some congestion on our forehead.
Like most toners containing AHAs and BHAs, you do experience some sensitivity at first. We found this to be the worst in the areas where we’re prone to breakouts, like our jawline and chin. To minimise stinging, we folded this slowly into our routine and worked up to daily use. It’s pricey, but our skin has never looked brighter.
Buy now £27.00, Renskincare.com
Cosrx AHA/BHA clarifying treatment toner
Despite relying on AHAs and BHAs, this toner is surprisingly gentle and slipped seamlessly into our nightly routine. As the name suggests, its main goal is to clarify the appearance of your skin, clearing your pores and minimising their appearance. We were shocked by how rapidly it lived up to these promises, seemingly transforming the pores of our nose in three days. With a few more weeks of use, it also reduced oiliness in our T-zone. Most importantly, it never reduced this oiliness to the point of dryness, which is a rarity.
Buy now £20.00, Beautybay.com
Dr Jart+ ceramidin liquid
It’s so tempting to over-treat oily skin, labouring under the delusion that you can just evaporate that shiny layer with harsh products. If you’re at that point, the best thing you can do to remedy your skin’s broken barrier is treat it with ceramides. These help your skin retain moisture which, contrary to popular belief, is vital for minimising oiliness.
This Dr Jart+ entry is our favourite toner for the job. With a lightweight gel consistency, a small amount covers your whole face and absorbs almost straight away. It’s immediately as if someone has turned your oiliness down a notch – it doesn’t dry you out, but leaves you with enough moisture to look healthy and glowing. Repeated use helped reduce our oiliness in the long-term until we were waking up with something closer to normal or combination skin rather than oily skin.
Buy now £26.00, Cultbeauty.co.uk
Beauty Pie Dr Glycolic pore-purifying glow toner
First and foremost, this is the best smelling toner in the world. It’s also a solid choice for oily skin. Glycolic acid is its main ingredient, exfoliating skin at a relatively high concentration of 9.2 per cent. It also contains niacinamide to reduce congestion and uneven texture, and natural fruit AHAs for resurfacing.
While the product suggests using it up to once a day for oily complexions, we found our sweet spot with three times per week. This was enough to gradually shrink the appearance of our pores and rein in oiliness. You do experience some prickling at first, but it’s more than bearable.
Buy now £30.00, Beautypie.com
Garnier organic thyme perfecting toner
Our favourite of Garnier’s range of toners is made with thyme, barley water and salicylic acid, all of which are from 100 per cent organic origins. This unique combination was compiled specifically for combination to oily skin and aims to refine and mattify. It definitely lives up to expectations, seeming to tighten our pores and keep our complexion matte even after eight hours beneath a full face of make-up.
However, we swapped it out into our evening routine after a few weeks of daytime use as its effects started to verge on drying. We much preferred the results at nighttime, when it was used between cleanser and a heavier moisturiser.
Buy now £3.99, Boots.com
The verdict: Toners for oily skin
Our all-time favourite is the Pixi glow tonic, which is a reliable, effective choice for keeping shine at bay and treating other oily skin byproducts like blemishes and texture. If you want to lean further into creating a more controllable glow, we also love the REN Clean Skincare ready steady glow daily AHA tonic.
We’ve also reviewed the best moisturisers for oily skin that won’t clog pores