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What is Clarifying Toner?

By Bethany Keene
Updated May 21, 2024
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Clarifying toner is a product applied to the face after cleansing. It is used to dry up oil, tighten pores, and prevent blemishes from forming. People with dry skin may not want to use clarifying toner, because it could make skin too dry, but people with very oily or acne-prone skin often find that toner is helpful at keeping oil away. Clarifying toner may be found in most drugstores with the face wash and facial moisturizers.

Most manufacturers of face washes also make corresponding clarifying toner, and toner is usually comparably priced to face wash. It generally includes alcohol as its active ingredient, as well as ingredients such as witch hazel, grape seed extract, or vitamin E, among others. Clarifying toner is typically applied to a cotton ball or sponge, and is applied all over the face. It is not typically used to remove makeup, and should never be used around the eyes, because the alcohol could potentially cause irritation.

Astringent toners, which contain the highest level of alcohol, might only need to be applied to problem areas. For instance, astringent toner might only need to be applied to areas where blemishes occur, such as the chin or forehead, rather than the entire face. Toner may be applied after the face is washed in the morning and night, or it may just be applied once per day. Some skin refreshers, which are a type of toner, but with low levels of alcohol, may be applied during the day if skin becomes slightly shiny.

Clarifying toner is also effective at making pores appear smaller, and making the skin look more even. Keep in mind that one should only use toner if the skin is very oily, and becomes shiny throughout the day. This is because constant removal of oil from the surface of the skin can actually encourage the skin to produce even more oil. This can have the opposite of the desired effect.

Some people find that when skin appears oily, what it actually needs is a gentle cleanser to remove dirt and other skin impurities, and then a regular morning and evening moisturizer. Each person's skin is different; some people can benefit from clarifying toner, especially in the summer when humidity and heat tends to make the skin more greasy and oily. Be sure that the product is actually helping, though, rather than making oily skin worse by drying the skin too much.

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Discussion Comments
By anon946965 — On Apr 23, 2014

I started using Dr. Hauschka's clarifying toner because it seemed like when it was really humid outside, my pores became suddenly enlarged. Now I keep the toner with me at all times because it works! In fact, it makes my makeup look refreshed when I spritz it lightly around my face. I'm on my second bottle, it did not make my face dry at all, and people complement me on my complexion.

By orangey03 — On Jul 26, 2011

I have extremely sensitive skin, and as a teen, I did not know to refuse the toner my friend was offering me. She used it as part of a makeover at a slumber party, and for everyone else, it seemed to be working fine.

I let her put it on my face, which I had just washed and exfoliated with a cloth. I know now that exfoliating before applying a toner is a big no-no, but then, we had no clue.

Within about 10 seconds of the time the toner-laden cotton ball touched my skin, I felt a distinct burning. It really felt like fire. I started screaming, and I ran to the bathroom to rinse the pain away.

By lighth0se33 — On Jul 25, 2011

I hate large pores, and as I age, they seem to show up more and more. I decided to start using a clarifying toner, even though my skin is not terribly oily.

I found Dr. Hauschka clarifying toner, and it has really helped diminish the size of my pores. What I love about it is that it contains flower extracts. I saw both nasturtium and daisy in the ingredient list. I think it’s beautiful that we can use elements from something as lovely as a flower to improve our appearance.

Nasturtium has been used to help heal wounds, and it contains vitamin C. Its inclusion in the toner could be beneficial to my skin in ways that I don’t even know.

By seag47 — On Jul 25, 2011

@StarJo - I remember using Sea Breeze! It was really powerful. I can still recall the smell and the sharp, fresh tingle that followed application.

I had combination skin, so I could only use it every now and then. I became a bit overzealous with it at first. I used it every day, and then my whole face became seriously red. It stung like a sunburn.

Once I learned that I only needed to apply it to certain oily areas every few days, I got the benefits of it. My skin stopped producing so much oil, and I no longer had a mess of mushy makeup and oil to clean off of my face in the afternoon.

By StarJo — On Jul 24, 2011

I used to use Sea Breeze toner as a teenager. I had a lot of oil on my nose, and it seemed to help reduce that.

My oily patches had gotten so bad that I had stopped wearing foundation and powder, because the oil would just seep on through and make a muddy mess when I tried to reapply makeup. I started taking the toner with me to the bathroom at lunch during school and applying it to my problem areas with a cotton ball.

People told me I had a really radiant face. I got the good kind of shine from the toner and avoided the oily made-up mess.

By sunshine31 — On Jul 24, 2011

@Suntan12 - I personally like the clarifying lotion that Clinique sells. They actually have a gentle clarifying lotion as well as a clarifying lotion for oily skin.

The nice thing about using this toner is that it allows my moisturizer to penetrate better. Whenever I use my toner and then apply moisturizer it is amazing how quickly it disappears. It also makes my skin feel smoother.

By suntan12 — On Jul 23, 2011

@John57 - I like don’t like use clarifying exfoliating toner because it irritates my skin too. I rather use a combination cleanser with light exfoliation that kills two birds with one stone.

Once a week I also use a gentle facial scrub for additional exfoliation. I rather do this than use a toner because I feel that it is more effective and it does not leave my face really red and irritated like a clarifying lotion will.

By John57 — On Jul 23, 2011

When I was younger and had trouble with breakouts on my face, I would use a toner as part of my acne treatment program. I would use it twice a day - morning and evening after washing my face and before applying my makeup.

This helped cut down on my oily skin and to control the shine on my face. As I got older and didn't have as much problem with oily skin, I looked for a toner that did not have as much alcohol in it because I didn't want something that was as drying on my skin.

By golf07 — On Jul 23, 2011

I use a toner once a day in the evening before going to bed. After I cleanse my face, I apply Aveeno skin clarifying toner on a cotton ball and apply over my whole face. Sometimes I need to do this more than once with another clean cotton ball.

I love the way it makes my skin feel and know that it removes all traces of dirt and makeup from my face. It is nice going to bed knowing all your makeup is off and with skin feeling clean and smooth.

By honeybees — On Jul 22, 2011

Over the years I have used several different kinds of toners for my face. When I didn't have the extra money to spend on my favorite brand I would use witch hazel. I was able to find this at my local retail store.

I found this to work well as a toner, especially if you have oily skin. I didn't like it as well as the more expensive brand I had been using, but it is a great alternative when money is tight.

By popcorn — On Jul 20, 2011

For those considering using a clarifying toner, do you think that buying a store brand is fine, or should I hold out for a more expensive name brand version?

I am on a bit of a budget but would really like to find something that helps my skin look less shiny throughout the day. I am worried that the cheaper versions of the clarifying toner might be harsher on my skin and completely dry it out verses just helping me with my oil issues.

Also, does anyone know if there might be some natural clarifying toners a person could make? I would be willing to create some at home beauty products if it worked and didn't cost too much.

By animegal — On Jul 20, 2011

I used to have really bad acne and my skin was far too oily. After trying numerous over the counter medications and creams I started to go with a pretty basic cleansing ritual, which coupled with medication really helped improve my skin.

I used a simple face wash, followed it by toner and allowed my skin to rest for the remaining part of the day. The clarifying toner I chose came recommended from my dermatologist and did wonders for my skin. I really need the drying properties it had on my oil skin. If I remember correctly the toner I used had a witch hazel base and wasn't heavy on the alcohol content.

By JessicaLynn — On Jul 19, 2011

@ceilingcat - When you start using toner for your face, just make sure you don't go overboard! I started using it a few years ago and I just loved the way it made my skin feel. So I took to using the toner several times a day.

This was a really bad idea. Clarifying toner works great when you use it as directed, but using it too often can result in seriously dry skin. I had to stop using it and moisturize my skin like crazy to get it to go back to normal. Now I just use toner once a day in the morning!

By ceilingcat — On Jul 19, 2011

I always see the matching clarifying toner at the store whenever I buy my face wash. Honestly, I kind of assumed it was some sort of gimmick to sell more products. Clarifying toner doesn't even sound like a real thing! It sounds like a cheesy marketing tactic.

However, after reading this article I think clarifying toner sounds quite useful. Sometimes my face looks a bit shiny after I use cleanser on it and maybe some clarifying toner could help.

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