So You Think You Don’t Like…Toner

It started with an infomercial. There I was, a 19-year-old college student whose belief that I had somehow survived the acne stage of life unscathed had been recently—and thoroughly—shattered. My life had become a succession of bad breakouts. In my despair, I fell victim to infomercial hype: I purchased a mail-order kit that claimed to cure acne for good.

The kit came with a cleanser, a cream, and an astringent toner. The toner must have contained alcohol or some sort of nuclear-grade drying agent, because the bright-green liquid stung my sensitive skin. Unschooled in what toner could accomplish, I soldiered on, applying it day and night with a cotton pad as directed. Who was I to question the methods of such a popular skincare system? (All of those radiant-skinned actors in white lab coats had me duped.)

Day by day, my skin became increasingly dry and irritated, and instead of disappearing, my pimples just got redder and angrier-looking. The trauma came to a head a few days later, when a piece of my face—a humongous scabbed-over pimple that I had slathered in yet more toner—peeled off like a piece of tree bark.

Right then and there, I swore off toner for life.

And yet, so many people insist upon toner! Debra Jaliman, NYC dermatologist and author of Skin Rules (I keep a copy of her skincare bible next to my bed), says that toner is a must for skin like mine. “If your skin is oily or prone to acne, tone twice a day (morning and night),” she writes.

I figured it might be time to give toner a second chance. Everyone has been raving about Liz Earle since the moment the British brand landed in our Shop. The Cleanse & Polish sells like hotcakes in Europe and has won over 80 beauty awards (it's also got some stellar Birchbox customer reviews). So I decided to give the brand's alcohol-free Instant Boost Skin Tonic a try.

I swabbed my face with the aloe-enriched formula morning and night for several days straight. What I witnessed was an entirely different trajectory from my previous run-in with toner: Infused with cooling cucumber and chamomile, the botanical blend didn’t sting—it didn’t even tingle or tighten. Instead, it left my face soothed and even lightly moisturized. I went to bed without moisturizer on and woke up with a healthy, hydrated complexion. It felt like I’d gotten a little extra cleansing from the toner, plus a sort of evening-out of my overall skin tone. What I realized: Toner’s not the enemy. Bad formulas are.

I get it, toner-phobes: You’ve been burned before. But take it from someone who was literally burned by a too-harsh toner in the past: Liz Earle’s formula won’t hurt you. This even-keeled version is your friend.

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