While we acknowledge toners as part of the Holy Trinity of cleanse, tone and moisturise, they are something that many of us are happy to skip in our skin-care routine. There are several reasons, even good reasons, for this.
One is that they seem like extra hassle. Another is that, in the past, we may have been stung, literally, by alcohol-heavy formulations. The last reason, then, is that we're not sure what they do – if anything at all.
They are, however, coming back into vogue, often renamed as 'lotions', and with claims of boosting the efficacy of whatever you apply to the skin after them. While we're not quite convinced of this, our recent trial of toners had somewhat surprisingly positive results.
While four out of five favourites feature alcohol fairly high up their list of ingredients, they are not skin-strippers, and those that boast exfoliating abilities derive their power from relatively gentle plant derivatives. What we liked with all of them was the properly clean – but not squeaky – feeling they bestowed. The Best Overall is pricey, but it impressed us by leaving skin both fresher and softer.
Origins Make a Difference Plus+ Rejuvenating Treatment Lotion, €45, Arnotts; Clerys; House of Fraser, Dundrum Town Centre, D16
This is sold as a lotion rather than a toner, indicating that it's part of a trend from the Far East that promises to improve the skin's ability to absorb a serum or moisturiser. Certainly, it's less watery than your average toner, but the freshness it lends is classic. It has watermelon and lychee, which the makers claim will perfectly prep your skin. "I love the weirdly heavy-water feel of this," said a panellist. "With regular use, my skin looked a little more lively than usual at this time of year."
Boots Botanics Cleansing Toner All Bright, €2.99, Boots nationwide
This is a bargain toner, which promises brightening, as well as toning. Hibiscus is the skin-tone improving ingredient, in a product that was developed with Kew Botanical Gardens in London. This toner also includes alcohol and glycerine. "It's a little more astringent than others I tried, but, some days, that's what you need," a panellist said.
Best Young Choice
Pure Instant Radiance Skin Tonic, €8, Marks & Spencer Beauty Halls, see www.marksandspencer.ie
We like the pump-action bottle and the natural-but-not-barnyard fragrance of this toner. With elderflower, orange flower, camomile and vitamin E, it is predominantly gentle, but there is alcohol in the mix, which is what makes it a better option for younger types. Alcohol can be drying, so try using it every second cleanse, or weekly, if you find it's dessicating your skin. "Nothing radical happens when I use this, but it complements my cleansing-balm habit, as it removes all remaining make-up traces," a panellist said.
Best Mature Option
Guinot Refreshing Toning Lotion, €23.50, salons nationwide, for stockists, Lo-Call (0818) 719-303
This toner is a classic and is the only one of our top five that has ginseng, aloe and is alcohol-free, which makes it a more appealing option for more mature skin types, which are more easily dried out and more sensitive. "Trivial as it may seem, I like that this has a flip-top lid," reported one panellist. "Anything to cut down the faffing around between a full face of make-up and bed – to which I departed feeling very clean-faced."
Clarins Gentle Exfoliator Brightening Toner, €31, Clarins counters nationwide
When it comes to toners, where you see the word 'brightening' you can read 'exfoliating'. In this case, the exfoliating element of this toner comes from alpha-hydroxy acids derived from tamarind and white nettle. They are gentle, but nicely pore-clearing and tone-improving. They necessitate vigilant wearing of SPF, as they leave skin photo-sensitive. "This is like a cold drink of water," one panellist said. "It's slightly bracing and very refreshing."