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Acid Toners: What They Are, How To Use One, and Product Recommendations


What Are Acid Toners?

Acid toners are the latest skin product garnering attention. In this Kiehl’s guide, learn all about them and discover our best exfoliating toners with acids.

Take two things that are effective and held in high esteem, now combine them. What do you get? The best of both worlds. That’s how we would describe acid toners, a newer, noteworthy addition to the skincare sphere. Based on the name alone, you can guess the things they bring together—toning and acids—but of course, there’s more to know.

If acid toners have yet to hit your radar, you’re in for a treat. Ahead, we’ll break down exactly what this skincare category refers to, why we recommend this type of exfoliating toner, and how to use one. Read on for the full scoop.

Are Toners and Acids The Same?

To start, let’s get something clear: toners and acids aren’t the same. Here’s a quick refresher on what each is and how they differ.


A toner is a liquid skincare product that can do a multitude of things for your skin. It’s applied after your cleanser but before serums or moisturizer and serves as an extra layer of cleansing, working to remove any remaining impurities or lingering face wash residue. Toner benefits depend on the formula, but common ones include brightening, smoothing, pore-minimizing, and exfoliating.


The major difference between acids and toners is that an acid isn’t a product type. It’s a type of ingredient, which can be found in many different products. To name a few: cleansers, moisturizers, serums, and, yes, toners.

When it comes to skincare products, there are two main categories of acids. These are alpha-hydroxy acids and beta-hydroxy acids, also known as AHAs and BHAs. Both are types of chemical exfoliants that slough away dead skin cells. Alpha-hydroxy acids, which include glycolic acid and lactic acid, have benefits such as visible brightening and reducing the appearance of fine lines and discolorations. Beta-hydroxy acids, of which salicylic acid is the most popular, are often found in products for acne-prone skin.

What Is an Acid Toner?

An acid toner, as you might suspect, refers to a toner that contains either an alpha- or beta-hydroxy acid. Typically, when we talk about acid toners, these are formulas with a (relatively) high concentration of an acid. They can also be referred to as liquid exfoliants or exfoliating toners. While their benefits can vary just like any other toner, they all share one thing in common: They slough away dead skin cells. Popular types of acid toners include glycolic acid toners and salicylic acid toners.

Why Should You Use an Acid Toner?

As we mentioned, there are many different products formulated with acids. That begs the question, why toner? We recommend acid toners in particular because they offer gentle exfoliation. Below, discover four of our best exfoliating toners and better understand the hype.

Milk-Peel Gentle Exfoliating Toner

This gentle toner with lipo-hydroxy acid, a form of salicylic acid, is clinically demonstrated to gently exfoliate without causing discomfort. It also restores moisture levels for a hydrated, comfortable feel and visibly brightens skin. The formula is suitable for all skin types, including sensitive skin, and can be used daily.

Try it:

Shake well before use, then moisten a cotton pad with the exfoliating toner and gently swipe it onto your clean, dry face. Afterward, apply a serum. We recommend our dark spot corrector, which also contains an acid (buffered salicylic acid).

Clearly Corrective Brightening & Soothing Treatment Water

Use this toner to soothe and hydrate skin while helping to visibly even skin tone. The formula with salicylic acid and citric acid (another AHA) also refreshes dull skin, giving it a visibly soft glow. It’s another option that can be used by all skin types, even sensitive skin.

Try it:

Gently shake the salicylic acid toner prior to application. Pour the water into your palms or onto a cotton pad and pat it onto your skin, avoiding the immediate eye area. Follow with your regular skincare routine, including sunscreen. Acids can cause increased sun sensitivity, making this step extra critical.

Facial Fuel Energizing Tonic For Men

For guys, this toner is our top pick. Formulated with salicylic acid, vitamin C, caffeine, and bamboo extract, it visibly reduces signs of fatigue and helps to soothe and balance the skin. Your skin is left feeling hydrated and comfortable. And as a bonus, it can also be used as an aftershave to refresh skin post-hair removal.

Try it:

First, shake the toner bottle. Then, you can splash it directly onto your skin or apply it to a cotton pad. If you choose the latter, sweep it over your skin, then apply your face cream or lotion.

Ferulic Brew Antioxidant Facial Treatment With Lactic Acid

Last but not least, our toner with lactic acid and ferulic acid (an antioxidant). It absorbs quickly to gently remove dull surface skin for a visibly smoother, more even finish. This multi-beneficial option also primes skin to help it better receive your serums and moisturizers.

Try it:

Shake the bottle five to six times to mix, then pour five generous drops into your palms. Gently press the acid toner onto your skin five times, focusing on your cheeks, forehead, and chin. When you finish, follow with your serum and moisturizer.

How Often Should You Use Acid Toners?

Like most products, how often you should use an acid toner depends on the specific formula you use. While acids may seem like they would be too harsh for daily use, that’s not necessarily true. Some exfoliating toners can be used every day, including each of the toners we introduced you to above, while others are meant to supplement the rest of your routine a few times per week. We recommend following the instructions that coordinate with your acid toner, rather than applying some blanket rule on frequency.

That said, we do have a general rule that can be applied to sloughing your skin: start slow and ease into it. Different skin types can handle different frequencies and intensities of exfoliation, which is what makes this a wise choice. Over-exfoliating can lead to irritated, stressed skin. If you aren’t sure what’s right for you, begin with exfoliating once per week and work your way up after you see that your skin responds well.

Next: In addition to exfoliating toner, there’s another skin-sloughing product you may want to consider for your routine: exfoliating cleanser. Read all about this product type in our article, How To Use an Exfoliating Face Wash.

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