If you grew up in or before the ‘90s, you’re probably familiar with astringents. They used to be ultra-potent, alcohol-based formulas made to strip all the oil from your skin, ostensibly to keep breakouts at bay. Of course, we know better now, and most astringents are no longer the harsh, irritating products we once knew. In fact, some astringent ingredients can be a great addition to your skincare routine, particularly if you’re prone to excessive shine.
If you’re still not sold, that’s okay—we get it. Here, we’ll clue you in on what modern astringents are and what they do, plus how they differ from your go-to face toner. We’ll also provide recommendations on the best Kiehl’s astringents and toners to add to your routine, so you can make the best choice for your skin type. Keep reading for your Kiehl’s guide to astringents vs. toners.
What Is Astringent?
An astringent, by definition, is any substance that causes a tightening or contracting of soft tissues. If that sounds vague, that’s because it is. Lots of substances have astringent properties. In skincare, however, the word astringent is usually used to describe a type of liquid (often water-based) product that works to help shrink the appearance of enlarged pores. In many cases, these products also clean the skin and can help reduce excess oiliness.
Astringent ingredients you’ll commonly see in skincare formulas include alcohol, witch hazel, and zinc oxide. Additionally, many antiperspirants and deodorant products contain astringent ingredients to help keep the skin dry and reduce excessive sweating.
Astringent vs. Toner: What’s The Difference?
Astringents and toners are similar, but not necessarily the same. As we mentioned above, the main purpose of facial astringents is to cleanse and tighten your pores. Since they also help quell excess oiliness, astringents are often best for those with oily or blemish-prone skin—those with drier or more sensitive skin types may find them too drying.
Toners, on the other hand, have a range of benefits. Some help reduce excess oiliness as well, but that’s not always the case. Some hydrate, others exfoliate—it all comes down to the formula (and the skin type the toner is made for).
That being said, those with oily skin can use toners, and those with dry skin can use astringents, so long as you choose your formula carefully. Here, we’ll introduce you to six Kiehl’s toners and astringents and offer recommendations on which to use in your routine based on your skin type.
For All Skin Types:
Ultra Facial Oil-Free Toner
If you’re unsure what your skin type is, or simply want a gentle formula that won’t dry out your skin, we recommend reaching for a non-drying toner, like Ultra Facial Oil-Free Toner. This mild, pH-balanced formula helps remove surface impurities without stripping the skin’s natural moisture barrier, leaving your skin feeling balanced and refreshed. It’s suitable for all skin types and gentle enough for twice daily use (we’ll get to the specifics on how to use your chosen formula in a bit).
For Oily, Blemish-Prone Skin:
Blue Astringent Herbal Lotion
Blue Astringent Herbal Lotion is a must-have for those with excessively oily or blemish-prone skin. This classic Kiehl’s astringent toner, which first hit shelves in 1964, contains cooling menthol and camphor, alongside witch hazel water. It soothes and balances oily skin after cleansing and can be used as a spot treatment for oily areas, like the T-zone. For guys, it also works well as a refreshing aftershave.
For Combination Skin:
Rare Earth Pore-Refining Tonic
Combination skin can be tricky to manage since it exhibits oiliness and dryness in different areas simultaneously. If this sounds like your skin, we recommend reaching for a non-drying toner, like Rare Earth Pore-Refining Tonic. This unique, dual-phase formula with Amazonian white clay helps balance skin’s natural moisture levels while mattifying unwanted shine. It also helps to minimize the appearance of large pores—like those on your T-zone—when used regularly.
For Dull Skin:
Milk-Peel Gentle Exfoliating Toner
If your skin is looking dull or lackluster, an exfoliating toner, like Milk-Peel Gentle Exfoliating Toner, may help. This gentle formula features lipo-hydroxy acid and lactic acid alongside a blend of skin-friendly emollients, including olive-derived squalane. The hydrating formula exfoliates without causing discomfort, leaving the skin looking smoother, softer, and brighter after just one week.* It’s suitable for all skin types and can be used daily as part of your regular skincare routine, even if you have sensitive skin.
*Results based on expert grading in a clinical study of 44 panelists, aged 30-50, after 4 weeks of use.
For Dry or Sensitive Skin:
Cucumber Herbal Alcohol-Free Toner
To soothe and comfort dry or sensitive skin, a gentle face toner is a must-have in your skincare routine. We recommend Cucumber Herbal Alcohol-Free Toner, which contains cucumber and allantoin. Though the refreshing formula does have mild astringent properties, it’s not drying. It balances and soothes dry, sensitive skin, leaving it feeling soft, clean, and toned.
For Men’s Skin:
Facial Fuel Energizing Tonic For Men
Guys can use any of the above toners, but if you prefer skincare products made exclusively for men’s skin, try Facial Fuel Energizing Tonic for Men. This men’s skincare staple with energizing caffeine and vitamin C soothes and balances the skin while helping to reduce visible signs of fatigue. The unique formula can be used as a toner or splashed onto the face and neck after shaving for skin that feels hydrated, refreshed, and comfortable.
How To Use Astringent or Toner
Whether you prefer astringent or toner, the application process is pretty much the same. First, you’ll want to cleanse your skin with a face wash suited for your skin’s unique needs (you can find a guide to the best Kiehl’s cleansers for your skin type here). Then, pat your face dry and reach for your astringent or toner. Soak a clean cotton round in your chosen formula and sweep it over your face, focusing on problem areas.
After applying your formula (and allowing it a few moments to soak in), you can continue on with the rest of your skincare routine. Typically, we recommend applying a serum and moisturizer, along with a broad-spectrum sunscreen for daytime. If you need help, check out our article Your Skincare Routine Order: A Step-By-Step Guide for an in-depth explainer on how to build your routine.