Best exfoliating toners to smooth and brighten skin, reduce breakouts and more

Some people love a physical grainy scrub, but the best exfoliating toners have really cemented themselves as the industry’s go-to over the past 10 years. Depending on your exfoliating acid of choice, they offer a whole host of benefits from helping to unclog your pores to reducing dryness and smoothing fine lines.

There are three key types of acid you’ll find in most exfoliating toners. Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), like glycolic or lactic, slough off dead skin cells to reveal fresh and glowing skin beneath. Beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) like salicylic get deeper into your pores to break down debris and in turn can help to clear your complexion. And polyhydroxy acids (PHAs) are similar to AHAs, but have larger molecules and so are less irritating for skin that’s more sensitive.

If you’re completely new to liquid exfoliants, the golden rule is to introduce your new product gradually. Start with a couple of times a week and build up from there if you need. It’s best to use acids in the evening as they can make your skin more sensitive to the sun, making SPF even more of a must in your routine.

Whatever you do, do not be tempted to over use acids. More frequent use does not mean quicker results, and you’ll only end up potentially irritating your skin and damaging its barrier. Now let’s dive into some of the best buys…

Five of the best exfoliating toners

Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant,from £11 here

In the beauty community this BHA toner from beauty powerhouse Paula’s Choice is widely considered the holy grail for congested skin that is prone to breakouts and blackheads. It’s got a slightly greasy consistency, but that doesn’t phase most people once they start getting results.

Gatineau Exfoliating PHA + BHA Glow Tonique, in the OK! Beauty Box for £4.95 here

Gatineau’s Exfoliating PHA + BHA Glow Tonique combines both PHAs and BHAs to slough off dead skin cells and help unclog congested pores, but it’s also won the approval of several of our Beauty Edit testers. “I have used this for over two weeks now and I'm amazed at the difference in my skin, skin is so much firmer and smooth and definitely looks glowing,” says impressed tester Anna. “I have never tried anything like this before and I'm really surprised at the difference it has made to my dry, tired-looking skin!”

Even better news? You’ll get a travel size version in this month’s Sunny Delights OK! Beauty Box, along with four other summer-ready products, all worth a combined total of over £105 – but new subscribers can get their first box for just £4.95 using the code 67BEAUTYBOX. After that you’ll pay £15 per monthly box, and you can skip a month or cancel at any time.

Sali Hughes x Revolution Placid 5 Acid Exfoliant,£14 here

Beauty journalist Sali Hughes’ skincare line is described as the “jeans and white T-shirt” of skincare as it’s made up of fuss-free effective staples. This toner contains different acids allowing you to reap the benefits of multiple AHAs and BHAS – we’re talking salicylic, glycolic, lactic, malic and tranexamic acid. Smooth and glowy skin, bottled.

The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution,£8 here

If it’s glycolic acid you’re after trying, this one is a viral TikTok buy that’s been reviewed more than 14,000 times online – *and* it costs under a tenner to boot. At 7% it has a slightly higher concentration than your more common 5%, so be cautious if it’s your first ever acid toner and you know your skin can be sensitive.

REN Ready Steady Glow AHA Tonic, £28 here

Another tonic that heroes both AHAs and BHAs, REN’s bumper bottle of liquid exfoliant contains glow-revealing lactic acid and salicylic to help decongest pores. We love the handy pump dispenser, which makes dousing a face pad with the stuff all the more easy.


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