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9 best exfoliating toners

Sweep away impurities and leave your skin looking radiant

Exfoliate the day away with one of these products ( iStock )

The operative word here is exfoliating. Far from those toners of the spritzing floral water variety that have very little – if any – effect on skin, we’re talking about those that use acids to sweep away dead skin cells that settle in fine lines and block pores, leaving it clean and glowing. They also even out tone, attract and help the skin retain moisture, speed up cell turnover (which slows with age) and deal with excess oil and breakouts. And none of those abrasive micro-beads that only superficially resurface the top layer of skin and are bad for the environment. Are you sold yet?

Look out for alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) – glycolic or lactic acid for normal/combination skin – and beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs) – such as salicylic for oily and sensitive types. All should be used after removing your makeup with a cleanser; simply soak a cotton pad (or reusable pad) with your exfoliator of choice and sweep over skin. How often you should use them varies with each product and how sensitive your skin is: start with three times a week and build up to daily use if you’re not sure.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.

Pixi Glow Tonic: £18, Cult Beauty

It’s not very often that a beauty product really lives up to its name, but our tester found with Pixi’s ever-popular liquid exfoliator (skincare guru Caroline Hirons is a massive fan) “people were genuinely saying my skin was glowing without me even mentioning it”. Its five per cent glycolic acid content leaves skin fresh, clean, moisturised and, yes, glowing.

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Alpha H Liquid Gold: £33.50, lookfantastic.com

This glycolic and liquorice acid product has a cult following with beauty bloggers and editors for being highly efficient and brilliant on fine lines, hyper-pigmentation, scarring and sun damage. It leaves skin hydrated, bright and tight (but not dry) and evens tone after a few weeks’ use. A great choice for ageing or more problematic skin.

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Estee Lauder Perfectly Clean Multi-Action Toning Lotion: £21.60, debenhams.com

We have been using this liquid exfoliator for years and wouldn’t be without it. It does contain alcohol, so avoid for more sensitive skin, but it leaves ours noticeably smoother, softer and clearer without causing any dry patches or making our eyes water. 

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Herbivore Prism Natural Fruit Acid 5% Exfoliating Glow Potion: £52, spacenk.com

The latest in must-have beauty, natural skincare brand Herbivore has nailed Instagram-friendly packaging. Natural fruit acids leave skin radiant, plumped and clearer. Unlike the others here, it’s a leave-on formula, meaning you apply around five drops straight to your face (via your hands!); great for travel, the eco-conscious who want to avoid pads or for those who simply can’t be bothered with the faff of an extra step.

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REN Ready Steady Glow Daily AHA Tonic: £25, renskincare.com

We had high hopes for any exfoliating product from the brand behind our desert-island Radiance Renewal peel, and this didn’t disappoint. It combines the power of an AHA (lactic acid) and a BHA (salicylic acid) to both improve texture and help minimise breakouts and oiliness. It leaves skin bright and smooth after just one use – an unusually good reaction

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Sarah Chapman Liquid Facial Resurfacer: £38, John Lewis & Partners

Worth the money for the packaging alone: it has a push-down pump, like the ones nail salons use for polish remover, which means you can soak a pad without having to pick up or squeeze the bottle. As for its contents, phytic, lactic and several fruit acids combine to smooth our dry, rough patches and brighten dull, wintry skin.

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La Roche-Posay Effaclar Clarifying Lotion: £12, feelunique.com

This, from the French dermatological brand, was particularly good on oily patches and blocked pores. Our tester found that it smelled fresh and the salicylic acid left her spot-prone skin looking clearer than it had been in years. It’s fuss-free and effective, and not bad for £12.

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Dr Frances Prenna Jones Formula+: £49, Cult Beauty

Lactobionic, salicylic and lactic acids are boosted with antioxidants such as ginger and pomegranate, plus repair-powerhouse niacinamide B3. We recommend this for mature skins, or at least those who are used to using acids, because mild it is not; our seasoned tester experienced redness after use. It’s quite expensive for a 50ml bottle (the 155ml version will set you back a borderline insane £146), but as we recommend using no more than once a week, it lasts a long time.

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Dr Roebuck’s Lifesaver Brightening Toner: £24, spacenk.com

From the Australian beauty brand, this is a pleasingly simple blend of just eight ingredients, including witch hazel (good for relieving inflammation), soothing aloe vera, detoxifying grapefruit oil and the all-important glycolic acid. It’s effective and very gentle. We’re not keen on the spray dispenser as you lose some product into the air, but it’s a small niggle; spritz on to a cotton pad and then use as normal.

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The Verdict: Best exfoliating toners

Pixi Glow Tonic will work for every skin and every budget, and is a great place to start if you want to try an exfoliating toner without spending too much.

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.

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