The best Korean beauty toners for your skincare routine

Beautytap (Fair Use) Jaime Carrillo

No astringents needed here, thank you.

If you live in America, it’s likely you grew up thinking of toners as alcohol-based liquids that swept unwanted gunk off your face. In the world of Korean beauty toners, it’s nothing like that. They replenish rather than take away and are often denser than the thin astringents we are used to in the states.

Confusing? We get that a lot, especially when people hate the idea of a longer routine. You may also think they’re only for oily skin, which couldn’t be further from the truth. We love Korean beauty toners because they prepare the skin for the hydration to come in the form of essences, serums, and creams. Best of all, there are exfoliating toners too – meaning rather than scrub your delicate face with grit, you can slough off dead skin in a much gentler way.

So how do you know if the toner you’re using is the stripping kind, the exfoliating kind, or the hydrating kind? There’s one simple way to avoid the former: check the label for alcohol. If you see it in the ingredients, pass! Alcohol is extremely drying for skin, which in turn can cause redness, acne and other flare-ups. And if that’s too much work for you, check out our list of Korean beauty toners we consider indispensable.

The best Korean beauty toners

1) Banila Co. V-V Revitalizing Toner ($18.40)

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Good for: Normal to dry skin, aging skin

If I could write an ode of passion to this toner, I would. Nothing is stopping me, so maybe I’ll pen one today. But first! Korean beauty fans know Banila Co. thanks to its cult cleansing balm Clean It Zero. The V-V line is a newer offering, but its equally impressive. My favorite product is the toner, which comes in a huge 220ml bottle and is so dense it’ll last you forever. A dime-sized amount is all you need to fully moisturize your skin after cleansing and prepare it for the next steps. The scent is very gentle and pleasant, and it absorbs in less than a minute. BEST TONER EVER.

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2) Earth’s Recipe Energy Boosting Toner ($34)

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Good for: Quick maintenance

If you have a bit more budget to spend on your toner, consider this one from K-beauty newcomer Earth’s Recipe. It contains Tremella mushroom extract, a handy ingredient known for its ability to keep skin moist and hydrated. Earth’s Recipe products have a faint, delightful herbal fragrance and absorb quickly. Best of all, this toner is perfect for short routines. Using it plus a moisturizing sunscreen can easily substitute for a full skincare routine when you’re in a hurry!

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3) COSRX AHA/BHA Clarifying Treatment toner ($17)

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Good for: Adding active ingredients to your routine

If you’re worried that moist toners will somehow make oily skin break out, this COSRX toner is a good pick. It contains two active ingredients, AHA and BHAs. These little worker bees are terrific for lightening acne scarring and decreasing blackheads. Some users have also reported smaller pores after using it. Best of all, it’s really reasonably priced. However, AHAs and BHAs can sometimes be irritating to sensitive skin types, so proceed with care if you fall into that category!

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4) SanDaWha Liposome Skin Softener ($28)

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Good for: Balancing pH level, fragrance-sensitive people

Some Korean beauty toners are also called skin softeners, which can be confusing until you learn both do the same job: prepping the skin for later moisturizing steps. The SanDaWha Lipsome Skin Softener is recommended for morning and evening use and is ideal for balancing out your pH after cleansing. It does so thanks to botanical ingredients like Licorice Root Extract and Camellia Sinesis Leaf Extract. Fans of this toner also mention that its pump dispenses the perfect amount of product for a single application. And the scent is so gentle that it’s ideal for skincare fans who hate intense fragrances.

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5) seaNtree Donkey Milk Waterizing Toner ($19.50)

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Good for: Dry skin, making your skincare collection cuter

If you like your skincare products cute yet effective, meet the SeaNtree Donkey Milk Waterizing Toner. Yes, it’s super adorbs, but it’s got more going for it than just looks. This product is ideal for those looking to keep dead skin cells at bay, soothe reddened skin and smooth out texture will find what they want here. Plus it contains donkey milk, which is known for its vitamin-rich nourishing effects.

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6) Sulwhasoo Essential Balancing Water EX ($55)

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Good for: Staying 30 forever

Want to know how those 50-year-old Korean ladies in the K-dramas don’t look at day over 30? The answer is in that bottle up above, folks. Sulwhasoo is the king of luxury skincare lines in Korea, and its known for using traditional Korean herbs in its products (also known as hanbang). This toner contains three powerful antioxidants that come from the earth: Matrimony Vine, Ophiopogon Japonicus Root Extract, and Camellia Sinensis Leaf Extract. If you have the green to spend, you won’t be disappointed with this product.

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7) Swanicoco Herb Snail Care Skintoner ($12)

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Good for: Softer, glowing skin on a budget

If you’re feeling depressed about the idea of never being able to afford Sulwhasoo, don’t fret. Swanicoco’s Herbs Snail Care Skintoner is an excellent solution, and at $12 a pop it’s manageable for just about every budget. Snail is probably the ingredient K-beauty is most famous for, so I won’t extoll its benefits here yet again, but this Korean beauty toner also boasts protein, collagen, elastin, glycolic acid, and chondroitin in its ingredient list. Swanicoco recommends it for everyone from sensitive to dry skin types.

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Colette Bennett

Colette Bennett

Colette Bennett is a writer and editor who specializes in geek culture, beauty products, and Amazon deals. Her work has appeared on CNN, HLN, Engadget, Kotaku, Colourlovers, and Continue Magazine. She's also given talks on working in news for CNN's Leadership Unplugged program. Bennett also runs popular Korean beauty blog Chok Chok Beauty and regularly slathers her face in snail slime.