With K-Beauty giant Dr Jart+ launching a ‘serum toner’ that feels suspiciously like a milky toner, we investigate the latest skincare hybrid set to make a splash

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We beauty enthusiasts are an odd breed. On the one hand, we want simplified beauty routines with multi-purpose products to save time, money and the planet. On the other, we want to be constantly delighted and inspired by beauty innovation and product newness.

Nowhere is that better understood than in Korea, land of the beauty trend. K-Beauty is famous for its twelve-step skincare routines, but now that everyone’s looking for product hybrids, they’re busy creating them under the guise of ‘simplification’, while in the process cannily creating just another type of product you’ll want to add to your stash.

Think of BB creams and sheet masks – products that were just slightly different enough from their ‘archaic’ counterparts (e.g tinted moisturisers and cream face masks) to worm their way into our lives. In the same way, traditional face toners and tonics spawned milky toners and, intriguingly, toner serums.

What is a milky toner?

Milky toners were another ‘upgrade’ (from skin-refreshing purifying and hydrating toners) that had a moment a few years ago. Thick liquids that were very akin to hydrating, skin-conditioning essences, but even more viscous and milky in colour, they majored on calming, skin barrier-boosting ingredients such as ceramides, lipids, allantoin and oats. Described as ‘soothing, hydrating skin prep’, they could be seen as an extra layer of moisture under your serum and moisturiser, or alone for a fast-acting hit of redness-reducing hydration. ‘Silky toners’ were, and are, another name for them.

Now, we have moved on to ‘serum toner’ (or ‘toner serum’), reportedly an emerging search term that’s up over 450% on Google Analytics, and counting. But what is it?

What is a serum toner?

Dr Jart+, whose Ceramidin Serum Toner has been an overnight bestseller in Korea, describes it as a hybrid between an essence and a serum, combining the easy absorbability of the former (drop some in your hand and just press it into skin) and the high level of active ingredients of the latter.

Over at Fenty Skin, the Fat Water Niacinamide Toner Serum is full of ingredients that hydrate, fight off free radicals and balance oil production. It’s a clear liquid gel while the Dr Jart+ is milky, but both slide onto skin, disappear instantly and give lasting comfort.

In truth, both serum toners feel just like silky milky toners, or viscous essences, or liquid serums. It’s a potayto-potahto situation, or a rose by any other name: these products are all quick hydrators that readily infuse skin with helpful ingredients. Whether you want to layer serums and moisturiser over them or just move straight on to the best face SPF you own and get out the door is up to you.

Their hydration and barrier-boosting properties make them beneficial for any skin type, even if some are marketed specifically for oily or dry skin. They won’t cause any pilling but will help subsequent products absorb better, and they work under night treatments as well as under daytime skincare, so they are indeed quite multi-functional. Here are some of the best.

The best serum toners and silky toners

Best for barrier boosting: Dr Jart+ Ceramidin Skin Barrier Serum Toner, £35

A silky-feeling, milky liquid moisturiser that has the slightest lychee scent and is rich in ceramides and panthenol, giving it a nourishing punch that lasts – you may feel you don’t need a moisturiser. It glides onto skin and makes it look nice and dewy.

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Nourishing hydration in a clear, watery jelly that’s figgy-cherry-scented and laced with niacinamide, Barbados cherry, lemon myrtle, with hazel, green tea and more for antioxidant protection and oil control. Has a slightly more ‘matte’ finish than milky serum toners.

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Best for a celeb glow: Rhode Glazing Milk, £29

An unscented, viscous milk, Mrs Bieber has come up with yet another name for the same thing: a nourishing liquid hydrator with ceramides, hydrating sugars, minerals and skin-identical lipids to calm redness, quench and give you’re a Bieber-ish glow.

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A slippy liquid lotion that looks like water but leaves skin super-silky and feeling slightly firmer as well. It doesn’t only have seven types of hyaluronic acid (all working at different depths of the skin), but lots of other water-trapping humectants like urea, glycerin and polysaccharides as well. Like turning the tap on in your skin.

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Best for brightening: Coco & Eve Antioxidant Hydrating Milky Toner, £26

A cloudy essence that smells gently of creamy coconuts and has antioxidant Dragon fruit extract, niacinamide and panthenol to protect, brighten and soothe.

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Great for rosacea-prone skin, this milky liquid has microbiome and barrier-supporting ingredients and lots of soothing plant agents to bring down redness and calm itchiness and irritating flare-ups.

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The texture of liquid cream, this milky toner serum is perhaps slightly richer than the rest, with squalane and seed oils added to the humectants, antioxidants, prebiotics, ceramides and peptides, all there to envelop raw skin in calmness and nourishment, weightlessly.

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