Do you ever wonder how certain products work in your regular skincare routine, especially if they seem to overlap in terms of functionality?
For instance, do both a cleanser and toner work the same? Can you use just one instead of both? If yes, which one?
Let me break it down for you.
Despite the fact that both cleansers and toners work toward the greater goal i.e clean and healthy skin, they are actually two different products. A cleanser removes dead skin cells, oil, makeup, and dirt and has to be washed off, whereas a toner balances your skin’s pH while prepping it for absorbing the next skincare product.
Read along to learn about the difference between toner and cleanser, and how to use them correctly to ace your skincare routine.
Is Cleanser And Toner The Same?
There is only one answer to this question: No, a cleanser and toner are not the same.
Using a cleanser is the essential first step of a proper skin care routine, whereas using a toner is optional (but it does work wonders if rightly suited to your skin type!).
Generally, a cleanser or a face wash is formulated to remove dead skin cells, oil, dirt, and makeup from the face.
It is followed by a toner, which removes residual impurities left behind after cleansing, along with hydrating the skin and balancing the skin’s pH.
The most vivid difference between the two? A toner does not cleanse your skin and can’t replace face wash.
The Right Order Of Skincare Routine
Here is the right order of using products in your skincare routine:
Step 1: Cleanser
Step 2: Toner
Step 3: Serum, Essence, or Booster
Step 4: Moisturizer
Step 5: SPF (in daytime routine)
Cleanser Vs. Toner – Key Differences
Here is a compilation of the most important differences between cleanser and toner:
What is it: A cleanser is a skincare product formulated with surfactants to remove impurities and cleanse the skin. Whereas, a facial toner is a skincare product used to balance your skin’s pH while restoring the hydration, lost as a result of cleansing.
What does it feel like: Cleansers are available in gel, foam, balm, creams, and oil-based varieties. Meanwhile, toners are in liquid form, ranging from watery to milky ones.
What does it do: A cleanser can remove makeup, dirt, and dead skin cells. In contrast, a toner refreshes, hydrates, balances the skin’s pH and works accordingly for specific skin concerns.
What is it good for: A facial cleanser cleanses the skin, keeps skin healthy and clean, and can control acne. Whereas using a toner can restore skin’s moisture levels, deliver ingredients-based effects for different skin types, and prep the skin for deep penetration of subsequent products.
Order of Ranking in Skin Care Regimen: Using a cleanser is the first step of any skincare routine, whereas toner comes second to cleansing, being the second step.
How to use: You apply cleanser or facewash to your face, lather it, and eventually washed off. Meanwhile, you should leave toner on the skin after applying it with a cotton pad, spray bottle, or directly by hand.
Necessity: A cleanser is a crucial part of skincare, whereas a toner is optional.
What Is A Cleanser?
A cleanser is a skincare product that is designed to remove dirt, makeup, oil, dead skin cells, and other pollutants from the skin. It also goes by the name “face wash”.
Being the first step of a good skincare routine, cleansers are designed with surfactants (detergents) in them to work through the grime on our faces and reveal a clean slate for other products.
Like other skincare products, there are many different types of cleansers. For example oil cleansers, foaming cleansers, gel cleansers, cream cleansers, makeup removing balms, cleansing milk, and micellar water.
Right now my favorite face washes are the Korean ones and I created a list of the best options for each skin type. Check out my ranking of the best B-beauty cleansers here.
Benefits Of Cleanser
Healthy-looking skin: Facial cleansers remove impurities from the skin, yielding clean and healthy skin. Cream cleansers tend to be gentle on the skin’s protective barrier, hence they do not dry out the skin.
Deep cleaning: Packed with surfactants that draw out residual gunk and pore-clogging impurities from your skin, face cleansers offer deep cleaning that leaves you with a clean skin surface.
Removes makeup and sebum: Cleansers can remove makeup, sweat, excess oil, and sebum without stripping the skin of its natural oils. This yields clear skin.
Enhances the effectiveness of other products: A face cleanser prepares our skin to absorb the subsequent skincare products, boosting their benefits.
Reduces breakouts: Without proper cleansing, there can be a buildup of dirt, bacteria, sebum, and makeup, leading to clogged pores and acne. Some face cleansers come in acne-fighting or clarifying formulas. They can really work like a charm for acne-prone and oily skin and reduce breakouts.
Keeps dullness away: A face wash or cleanser removes buildup and dead skin cells in which means it refreshes dull-looking skin and improves its texture.
Who Should Use A Cleanser?
Everyone should use a cleanser. Cleansing is the first and foremost step of any skincare routine. So if you are looking for a kickass skin care regimen and healthy-looking skin, start with a cleanser in your daily routine.
Types Of Cleansers
Here I have mentioned different types of cleansers including cream cleansers, gel cleansers, foaming cleansers, oil cleansers, and milk cleansers to choose from, according to your specific skin concerns:
Gel cleansers are good for oily and combination skin types.
Just make sure to choose a gel cleanser formulated with hydrating ingredients, that is gentle on the skin while being effective in removing excess dirt, oil, and impurities that clog pores.
This way you will avoid drying out your face.
As the name suggests, a gel cleanser has a gel-like consistency and usually does not foam due to its lightweight formula.
A foaming cleanser is best suited for the oily skin type, but it also works well for acne-prone combination skin types. It removes excess oil, dirt, makeup, and dead skin and unclog pores effectively.
Most people feel foaming cleansers leave them with extra clean skin as the cleanser suds up into a lather. However, they can be drying, so if you have dry skin, maybe this kind of cleanser is not the one for you.
These are ideal for dry skin and sensitive skin types. They lock in moisture owing to the hydrating ingredients in their formulation such as hyaluronic acid.
Cream cleansers have a thick creamy texture and can be used without water.
Milk cleansers are enriched with moisturizing ingredients such as butter and oils to boost the natural moisture of the skin. They are perfect for sensitive and dry skin types.
Do not be fooled by the name; they do not actually contain milk but just have a milky consistency, which enables them to maintain a healthy skin barrier by locking in moisture and hydration.
If you wear makeup and sunscreen regularly, I recommend you choose an oil-based cleanser. Usually, oil-based cleansers are suitable for all skin types.
They come as cleansing balms and cleaning oils, often enriched with natural oils such as sunflower seed oil and argan oil to help loosen the impurities from your skin.
Oil-based cleansers are often used as the first step of the double cleanse method. You will need another cleanser to wash it off.
Oil cleansers come in two versions: as liquid or balm.
Some cleansers have acne-fighting ingredients like salicylic acid and tea tree oil (very popular one from all the essential oils we know) that work to unclog pores, dissolve impurities, and prevent future acne breakouts, revealing fresh-looking skin.
Choosing The Right Cleanser
Generally speaking, there are so many types of cleansers, which can make choosing the right cleanser a little confusing.
Rule of thumb: Choose the one that addresses your specific skin type and skin concerns. Also, steer clear of products with alcohol, sulfates (SLS), and fragrances to avoid skin irritation and dryness.
Oily, Combination & Acne-Prone Skin
If you have oily, acne-prone, or combination skin types, choose a gel cleanser. They contain a good amount of surfactants that can remove dirt, makeup, bacteria, and sebum which, if not removed can lead to clogged pores and acne.
A foaming facial cleanser can also be beneficial if you have an oily skin type.
Dry & Sensitive Skin
For dry and sensitive skin types, choose a moisturizing cream cleanser. The moisturizing ingredients in it will help remove oil and dirt without disrupting the normal skin barrier.
If you regularly wear makeup or sunscreen, the right choice for you would be an oil cleanser. Balms and oils effectively wipe away all traces of makeup (even waterproof).
Do not forget to follow up with another cleanser to remove any residual oil, otherwise it will end up clogging your pores.
What Is A Toner?
A toner is a water-based liquid used after cleansing in your skincare routine for balancing the skin’s pH and prepping the skin for the next product.
It leaves the skin soothed, refreshed, and hydrated (according to the different ingredients).
And just like with cleansers, my favorite toners are the K-beauty ones. Mostly because they have higher concentration of active ingredients and more gentle formulas. Here you can find the best Korean toners that I recommend the most (in 2023).
Benefits Of Toner
Here is how facial toner works and what benefits it has for your skin:
Preps the skin: A facial toner prepares the skin so it can better absorb the next product of your skincare routine.
Remove impurities: Toner removes any residue left after cleansing, leaving the skin refreshed and clean. By the way, because tap water may contain some impurities and lead to skin irritation, many skincare experts recommend washing your face with distilled water.
Replenishes your skin: Depending on the formulation, facial toner can soothe your skin (think soothing aloe vera), brighten your complexion (vitamin C) and rejuvenate your skin (vitamin E).
Minimizes the appearance of pores: Toning your skin can shrink the pores temporarily as it can tighten the skin and remove sebum and dirt.
Hydrates the skin: A hydrating toner that contains common ingredients like aloe vera, rose water, and hyaluronic acid can lock in hydration, giving you plump dewy skin.
Balances the skin’s pH: Toners work to keep the skin’s pH balanced. Hence using them after cleansing is quite beneficial.
Controls acne and oil production: Some toners (AHA, BHA) control acne by removing dead skin and excess sebum. This unclogs pores, leading to reduced acne.
Offers gentle exfoliation: Exfoliating toners refine the rough patches of the skin by sloughing away old skin cells, grime, and oil, revealing smooth skin and an even-toned complexion.
Who Should Use A Toner?
Though not a must-have step in a skincare regimen, using a toner has certain benefits for the skin. Hence, everyone should use a toner, especially if you want healthy and fresh-looking skin.
Types Of Facial Toners
There are a few different types of toners, created from specific skin concerns.
Hydrating toners contain moisturizing agents and humectants such as hyaluronic acid, rose water, Vitamin E, glycerin, and aloe vera which can lock in moisture and rehydrate the skin.
They contain soothing ingredients such as rose water, chamomile, oats, and aloe vera that calm the skin and reduce redness and irritation.
By the way, here is a list of my favorite Korean toners for sensitive skin which are formulated with only gentle and safe ingredients.
These toners contain ingredients like witch hazel, tea tree oil, and AHA which remove buildup and keep the oil production in check.
Formulated with exfoliating ingredients such as glycolic acid, lactic acid, and salicylic acid, these toners remove residual impurities and improve skin texture, yielding a better combination.
These are traditional toners that have alcohol and can dry out the skin. With today’s modern formulations, it is best to choose gentle formulas and avoid alcohol-containing skincare products.
Choosing The Right Toner
When you choose the right toner according to your skin type, it can amp up your skincare routine.
For Oily & Acne-Prone Skin
Choose a refreshing and exfoliating toner to keep oil production in control and reduce acne. They remove buildup and improve hyperpigmentation, improving the complexion. Examples include glycolic acid, lactic acid, and BHA.
For Dry Skin
Opt for a hydrating toner if you have a dry skin type. These skincare products come fortified with humectants and moisturizing agents that lock moisture between the skin layers and reveal fresh healthy skin. Examples are rose water, glycerin, hyaluronic acid, niacinamide and more.
For Sensitive Skin
Choose a toner that reduces the effects of inflammation (redness, itching, irritation) and contains gentle ingredients such as chamomile, aloe vera, rose water, green tea, and jojoba oil. They refresh the skin, boost skin health, and do not irritate the skin.
For Normal & Combination Skin
You should opt for an exfoliating toner with AHA like glycolic acid or mandelic acid, which keeps the skin refreshed, glowing and healthy.
Difference Between Cleanser And Toner
Let’s compare these two in detail.
The main differences between cleansers and toners can be summed up as follows1:
A cleanser is a skincare product used to cleanse your skin of dirt, oil, bacteria, and other residual impurities from the skin.
Meanwhile, a toner is another product from the skincare regimen that removes dirt and residue left after cleansing, while also balancing the pH of our skin.
A cleanser can be a gel, foam, cream, or oil, whereas a toner is a water-based product.
The basic function of a cleanser is to remove dirt and makeup from the skin.
In contrast, a toner has various properties such as prepping the skin (so the next products can penetrate well), soothing and nourishing the skin, and deep cleaning the pore-clogging impurities.
Order of Ranking in skincare routine
Cleansing is the first step in any skincare routine. Once the skin is cleansed, you can proceed to the toner.
You can skip toners, but your skin cannot function properly unless it is cleansed properly with a cleanser.
Cleanser Vs. Toner – Similarities
Here are a few things these two have in common2:
- Cleaning agents: A cleanser and toner both work toward cleaning the skin by removing impurities.
- A lot of variety and formulations: Both these products have a lot of variations, depending on specific skin types and concerns.
- Both enhance product efficacy: A toner and cleanser both prepare the skin to absorb the next products better.
- General suitability: Owing to the wide range of products available, toners and cleansers both are generally suitable for all skin types due to their benefits.
Differences Between Toner And Cleanser – FAQIf you still have some questions about cleanser or toner, these commonly asked questions might help you get a better understanding.
Do I Need A Cleanser?Absolutely yes, cleanser is a must have in every skincare regimen.
Is Toner Necessary?No, toners are not necessary, just optional, but a great addition to skincare. Just make sure your toner is alcohol-free.
Should I Use Both Cleanser And Toner?Both cleansers and toners have benefits of their own. Using them together can take your skincare up a notch. Remember, cleansers are necessary, while toners are optional.
Can I Use A Toner Instead Of Cleanser?No, you cannot use a toner instead of a cleanser because a toner can’t cleanse the skin. Without cleansing, your skin will accumulate dirt, oil, and other pollutants, giving rise to dullness and acne3.
Should I Use Toner Or Cleanser First?Cleanser goes on first, followed by a toner.
Can I Use Toner Without Cleanser?No, you should not use toner without a cleanser because you need to always start with cleansed skin. If not, you’ll just end up wasting your toner, unable to reap its benefits.
Should I Use Cleanser And Toner Everyday?Yes, you should use cleanser and toner every day. Apply the cleanser on your face, rinse it off, and then wipe your favorite toner applied on a cotton pad on your skin.
Is Cleanser Better Than Toner?Both products are different in terms of function. A cleanser or toner is not better than the other. But remember that cleanser is best for cleansing your face and it’s necessary, while toner is best for balancing pH of your facial skin and it’s and optional product that can level up your skincare routine4.
Wrap-Up: Cleansers Vs. Toners
To sum it up, a cleanser or a face wash is a skincare product used to cleanse the skin and remove residual impurities, while toner is a water-based product used to balance and replenish the skin after cleansing.
Both toners and cleansers are beneficial for the skin, so using them together works wonders for the skin.
Remember: Toners are optional but cleansing is essential; never skip out on cleansing if you want healthy and fresh skin!
The purpose of this article is informative and entertaining. It’s not a substitute for medical consultation or medical care. The author of this article does not accept any responsibility for any liability, loss or risk, personal or otherwise, incurred as a consequence, directly or indirectly, from any information or advice contained here. Safety should be your priority.
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