Toner Vs Cleanser: What’s The Difference? (+ Our Top Picks!)

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toner vs cleanser

Wondering what’s the difference between toner vs cleanser and if you need both in your skincare routine?

The main thing that sets cleansers and toners apart is that cleansers are meant to cleanse the skin from dirt, oil, and makeup while toners help with refining pores and balancing the skin.

Both products come with their skin-boosting benefits so don’t feel like you have to choose between one or the other. Both cleansers and toners deserve a spot in your daily beauty routine!

You might be asking:

“Do you use toner or face wash first?”

“Can you use cleanser and toner in one go?”

“Do you wash off toner?”

If you’re not sure how to get started with your cleansing and toning routine, we’re here to help! You can also tap into the Haul of Fame signature research process to find the best cleansers and toners for your skin.

Let’s get into it!

Toner Vs Cleanser: What’s The Difference?

What Is A Cleanser?

Cleansing is the very first step of any good skincare routine and for that, you’ll need a cleanser.

A cleanser or facial wash cleanses your face and neck by washing away dirt, sweat, sebum, bacteria, and makeup from the skin and helps to remove dead skin cells.

Cleansers are formulated to be suitable for the delicate facial area. Most cleansers are made with selected ingredients to suit particular skin types.

We spoke with Ymane Souissi, aesthetician, beauty expert and founder of MY STUDIO Esthetics (UK & France) to get her intel on toners and cleansers.

Cleansers are the foundation of any skincare routine, as they remove pollutants, excess oil, and dead skin cells. Always look for cleansers that suit your skin type to ensure effective cleansing without stripping away essential moisture.

Ymane Souissi, MY STUDIO Esthetics

What Is A Toner?

A close-up of a woman pouring toner into a cotton pad.
Source: Alena Darmel

Toner is a water-based facial product that gently refreshes the skin with its skin-soothing properties.

There’s a reason why this nifty beauty product is set between cleansing and moisturizing in a skincare routine. The purpose of toner in skin care is to remove the last traces of impurities while getting the face nice and ready to absorb moisturizer.

Toners also help with unclogging pores and refining their appearance, giving a clean and smoother feel.

Toners are also formulated to balance the skin’s natural pH levels. This is important for keeping the skin’s barrier healthy.

Can you skip toners in your routine? Technically, yes – but with all the magic that they work on the skin, you probably wouldn’t want to!

When choosing a toner, consider ingredients like witch hazel, hyaluronic acid, or rosewater, depending on your skin concerns. These ingredients can provide various benefits such as pore minimization, hydration, and soothing effects.

Ymane Souissi, MY STUDIO Esthetics

Types Of Cleansers

Gel Cleanser

Gel cleansers have a jelly-like consistency and are made for deep cleaning. They’re especially good for combating excess oil and unclogging pores, making them a great fit for oily skin and acne-prone skin types.

Gel cleanser: Dermalogica Special Cleansing Gel

If you’re on the lookout for a top-notch gel cleanser, try the Dermalogica Special Cleansing Gel. The soap-free formula cleanses well without leaving the skin dry, and infused balm mint and lavender extracts add a soothing feel to the skin.

Gel cleanser: Youth To The People Superfood Cleanser

We’re loving the Youth To The People Superfood Cleanser too! Rich in antioxidants from kale, spinach, and green tea, this rich gel cleanser is wonderful at unclogging pores and thoroughly cleansing the face.

Cream Cleanser

Cream cleansers have a rich texture with moisturizing properties. They’re great for dry skin and mature skin types as they cleanse without stripping the natural oils off the skin.

You can use a cream cleanser on its own or you can use it as part of a 2-step cleansing routine. Start with a deep-cleaning cleanser and follow with a cream cleanser to thoroughly cleanse while leaving the skin hydrated.

Cream cleanser: The Ordinary Squalene Cleanser

Need a good cream cleanser? We recommend The Ordinary Squalene Cleanser. This super moisturizing cleanser gets its hydrating properties from plant-derived squalane. It has a non-comedogenic formula, making it suitable for sensitive skin.

Cream cleanser: Tatcha The Rice Wash Skin-Softening Cleanser

The Tatcha The Rice Wash Skin-Softening Cleanser is fantastic too. It’s made with a blend of Japanese algae and hyaluronic acid to cleanse the skin while keeping it feeling soft, smooth, and hydrated.

Foaming Cleanser

Foaming cleansers usually start with a gel or creamy texture that you can lather into a rich foam.
They cleanse deeply while being gentle on the skin, and can be a great fit for normal to combination skin types.

Foaming cleanser: Cerave Foaming Facial Cleanser

If foaming cleansers are for you, try the Cerave Foaming Facial Cleanser. Made with hyaluronic acid, ceramides, and niacinamide, the formula deeply cleans while keeping skin feeling soothed and moisturized.

Toner vs cleanser - foaming gel cleanser la roche posay

You might also like the La Roche Posay Toleriane Foaming Cleanser. This hydrating glycerin-based foaming gel cleanser feels rich and lush on the skin while it cleans.

Oil Cleanser 

Oil cleansers use an oil base to remove impurities from the skin.

They’re highly recommended for oily skin types. Yup, we hear you – how does cleansing oil with even more oil even make sense?

Oil cleansers are potent cleansers that can cut through most types of impurities. They can remove buildup in pores, and the oil-based formula works with the skin’s natural oils to regulate healthy sebum production.

They’re incredibly moisturizing and can greatly benefit dry skin and mature skin as well.

Oil cleanser: Dermalogica Precleanse Cleaning Oil | Toner vs Cleanser

Need oil-based cleanser recommendations? You’ll love Dermalogica Precleanse Cleaning Oil for its impressive formula that works on cleansing even sunscreen and waterproof makeup.

Oil cleanser: Tatcha The Camellia Cleansing Oil | Toner vs Cleanser

Tatcha The Camellia Cleansing Oil is a highly-rated favorite too! This deep-cleaning and super-hydrating cleanser is also proven to reduce the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines.

Types Of Toners

Hydrating Toner

These super-soothing toners gently remove any leftover impurities from the skin while leaving it feeling refreshed. They’re great at countering that tight and dry feeling you get from some cleansers.

Hydrating toners are usually infused with ingredients like hyaluronic acid for extra moisturizing perks. They’re great for all different types of skin but work especially well for dry skin and mature skin.

Hydrating toner: Fresh Rose Deep Hydration Facial Toner | Toner vs Cleanser

The Fresh Rose Deep Hydration Facial Toner is a cult favorite when it comes to hydrating toners. The alcohol-free formula is infused with hyaluronic acid and rose fruit extract to tone and hydrate the skin.

Hydrating toner: Fenty Skin Fat Water Hydrating Milky Toner Essence | Toner vs Cleanser

The Fenty Skin Fat Water Hydrating Milky Toner Essence is a worthy try too, with its long list of skin-loving ingredients including niacinamide, tamarind, vitamin E, and green tea extract. This rich and milky toner is excellent for boosting hydration.

Exfoliating Toner

Exfoliating toners will help you get that natural glow by removing dead skin cells on the surface of the skin.

This type of toner is usually infused with ingredients like salicylic acid to clear up the skin, making it a popular pick for combatting dullness.

Exfoliating toners are great for normal, combination, and oily skin. They may be a little too harsh for sensitive skin and dry skin.

If you have oily or acne-prone skin, incorporating a toner with exfoliating properties, such as salicylic acid, can help control excess oil and prevent breakouts. However, always be mindful of your skin’s tolerance and avoid overusing exfoliating toners.

Ymane Souissi, MY STUDIO Esthetics
Exfoliating toner: Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant | Toner vs Cleanser

Not sure which exfoliating toners to try? Go with Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant. This salicylic acid-infused exfoliating toner is a great pick if you need a little boost for clearing pores and evening out the skin tone.

Exfoliating Toner: Pixi Beauty Glow Tonic | Toner vs Cleanser

We love the Pixi Beauty Glow Tonic too! This bestselling toner includes glycolic acid as a gentle exfoliator. The formula also includes aloe vera to soothe skin and red ginseng to refresh and revitalize.

Exfoliating toner: The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution | Toner vs Cleanser

You can also try The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution, which is especially great for tackling dullness and reducing the appearance of fine lines.

Treatment Toner

Treatment toners are formulated to target specific skin concerns from brightening to anti-aging. If you’re struggling with a particular skin issue, including the right treatment toner could be just the boost your skin needs.

Treatment toner: Thayers Original Witch Hazel Toner

Thayers Original Witch Hazel Toner is a great pick if you’re looking to smooth the skin and even out skin tone.

Do You Need Both Cleanser And Toner?

Yes, it’s good to have both cleanser and toner in your skin care routine. Skincare fans swear by a complete cleansing and toning routine as each product plays its part in giving you healthy and balanced skin.

A facial cleanser is formulated to thoroughly cleanse the skin. It’s a skincare staple and makes maintaining fresh, clean skin a breeze!

Can you use a standard bar of soap to cleanse your face? While it can remove impurities from the skin, this isn’t the best idea in the long run. Generic soap bars are too harsh for the face and will end up drying and damaging the skin over time.

A toner is a refreshing follow-up to the cleansing step. Face toner benefits include soothing the skin and reducing the appearance of pores. It helps to balance the skin’s pH levels too – this is super important to protect the skin’s barrier.

One of the primary benefits of using a toner is its ability to restore the skin’s pH balance, which can be disrupted by harsh cleansers. Incorporating a toner into your routine can help maintain healthy, glowing skin.

Ymane Souissi, MY STUDIO Esthetics

If you’re struggling with a particular skin concern, using a treatment toner can be the simple yet potent beauty secret you never knew you needed.

Can I Use Cleanser And Toner At The Same Time?

The benefits of cleanser and toner are completely different, and they should be used separately for best results.

Always start your skin care routine with a cleanser. Once you’re done with the cleansing, use a toner.

How To Use Toner And Cleanser In Skin Care Routine

Let’s get the basics right to get the most out of your skin care routine. Here’s how to use cleansers and toners to have an effective routine: 

  • Step 1: Wet your face and fingers.
  • Step 2: Apply cleanser to your face, and spread it across the face in gentle, circular motions.
  • Step 3: Rinse until all of the cleanser has been washed off.
  • Step 4: Pat your face dry with a towel.
  • Step 5: Apply toner to a cotton pad.
  • Step 6: Gently sweep the cotton pad upwards and outwards across the face.

Here’s a popular question when discussing toners: Do you wash your face after toner is applied? The answer is nope! It’s meant to be a leave-in for the skin.

Here’s a visual walkthrough of how you can go about your daily skin care routine:

Toners And Cleansers Vs Other Skincare Products

Generic cleanser toner moisturizer set in unlabelled brown bottles.
Source: Monstera

Cleanser Vs Toner Vs Moisturizer

The most basic skincare routine involves this toner-cleanser-moisturizer trio!

The cleansing step gets rid of impurities while the toning step hydrates, balances, and prepares the skin for the moisturizing step.

A moisturizer is used to lock in moisture and keep the skin looking smooth and hydrated. The main difference between toners and moisturizers is that toners prepare the skin to absorb moisture while moisturizers deliver hydration.

To recap on the cleanser-moisturizer-toner order, your routine starts with the cleanser, followed by toner, and rounded off with moisturizer.

Cleanser Vs Toner Vs Serum

In more comprehensive skincare routines, a serum is usually used before moisturizer.

Serums are lightweight skincare products with highly concentrated active ingredients meant to target specific skin issues. Depending on the ingredients they contain, they can be used for brightening, anti-aging, and more.

Toner Vs Micellar Water

Micellar water is a makeup remover that can also be used as a light cleanser.

When making micellar water vs toner comparisons, it’s common to wonder if micellar water can be used as a toner. They serve different purposes; micellar water can be used as a cleanser but isn’t the best option to replace toner.

Cleansing Lotion Vs Toner

Similar to the difference between micellar water and toner, one is a cleansing product and the latter serves multiple purposes. 

A cleansing lotion by definition is a form of cream-based cleanser that’s meant to remove dirt, sweat, makeup, bacteria, and more impurities from the face.

A toner can be used as a follow-up once you’re done with the cleansing routine.

Frequently Asked Questions: Toner Vs Cleanser

Can I Use Toner Instead Of Cleanser?

A toner can’t be used to replace a cleanser as it doesn’t have the same cleansing capabilities.

If you’re wondering, “Can I use toner without cleanser?”, it’s not the best idea to do so. You may use both a cleanser and toner or opt to skip the latter if you want to.

Remember, toners are not a replacement for cleansers. They work hand in hand to optimize your skincare routine. Start with a cleanser to remove impurities, followed by a toner to rebalance and prepare the skin for the next steps.

Ymane Souissi, MY STUDIO Esthetics

Which Is Better Cleanser Or Toner?

Cleansers and toners have different purposes and benefits, so it’s not so much about deciding which product might be better.

Toner and cleanser play distinct roles in your skincare routine. While cleansers remove dirt and impurities, toners provide additional benefits such as balancing pH levels and refining the skin’s texture.” 

Choosing between a toner and a cleanser depends on your skincare needs. If you’re looking for a thorough cleanse to remove makeup, dirt, sebum and bacteria, a cleanser is essential. On the other hand, toners can be a great addition to rebalance, soothe and prep the skin for subsequent skincare steps.

Ymane Souissi, MY STUDIO Esthetics

Do I Use Cleanser Or Toner First?

Toner should always be applied immediately after cleansing. Toner is meant to be a follow-up to cleanser. Cleansing can sometimes affect the pH balance of the skin, and using a toner immediately after can help to rebalance the levels.

Should I Use Cleanser And Toner Every Day?

You should use cleanser and toner every day to maintain clean and healthy skin. At the very least, you should always wash your face at least once a day (though at least twice a day would be better!). Follow your cleansing routine with a toner.

Is It Necessary To Use A Toner?

Technically, no, but it is a nice addition to a skincare routine. You can choose to skip it, but using it can be especially helpful to tie your skincare routine together nicely. Besides being a mild follow-up cleanser, it refines pores and smooths skin.

Can I Use Toner Every Day?

You can use toner every day. 

Why use a facial toner? It’s an important part of the basic 3-step skincare routine and supports the cleansing and moisturizing steps. Using a toner helps to remove any leftover impurities and prepares the face to absorb moisturizer.

Why You Shouldn’t Skip Toner?

It restores your skin’s pH balance, among other benefits. This helps to keep the skin’s barrier healthy, which is much needed for keeping bacteria at bay and locking in moisture well.

What Are The Pros And Cons Of Toners?

Here are some pros of using a toner:

  • They can help unclog and reduce the appearance of pores
  • They help with balancing the skin’s pH levels
  • Treatment toners can help to address specific skin concerns

Here are some cons of using a toner:

  • Alcohol-based toners can be harsh and drying on the skin
  • Overdoing toners can irritate the skin 
  • It’s an extra step to add to a daily skincare routine

Is Toner Enough To Clean Skin?

A facial toner cleans the skin as a follow-up to cleanser, but it’s not strong enough to function as a cleanser on its own. You’ll still need a cleanser to wash your face with every day.

What Is Face Toner Used For?

Toner removes any last traces of dirt, grime, and impurities stuck in your pores after you wash your face. It soothes the skin, refines pores, balances pH levels, and gives an overall smoother feel.

What Are The 7 Steps Of Skincare?

Here are the 7 steps of a comprehensive skincare routine:

  • Cleanser: removes impurities on the skin
  • Toner: rebalances pH levels of the skin
  • Sheet mask: soothes and moisturizes the skin
  • Serum: targets skin concerns
  • Eye cream: moisturizes the delicate eye area
  • Moisturizer: hydrates the face and neck area
  • Sunscreen: protects skin from sun damage

Toner Vs Cleanser Wrap-Up

Comparing toner vs cleanser might not be the best way to go as these two products each offer separate benefits.

A cleanser gets your skin squeaky clean while a follow-up splash of toner gets it feeling refreshed and ready for moisturizing.

While you can skip the toner, we highly recommend keeping it in your skincare routine. From refining pores to smoothing skin, toners are a nifty multi-tasking tonic with tons of skin-boosting perks.

Want in on the latest beauty finds? Catch up on our latest skincare how-tos and reviews!

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  1. This was a great read. I’ve always wondered what’s the difference between a cleanser and a toner. I’ve always skipped the toner, but now I’m convinced I should start using it again.

    1. Toner vs cleanser is such a common q on so many people’s minds! Glad you enjoyed this article!x

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