Skincare Stacy

Skincare Stacy
The Difference Between Toner and Cleanser

The Difference Between Toner and Cleanser

They’re both important steps in your skin routine, but what’s the difference between toner and cleanser? Trust me, I know skincare can be confusing.

In this article, I’ll define cleanser and toner, describe how to use them, and compare and contrast them.

By the end, you’ll be able to make informed decisions about your skincare routine, especially if you have sensitive skin!


Paula's Redness Relief Toner with BowTiedFawn branding

Definition of Toners

Toners are skincare products that you use after cleansing and before moisturizing. They can be found in various forms, including sprays, pads, and liquids, and are usually applied to the skin using a cotton pad or sprayed directly onto the face.

Types of Toners

There are so many different toners. According to Paula’s Choice, there are three main types:

  • Alcohol-based
  • Water, glycerin, or glycol-based
  • Water-based

Alcohol-based toners often astringents, such as witch hazel, and are designed to reduce enlarged pores and excess oil. They tend to be used by people with oily skin in search of clear skin. However, these toners can be drying and irritating, making it more difficult to maintain skin’s protective barrier.

Water, glycerin, or glycol-based toners are often labeled as “refreshing” or “purifying,” but they are essentially cologne for the face.

Water-based toners are the most gentle and nourishing type of toner. They contain calming ingredients, such as:

  • Soothing aloe vera
  • Glycerin
  • Fatty acids
  • Ceramides
  • Antioxidants
  • Gentle brightening agents (like niacinamide)

Water-based toners tend to be suitable for most people (not just those with normal skin) to keep your skin healthy. Just like face wash, the right toner for you will depend on your skin type.

Purposes of Toners

Toners have several purposes in skincare:

  • Provide essential ingredients: Toners can contain a variety of beneficial ingredients that help nourish and protect the skin, such as antioxidants, glycerin, and ceramides.
  • Hydrate and replenish skin: Many toners are designed to hydrate and moisturize the skin, helping to maintain the skin’s natural moisture levels and prevent dryness.
  • Provide additional cleansing: Toners can aid the right cleanser and help get rid of dirt, oil, and makeup. They can also increase the permeability of your skin surface to absorb the products you apply after.Remember that ultimately the most important thing is to protect your skin barrier though!

Facial Cleanser

Stratia Velvet Cleansing Milk with BowTiedFawn branding

Definition of Cleansers

Cleansers clean your skin of impurities, such as dirt, oil, makeup, and dead skin cells. They come in a variety of forms, including liquids, gels, creams, and balms.

If you wear a lot of makeup, you also may benefit from an oil based cleanser.

Types of Cleansers

There are several types of cleansers to choose from, depending on your skin type and concerns:

  • Micellar water: A water-like cleanser that contains micelles, which are tiny soap-like molecules suspended in water. Micellar water is gentle and can be used to remove makeup and excess dirt from the skin.
  • Foaming gel cleanser: These gel cleansers are formulated with a gentle foaming action that helps to lift away dirt and oil from the skin. These cleansers are suitable for oily or combination skin.
  • Cream cleanser: Cream cleansers are rich and moisturizing, making them suitable for dry skin.
  • Balm cleanser: Balm cleansers are thick, waxy cleansers that are usually applied to dry skin and then rinsed off with water. They are suitable for all skin types, but are particularly good for dry or sensitive skin as they can help to retain moisture and soothe irritation.
  • Oil cleanser: Oil based cleansers are ideal if you’re wearing make up and sunscreen because they’re great for deep cleaning your skin. They work by dissolving oil-based impurities and can be used on their own or as part of a double cleanse routine.

Purposes of Cleansers

CeraVe Renewing SA Cleanser with BowTiedFawn branding

Cleansers have several purposes in skincare:

  • Remove dirt, oil, makeup, and dead skin cells: This cleans your skin and unclogs pores.
  • Exfoliate: Some cleansers contain exfoliants, such as alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) or beta hydroxy acids (BHAs), which help remove old dead skin cells from the surface of your skin. In turn, this improves texture and appearance.
  • Hydrate: Some cleansers are formulated with hydrating ingredients, such as glycerin and hyaluronic acid, to help moisturize your skin.

How to Use Toners and Cleansers

Toners and cleansers can be used as part of a regular skincare routine, which is typically once or twice daily.

However, it’s most important that you stick to a routine that works for you. If you don’t want to add in another step to your routine, there’s no need to get a toner!

Personally, I like to use a hydrating toner twice a day in the winter.

To use cleansers:

  • Wet your face with lukewarm water.
  • Apply a small amount of cleanser to your face, using a circular motion to massage it into your skin.
  • Rinse the cleanser off with lukewarm water. Either let your skin air dry or pat gently with a towel.

To use toners:

  • After cleansing your skin, apply a small amount of toner to a cotton pad or spray it directly onto your face.
  • Gently swipe or pat the toner onto your skin, avoiding the eye area.
  • Follow up with a moisturizer to seal in the benefits of the toner.

Cleanser vs Toner Comparison

The main difference between toner and cleanser lies in the functions. However, you should always follow up with a moisturizer afterwards.


Toners and cleansers can contain a variety of ingredients, depending on the specific product and its intended purpose.

They may contain ingredients such as exfoliants, such as AHAs or BHAs, which help to remove dead skin cells and improve the texture of the skin.

Both toners and cleansers may also contain other beneficial or moisturizing ingredients, such as aloe vera, which can soothe and calm the skin, or salicylic acid, which can help control acne.


The main function of toners is to provide additional cleansing and nourishment to the skin, while the main function of cleansers is to just literally clean.

Toners are usually used after cleansing and before moisturizing to help prepare skin for the next steps in the skincare routine. Cleansers, on the other hand, are the first step in a skincare routine.


Both toners and facial cleansers can be used once or twice daily depending on your tolerance.

Choosing the Products for Your Skin Concerns

6 Drunk Elephant skincare products with BowTiedFawn branding

In conclusion, understanding the difference between toner and cleanser can change the way you do your skincare. They’re both important products in a routine, but they serve different purposes and are used at different stages.

Toners are liquid skincare products that are used after cleansing and before moisturizing to provide additional cleansing and nourishment to the skin. If you pick the right one, it can help improve skin’s moisture levels and leave you with fresh looking skin.

A face cleanser will comes in a variety of forms, including liquids, gels, creams, balms, and oils. My preference is liquid form because I have dry skin.

The best options for you will depend on your skin type as they both play a role in keeping your skin clean.

Plus, regularly using the right skincare products as part of a consistent routine can help you maintain a healthy skin barrier. And remember, healthy skin is happy skin!

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