Skincare Stacy

Skincare Stacy
Toner vs Serum

Toner vs Serum

Toners are used to cleanse your skin and balance your pH while serums are using to deliver high concentrations of active ingredients to treat a specific skin concern.

Generally, toners are applied after cleansing. Then, you can follow up with a serum and moisturizer for your skin type. Both products have a place in your routine and can help with concerns such as:

Toner and Serum Benefit

  • Dryness and dehydration

  • Dark spots

  • Clogged pores

This article will explain everything you need to know about toners, serums, and how to use them in your skincare routine.

What is a toner?

Paula's Redness Relief Toner with BowTiedFawn branding

Toners are skincare products that you use after cleansing and before moisturizing.

We use toners to further remove impurities from our skin. Plus, they help improve our skins’ ability to absorb ingredients that get applied on afterwards.

Toners can be found in various forms, including:

  • Sprays

  • Pre-soaked pads

  • Liquids

In general, it’s best to choose an alcohol free toner as skincare products formulated with astringents are often too drying.

That being said, toners with witch hazel can be good for controlling excess oil production and soothing razor burn.

How to Apply Toner

Typically, you apply a toner to your face by:

  • Using a cotton pad

  • Spraying it directly onto your face

  • Patting it in with your hands

The method you use depends on the purpose of the toner.

For example, if you’re using a hydrating toner to remove impurities, you’ll want to wipe it away with a pad. However, if you’re using a hydrating toner, then you’ll want to spray it on your face or pat it into skin.

Regardless of the type of toner you use, you should always follow up with a moisturizer to prevent irritated skin.

Face Toner Benefits

Beyond removing residual dirt and impurities, toners have plenty of different benefits, including to:

  • Provide skin hydration

  • Balance skin pH

  • Soothe irritation

  • Remove dead skin cells

While you don’t have to include a toner in your skincare routine, you might benefit from it.

Providing Skin Hydration

Hydrating toners are effective at protecting your skin’s natural moisture barrier. Typically, these toners include hydrating ingredients like:

  • Hyaluronic acid

  • Sodium hyaluronate

  • Glycerin

  • Panthenol

  • Allantoin

Hydrating toners are more suitable for dry skin and sensitive skin types. Also, they can be using as part of your night or morning skincare routine.

Balancing Skin pH

Because certain cleansers and active ingredients can throw off your skin’s natural pH, applying a balancing toner can protect your skin barrier. Your skin should sit at about pH 5.5 for healthy microbiome.

Soothing Irritation

Toners formulated with calming ingredients like aloe vera and green tea are effective at calming redness and reducing irritation. Plus, these ingredients can help with deep hydration and dry skin conditions.

Remove Dead Skin Cells

Toners formulated with beta hydroxy acids like salicylic acid or glycolic acid and lactic acid can help with specific skincare concerns:

  • Textured skin

  • Removing acne causing bacteria

  • Reducing clogged pores

These types of toners overlap quite a bit with leave-on chemical exfoliants, and the distinction between the two is not always clear.

People with oily skin types or acne prone skin types can benefits from an exfoliating toner.

Toner before or after moisturizer?

You should apply your face toner before your moisturizers and facial oils.

For your general skincare routine order, you always want to apply your products from “thinnest to thickest” and “wateriest to oiliest”.

Toners vs Serums

Paula's Redness Relief Toner with BowTiedFawn brandingGood Molecules Niacinamide Serum with BowTiedFawn branding

Unlike serums, toners are far more diluted and do not deliver those higher concentrations of active ingredients that we see in facial serums.

Further, a toner is applied after your cleanser and before your serum. Your serum is applied after your toner and before your moisturizer in your skincare routine.

Toners are used to further cleanse the skin of impurities and dirt, while serums are used to deliver active ingredients to address specific skin concerns for different skin types.

Depending on your skin type, you may be more suitable for either a toner, a serum, or both.

What is a serum?

Naturium Azelaic Topical Acid 10 with Box and BowTiedFawn branding

Serums are skincare products formulated with concentrated active ingredients used to treat specific skin concerns. They are commonly formulated with just a few ingredients and are designed to be left on the skin after application.

What does a serum do?

Face serums are used to treat many different skin concerns. They all deliver high concentrations of active ingredients, but these actives vary.

For example, a hydrating serum formualted with hyaluronic acid and glycerin would be used to directly target dehydrated skin.

Facial Serum Benefits

Neutrogena Hydro Boost Niacinamide Serum with BowTiedFawn branding

Depending on the active ingredients included, facial serums can have a number of different benefits for specific skin concerns, including:

Facial Serum Benefits

  • Excess oil control for acne prone skin

  • Reducing uneven skin tone and dark spots

  • Providing antioxidant protection

  • Improving skin hydration

  • Fighting sensitive skin concerns

If you have skincare concerns like these, you may benefit from including a serum in your daily skincare routine.

Oil Control

Ingredients like niacinamide and zinc have been proven to help control excess oil production and reduce the appearance of large pores.

Fighting Uneven Skin Tone and Dark Spots

Vitamin C serums act as tyrosinase inhibitors. This means that they are effective at treating hyperpigmentation, dark spots, and minor acne scars.

Providing Antioxidant Protection

Vitamin C also works synergistically with your sunscreen to protect you from:

  • Free radical damage

  • Harmful UV rays.

  • Dull skin

Wearing SPF is one of the most crucial skincare steps for preventing premature aging, and supplementing with vitamin C can help as well.

Improving Skin Hydration

Layering a hydrating serum with ingredients like hyaluronic acid underneath your night cream can help get rid of dry patches.

Further, by improving your skin hydration, these serums will help you wake up with a beautiful youthful glow and plump, healthy skin.

Fighting Sensitive Skin Concerns

Certain barrier repair serums can be phenomenal for sensitive skin. These serums deliver skin loving ingredients like:

  • Tamanu oil or rosehip oil

  • Niacinamide

  • Ceramides

And more.

Serum or moisturizer first?

Your serum should always go before moisturizer in your skincare routine. By applying your moisturizer after serum, you will lock in hydration and keep your skin happy.

Serum vs Toner

Unlike toners, serums do not cleanse the skin. They are not supposed to be washed away after application.

Further, you’ll more commonly find serums in small dropper bottles as opposed to the larger bottles you’ll find toners in.

Finally, you only need a few drops of a serum to cover your entire face. You apply the liquid to your skin and gently pat it in. You would not use a cotton pad with a serum like you would a toner.

Difference Between Toner and Serum

Thayers Witch Hazel Toner with BowTiedFawn brandingSkinCeuticals HA Intensifier with BowTiedFawn branding

The difference between toner vs serum comes comes down to:

  • Each product’s place in your skincare routine

  • The consistency of the formulas

  • Purpose of the product

Deciding how to fit a toner or serum into your routine depends largely on the needs of your skin type.

Skincare Routine Order

Your skincare routine should follow this general order:

Skin Routine Order

  • Cleanser

  • Toner

  • Serum

  • Eye cream

  • Moisturizer

  • Oil

Remember, we apply our products from “wateriest” to “oilest”.

Formula Consistency

Toners are watery and far more runny than serums. Serums tend to be thicker and are applied with a dropper.

Product Purpose

While toners are used to further cleanse your skin and provide hydration, serums are used to target specific skin concerns like premature aging or dark spots.

Serum or Toner First

SkinCeuticals Silymarin Serum with BowTiedFawn branding

Toners should come first before serums in your skincare routine.

Can I use serum and toner together?

Yes, you can use serum and toner together. Just make sure you’re not using too many harsh active ingredients like salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide.

While oily skin types may be able to handle more active ingredients, dry skin and sensitive skin types likely will not.

When to Apply Toner and Serum

CeraVe Resurfacing Retinol Serum with BowTiedFawn branding

You should apply your skincare products in this order:

  • Cleanser

  • Toner

  • Serum

  • Eye creams

  • Moisturizer

  • Oil

Serum before or after toner?

Your serum should come after your toner to maximize absorption.

Summary: Toners vs Serums

Laneige Cream Skin Toner with BowTiedFawn brandingMaeLove The Glow Maker Vitamin C Serum with BowTiedFawn branding

Toners are thinner, watery formulas that are used to further cleanse your skin after washing your face.

Generally, a good alcohol free toner is formulated to provide hydration and to balance the pH of your skin. By preventing your skin from an acidic pH, toners can help with dry skin, acne breakouts, and rough patches.

On the other hand, serums are slightly thicker formulas that include high concentrations of active ingredients that are used to treat a specific skin concern.

Both a serum and facial toner can be included in your routine and can contribute to a youthful glow and radiant complexion.

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