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When it comes to skin care, there are so many products to choose from that it can be difficult to know what’s really necessary and what’s just a sales gimmick. In this post, we’ll explore the difference between toner vs cleanser, and help you decide which is right for you. What does cleanser and toner do? Are cleansers and toners the same? We’ll answer all these (and more)!
What Is A Cleanser?
A traditional cleanser, or face wash, is used to cleanse the skin and remove dirt, oil, makeup, bacteria or other impurities. Cleansers should always be used as the first step in your skincare routine. Not only do they help keep the skin clean and prevent breakouts, they can also help your other skincare products absorb and work better.
Cleansers can come in many different types and formulations. For example, oil based cleansers like cleansing balms and cleansing oils are great to break down makeup and oil from the skin. Creamy cleansers are ideal for dry, dehydrated and sensitive skin types because they usually contain hydrating and moisturizing ingredients. They can also come in gels and waterless cleansers like micellar water.
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Face cleansers work by using surfactants, which are detergents that remove any impurities from the skin. Surfactants can “attract” dirt, oil, etc to help remove them from the skin. There are many different type of surfactants and they all vary in terms of strength and efficacy. One of the most common surfactants you’ve probably heard of is Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, or SLS. While this one is not ideal for a facial cleanser, there are many surfactants out there that are much more gentle on the skin.
Benefits Of Cleanser
- Cleanses Skin – keeping the skin clean is essential for a healthy skin barrier and function. When skin is not cleansed often, it can lead to a buildup of dead skin, bacteria, dirt and oil which can cause a ton of different issues like acne or other skin conditions
- Preps Skin – cleansers help to prep the skin for the rest of your skincare routine
- Enhances Product Absorption – when your skin is free from oil, dirt or other impurities, your products will absorb better and therefore be more effective
- Keeps Skin Clear – cleansing the skin is one of the most important steps in any skincare routine. Without properly cleansing the skin, dirt, oil, bacteria and dead skin cells can all build up on the skin and lead to acne
- Improves Texture – cleansers can help to sweep away dead skin cells so they don’t end up just sitting on the surface of your skin. This can help improve skin texture
While all cleansers have the benefits listed above, cleansers can also have additional benefits depending on the formulation and ingredients. For example, cream cleansers generally have hydrating or moisturizing ingredients to keep the skin barrier strong and add moisture back into parched skin. Clarifying cleansers will usually have acne fighting ingredients like salicylic acid, tea tree or sulfur. Cleansers can also contain brightening ingredients to help fade discolorations, antioxidants to help prevent aging and more.
Different Types Of Cleansers
When it comes to caring for your skin, cleansing is an essential part of any skincare routine. But with so many different types of facial cleansers out there, it can be hard to know which one is right for you. So let’s take a look at the different types of facial cleansers, including gel cleansers, oil cleansers, cream cleansers, milk cleansers and foam cleansers, to help you decide which one is best for your skin type.
A gel cleanser is a type of face wash that typically has a watery, jelly-like consistency. Most gel cleansers do not foam. They’re great for those with oily or combination skin. They’re formulated to provide a gentle, yet deep clean to remove impurities, oil and dirt from the skin. Gel cleansers are often lightweight and contain hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid or glycerin.
Oil cleansers are suitable for all skin types and ideal for those that wear makeup or sunscreen. Oil cleansers, like cleansing oils and cleansing balms are oil-based which means they use plant oils like argan oil, jojoba oil, sunflower seed oil, etc to dissolve makeup, dirt and oil from the skin.
Oil cleansers are often used as the first step of the double cleansing method. Think of oil cleansers as a way to remove all the impurities from your skin, but you still need a separate cleanser to actually cleanse the skin.
Cream cleansers are perfect for dry and sensitive skin types. They are rich and creamy, and help to nourish and hydrate the skin while removing impurities. Cream cleansers are usually made with hydrating ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, which helps lock in moisture. Cream cleansers often have a lotion-like texture and can be used without water.
Milk cleansers, or cleansing milks, are ideal for sensitive and dry skin types. They do not contain milk, but get their name from their milky appearance. Cleansing milks are packed with emollients and fats like oils and butters to gently cleanse the skin while adding hydration and moisture.
Like gel cleansers, foaming cleansers are best for those with oily, combination or acne-prone skin. They suds up as you use them and most people like foaming cleansers because it leaves their skin feeling extra clean. Foaming cleansers are powerful and can remove stubborn dirt and oil from the skin. They tend to be more drying than other types of cleansers, which is why they’re best for oilier skin types.
Who Should Use Cleansers
Everyone should be using a cleanser in their skincare routine. Not only can they help keep skin clear, but they also help to keep the skin barrier healthy! Your skin can’t be healthy or function properly if it has a ton of dead skin or oil buildup!
How To Pick The Right Cleanser
Since there are so many different formulations of cleansers, it’s hard to know what to look for. Here’s a quick guide on picking out the right facial cleanser for your skin.
In general, you want to avoid sulfates like SLS. These are harsh and can disrupt the skin’s protective barrier.
If You Wear Makeup…
Go for an oil based cleanser like a cleansing balm or cleansing oil that dissolves makeup instantly (even long wearing and waterproof!). Ideally you want to follow up with a separate cleanser to remove any oil residue.
If You Have Combination, Oily or Acne-Prone Skin…
Opt for a gel cleanser. They usually contain stronger surfactants to help cleanse the skin of excess oil.
If You Have Dry, Sensitive Or Dehydrated Skin…
Look for a creamy, lotion or hydrating cleanser. These will contain gentle surfactants to cleanse the skin without stripping. They will also have hydrating and moisturizing ingredients to add moisture back into the skin.
What Is A Toner?
A toner is typically water based and comes in liquid or spray form. They are designed to prepare the skin for better product penetration by removing any residue that cleansers may leave behind.
In the past, astringent toners were very popular, especially among acne sufferers. Astringents are like toners, but contain ingredients to “dry out” pimples and clear the skin. While that may sound awesome, the ingredients they use are terrible for the skin and can actually make acne worse! Bottom line, stay away from astringents!
While modern day toners are usually much better for the skin, you still need to watch out because many of them will still have irritating ingredients like alcohol, essential oils or fragrance.
Witch Hazel is also a popular toner and can be a great ingredient for oily and acne-prone skin types. Just watch out for the ingredients because many times witch hazel toners will also contain alcohol which can dry out and irritate the skin.
Toners can contain a variety of different ingredients to help with many different skin concerns. From dehydration and pigmentation to acne and aging, there’s a toner out there for every skin type and concern.
Modern-day toners tend to have lots of hydrating ingredients to add hydration back into the skin after cleansing. They can also have chemical exfoliants, anti-oxidants, brightening ingredients and more.
Toners help to remove excess cleanser residue and can also help remove makeup, dirt and oil your cleanser may have missed. They also help to balance the skin’s pH after cleansing.
Different Types Of Toners
While all toners can help to balance the skin’s pH after cleansing, depending on the ingredients and formulation, they can also help to soothe, hydrate, exfoliate, treat acne and more. Here’s a look at all the different types of toners.
Hydrating toners are great for all skin types, but especially for those with dry, sensitive or dehydrated skin. They help to add hydration back into the skin after cleansing, as they help to replenish moisture and provide hydration. They are typically alcohol-free and are made with ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, aloe vera, and glycerin. These toners help to reduce dryness and flakiness, leaving your skin feeling refreshed and hydrated.
Exfoliating toners are perfect for people with oily and combination skin as they help to remove dead skin cells and excess oils. They are usually formulated with AHA’s like glycolic acid or lactic acid or BHA’s like salicylic acid. They help to unclog pores, kill acne causing bacteria, smooth skin texture, reduce oil and even help to even out skin tone and fade acne scars.
Treatment toners are formulated with targeted ingredients such as vitamins, antioxidants, and peptides to help treat specific skin concerns. They are great for all skin types and can target a wide range of skin concerns, depending on the formulation and ingredients. Treatment toners can help to reduce the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines, brighten skin tone, and even out skin texture.
Astringent toners are formulated with alcohol and other astringents such as witch hazel, menthol, and camphor. These toners are incredibly harsh and drying on the skin. Although they were once popular back in the day, modern day toners have taken over and astringents aren’t as commonly found anymore.
Benefits Of Toner
- Cleanses Skin – while cleansers are not meant to cleanse the skin per say, but when they’re used on a cotton pad and swept across the skin, they can help to remove any excess impurities your cleanser may have missed. However, if you just use them by pressing them into your skin with your hands, you will not get this cleansing action
- Balances pH – cleansers will typically alter the skin’s pH slightly and toners will help to balance the pH to skin’s optimal level (around 5). This is important to keep the skin barrier healthy and strong as well as to help defend against any pathogens
- Enhances Product Absorption – like cleansers, toners can also help product absorption. Toners will typically have humectants like hyaluronic acid or glycerin and these can help enhance penetration of your other skincare products like serums and moisturizers
- Preps Skin – toners can prep the skin for the rest of your skincare routine by keeping the skin clear of any impurities and enhancing product absorption
Like cleansers, toners can have additional benefits, depending on the formulation. They can help soothe sensitive skin, exfoliate, fight acne and aging and more.
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Who Should Use Toner
While toners are not necessary, they can be a great addition to your skincare routine, particularly if you suffer from dry or dehydrated skin or you have some concerns you’d like to target. Toners are a great addition to your routine if you’re wanting some added benefits.
How To Pick A Toner
There are so many different toners on the market so it’s hard to narrow them all down. Here’s a guide to help you pick out a toner for your skin type and concerns.
If You Have Oily Or Acne Prone Skin…
Look for a toner with acne-fighting ingredients like salicylic acid. Witch Hazel, Niacinamide or other exfoliating acids like glycolic or lactic acid can also be beneficial.
If You Have Dry Or Dehydrated Skin…
Go for a hydrating and repairing toner that has humectants like hyaluronic acid or glycerin. Also look for ceramides, aloe vera, amino acids or plant oils.
If You Have Sensitive Skin…
Look for soothing ingredients like green tea, oats, centella asiatica, propolis or allantoin to reduce irritation and calm redness.
If You Have Combination Or Normal Skin…
Go for an exfoliating toner with AHA’s like lactic, mandelic or glycolic acid to keep skin smooth and healthy looking.
Difference Between Cleanser And Toner
One of the biggest toner vs cleanser differences is that a toner is not a cleanser. Its job is not to cleanse the skin, but to balance pH and add hydration back into the skin. Toners are typically used to target specific skin concerns like acne or pigmentation. Cleansers, on the other hand, are designed to cleanse the skin and don’t typically have too many targeted benefits because they aren’t left on the skin.
|Definition||A skincare product that contains surfactants to cleanse the skin of any impurities||A skincare product that helps to balance the skin’s pH and add hydration back into the skin after cleansing|
|Function||Used to remove dirt, oil, makeup bacteria or dead skin cells from the skin.||Used to hydrate, adjust pH and target specific skin concerns|
|Benefits||Cleanses skin, keeps skin healthy, helps with acne, enhances product absorption||Hydrates, balances skin pH, helps product absorption and can target specific skin concerns depending on ingredients|
|Application||Used as the first step in any skincare routine||Used right after cleansing. Can be used on a cotton pad or applied with hands|
|Best For||Everyone – cleansers are an essential skincare product that everyone should use||All skin types – although not an essential product|
|Formulation||Creams, lotions, gels, oils, balms and liquids||Liquid or milky|
Main Differences Between Cleanser And Toner
If you’re wondering what is the difference between a cleanser and a toner, here are the main differences between the two.
- Cleansers are an essential skincare product that everyone needs to be using to keep skin healthy and clear. Toners are not essential but can make a nice addition to your routine (but you certainly don’t have to use one)
- A face wash uses surfactants to cleanse the skin whereas toners are used to balance and hydrate
- Cleansers come in many different forms (like gels or oils) whereas toners are always very liquid-y (like water)
A big difference between toner and cleanser is that they’re supposed to be used for different things. A cleanser cannot replace a toner and a toner cannot replace a cleanser.
Cleanser and toner difference bottom line: Cleanser is to be used first to cleanse the skin of any impurities and toner is to be used following cleanser to add hydration and balance the skin after cleansing.
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Cleanser Vs Toner Similarities
- Both are great skincare products that can help improve your skin and target any skin concerns you have based on the formulation of the product you’re using
- Cleanser and toner are both great for all skin types. There are so many different options on the market that there are plenty for your skin and your skin concerns.
Cleanser Vs Toner Differences
- A cleanser cleanses the skin and helps to remove dirt, oil, makeup and other impurities while toners help to balance the skin’s pH and add hydration back into the skin after cleansing
- Cleansers come in balm, oil, milk, lotion, foams or gels while toners come in liquid form and are often very watery but can also be slightly thicker in texture and milky
- Cleansers are used as the first step in any skincare routine and toners are meant to be used right after cleansing
- Cleansers are a necessary part of your skincare routine and toners are optional
Can I Use Both Toner And Cleanser?
Yes, you can use both a toner and a cleanser. In fact, many dermatologist and skincare experts recommend always using a toner after cleansing. Toners can help to remove any excess impurities and cleanser residue from the skin while adding back in hydration and balancing the skin’s pH.
However, you don’t have to use both toner and cleanser. Cleansers are necessary for any skincare routine, but toners are not. If you prefer a simple routine, you don’t have to use toners. You can skip toners if you are happy with your skin and your routine.
Toner Vs Cleanser FAQ’s
If you still have some questions about toners vs cleansers, here are some commonly asked questions about these two skincare products.
Is Cleanser And Toner The Same?
Nope, cleanser and toner are very different products! A cleanser is used first to cleanse the skin of makeup, dirt and oil. A toner is to be used following a cleanser to add back hydration after cleansing, balance skin’s pH and more. Depending on the formulation, toners can help with dryness, acne, large pores and more.
Can I Use Toner Instead Of Cleanser?
No, toners cannot replace cleansers. Toners are not designed to remove makeup, sunscreen, dirt or impurities from the skin. Toners are meant to add hydration and balance the skin’s pH. Toners cannot cleanse the skin like a facial cleanser can.
Is Cleanser Better Than Toner?
One is not better than the other because they do different things! Cleansers are a necessary part in your skincare routine, while toners are optional but can be great additions.
Do I Need Both Cleanser And Toner?
No, you don’t need to use both a cleanser and toner. Toners are completely optional! However, you do absolutely need to use a cleanser!
Do I Use Cleanser Or Toner First?
Cleanser should always be used before toner. Cleansers are always meant to be the first step in your skincare routine. Toner comes right after cleansing.
Can I Use Toner Without Cleanser?
Can toner replace cleanser? No, a toner does not contain surfactants or cleansing agents that will cleanse the skin like a face wash. Toners really aren’t meant to cleanse (although they can help remove impurities if used on a cotton round, but they will not replace a regular facial wash).
Can I Use Cleanser And Toner At The Same Time?
Yes! Cleansers and toners make a great duo. Although you don’t have to use a toner, you can certainly add a toner to your skincare routine. You can also use a cleanser and toner at the same time, the cleanser should always go first, followed by toner.
Is Toner Actually Necessary?
No, toners aren’t necessary in your skincare routine, but they can be a great addition, especially if you’re wanting to target specific skin concerns like acne, hyperpigmentation or signs of aging.
Can I Just Use Toner In The Morning?
Yes, it’s perfectly fine to just use toner in the morning. In fact, many people see improvements in their skin by skipping a morning cleanse. Using a toner can help remove any impurities from your skin that accumulated overnight. They can also help prep the skin for makeup application.
Toner Vs Cleanser: Wrap Up
So, what’s the difference between cleanser vs toner? In short, a cleanser or face wash is used to cleanse the skin and remove impurities while a toner is used to balance the skin and hydrate after cleansing. Both products are great but toners are not necessary – they’re really just an added bonus if you want to go that extra mile in your skincare routine. Cleansers, on the other hand, are necessary and are the first step in any skincare routine! The main difference between cleanser and toner is that one is used for cleansing and the other is used for hydration and balancing.
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