Serum vs Toner

 Beauty is ever-changing, evolving solely from cleansers and moisturizers to toners, serums, and exfoliators. It's challenging to know which products are necessary to achieve your skin goals and which are just pretty packaging. If you use one, do you need the other?

In this article, we will unravel the differences between two crucial skincare steps: toner and serum.

What Is Toner?

  • Toners are a liquid skincare product formulated to cleanse and exfoliate the skin, restoring it to its natural pH balance. After washing your face, apply toner to refresh, protect, and moisturize the skin. Toners do not strip your skin of natural oils, which is why they are great for people with sensitive skin. Toner is available as a pour-out liquid that can be used with cotton pads, or as a spray mist.
  • Generally, people with oily and acne-prone skin types use toners, but they can be used by all skin types. It is also perfect for wiping away makeup that gets left behind after cleansing.

What Benefits of Toners?

  • Toners are usually mistaken as cleansers. The reasons include the similarities in their physical appearances, certain functions, and method of application. However, a toner is not a cleanser.
  • Like a cleanser, a toner cleanses your skin, but it does twice as much as a cleanser does. Unlike a cleanser, toners balance the pH of your skin. Face soaps, makeup removers, irritants like UV rays, and even cleansers distort the natural pH of your skin.
  • Therefore, you need a toner to restore your skin to its original acidic state for proper functioning. Furthermore, toners are soothing especially when you use a misted toner. It refreshes your skin while dissolving oil, grime, and other impurities.
  • After cleansing, you need a toner to open your pores to receive the active ingredients of other products down your routine.
  • Toners also contain active ingredients like vitamin E, an antioxidant. This vitamin protects your skin from damage and fortifies the lipid barrier of your skin. As a result, it protects your skin from excess water loss and the penetration of environmental toxins.  

        Toners helps smoothen your skin, thus helping with refining any rough patches on the skin 

What Is Serum?

  • Serum formulas contain tiny molecules designed to penetrate the skin with highly-concentrated, active ingredients, and these ingredients are skin-specific and intended to treat a targeted skin issue.
  • There are many different serums available, from hyperpigmentation treatments to skin brightening.
  • Serum is usually thicker than toner, yet thinner than moisturizing cream in the form of a gel or oil. Water-based, gel-like serum comes third in your skincare regimen, after toner, and before moisturizer. Oil-based serums, also known as facial oils, come last after moisturizer. Always apply serum to a clean face and gently massage it into the skin so that it penetrates deep into the epidermis.

What Are The Benefits of Serum?

  • Serums are lightweight skincare products that contain high concentrations of active ingredients. Moreover, these actives absorb into your skin very fast. They address skin concerns like acne, aging, pigmentation and so much more.
  • Some serums contain hyaluronic acid which makes them hydrate your skin, and some contain exfoliants, like salicylic acid and glycolic acid, that reveal a brighter and more vibrant complexion.
  • Serums penetrate your pores and refine them, minimizing their appearance and stylishly controlling sebum production. Consequently, they help to control acne breakouts.
  • Also, serums that contain retinol increase skin cell turnover. Retinol-based serums are anti-aging serums that increase collagen production and rejuvenate your skin back to its youth.
  • Using a serum is soothing and each of the active ingredients can be made into separate formulas to suit every skin type and address skin concerns.

What Is the Difference Between Serum and Toner?

  • To begin with, a physical difference is in their packaging. Serums come in small bottles with a dropper applicator while toners are packaged in bigger bottles with plain covers.
  • A toner majorly works on the surface of your skin, cleansing it of excess oil, makeup, dust, and grime. Serum, on the other hand, goes past the surface of your skin.
  • The molecules in a serum penetrate deep into your skin and tackle skin issues at the roots. Furthermore, serums have a thicker consistency compared to the liquid formula of toner.
  • So, when applying a serum, you need to gently tap it all over your skin. To apply a toner, you’ll need cotton wool as a medium to deliver the product to your skin.
  • The telltale visual difference between toner and serum is consistency. Toner is a liquid, while serum is a thicker, gel or oil-like consistency. Here are a few more differences between a toner and serum:
  • Toner balances the skin’s pH, while serums help support specific skin concerns, such as dry patches or fine lines.
  • Serums contain highly concentrated active ingredients, while toners are exfoliants and contain skin-balancing ingredients.
  • Toners are sold in larger bottles, while serums are available in small bottles.
  • So, while each comes with its own unique benefits, what are their differences?

Can You Use Serum Without Toner?

  • You can apply your serum immediately after cleaning your face with a cleanser. Yes, you may skip using a toner. If you use a mild cleanser that will not leave residues, you may choose to not use a toner to double cleanse and just go on ahead with your serum.
  • Moreover, toners are touted to bring a balance to your skin’s pH. This is something your skin can also automatically do if the conditions are favorable and you’re using the right products.
  • The necessities in your skincare routine are cleansing, exfoliation (based on your skin type), moisturizing, and sun protection.
  • If your serum contains major actives like salicylic acid, retinol, glycolic acid, hyaluronic acid, and vitamin C; you may drop the toner and relieve your skin of one product.
  • A serum with these ingredients will effectively carry out what the toner should do. Besides your skin will be better for it because you shouldn’t have too many active ingredients like salicylic acid and retinol which may over-dry your skin.

Can You Use Toner Without Serum?

  • Oily skin types may find one moisturizing product just sufficient to lock in moisture. Yet, this does not suggest that a moisturizer can be a serum or the other way around
  • On the days when you do not feel up to it, you may skip serum although it is not advised. Serums load your skin with the vitamins and other active ingredients it needs to improve its overall look and texture.
  • However, if you’re not dealing with skin concerns like dehydrated skin, loose skin, acne, fine lines, and wrinkles; you can cleanse, tone, and use a moisturizer after.
  • In essence, if you’ll be having your skincare routine without serum, you must apply a moisturizer after toner. Otherwise, your skin will dry out.

Do You Need to Use Serum With Toner in Your Routine?

  • Yes, you do. A serum is a serum, and toner is a toner. While you may conveniently use one without the other, they do not replace each other. Toners double cleanse your skin and prep it to receive the active ingredients contained in your serum.
  • Toner uses its plant-based extracts and active ingredients to soothe your skin, minimize pores appearance and create a good surface for serums to work. In addition, it helps to dissolve and lift oil and dead cell clogs in your pores.
  • Serums come in with high concentrations of actives that penetrate your pores and address skin concerns like the need for cell reproduction and rejuvenation.
  • Actives like retinol increase collagen synthesis and encourage cell turnover which can help to fade acne scars.
  • In tandem, these skincare products work to improve the overall appearance of your skin, and fortify your natural barrier to protect you from the damage of environmental hazards. Settling to use both products in your daily routine is certainly not a bad idea.

How to Use Serum With Toner in Your Routine

  • A correct skincare routine begins with cleansing your face. Clean skin is the best canvas you can offer your skincare products. It increases their efficiencies and allows your skin to reap maximum benefits.
  • Post-bathe and after washing your face with a mild soap, use a mild (preferably foaming) cleanser to clean your face. Dampen a cotton pad or ball with a cleanser and gently wipe your face and neck.
  • Go in gentle circular motions to remove makeup, oil, dirt, and soap residues. You do not need to rinse off the cleanser before you move on to the next step.


If your beauty goals include flawless skin, then, you must get your routine right. And this starts with what you apply. Serums and toners are important products in your routine; sometimes, you wonder if they are indeed necessary. Serum or toner, or both in your routine depends on the results you’re looking to get. If you’re not battling any skin condition like acne, signs of aging, or hyperpigmentation, you may do without a serum. And if your cleanser is mild enough, a toner may not be necessary. However, each is just as important as the other and they cannot replace each other in your routine. Skincare is effective when you listen to your skin and give it what it needs at the time.


When should I apply a face serum?

The application time of a face serum depends upon your goals and the type of serum that you are using.
For instance, antiaging serums are best to be used at night, whereas antioxidant or anti-pigmentation serums should be used in the morning as they protect your skin from UV and other sun-related damage.

Is astringent the same as a toner?

A lot of people mistake astringent and toner to be the same thing but they are not. Astringents contain alcohol, which is why they are only ideal for oily skin since alcohol can be dehydrating and therefore not fit for those who already have dry skin. Astringents are mainly used to control excessive oil production.

I use toner. Do I need a serum?

Whether to use both toner and serum depends upon the goals you have for your skin. If you want reduced hyperpigmentation and decreased fine lines and wrinkles, then adding a serum to your skin care regimen is a good idea. This is because serum contains active ingredients that you may not find in a toner.

Can you use serum every day?

Yes, you can. Use your serum twice a day, in your AM and PM routine. After cleansing and toning, apply serum all over your face and neck just before you moisturize. Daily use of serum keeps your skin nourished and looking vibrant.

Are toners necessary?

The necessity of toners depends on your skin goals and skin type. Excessively dry or oily skin types need toners that are best suited to address these concerns. If you are certain that you’re using a mild cleanser and your serum contains the actives your skin needs, a toner may not be necessary. However, if you need to double cleanse your skin of stubborn makeup residues, you do need a toner.

Should you apply serum before or after toner?

The right way of application of skincare products is from the thinnest to the thickest. So, you should apply toner before the serum. Moreover, toner will prep your skin to receive the active ingredients present in serum.

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