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Cleanser vs. Toner: Which One Is Better for Your Skin?

Kristina Cadwell  
August 29, 2023  

Cleansers and toners serve distinct yet complementary roles in achieving skin radiance and a healthy and toned complexion. The first steps in the skincare routine, these products play essential roles in cleansing, balancing, and preparing the skin for subsequent skincare steps and treatments.

This article explains the differences between cleansers and toners and provides recommendations on the best products for your skin type and concerns.

cleanser vs toner

What Is a Cleanser?

A cleanser contains surfactants (detergents), substances that remove impurities, pollutants, bacteria, and makeup from the skin. Cleansers play a crucial role in unclogging the pores, preventing excessive sebum production, and maintaining a healthy skin barrier. They help to minimize acne and relieve other skin issues, including various types of dermatitis.

Types of Cleansers

Here are our recommendations for the best cleansers.

Oil-Based Cleansers

For removing makeup and sunscreen, try the EltaMD Oil-In-Gel Cleanser. This cleanser efficiently unclogs pores while maintaining skin moisture. It is also rich in antioxidants that protect your skin from free radicals.

EltaMD Oil-in-gel cleanser

Gel Cleansers

For skin that is dry or easily irritated, we recommend the ALASTIN Gentle Cleanser. As the name says, this gel cleanser gently removes impurities from the skin without drying it out.

ALASTIN Gentle Cleanser

If you want to treat your skin with cruelty-, paraben-, and dye-free products, use skinbetter’s Cleansing Gel. This product is suitable for all skin types and is specially formulated to remove makeup and buildup of impurities.

skinbetter Cleansing Gel

Cream Cleansers

The ALASTIN Ultra Calm Cleansing Cream is perfect for sensitive skin. It simultaneously removes deep impurities while balancing, purifying, and soothing your skin throughout the day.

ALASTIN Ultra Calm Cleansing Cream

Foaming Cleansers

For removing deep impurities, try the Osmosis MD Deep Clean Detox Cleanser. This product is very gentle, making it suitable for all skin types – normal or problematic.

Osmosis MD Deep Clean Detox Cleanser

SkinMedica’s Purifying Foaming Wash is a great option for people with oily, acne-prone skin. Its gentle formula is perfect for unclogging pores and enabling the treatment of acne.

SkinMedica Purifying Foaming Wash

Dry, aging skin may benefit from skinbetter Oxygen Infusion Wash. This cleanser infuses oxygen into the skin to keep it refreshed and helps slow down premature skin aging.

skinbetter Oxygen Infusion Wash

Exfoliating Cleansers

To remove impurities that accumulate on your skin throughout the day, we recommend SkinMedica’s Facial Cleanser. This cleanser is suitable for all skin types and effectively hydrates the skin.

SkinMedica Facial Cleanser

The SkinMedica’s AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser helps to bring out toned and tighter-looking skin. It restores glow while keeping the skin’s natural balance.

SkinMedica AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser

Exfoliating cleansers that contain enzymes gently remove dead skin cells and resurface new, young-looking skin. isClinical Warming Honey Cleanser is perfect for gently cleansing and exfoliating the skin 2 to 3 times per week to achieve a youthful glow.

iS Clinical Warming Honey Cleanser

What Is a Toner?

A toner is a liquid skincare product that cleans residual dirt or dead skin cells that may have been left behind after cleansing. Toners restore the skin’s pH balance, minimize pores, and prepare the skin for topical treatments such as creams, serums, and oils.

Types of Toners

There are two main types of toners – astringent and hydrating.

Astringent toners have the primary goal of removing impurities and minimizing pores and are suitable for people who wish to get rid of oily skin. Sometimes, these toners contain alcohol which can irritate and dry out the skin, so it's best to avoid them. Instead, look for toners with ingredients such as witch hazel and aloe vera.

Hydrating toners are alcohol-free and gentler on the skin. They maintain skin moisture while simultaneously cleansing and refreshing the skin and adding a further layer of protection.

If you are looking for a toner that will clean as well as moisturize, we recommend Osmosis MD Infuse Nutrient Activating Mist. This toner in mist form protects the skin’s plumpness with antioxidants and infuses it with hydrating ingredients.

Osmosis MD Infuse Nutrient Activating Mist

Cleanser vs. Toner: What Are the Differences?

Although cleansers and toners are both beneficial for cleaning the skin before applying other products, there are some differences between the two.

Cleanser vs. Toner: Uses

Cleansers are used to remove impurities or makeup. On the other hand, toners restore the skin’s pH balance after deep cleansing or remove any dirt that the cleansers may have missed.

While cleansers are essential, toners can be skipped. Nevertheless, your skin will benefit from both cleansing and toning.

Cleanser vs. Toner: Order

If you decide to use both a cleanser and toner, start with the cleanser first. Cleansing sets the stage for the toner and all other products to work their magic.

Cleanser vs. Toner: Form

While cleansers come in several forms, including cream, gel, oil, or foam, toners are typically liquids.

Cleanser vs. Toner: Application

Cleansers are applied on a wet face and rubbed in with your hands. After washing your face, you should rinse out the cleanser and continue with the next step in your routine.

A toner, on the other hand, is applied on a dry face with your hands or with a cotton pad and should not be rinsed out or removed.

Cleanser vs. Toner: Benefits

Cleansers and toners are highly beneficial for the skin but in different ways.

Cleanser benefits:

  • Removes impurities, dead skin cells, bacteria, makeup, and sunscreen
  • Unclogs pores
  • Available in different forms
  • Prepares the skin for other skincare routine steps
  • Helps the skin to absorb products better
  • Keeps the skin looking clear and improves its texture

Toner benefits:

  • Restores skin’s pH balance
  • Hydrates and moisturizes
  • Keeps the skin looking toned
  • Prevents ingrown hairs
  • Removes remaining impurities
  • Shrinks pores
  • Prevents acne

Cleanser vs. Toner: Skin Concerns

Cleansers and toners are beneficial for all skin types. When it comes to specific skin issues and concerns, make sure to consult your medical professional or a dermatologist to get a recommendation on a specific product that is the most suitable for your skin condition.

Cleanser vs. Toner: When to Use Them?

Cleansers and toners can be used for daytime and nighttime skin care. Both should be used before applying moisturizers, serums, or creams that hydrate and nourish your skin or treat specific skin conditions (acne, rosacea, dermatitis, etc.).

Exfoliating cleansers should only be used 2 to 3 times a week.

Is a Cleanser Better Than a Toner?

Cleansers and toners both keep your skin rejuvenated and youthful. It is difficult to say if one is better than the other since they complement each other and usually go hand in hand.

Never skip cleansing your face but try implementing both a cleanser and toner in your skincare routine and watch the results over time. If in doubt about which product is best for you, consult a professional.


In the world of skincare, cleansers and toners are the pillars of day and night routines. Cleansers wash away the day's impurities, revealing a fresh and renewed complexion. Toners, on the other hand, delicately refine the skin's texture, restore its pH balance, and prepare it to embrace the nourishing benefits of subsequent skincare steps.

To build a successful skincare routine for your skin type, contact our professionals at Vibrant Skin Bar to schedule a consultation.

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About the Author:
Kristina Cadwell
PA Kristina Cadwell graduated from Arizona State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology. She then completed the Physician Assistant program at A.T. Still University graduating with a Masters of Medical Science degree. Kristina has been working in the Aesthetic Medical field for over 10 years. She is certified in neurotoxin cosmetic injection, dermal fillers, Plasma Pen skin tightening, chemical peels, and laser therapy. She is known for producing natural results and has extensive knowledge in diet and exercise allowing her to help you achieve vibrant skin from the inside out.
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