Most people know when you tone your face – i.e. after you’ve cleansed but before you moisturize. But do you know why you tone?
Toner is a bit of a beauty ambiguity for a lot of people. Without knowing what it’s for, we insert it into our skincare routine with the knowledge that it’s doing something beneficial, we’re just not exactly sure what. And, since micellar water made its way across the pond and onto our shelves, it’s equally as enigmatic. We know it’s beneficial, we just don’t know how.
The even greater mystery lays in the differences between micellar water vs toner. Are they the same thing? If not, when do we choose one over the other, or can we benefit from both in our routines?
If you’ve long since wondered about the differences between micellar cleansing water vs toner, we’ve got a clear answer for you.
MICELLAR WATER VS TONER: WHICH IS BETTER?
In the comparison of cleansing water vs toner, micellar water is for removing makeup, dirt, and debris. It’s basically a really gentle cleanser that’s super hydrating. A toner, on the other hand, is used after cleansing to restore pH balance. With the right blend of ingredients, it can also be hydrating and tightening.
Micellar water, then, is an all-in-one facial wash, makeup remover, toner, and moisturizer. Whereas toner isn’t used until after you’ve already removed your makeup and cleansed your face with a face wash. It preps your skin to allow serums and moisturizers to penetrate deeper and faster – but micellar water, as something that increases skin penetrability, also accomplishes that.
So, while you can potentially use micellar water in place of a toner, the reverse isn’t true, because toner doesn’t have the same qualities for cleansing. If you use micellar water as a cleanser, then you don’t need a toner. But if you still use a face wash, especially one with harsh chemicals or a lot of foam, then you definitely need a toner.
One way in which toner does beat out micellar water is in skin type. Micellar water isn’t great for oily or breakout-prone skin. Toners, on the other hand, have been made in a wide variation. There’s toner on the market for almost every skin concern.
IS MICELLAR WATER A TONER?
Micellar water is not a toner. Micellar water is a multi-use skincare product composed of purified water and micelles. Its biggest benefit is that it cleanses and hydrates the skin without the need for water and while it can replace the toner, that’s not its main intention. Keep in mind that micellar water may have surfactants and other ingredients that may damage the skin if not rinsed off.
CAN YOU USE MICELLAR WATER AS A TONER?
You can use micellar water as a toner if you have to. But while micellar water is mostly formulated to cleanse and hydrate without water, toners are now formulated to address so many different skin concerns, they really are a skincare necessity that stands on their own.
For everyone with oily skin, you might choose to use micellar water as a waterless cleanser, but you definitely shouldn’t count on it as a toner. It just can’t address the same needs of oily or acne-prone skin as a toner can.
WHAT IS MICELLAR WATER?
Micellar water has been a French beauty staple for decades and only recently made its way over to us. It combines purified, soft water with hydrating ingredients such as glycerin and very low concentrations of extremely mild surfactants.
The molecules of the mild surfactant group together when washed across the surface of your skin. The result is that they form microscopic spheres called micelles. Those micelles are like tiny cleansing balls. They’re attracted to dirt and oil and they draw these impurities away from your pores. They do so without drying out the skin and the addition of hydrating ingredients guarantees that.
The formulas for micellar water can be so light and gentle that they don’t even require rinsing. Not only does that make them convenient, but it also means that the moisturizing ingredients have a chance to be absorbed by your skin before being washed away.
BENEFITS OF MICELLAR WATER
Micellar water is an effective and gentle way to remove more than just dirt and oil from your pores. It can also be used as a makeup remover and even as a toner.
More than that, the consistent use of micelles on your skin can improve its permeability. Meaning that the products you use after micellar water can reach even deeper into your skin and really make a difference.
Micellar water is an excellent option for people with both dry and sensitive skin. Minimal ingredients mean that sensitivities and reactions are minimized. It’s a nearly-natural product that hydrates and, as a cleanser, doesn’t strip the skin of its natural oils. Instead, it nurtures it.
In fact, the addition of moisturizing ingredients like glycerin can help with other skin concerns. Glycerin itself can help speed up the healing of wounds, including scars. It also protects against irritation and drastically improves hydration levels.
Micellar water is also very convenient. Because it’s multi-tasking, it’s great for when you’re vacationing and only wish to bring one product along with you. It’s also perfect for camping or when you’re somewhere where running water isn’t readily available. That’s because it doesn’t have to be rinsed away.
DRAWBACKS OF MICELLAR WATER
There are some skin types that may not benefit from micellar water. If you have oily skin, for example, you might find that micellar water doesn’t cleanse your skin very well and the moisturizing ingredients it leaves behind may feel like more of a residue for you.
While it may be an option for every once and a while, individuals who have oily or breakout-prone skin would be better off sticking to a traditional cleanser than cleansing their face with micellar water regularly.
Micellar water is also very gentle, so it won’t remove heavy makeup. For thick foundations or stubborn eye makeup such as waterproof mascara, you should consider using a makeup remover before cleansing with micellar water.
BEST MICELLAR WATERS FOR EFFECTIVE CLEANSING
Discover more about toners just after our edit-approved pick of the great micellar waters.
Bioderma Sensibio H20 Miceller Water 15.90
The self-described inventors of dermatological micellar water, Bioderma’s micellar water is extremely popular for good reason. Formulated for sensitive skin, the French micellar water a Dermatological Advanced Formulation (DAF)-patented product that calms and strengthens the skin, without any of the dryness or irritation caused by products containing oil, alcohol, or parabens. Paired with the other amazing formulas of the Sensibio collection, Bioderma has created a perfectly balanced line for taking care of sensitive skin.
Koh Gen Do Cleansing Spa Water $66
This luxury Korean-beauty micellar water goes deep into your pores to cleanse them of even the most stubborn makeup, but its ability to remove dirt and residue makes it an excellent cleanser, too. The key is an infusion of six essential herbs, including lavender, sage, and rosemary. These botanical extracts balance and nourish the skin after it’s been refreshingly cleaned and replenished with the unique addition of white birch sap.
Elemis Smart Cleanse Micellar Water $31
Great things come in (not so) small packages… and here’s an example of that. The Elemis Smart Cleanse micellar water is not only convenient it’s also packed with a double cleansing formula that tackles water-based and oil-based dirt. Gentle enough for use in the morning, night, or whenever you need a quick reset, it contains handpicked English roses for a refreshing scent that carries with it a handful of vitamins and minerals that benefit your skin.
Chok Chok Green Tea Cleansing Water $24
Chok Chok Green Tea Cleansing Water, a fan-favorite, derives all of its incredible benefits from Chung Tae Jeon, a Korean green tea that spends 365 days fermenting in the sun before it’s added to your cleansing water. The result: A makeup-removing, cleansing, hydrating product that’s significantly higher in antioxidants than fresh green tea.
For skin that requires the gentlest touch, try Tony Moly’s Peach Punch Cleansing Water ($15.50). With all the same makeup-removing, cleansing, and prepping properties of the Chok Chok version, its main ingredient is a peach fruit extract.
Dr Perricone MD Blue Plasma Cleansing Treatment $45
Perricone MD was founded by Dr. Nicholas Perricone, who wrote the New York Times bestseller, The Wrinkle Cure. Dr. Perricone is a visionary who changed the anti-aging skincare world with his book and then again with his line of topical skincare solutions. This highly-rated cleansing, toning, and makeup-removing micellar water have all the powerful ingredients, cutting-edge research, and extensive clinical studies that all Perricone MD products are known for.
WHAT IS TONER?
The surface of your skin is naturally on the acidic side of the pH scale. It sits between a 5 or 6 on a scale that ranges from 0 to 14, 7 being neutral. When you cleanse your skin, that balance is disturbed by the alkalinity of the soap you use. Your body attempts to counteract that and return to normal levels by producing more natural oils – usually more than what we actually need.
The most important job of your toner is to restore that pH balance after cleansing. That’s why it comes between the cleansing and moisturizing stages of your skincare routine.
At the same time, toner can help remove any leftover dirt and bacteria after cleansing. That’s of special importance when you’re in an aesthetician’s office. By making sure that any and all bacteria is removed before doing extractions, they make sure pimple-causing bacteria isn’t spreading to other areas of your face.
BENEFITS OF TONER
Toner looks and feels like water, but it’s packed with so many other ingredients. They often contain glycerin, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatories.
With the right blend of ingredients in a formula, they can help moisturize, improve the health and appearance of your pores by tightening cell gaps, reduce the penetration of environmental contaminants, and even protect your skin from minerals in your tap water.
DRAWBACKS OF TONER
In the past, toner had a bad reputation. Why? Because they were made too astringent and often contained alcohol that helped removed oil from the skin. Because of this, they tended to be drying and irritating.
But with newer generations of toners and those that are well made, those problems cease to exist. Most are now alcohol-free and, although they have astringent properties, they’re balanced with other ingredients that restore your complexion.
The one drawback of toner that we can think of, though, is that they don’t (always) have the cleansing effect of micellar water. As a general rule, toner is not supposed to cleanse your skin.
BEST TONERS FOR GLOWING SKIN
PCA Skin Nutrient Exfoliating Toner $40
Different skin types have different needs and therefore require different ingredients and formulas. PCA Skin has developed an entire line of professional-quality toners, each designed to work with a specific skin type. Their nutrient toner is intended for mature skin and contains ingredients to combat discoloration, enlarged pores, and fine lines and wrinkles. It mainly achieves this with pumpkin wine and all the vitamins, amino acids, and enzymes contained within it.
The other toner in the PCA Skin collection, we want to feature, the Skin Smoothing Toner ($40), is this one intended for oily acne-prone skin. Formulated with a perfect balance of soothing aloe vera, exfoliating lactic acid, and refining botanical extracts, it assists your skin in shedding built-up dead skin cells and clearing the pores of dirt and debris. The result is smoother, clearer, balanced skin.
100% Pure Willow Clarifying Astringent $39
Somewhere between a toner and an acne-fighting powerhouse is this natural clarifying astringent. It’s formulated specifically for acne-prone skin, with tea tree and willow bark to deeply exfoliate even the most clogged pores. Adding to those acne-fighting properties is a concoction of antibacterial herbs that balance acne-causing bacteria to fight breakouts and prevent new ones.
If you’re more concerned with discoloration, hyperpigmentation, or dark/age spots, then try 100% Pure’s Fermented Rice Water Toner ($42). It uses the enzymes and amino acids of fermented rice water (Sake) to brighten the skin and fade discoloration. Those same enzymes and amino acids also have a hydrating, plumping, and softening effect when used consistently over time.
Gulsha Ultimate Rosewater $20
Rosewater has been used for skin care for thousands of years and Gulsha’s ingredients, extraction methods, and ethos all follow in that long-standing tradition. Each and every rosa damascena flower is cultivated and harvested by hand using techniques that were passed down through generations. That attention to detail means that only a handful of bottles are produced every year, and you’ll want to get your hands on at least one. Gulsha is the most trusted source for this vitamin, mineral, and essential fatty acid-rich rose water and in just one use, you’ll know why.
SkinMedica Rejuvinating Toner $38
We could also call this a toner for acne-prone skin, because it contains a powerful exfoliating combination of alpha-hydroxy acids and willow bark. But the additions of green tea, witch hazel, and chamomilla recutita take this to another level beyond fighting acne. Green tea and witch hazel are full of antioxidants that protect your skin and chamomilla recutita makes the entire formula as gentle as it is revitalizing.
Moon Juice Acid Potion $42
They don’t call this an acid potion for nothing. Made with five acids, including a 25% AHA/BHA complex, niacinamide, tocotrienols, and adaptogenic reishi, this liquid facial exfoliator is as formidable as the name insists. The combo of acids works together to assist skin cell turnover, combat the signs of oxidative stress, hydrate, and minimize the visible signs of aging. It’s a potion for every skin care concern and it’s scented with fresh sage for an extra magic effect.
Herbivore Botanicals Natural Jasmine Green Tea Hydrating Spray $22
Green tea is the key to this Balancing Toner. Not only is green tea packed with antioxidants that protect your skin from environmental aggressors, but it also helps balance natural oil production. White willow bark and salicylic acid assist green tea in that acne-fighting mission, while the addition of jasmine and allow vera to reduce inflammation, redness, and dry skin.
Make sure to read our in-depth review on the best organic and natural toners if you’re looking for some clean beauty options.
Micellar water vs toner isn’t a battle of comparable items. Both serve different purposes: micellar water for cleansing, moisturizing, and toning and toner for, well… toning. You can use micellar water without needing to tone but, if you have oily or breakout-prone skin and you stick with a regular cleanser, you’ll need a toner to restore your pH balance. All that to say that, in this battle of the skincare products, everybody wins.