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Cleanser vs Toner: Which Is More Important?

by Yu-Jun Park 18 Mar 2024

So, you're diving headfirst into the refreshing waves of the skincare ocean, and see two words: cleanser and toner

Now you're bobbing on a sea of questions:

  • Which one is more important? 

  • Which one do I use first?

  • Can I drown my skin in toner daily?

  • Do I have to wait for my skin to dry after cleansing before uncapping that toner bottle?

Hey, chill compadre, I got you.

Let's break it down.

Is a cleanser better than a toner?

Cleanser and toner are the butter to your toast, the Netflix to your chill. 

They’re distinct but harmonize beautifully when it comes to the grand symphony of your skincare routine.

Let's delve into the science behind it. 

The skin mantle, your skin's protective barrier, is slightly acidic. This acidity helps ward off harmful bacteria and maintains your skin's natural health.  

An average cleanser tends to be alkaline. Without our friend toner, an alkaline cleanse can push your skin into a more basic pH state, leaving it vulnerable to environmental harm and irritation.

The charismatic cleanser does an admirable job at eliminating the day’s dirt and grime with strong surfactants. These microscopic grime-busters encapsulate and wash away oil and particles from your skin.  

But in the process, they take a swipe at the skin's protective acid mantle, making your skin more alkaline. 

Enter the toner, stage right.

Our pal, Toner, rides in on his pH-balancing stallion, replenishing that acidity your skin lost in its dance with the cleanser.  

Toners typically contain humectants that attract and hold onto water, which synergizes with your moisturizer to hydrate your skin.  

Some leverage antioxidants to soothe irritation, not to mention, they come bearing a secret weapon – astringents, which help tighten and minimize pores.

It's important to note, however, that not all skins are created equal. Some skins may be more sensitive, while others may be oilier or drier. Having the right duo can really make a difference.  

A gentle, sulfate-free Korean cleanser might be just the kind of low-key guy sensitive skin likes to party with, while a tea-tree oil enhanced toner could be the match for oily skin.

No skincare pantheon would be complete without the always entertaining duo of the cleanser and toner.  

Their harmonious play, backed by science, ensures that your skin remains clean, balanced, and prepped to soak up the goodness of your other skincare products.

In the grand ol’ party of skincare, Cleanser and Toner aren't rivals vying for the spotlight. Rather, they're the dynamic duo, each with unique attributes, but always better together.  

They are the crowd-pleasers, setting the stage, not just for themselves, but for the entire skincare routine to follow.

So, the answer to whether a cleanser is better than a toner becomes moot. 

It's akin to asking whether bread is better than butter.  Sure, you could have one without the other, but why deny yourself the perfect combination?

Which comes first: toner or cleanser?

Together, toner and cleanser are like the first sip of coffee in the morning, invigorating skin cells and prepping them for the day ahead.

So, let's lift the cream-colored curtain on this skincare matinee. 

First up in the lineup: cleanser.  With its delicate task of sweeping away your skin's daily tales of pollution, grime, and excess oil, the cleanser is your complexion's janitorial staff.  

Cleansers don't get the fanfare they deserve, yet they facilitate the entire production. Your skin needs to be squeaky clean (but not squeaky dry!) for the subsequent acts of your

skincare routine to make their grand entrance and institute their intended effects.

Now, let's talk science. 

Your skin has a naturally slightly acidic pH, somewhere between 4.5 and 6.2 — though exact estimates vary.  Conventional soaps and surfactant-based cleansers can disrupt this pH balance, leaving your skin prone to

microbial attack and dehydration. 

Enter, act two: the toner.

Not just there for a dash of dramatic suspense, the toner is the hero of our skincare narrative. 

With a selection of natural acids, toners restore your skin's pH balance and fortify its acid mantle—your skin's first line of defense.  

Unlike Protagoras, we firmly believe that "Toner is the measure of all things" when it comes to skincare.

Toners do more than just balance skin pH, though. They also hydrate, soothe, and cleanse at a microscopic level. Many toners possess humectant properties, meaning they attract and lock in moisture.  

Still, others are filled with anti-inflammatory agents to calm skin that might be incensed by an overly enthusiastic cleansing routine.

We’ve seen the cleanser cleaning and the toner tuning. But what happens if we swap the acts? 

We'd be throwing our skincare routine into chaos! Without a cleansed canvas, our toner cannot do its job.  

It might as well be attempting to mop a floor while folks are still stomping in with muddy boots. The situation is messy, needless to say.

And I suppose you're now asking, "what's the harm in using a toner first?" 

Well, fair reader, it’s functionally similar to painting a wall before washing it.  

The paint - or in this case, the acid mantle restoring, hydrating, soothing elements of our toner- will be rendered ineffective by the penned-up dirt and grime.

In theory, if you applied the toner first, it would be followed by the cleanser sweeping everything away.  Thus, it would be akin to typing an email, then unplugging your computer before hitting send - a futile endeavor.

So, in this skincare drama, the order of characters does matter. The cleanser sets the scene, delivers a compelling monologue, before bowing out to allow the toner to take center stage. 

The toner then diligently tailors your skin’s story to its natural, healthy state, declares the end of the act, and lets the other products continue the skin narrative.

Thus, the verdict is buried in the science - cleanser first, toner next.  

It's a story of balance, of teamwork, and of ensuring each skincare asset has its proper place in the routine— a routine destined to receive a standing ovation from your skin.

Can I use toner everyday?

How often you use your toner depends on your skin type.

If your skin is dry and sensitive, then, darling, toner might just be a hotline you buzz once or twice a week.

The bottom line? Each skin type has its own needs and rhythms.

Toners can be real home-runs in your skincare regimen, specifically designed to whisk away dirt and oil left behind after cleansing.  They resemble fairy godmothers for your pores, granting them the breath of fresh air they deserve. 

Because no-one likes a congested pore, right?

Before jumping in, it's crucial to know what type of skin you're working with. This is your canvas, your unique foundation that influences your choice of skincare products.

  • Do you battle persistent oily patches?

  • Or perhaps you're more plagued by Sahara-like dry zones?

  • Maybe you've lucked into the balanced oasis of normal skin?  

Determining your skin type helps chart out your skincare journey and — spoiler alert — how often you should use toner.

Oily to acne-prone skin types, come hither! Your skin produces sebum faster than reality TV produces drama. 

This excess oil tends to clog pores, and that's where toners come in.  They’re like bouncers, showing those surplus oils, dead skin cells, and savages of grime the back door.  

You may want to confer with your toner up to twice daily, once in the morning and once before hitting the sack.

However, excessive use could send your skin into overdrive, overcompensating for that artificial drought by creating more oil. And nobody wants that roller-coaster ride!  

So, adjust based on your skin's needs, taking it down a notch if you're noticing excessive dryness or irritation.

Now dry and sensitive skin types, slide into the spotlight! 

Although toners can be your allies, you might want to approach the relationship more casually. Think once, maybe twice a week.  

Sure, proper cleansing is vital, but the issue for your skin is over-cleansing, which can strip away the necessary oils you've scrimped and saved.

Select a hydrating toner rich in nutrients and humectants, something that keeps that hydration phone line open with your skin. This type of toner will keep your skin feeling supple and smooth, not tight or dry.

For those with a well-balanced, normal skin type, you can swing both ways. Depending on the day or the weather, you might lean more into the habits of oily skin or dry skin types.  It's all about maintaining the balance your skin naturally has.

Finally, a word to the wise. Choose a toner free from harsh and drying alcohols. You're looking for a tall drink of water for your skin, not a desert drought.  

A well-formulated toner should be like a cool, refreshing cucumber slice for your face, not a hot, drying blower.

So, can you use toner every day? Sure, but the frequency depends on your unique skin needs. 

Listen to your skin and treat it like the queen it is.  It's not about merely adhering to a rigid routine; it's about adapting and making the right calls for your skin's needs. Because your skin deserves nothing less.

Should I use toner on a wet or dry face?

Take a deep breath and place your assumptions on hold – whether to use a toner on a wet or dry face is dependent on the nature of your toner.  

If you've whipped out an exfoliating toner or astringent from your beauty arsenal, ensure your skin is dry as the Sahara before proceeding.  For all other toners, paving the way for application on a damp face post-cleansing is just the ticket.

Let's Talk K-Beauty

Ready to ratchet up the skincare stakes? The secret sauce lies in the realm of K-Beauty – a thrill ride on South Korea's skincare roller coaster.  

A journey into K-Beauty is like access-all-areas in the skincare rhumba. 

Masters of the craft, the K-Beauty whizzes follow a framework that's fastidious, bordering on ceremonial rites of passage.  

Dive into their treasure trove of strategies, and you'll unearth our power couple – the cleanser and toner. Yup, turns out they’re total staples of a good K-beauty routine

The K-Beauty formula isn't rocket science: they promote a doubled cleanse - leading off with an oil-based cleanser followed up by its water-based teammate. 

But to what end?  

The mission objective is to wave goodbye to the last vestiges of sunscreen, dust particles, and not-so-easily budged makeup. 

And the endgame? A gentle toner crafted to reset and restore.


In the showdown of cleanser vs toner, who takes the crown? 

The panel remains divided – it's a hung verdict.  

Both players score vital points; the cleanser clears the path, while toner secures hydration and preps the skin for the ensuing skincare line-up.  

The takeaway message here: center your skincare cycle around balance. In the tradition of a finely-mixed cocktail (of the spirited or non-alcoholic variety), striking the right balance of ingredients in correct measures is paramount.

Time to turn down the lights, cue your go-to soothing soundtrack, and lose yourself in the luxury of your tailored, empowering skincare routine.

The lure of a spa-worthy skincare experience is but a bathroom door


So make each second count. You're on the fast track to securing your status in the skincare hall of fame!

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