3 Toner vs Exfoliator Surprising Differences

by  Mila M.Cosmetologist

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Are you confused about whether to incorporate a toner or an exfoliator in your skincare routine? As it turns out, these two products serve different functions for the skin. This article will simplify their unique purposes and guide you on how best to use them for optimal results.

Ready to achieve beautiful, glowing skin? Let’s dive in!

  • Toners balance the pH of your skin, remove impurities, and prepare it for the next steps in your skincare routine.
  • Hydrating toners provide additional moisture for dry skin types, while regular toners cleanse and tighten pores for all skin types.
  • Exfoliating toners help clear breakouts, fade hyperpigmentation, brighten the skin, and purify pores.

What is a Toner? 3 Types & 5 Benefits

A toner is a liquid skincare product that helps to balance the pH of your skin, remove any leftover impurities after cleansing, and prepare your skin for the next steps in your skincare routine.

Benefits of using a toner

Using a toner has numerous benefits for your skin.

Balances the pH of your skin: After cleansing, your skin’s pH balance can be disturbed. This is where a toner comes into play, by restoring this balance.

Enhances skin hydration: Certain types of toners like hydrating ones provide additional moisture to your skin.

Purifies Pores: Beyond balancing pH and moisture, toners help clear out any leftover dirt or makeup after cleansing.

Prepares the Skin: A well-chosen toner prepares your skin for other skincare products by aiding in their absorption.

Tailors to Your Skin Needs: Toners can be chosen based on individual’s skin type and concerns, giving an extra boost to your skincare routine.

Types of toners (regular, hydrating, exfoliating)

In the skincare world, there are various types of toners that cater to different skin needs. They come in many forms namely regular, hydrating, and exfoliating toners. These variants have distinct properties and benefits for the skin.

Type of TonerDescriptionBenefits
Regular tonerRegular toners are formulated mainly to balance the skin’s pH after cleansing. They are typically composed of water and a few other ingredients that cleanse and tighten pores.Regular toners are refreshing and help in closing enlarged pores. They cleanse the skin by removing any leftover makeup or dirt that your cleanser might have missed.
Hydrating tonerAs the name indicates, hydrating toners are designed to deliver moisture, soothe, and hydrate the skin. They are enriched with ingredients like hyaluronic acid and glycerin that boost skin moisture.Hydrating toners are beneficial for dry skin types, as they help retain moisture, making your skin appear plumper and more youthful. They soothe irritated skin and give a dewy finish, making the skin soft and supple.
Exfoliating tonerExfoliating toners, or tonics, essentially combine a toner and exfoliator in one. They contain mild acids like AHA (Alpha Hydroxy Acid) or BHA (Beta Hydroxy Acid) that help exfoliate the skin surface.They are particularly useful for oily and acne-prone skin as they help clear breakouts, fade hyperpigmentation, brighten the skin, and purify the pores. They can be used daily, depending on the skin’s sensitivity.

Remember, it’s essential to understand the specific needs of your skin and choose the right toner accordingly. Whether your skin requires the soothing touch of a hydrating toner or the refreshing cleanse of a regular toner, or the deep exfoliating benefits of an exfoliating toner, making the right choice will significantly impact your skin health.

Ideal skin types for toner

Regular toners are suitable for all skin types, making them a versatile addition to your skincare routine. They can help balance the pH of your skin and remove any remaining impurities after cleansing.

If you have dry or sensitive skin, opt for hydrating toners that provide extra moisture and nourishment. On the other hand, if you have oily or acne-prone skin, exfoliating toners with ingredients like salicylic acid can help unclog pores and prevent breakouts.

Remember to choose a toner that is specifically formulated for your skin type to maximize its benefits.

What is an Exfoliator? 3 Types & 3 Benefits

An exfoliator is a skincare product that helps remove dead skin cells, revealing a smoother and more vibrant complexion.

Benefits of using an exfoliator

Using an exfoliator can provide several benefits for your skin.

It helps to remove dead skin cells, revealing a brighter and smoother complexion.

Exfoliators also stimulate cell turnover, which can improve the texture and tone of your skin.

Additionally, they can help to unclog pores, reduce breakouts, and minimize the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

Regular use of an exfoliator can leave your skin looking fresh, rejuvenated, and more youthful.

Types of exfoliators (chemical, physical, microdermabrasion)

There are three main types of exfoliators: chemical, physical, and microdermabrasion.

Chemical exfoliators use ingredients like alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) or beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) to dissolve dead skin cells and unclog pores. They are often found in toners, serums, or masks.

Physical exfoliators use particles like sugar, salt, or beads to physically scrub away dead skin cells. These can be found in scrubs or facial brushes.

Microdermabrasion is a more intense form of exfoliation that uses tiny crystals to remove the top layer of skin. It is usually done by a professional at a dermatologist’s office or spa for deep cleansing and rejuvenation. Depending on your skin type and preferences, you can choose the right type of exfoliator that suits your needs.

The choice between these types of exfoliators depends on your specific skincare concerns and preferences.

Chemical exfoliators are great for those with sensitive skin as they typically have gentler formulas but still provide effective results. Physical exfoliants give you that satisfying feeling of scrubbing away impurities while providing immediate smoothness to the skin texture.

However, they may not be suitable for those with sensitive or acne-prone skin as they can cause irritation or inflammation if used too roughly or frequently.

Microdermabrasion offers a deeper level of exfoliation and can address more serious concerns such as acne scars and aging signs but should be done sparingly due to its intensity.

Regardless of which type you choose, remember to always follow up with moisturizer and sunscreen for optimal skincare benefits!

Ideal skin types for exfoliators

Exfoliators are best suited for individuals with combination, mild, or oily skin types. These exfoliating products can be too harsh for sensitive skin and may cause irritation.

However, if you have acne-prone skin or want to address hyperpigmentation, exfoliators can be an excellent addition to your skincare routine. They help clear breakouts, fade dark spots, brighten the complexion, and purify the pores.

It’s important to choose the right type of exfoliator based on your specific needs and sensitivity level. Remember to always listen to your skin and adjust the frequency of exfoliation accordingly.

3 Differences Between Toner and Exfoliator

Discover the distinct purposes, effects, and application methods between toners and exfoliators for your skincare routine. Keep reading to find out which one suits your needs best!

Purpose and function

Toners and exfoliators have different purposes and functions in your skincare routine. The purpose of a toner is to balance the pH of your skin, which helps maintain its natural barrier.

It also helps remove any remaining impurities after cleansing and prepares your skin for the next steps in your routine. On the other hand, exfoliators have the specific function of removing dead skin cells from the surface of your skin.

This helps unclog pores, prevent breakouts, and promote a brighter complexion. Remember to choose a toner or exfoliator that suits your specific skin type and needs to achieve optimal results.

Effects on the skin

Exfoliating toners have several beneficial effects on the skin. They can help clear breakouts, fade hyperpigmentation, brighten the skin, and purify the pores. These toners contain exfoliating ingredients that work to remove dead skin cells, revealing a smoother and brighter complexion.

Exfoliating toners are especially helpful for those with acne-prone or oily skin types, as they can control excess oil production and prevent clogged pores. On the other hand, hydrating toners focus on providing moisture to the skin, leaving it hydrated and plump.

These toners are ideal for individuals with dry or dehydrated skin as they help restore moisture balance and improve overall hydration levels in the skin. It is important to choose a toner that suits your specific needs and consider factors such as your skin type and concerns when incorporating it into your skincare routine.

Application methods

To get the most out of your toner or exfoliator, it’s important to know how to apply them properly. Here are some application methods to keep in mind:

  1. Dispense a small amount of toner onto a cotton pad and gently swipe it over your face in upward motions.
  2. For hydrating toners, you can also pour a few drops into your hands and pat them onto your skin.
  3. If using an exfoliating toner, apply it after cleansing and before any other products.
  4. When applying exfoliator, start with a clean, dry face. Massage a pea – sized amount onto your skin using circular motions.
  5. Be sure to avoid the eye area when applying both toner and exfoliator.
  6. Allow the product to fully absorb into your skin before moving on to the next step in your skincare routine.

When to Use Toner and Exfoliator in Your Skincare Routine

Apply toner after cleansing your face to balance the pH levels and remove any remaining impurities, then follow up with an exfoliator 2-3 times a week to slough off dead skin cells and reveal a smoother complexion.

Toner application order

To get the most out of your toner, follow these steps in the correct order:

  1. Start with a clean face: Wash your face with a gentle cleanser to remove any dirt or makeup.
  2. Pat dry: Gently pat your skin dry with a towel, leaving it slightly damp.
  3. Pour the toner onto a cotton pad: Saturate a cotton pad with an appropriate amount of toner.
  4. Swipe gently: Starting from the center of your face, swipe the cotton pad outward in upward motions.
  5. Pay attention to problem areas: Focus on areas that are prone to breakouts or excess oil, such as the T-zone.
  6. Don’t forget your neck: Apply the toner to your neck as well for complete coverage.
  7. Follow up with other skincare products: Once the toner has dried, continue with the rest of your skincare routine, including moisturizer and serums.

Exfoliator application frequency

Exfoliator application frequency depends on your skin’s sensitivity and needs. If you have sensitive skin, it’s best to use an exfoliator 1-2 times a week to avoid irritation. For those with oily or acne-prone skin, using an exfoliator 2-3 times a week can help keep pores clear and prevent breakouts.

On the other hand, if you have dry or mature skin, using an exfoliator once a week can help remove dead skin cells and promote cell turnover for a more youthful complexion. The key is to listen to your skin and adjust the frequency accordingly to achieve healthy, glowing results.

Remember, always follow up with moisturizer after exfoliating to hydrate and protect your newly revealed skin!

Layering with other skincare products

To maximize the effectiveness of your skincare routine, it is important to know how to properly layer toners and exfoliators with other products. Here are some tips for layering:

  1. Start with a cleanser: Begin your skincare routine by cleansing your face to remove any dirt or makeup residue.
  2. Apply toner before other products: After cleansing, apply your toner using a cotton pad or by patting it into your skin with clean hands. This will help balance the pH of your skin and prepare it for the next steps.
  3. Follow with serums or treatments: If you use any serums or targeted treatments, apply them after your toner. This allows the active ingredients to penetrate deeper into your skin.
  4. Moisturize: After applying any serums or treatments, moisturize your skin to lock in hydration. Choose a moisturizer that suits your skin type and concerns.
  5. Sunscreen is essential: In the morning, don’t forget to apply sunscreen as the last step of your skincare routine. This helps protect your skin from harmful UV rays.


In conclusion, toners and exfoliators play different roles in your skincare routine. Toners balance the pH of your skin and provide additional benefits based on your skin type. Exfoliators, on the other hand, remove dead skin cells and can help with breakouts and brightening.

Understanding the specific needs of your skin will allow you to choose the right product for a healthy and radiant complexion.


1. What’s the difference between a toner and an exfoliator?

A toner is used after face wash during double cleanse routine to balance your skin pH, while an exfoliator removes dead skin cells.

2. Can I use both toner and exfoliator on acne-prone skin?

Yes, you can! A brightening treatment like a facial toner can help improve your acne-prone skin, while an exfoliating serum aids in your acne treatment by removing excess oil and dirt.

3. Is essence the same as a toner or exfoliator?

An essence is neither a toner nor an exfoliator; it’s typically used after using these products to hydrate and prep the skin for other skincare steps.

4. Which one should I apply first: Toner or Exfoliating Serum?

For maximum benefits of your skincare routine, you should first apply the toner right after cleansing then follow with the application of your chosen Exfoliating Serum.

3 Toner vs Exfoliator Surprising Differences
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Mila, the veteran beauty cosmetics professional and author of this article, while cutting and styling the hair of her client

Hi! I’m Mila M. I share my 44 year-experience as a Cosmetologist & Beauty Professional in this blog. This content is for educational purposes only and does not constitute professional advice. Consult your trusted Beauty Professional for your personal beauty needs.

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