Micellar Water vs Toner: What is the Difference?

When it comes to beauty products, it can be so difficult to not only know what is best for our skin, but sometimes to figure out what the product is even used for.

Even though the use of micellar water has boomed over the last few years, it is still shrouded in mystery and has had us all wondering whether it is just a marketing term for the same old toner we have been using since our teens, or something brand-new and revolutionary that can transform our skin into something insanely clear and smooth.

Woman applying face toner

Obviously, the latter is a little over the top, but we can dream, right?

You will (or will not) be surprised to know that micellar water and toner are actually two completely different things, they just happen to look very similar and are used in the same way swept across the face – you were bound to get confused.

Whilst you may want to drop one for the other, it is not necessary to. Let us find out why.

Why They Are Not the Same Thing

With a quick glance, micellar water and toner look like the exact same thing, but you could not be more wrong. Yes, they both have a similar method of wiping it across the skin, but the ingredients do completely different things – though there are similarities.

Micellar water is a cleansing product. Whilst some people use it as a gentle morning cleanser, others might use it as a first cleanse in the evening to remove makeup. 

Not only that, it is considered by many as an all-in-one product due to its cleansing and toning abilities, but also its moisturizing properties. It can be used post-cleanse to remove excess cleanser and to help serums to penetrate further into the skin – much like what a toner may do. 

A toner has no cleaning qualities at all. It is used to restore the pH balance within the skin post-cleanse, and depending on its ingredients, it will have several properties that benefit the skin.

So, if you want to use micellar water instead of a toner, then go ahead because it can take the place of your usual toner, but you cannot use a toner in the place of micellar water. A toner does not cleanse, therefore it would be pointless to use it instead of micellar water. 

Toner in More Detail

The faithful toner has been used for decades due to its benefits of the skin post-cleanse and pre-moisturizer. It is said to get rid of the last traces of cleanser and tighten the pores, as well as be able to remove any remaining bacteria that the cleanser did not get.

Also, now that skincare has become a lot more advanced since the first toner was released, you can buy one that has been specially formulated for a particular skin concern such as acne or dry skin.

Long gone are the days where a toner was just a simple toner. It now has the ability to hydrate or add some extra antibacterial goodness to help reduce the appearance of acne. 

The Important Job of a Toner

Micellar Water vs Toner What is the Difference

The main job of a toner is to rebalance the pH level of the skin. Once you have cleansed, the soap may have disrupted the pH balance, so a toner will help to put it back to its normal state.

Having a healthy pH balance helps to counteract skin issues such as dryness. A healthy skin barrier is paramount to generally good skin, and having the correct pH within the skin is the way to achieve this.

Naturally, the skin sits on the acidic side within the pH scale, around numbers 5 and 6. The scale ranges from 0 to 14, with 7 as neutral. You want to keep it as close to 5 and 6 as possible, and a toner can help you to do this.

If your skin is becoming particularly dry or itchy (and it is not eczema), then try adding a toner into your cleansing routine. Something like the ProactiveMD Hydrating Facial Toner not only helps to quench thirsty skin, but it also helps to exfoliate with the added glycolic acid, as well as fight acne by including witch hazel.

Why Toner Might Not Be Useful

A toner actually has a lot of benefits – as we have discussed above, and will discuss again below – but there is a drawback too: they are not a needed step.

What we mean by this is if your skin is generally fine, then you really do not need to use a toner. However, a toner is a great step post-cleanse and pre-moisturizer if you want to add in an extra step such as a gentle chemical exfoliant or to keep the pH balance level. 

It is also a good option if you do want to make sure your skin is squeaky clean but not stripped of its natural oils. It can also be a great way of giving your skin an extra boost in an easy way, rather than using different products that you need to layer up within your nighttime skincare routine. 

Benefits of Using a Toner

There are many benefits to using a toner. Firstly, it is so easy to apply. Whilst we are told to use a cotton round to gently wipe it across the face, we can also put some on our hands and apply it in gentle patting motions, or use a reusable pad to apply it. 

Toner also includes a number of beneficial ingredients such as antioxidants, anti-inflammatories and glycerin, the ingredient that helps the skin to retain moisture. This will keep the skin hydrated and make sure the skin’s barrier does not become broken.

Due to the different variations of toner, you can also use one that will benefit your skin condition or just give you extra benefits such as gentle chemical exfoliation which happens to be much better for the skin than a physical exfoliant. 

Whilst, yes, it can be an unnecessary step for some, it actually is a great idea to incorporate a toner into your skincare routine so you can benefit from the many ways it can help or boost your skin. 

Is a Toner Good for Acne Prone Skin?

When it comes to acne, a toner is your best choice. As previously stated, a toner will have added benefits that can help acne, rather than make it worse.

It is all about finding a toner that is right for your skin and its personal needs. You will then need to use it for a couple of months before seeing what positive (or negative) effects it has had on your skin.

A toner can improve acne, especially if it has an exfoliating action. So, it is worth trying something that will help to renew the skin cells faster, but which will not dry out your skin. The key to combating acne is to keep it moisturized, not dry and flaky, afterall. 

Micellar Water in More Detail

Micellar Water in More Detail

You might be mistaken and think that micellar water is a straight-up toner, but it actually is not. It looks the same, but it has completely different properties. It is multi-purpose, and is made up of micelles and purified water. 

The micelles are tiny, little cleansing bubbles which attract debris like a magnet. Once the dirt is trapped, it dissolves and keeps the lipid barrier of your skin intact. It might sound like a miracle cleanser, which it kind of was at one point, but it actually is not suitable for every skin type – but we shall get onto that later.

So Does Micellar Water Work As a Toner?

Yes and no. Whilst you can use it as a toner if you really, really want to, it does not have the same full properties as a toner.

A toner is a standalone product which has many built-in benefits. Micellar water is a cleanser that has a toner within it, though it does not have the same benefits a 21st Century toner has.

To put it simply, micellar water is best used as a gentle cleanser, especially in the morning, or as a makeup remover. A toner should be used as a post-cleanse step to give you added benefits to the skin, as well as to rebalance the pH level.

Why micellar Water Might Not Be Useful

Whilst it is a gentle cleanser, it is actually not suitable for every skin type, even though it looks like it should be. It is likely to be too gentle for those who have skin concerns such as acne, or for those who break out here and there.

If this is the case for you, the best option will be to stick with a traditional cleanser and to use a toner suited to your skin’s needs instead. The micellar water may also feel like an oil slick instead of something that is hydrating if you are prone to oily skin.

Micellar water can be used as a makeup remover, though it does not do the best job of it if you wear a lot. It can struggle with waterproof makeup, as well as heavy foundation.

You may want to use a different makeup remover before micellar water, or use it a few times to get rid of any residue if it is your only option. 

Benefits of Using Micellar Water

Benefits of Using Micellar Water

Despite some of its faults, micellar water is a genius product for those who can handle something gentle, and who want a thorough clean without stronger cleansing products.

It is convenient for times when you cannot rinse your face, such as at a music festival, camping or if you want to freshen up throughout the summer on-the-go. 

It is an all-rounder because it cleanses, tones and moisturizes. So, if you are new to the beauty game, or if you are particularly lazy with skincare, it can be a good option to make sure you are cleaning your face.

Also, there are minimal ingredients included within micellar water making it the preferred option to many who have sensitive skin prone to the likes of eczema or rosacea.

Instead of stripping the skin of its natural oils, it helps to benefit it instead with its kinder ingredients. It also improves the hydration of skin overtime. 

A highly rated micellar water is the Garnier SkinActive which has a gentle formula full of naturally derived ingredients to help care for even the most sensitive of skin. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Can Micellar Water Help With Other Skincare Products?

Yes, it can. If you keep using micellar water, overtime it will improve the permeability of the skin. That means that the ingredients you use after the micellar water, like serums for example, will be able to reach even deeper into the skin making a bigger difference to the overall health and appearance.

Should You Moisturize After Micellar Water?

It all depends on your skin type, whether you are using other products and how conveniently you are using micellar water.

If your skin is naturally dry, then always moisturize after using micellar water. It will never be enough to hydrate the skin fully, and you will need that extra step to hold the moisture into the skin.

If you are using serums afterwards, or something a little on the dryer side like an acid or retinol, you will want to add in moisturizer to keep the ingredients secure on the skin, as well as to add hydration. 

Lastly, because micellar water is a convenient product to use without the need of rinsing, you may only want to take the one product with you if you are camping or dancing it up at Coachella. If that is the case, and your skin is not too dry, then only using micellar water is absolutely fine.

If Micellar Cannot Remove Makeup Properly, What About SPF?

SPF is a difficult product to remove at the best of times, so micellar water alone may not be the best way to remove it on its own.

If you wear SPF every day (which you should be), then you already know that double cleansing is the only way to completely clean those pores. Using micellar water as the first cleanse will help to get rid of any surface layer SPF, and cleansing with a stronger product next will help to remove the rest. 

A build up of SPF that has not been removed properly may cause blocked pores resulting in acne and blackheads. 

Final Words

Whilst micellar water and toner may look the same, they are completely different. A toner is useful to remove cleanser and any remaining bacteria, as well as give the skin a burst of beneficial ingredients.

You can choose one for a particular skin concern, such as acne, which should help to deal with the situation overtime.

Micellar water has a toner built-in, but should never take the place of a toner after cleansing. It is more convenient for times when you are not near running water, and is a good option for those who need a gentle cleanser.

They cannot take the place of each other, and are used for their own needs and times within a skincare routine. 

Miranda Cole
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