Toner Vs. Serum: What’s The Difference?

Toner Vs. Serum What's The Difference

The beauty arsenal comprises some amazing products that can transform the skin for good. Gone are the days when people use only oils and moisturizers in their skincare regimen. Today, from hydrators and toners to exfoliators and serums, you can find plenty and it’s from where all the confusion comes in.

In this article we will bring limelight on two popular skincare products, toner and serum. Since many people are still not aware what’s their role, we will compare toner vs serum, understanding the difference in detail.

Keep reading!

Difference Between Toner and Serum



Toner is a liquid skincare product used after cleansing the face. Using a cleanser may change the skin’s pH and it is when toner comes in handy. It restores the natural pH of the skin and refreshes it while removing the residues of cleanser, makeup, etc. Additionally, it brings back the hydration to the skin which reduces after cleansing.

Toners come in different formulations. From water-based to alcohol-based, you can find them in different compositions with varying ingredients. Also, they come in spray mist or pour-out liquid form.

Toners are suitable for all skin types and should be included in every skincare regimen.


  • Balances skin pH
  • Gently hydrate dry skin
  • Makes open pores less visible
  • Treats blackheads and blemishes
  • Helps in absorbing the further skincare products easily

Different toners serve different purposes; therefore, checking the label and picking the one with ingredients that suit your skin type and resolve your skin concerns will help.

If you have spray mist formula, spray it generously and evenly all through your face after cleansing. In the case of pour-out formula, take a few drops in a cotton ball and apply it over the face.



Serums have a thicker consistency compared to toners. They consist of active ingredients in high concentrations that are skin-specific and address targeted skin concerns. You can find serums to resolve hyperpigmentation and blemishes, brighten or tighten the skin, and many more.

Basically, serums are of 2 types-

Water-based- They have a gel-like consistency and should be applied after toner and before moisturizer.
Oil-based- Often, oil-based serums are called facial oils and should be applied after moisturizer.

While toner is just sprayed and allowed to settle, serums need to be massaged gently on the face. It allows the product to penetrate deep into the skin and show effective results.


  • Address targeted skin concerns with its active ingredient
  • Reduces wrinkles and other signs of aging
  • Provides deep hydration to the skin
  • Reduces blemishes, marks and spots
  • Brightens and tightens the skin

The presence of an active ingredient decides the function of a serum. You can find humectants, vitamins, minerals, herbal extracts, chemical exfoliants, and a lot more active ingredients in serum that work on different skin concerns and give visible results.

Below is the table differentiating toner vs serum under different heads for better understanding-

PurposeTypically used to balance pH levels, remove remaining impurities, and prep the skin for better absorption of subsequent skincare products.Designed to deliver active ingredients deep into the skin, targeting specific concerns like hydration, brightening, anti-aging, or acne.
ConsistencyUsually watery or slightly viscous liquid.More concentrated and thicker consistency compared to toners. Can range from lightweight to creamy textures.
ApplicationApplied with a cotton pad or directly onto the skin with hands, after cleansing and before other skincare products.Applied directly onto the skin after cleansing and toning, before moisturizer or other treatments. Can be patted or massaged into the skin.
IngredientsOften contains hydrating ingredients like glycerin or hyaluronic acid, as well as calming agents like witch hazel or chamomile. May also include exfoliating ingredients such as AHAs or BHAs.Contains a higher concentration of active ingredients such as vitamins, peptides, antioxidants, or hyaluronic acid, tailored to specific skin concerns. May also include moisturizing agents and skin-repairing ingredients.
BenefitsHelps to balance skin’s pH, remove traces of dirt or makeup, minimize the appearance of pores, and provide a refreshing sensation.Addresses specific skincare concerns such as hydration, firming, brightening, or acne treatment. Penetrates deeper into the skin for more targeted results compared to toners.
Frequency of UseTypically used twice daily, morning and night, as part of the skincare routine.Frequency of use may vary depending on the serum and its potency. Generally used once or twice daily, usually in the evening. Can be used alone or layered with other serums.
Skin TypesSuitable for all skin types, including oily, dry, combination, and sensitive skin, depending on the formulation.Available in various formulations targeting specific skin types and concerns, such as dry, oily, mature, or sensitive skin. It’s essential to choose a serum tailored to individual skin needs.
AbsorptionAbsorbed quickly into the skin, leaving it feeling refreshed and prepped for subsequent skincare products.Absorbs deeply into the skin, delivering active ingredients to target concerns effectively. May leave a slightly tacky or silky finish, depending on the formulation.
Example ProductsThayers Witch Hazel Facial Toner, COSRX AHA/BHA Clarifying Treatment Toner.The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5, Skinceuticals C E Ferulic Serum.

Toner Vs Serum- How to Choose?

As already mentioned, you need to choose these skincare products based on your skin type and skin concern, here is what you can consider-

Choosing Toner

Skin typeIngredients
OilyOil-free formulas, hydrosols, AHAs
Dry skinVitamin E, hyaluronic acid, glycerine
Acne-prone skinSalicylic acid
Combination skinRose water, vitamin E, vitamin C
Sensitive skinSoothing ingredients- aloe vera, rose water, chamomile

Make sure you buy a water-based toner, as it is suitable for all skin types and does not cause skin irritation. On the other hand, alcohol-based toners make the skin drier and strip off its natural oil, doing more harm than help.

Choosing Serum

Since serums are more directed to target specific skin concerns and correct them, find the one suitable for your skin type and concern. Reading the labels before purchasing is a good idea.

Here’s what you can consider-

Type of serumSkin type/concern
HydratingSuitable for all skin types
Skin brighteningDull skin with dark spots and hyperpigmentation and blemishes
Skin firmingAging and mature skin
ClarifyingOily skin, clogged pores, heavy breakouts
CalmingSensitive skin


Since toner and serum serve different purposes and function differently, it will be a good idea to include both in your skincare regimen. Know your skin type and what skin issues you are dealing with. Based on these, you can find the right toner and serum to restore the lost shine, youthfulness, and radiance in your skin.

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