When shopping for skincare, the sheer volume of options on a typical beauty store shelf could overwhelm almost anyone. You may recognize the familiar staples like cleanser and moisturizer. But when it comes to the steps in between, things begin to get more complicated.
One common point of confusion for even savvy skin care shoppers is micellar water vs toner. From the outside, these are two products that look very similar. You may have even heard rumors that they are the same product with two different names.
It’s a common misconception that micellar water and toner are interchangeable, but that isn’t the case. They are two different products, designed to do different things. Dermatologists note that depending upon your skin type and concerns, micellar water or toner each have their own advantages and disadvantages.
To better understand the pros and cons, let’s look closer at how each product works:
What is micellar water?
Micellar water has been a trending skincare product in recent years, but it is hardly a new innovation. Since the 1900s, European women have used micellar water as a gentler alternative to soap and harsh tap water. Today, some skincare experts cite it as a potential replacement for just about every step of a traditional skincare routine – from cleansing and toning, to makeup removal and even moisturizing.
But what exactly is micellar water? Micellar water is a cleansing product that utilizes purified water and tiny molecules of oil suspended in water, called micelles. According to dermatologists, micellar water works because the micelles are attracted to dirt, oil, makeup, and other debris that clings to the skin. The micelles bond with these impurities and then dissolve them, cleansing the skin without stripping it of moisture.
While it may sound like a miracle product, micellar water does have its limitations. It lacks the active ingredients and anti-bacterial properties of a cleanser, so it won’t do much in the way of fighting or preventing acne, dermatologists say. Also, because it is so gentle, micellar water is not ideal for removing heavier makeup products and sunscreens.
What is toner?
While micellar water is a multi-functional product, toners have a more specific purpose. They are formulated to act as a secondary step following face wash, completing the cleansing ritual. Because cleansers can temporarily disrupt the skin’s natural chemistry and moisture barrier function, toner works to correct the imbalances.
According to the International Dermal Institute, toner restores the skin’s pH to ideal levels and infuses hydration to replace water lost during cleansing. This also prepares the pores to properly absorb other products, ensuring that you get the best results from the rest of your skincare routine.
Besides working in tandem with cleanser, toner has its own benefits for the skin. Many toners contain active ingredients like anti-inflammatories, antioxidants, and other vitamins that promote skin health. While some of the first toners were too astringent and formulated with drying alcohols, today’s toners are much more skin-friendly; designed to infuse hydration and lock moisture into the skin.
How to properly use micellar water and toner?
When trying to determine where micellar water and toner belong in your routine, there are a few key things you should know. Toner lacks the ability to properly bond with impurities and dissolves them, the way micellar water does. However, toners are specially formulated to balance pH levels and infuse active ingredients, whereas micellar waters are not.
What this means essentially, is that micellar water is able to do the work of a cleanser, without requiring a toner to rebalance the skin. You can use micellar water in place of face wash and then skip toner. Unfortunately, the reverse is not true. Toner cannot replace face wash because it isn’t cleansing enough and micellar water cannot replace toner because it won’t properly rebalance the skin after using a traditional face wash.
Micellar water vs toner: What to use according to your skin type?
Whether or not you should use micellar water or toner or both, has everything to do with what type of skin you have and what concerns you want your skincare routine to address. Skin that is sensitive, dry or aging has different needs than combination, oily or acneic skin. Knowing this, you will want to choose products that best support your skin type and build your routine accordingly.
Mature, dry or sensitive skin types can benefit more from using micellar water in place of cleanser, toner or both. Because micellar water is the gentlest of cleansing products, it is able to remove dirt and impurities without irritating sensitive skin or stripping the skin’s protective barrier. Additionally, because micellar water can be left on the skin, it provides added hydration.
For oily, combination or acne-prone skin, micellar water may not be an adequate substitute for combatting oil, and should not be used in place of a cleanser. A traditional facial wash and toner will have more benefits for deep cleaning, balancing the skin, and preventing breakouts. If you wish to still incorporate micellar water, a good compromise would be to use it as a second cleanse following your regular face wash, but before toner.
If you still feel unsure about which products to use, it’s okay to experiment a bit with micellar water and/or toner in different combinations, in order to find what works best for your skin. Just be sure to be consistent with one routine before switching to another, and check your skin regularly for any differences in reaction. With just a little trial and error, you will be able to find your formula for best results.