Is Serum Better Than Toner? The Ultimate Comparison

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Is serum better than toner? Or is it the other way around? These are some of the bothering questions about these two products. Serums and toners come side by side in your skincare routine and for a minimalist, you may wonder if both products are necessary.

Serum and toner are two different products that carry out different functions in your routine. The difference between them is why each is unique for different steps of your routine.

While some skincare and beauty experts say serums are sufficient for use without toners, others insist that you should include a toner in your routine.

If you’ll rather make a choice, I’ll help you with answers to why your skin needs a serum and what a toner does for you.

What Are the Benefits of Using Serum?

Serums are lightweight skincare products that contain high concentrations of active ingredients. Moreover, these actives absorb into your skin very fast. They address skin concerns like acne, aging, pigmentation and so much more.

Some serums contain hyaluronic acid which makes them hydrate your skin, and some contain exfoliants, like salicylic acid and glycolic acid, that reveal a brighter and more vibrant complexion.

Serums penetrate your pores and refine them, minimizing their appearance and stylishly controlling sebum production. Consequently, they help to control acne breakouts.

Also, serums that contain retinol increase skin cell turnover. Retinol-based serums are anti-aging serums that increase collagen production and rejuvenate your skin back to its youth.

Using a serum is soothing and each of the active ingredients can be made into separate formulas to suit every skin type and address skin concerns.

What Are the Benefits of Using Toner?

Toners are usually mistaken as cleansers. The reasons include the similarities in their physical appearances, certain functions, and method of application. However, a toner is not a cleanser.

Like a cleanser, a toner cleanses your skin, but it does twice as much as a cleanser does. Unlike a cleanser, toners balance the pH of your skin. Face soaps, makeup removers, irritants like UV rays, and even cleansers distort the natural pH of your skin.

Therefore, you need a toner to restore your skin to its original acidic state for proper functioning. Furthermore, toners are soothing especially when you use a misted toner. It refreshes your skin while dissolving oil, grime, and other impurities.

After cleansing, you need a toner to open your pores to receive the active ingredients of other products down your routine.

Toners also contain active ingredients like vitamin E, an antioxidant. This vitamin protects your skin from damage and fortifies the lipid barrier of your skin. As a result, it protects your skin from excess water loss and the penetration of environmental toxins.  

What Is the Difference Between Serum and Toner?

To begin with, a physical difference is in their packaging. Serums come in small bottles with a dropper applicator while toners are packaged in bigger bottles with plain covers.

A toner majorly works on the surface of your skin, cleansing it of excess oil, makeup, dust, and grime. Serum, on the other hand, goes past the surface of your skin.

The molecules in a serum penetrate deep into your skin and tackle skin issues at the roots. Furthermore, serums have a thicker consistency compared to the liquid formula of toner.

So, when applying a serum, you need to gently tap it all over your skin. To apply a toner, you’ll need cotton wool as a medium to deliver the product to your skin.

Can You Use Serum Without Toner?

You can apply your serum immediately after cleaning your face with a cleanser. Yes, you may skip using a toner. If you use a mild cleanser that will not leave residues, you may choose to not use a toner to double cleanse and just go on ahead with your serum.

Moreover, toners are touted to bring a balance to your skin’s pH. This is something your skin can also automatically do if the conditions are favorable and you’re using the right products.

The necessities in your skincare routine are cleansing, exfoliation (based on your skin type), moisturizing, and sun protection.

If your serum contains major actives like salicylic acid, retinol, glycolic acid, hyaluronic acid, and vitamin C; you may drop the toner and relieve your skin of one product.

A serum with these ingredients will effectively carry out what the toner should do. Besides your skin will be better for it because you shouldn’t have too many active ingredients like salicylic acid and retinol which may over-dry your skin.

Can You Use Toner Without Serum?

Oily skin types may find one moisturizing product just sufficient to lock in moisture. Yet, this does not suggest that a moisturizer can be a serum or the other way around.

On the days when you do not feel up to it, you may skip serum although it is not advised. Serums load your skin with the vitamins and other active ingredients it needs to improve its overall look and texture.

However, if you’re not dealing with skin concerns like dehydrated skin, loose skin, acne, fine lines, and wrinkles; you can cleanse, tone, and use a moisturizer after.

In essence, if you’ll be having your skincare routine without serum, you must apply a moisturizer after toner. Otherwise, your skin will dry out.

Do You Need to Use Serum With Toner in Your Routine?

Yes, you do. A serum is a serum, and toner is a toner. While you may conveniently use one without the other, they do not replace each other. Toners double cleanse your skin and prep it to receive the active ingredients contained in your serum.

Toner uses its plant-based extracts and active ingredients to soothe your skin, minimize pores appearance and create a good surface for serums to work. In addition, it helps to dissolve and lift oil and dead cell clogs in your pores.

Serums come in with high concentrations of actives that penetrate your pores and address skin concerns like the need for cell reproduction and rejuvenation.

Actives like retinol increase collagen synthesis and encourage cell turnover which can help to fade acne scars.

In tandem, these skincare products work to improve the overall appearance of your skin, and fortify your natural barrier to protect you from the damage of environmental hazards. Settling to use both products in your daily routine is certainly not a bad idea.

How to Use Serum With Toner in Your Routine


A correct skincare routine begins with cleansing your face. Clean skin is the best canvas you can offer your skincare products. It increases their efficiencies and allows your skin to reap maximum benefits.

Post-bathe and after washing your face with a mild soap, use a mild (preferably foaming) cleanser to clean your face. Dampen a cotton pad or ball with a cleanser and gently wipe your face and neck.

Go in gentle circular motions to remove makeup, oil, dirt, and soap residues. You do not need to rinse off the cleanser before you move on to the next step.

Double cleanse with toner

Well, you cannot use a toner without using a cleanser beforehand. Toner will double cleanse your face of stubborn makeup and oil residues alongside the emollient residues of the cleanser (if any).

While doing so, the toner balances your pores and opens your pores to receive the goodness of your serum.

Take a fresh cotton ball and dampen it with toner. Wipe your face and neck, and reach for areas like under your jaw, chin, nose, and hairline. Afterward, allow your skin to bask in the active ingredients. Also, you do not need to rinse it off as well.

Apply serum

After toning, your skin is ready to receive serum. Most importantly, be sure that you picked a serum that is best suited for your skin type and addresses your skin concerns.

If your toner contains alpha- and beta-hydroxy acids like salicylic acid and glycolic acid, it is best to use a serum that contains neither of these ingredients, vitamin C or retinol. Instead, you can use hyaluronic acid serum or niacinamide serum.

Pump out the serum and release about four drops on your palm and use a fingertip to apply the serum to your face and neck.

When you apply, gently tap the serum into your skin until it is evenly distributed. With serums, less is more. This means that you only need a little to reap maximum benefits.

Lock in moisture

After serum, lock in moisture with a moisturizer. Also, try to avoid using the same ingredients. Take a small dollop of moisturizing cream or lotion and rub it between your palms.

Gently rub the moisturizer all over your face and neck until it is evenly distributed. Afterward, you can move on to eye cream, spot treatment, and sun protection. 

Are There Any Side Effects of Using These Products?

By themselves, neither toner nor serum is bad for your skin. However, each formula contains certain active ingredients that may not be tolerated by every skin type.

In essence, if you use a toner or serum that does not match your skin type, you may experience irritation. Moreover, it is very possible to use too much toner or serum. Overusing toner will cause your skin to dry out quickly and excessively.

On the other hand, using too much serum will lead to an accumulation of product on the surface of your skin. If the serum does not absorb, it’ll lead to an overproduction of oil and breakouts.

All these potential risks are manageable. And the best form of prevention is to use your toner and serum correctly. Shop the right formula and apply them correctly.


Can you use serum every day?

Yes, you can. Use your serum twice a day, in your AM and PM routine. After cleansing and toning, apply serum all over your face and neck just before you moisturize.

Daily use of serum keeps your skin nourished and looking vibrant.

Are toners necessary?

The necessity of toners depends on your skin goals and skin type. Excessively dry or oily skin types need toners that are best suited to address these concerns.

If you are certain that you’re using a mild cleanser and your serum contains the actives your skin needs, a toner may not be necessary. However, if you need to double cleanse your skin of stubborn makeup residues, you do need a toner.

Should you apply serum before or after toner?

The right way of application of skincare products is from the thinnest to the thickest. So, you should apply toner before the serum. Moreover, toner will prep your skin to receive the active ingredients present in serum.


If your beauty goals include flawless skin, then, you must get your routine right. And this starts with what you apply. Serums and toners are important products in your routine; sometimes, you wonder if they are indeed necessary.

Serum or toner, or both in your routine depends on the results you’re looking to get. If you’re not battling any skin condition like acne, signs of aging, or hyperpigmentation, you may do without a serum. And if your cleanser is mild enough, a toner may not be necessary.

However, each is just as important as the other and they cannot replace each other in your routine. Skincare is effective when you listen to your skin and give it what it needs at the time.

Thanks for reading.

Serum101 provides you with relevant articles that give you clarity on your choice of skincare products.