Micellar Water Vs Toner: How To Tell The Difference

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Beautiful girl with perfect skin holding two bottles with makeup remover

As a skincare newbie, it can be overwhelming to choose which products you need to create a day and night skincare routine. You also need to research what each product is about and whether you can benefit from it.

That’s why we’re here to help!

One of the most common questions we get is about the difference between micellar water and toner. Both are hugely popular products, which many consider essential to their skincare routine.

Yet, we can’t deny that these two products can be a bit confusing.

To help you understand the difference between micellar water and toner, we’ve done a deep dive into each product. 

We want to help settle the never-ending debate on micellar water vs toner; what are they, what’s the difference, and what’s better to use!

Are you ready? Here’s what you need to know to tell the difference between micellar water and toner.

Is There a Difference Between Micellar Water and Toner?

Micellar Water

  • Main purpose is to cleanse the skin
  • Acts as a gentle makeup remover and cleanser
  • Provides skin hydration
  • May contain oils and soothing ingredients
  • Does not function as a deep cleanser


  • Main purpose is to remove traces of impurities that your cleanser may have left behind
  • Preps your skin for other skincare products by restoring your skin’s pH balance
  • May contain antioxidants, antibacterial ingredients, anti-inflammatories, and exfoliants


  • Micellar water and toner are water-based products with a runny consistency.
  • They are suited for all skin types.
  • They both have formulations that cater to different skin types and skin concerns.
  • Both are hydrating and won’t strip your skin of its natural oils.
  • Both are gentle enough for daily use, as part of your day and night skincare routine.

All About Micellar Water

What Is Micellar Water?

Is micellar water toner? Nope! Micellar water is a type of face cleanser that has become a staple for many skincare enthusiasts in recent years. 

Micellar water has been around since the early 1900s. It was developed in France to address skin issues such as dryness and clogged pores caused by the hard water in the region.

In the 1990s, French skincare company Bioderma put micellar water on the map when they released their Sensibio H20 micellar water.

It is still considered one of the best micellar water for all skin types today.

Micellar Water: How Does It Work?

Have you been wondering how a simple water solution can be so good at removing makeup and dirt? Here’s what you need to know.

Micellar water contains surfactants that form micelle molecules when placed in water. 

These micelles have a hydrophilic head that attracts water. They also have a lipophilic tail that repels water and attracts oil and grease.

When you pour micellar water onto a cotton pad, the head of the micelle binds to the cotton, while the tail is the one that comes into contact with your skin. 

When it does, it attracts and dissolves the makeup, oil, grease, and other impurities on your face.  

Thus, you have a clean face without having to rinse or wash your face after!

How Is Micellar Water Different From Other Cleansers?

Foaming or exfoliating cleansers are known for giving us that squeaky clean feeling. But did you know that this is not necessarily the best for our skin?

According to dermatologists, some cleansers can be too harsh because they strip away natural oils and weaken our skin barrier. 

Harsh cleansers can cause skin cells to pull apart — leaving space for bacteria and impurities to enter.

Using soap not formulated for the face can also alter your pH balance, which can lead to bacteria and yeast growth.

Knowing what we know now about facial cleansers, it’s no surprise why so many people have been drawn to micellar water.

The Benefits of Micellar Water

Young woman with micellar water washing face at bathroom

Here are the 6 benefits of micellar water:

Cleans the Face

Micellar water effectively removes makeup, dirt, oil, and other impurities on your face.

Hydrating Formula

Micellar water contains hydrating ingredients such as glycerin that do not strip natural oils from the skin.

Suitable for All Skin Types

Micellar water’s formula does not contain ingredients that could potentially trigger the skin. Nowadays, you can also choose micellar water specifically formulated for your skin type.

Convenient to Use

During long days when you just want to crash into your bed, micellar water can speed up your nighttime skin care.

Multipurpose Product

Micellar water is a great product to bring while travelling. You can be assured that micellar water can keep your skin clean and hydrated, even though you don’t have all your go-to products.

You can even use micellar water as a midday skin refresher or prime the skin before applying makeup.

Preps the Skin

Since micellar water can cleanse the skin, it can better absorb the other skincare products in your routine.

Cons of Micellar Water

When using micellar water, here are some essential points to consider:

Not as Sustainable

Micellar water works best when applied using a cotton pad. So compared to using a cleanser, there may be additional costs. 

(For sustainability, we recommend using reusable makeup remover pads!)

May Not Remove All Makeup

One of the main limitations of micellar water is that it may completely remove heavy makeup. 

If you use waterproof mascaras and eyeliner or full-coverage concealer and foundation, we recommend double cleansing using an oil-based cleanser or a cleansing balm.

Still Contains Surfactants

While micellar water is less harsh than other cleaners, the fact is that it still contains surfactants. Although necessary to remove makeup and dirt, studies have found that surfactants can disrupt or weaken the skin barrier.

If you have sensitive skin, we recommend choosing micellar water suited for your skin type.

All About Toner

What Is Toner?

It’s understandable why some people have a hard time differentiating micellar water and toner. Both are water-based products with a runny consistency.

However, toners serve a different purpose.

Toners are meant to be applied after cleansing your face. They are made to cleanse the skin of any remaining impurities and restore the balance of your pH level.

Toners also hydrate the skin, which aids in the absorption of your other skincare products.

Unlike the harsh, alcohol-based toners (aka astringents) from back in the day, the toners available today are gentle on the skin. 

They are safe to use twice daily during your morning and night routine.

Toners also come with various formulations to cater to different skin types and active ingredients that can address certain skin concerns.

Is Toner Good For All Skin Types?

Yes, toner is suitable for all skin types. But with any skincare product, you should choose a toner that suits your skin type and needs well.

Here are the different types of toner available today:


There are the original toners that were popular back in the 90s. These toners typically contain anywhere from 20 to 60% alcohol. 

Thus, they can irritate the face, especially if you have dry or sensitive skin.

These types of toners can be suited for acne-prone or oily skin since alcohol can remove excess oils and unclog pores.

However, make sure to follow up your toner with hydrating essences and serums to combat the drying effect.

Skin Tonics

These toners are a milder version of astringents, usually containing anywhere from 0 to 20% alcohol. They are suited for those with normal, oily, or combination skin.

Skin tonics can help minimize pores while keeping the skin hydrated and refreshed.

Acid-Based Toners

These toners contain chemical exfoliants like salicylic acid, glycolic acid, mandelic acid, or lactic acid. These help remove dead skin cells on the surface of your skin.

Acid-based toners are suited for those with dull skin or hyperpigmentation. Aside from hydrating your skin, these toners can give you a brighter complexion.  

Mild Toners

You will find a lot of mild toners in K-beauty. Since Koreans are all about hydration, these toners do not contain any alcohol — making them gentle on the skin.

They also contain humectants like glycerin to hydrate and retain moisture on the skin and active ingredients that keep the skin plump and flawless.

Mild toners are suited for those with dry, sensitive, and dehydrated skin.

How to Use Toner

Side view of woman applying toner with cotton pad on face and looking at mirror

You can use a toner after cleansing your face. 

Ideally, toner should be applied within 10 seconds after washing the face and on damp skin. This is to maximize your skin’s absorption of the active ingredients.

There are several ways to apply toner. For one, you can pour toner on a cotton pad and gently swipe it across your face.

You can also opt to pour toner on your hands and then gently tap the product into your skin.

Additionally, you can use a spray bottle and spritz toner on your face.

Choose a technique that suits you best.

Benefits of Toner

Toner should be an essential part of your skincare routine. Here’s why:

Boosts Hydration

The number one goal of toner is to hydrate and refresh the skin. Even if you don’t use a toner daily, you can still use it as a pick-me-up during winter to boost your skin.

Target Skin Concerns

Toner isn’t merely water. It’s full of active ingredients that target specific skin concerns.

For example, you can use:

  • an AHA toner to minimize the size of pores
  • witch hazel toner to reduce sebum production
  • lactic acid toner to brighten dull skin
  • rosewater toner to hydrate dry skin.

Remove Residue and Impurities

Some facial cleansers do not thoroughly remove makeup, dirt, oil, or grime on your face. Toners can cleanse your skin and remove these remaining impurities without stripping your natural oils.

Balance the pH Level of the Face

Some facial cleansers can be too acidic or too alkaline. Some people also do not have access to soft water in their area.

In both scenarios, toner can help restore your pH level to its natural state. A balanced pH is important in maintaining the health of your skin barrier.

Complements Other Skincare Products

Since toners are water-based and do not contain harmful ingredients, they will work well with other products in your skincare routine.

Applying toner even preps the skin and allows better absorption of your other skincare products.

As such, adding toner to your daily skincare routine can give you better results overall!

Cons of Toners

The most important point when choosing a toner is to find one best suited for your skin. 

If you have dry skin and use a toner with high alcohol content, you might have to deal with skin inflammation and irritation.

To enjoy the benefits of toner, make sure to patch test first. If there is any stinging sensation, we advise that you stop using the product before it causes significant damage to your skin. 

FAQs About Micellar Water and Toner

Woman holding bottle with skin care product

Which Is Better Toner or Micellar Water?

Toner and micellar water are different products with their own pros and cons. Since you know your skin best, you can also decide which one will most benefit your skin type and needs. 

We also encourage you to try both and maybe see why they both have a special place in your routine!

Can Micellar Water Be Used as Toner?

Using micellar water as a toner is possible, especially if you choose micellar water that contains active ingredients. 

You can cleanse and tone your face using just one product. This can be convenient, especially if you’re travelling and can’t bring both products.  

Should I Moisturize After Micellar Water?

Even though micellar water is a hydrating product, we recommend following it up with your other skincare products, including moisturizer. 

After all, cleansing and moisturizing go hand in hand in giving you the best possible skin.

Should I Use Toner Everyday?

Mild toner is gentle enough for everyday use. However, if you’re using acid toners, skin tonics, or alcohol-based toners, we advise using them 1 to 2 times a week to avoid dryness or skin irritation. 

Make sure to listen to your skin and what it needs!

Does Micellar Water Help With Acne?

Yes, micellar water can help with acne. This is because micellar water cleanses your skin and removes impurities that can end up clogging your pores, thus leading to acne breakouts. 

Although, it’s not a guarantee since other factors can affect acne, such as hormones, diet, medications, and stress levels.

Should I Use Toner or Micellar Water First?

Since cleansing should be the first step in your skincare routine, micellar water goes first. After cleansing, you can proceed with applying toner. 

This ensures that makeup and other impurities are first removed and that your skin can better absorb the skin-loving ingredients of your toner.

Micellar Water vs Toner: Bottom Line

We’ve done it! We’ve settled the micellar water vs toner debate. By now, you should know that these two products have a clear difference. 

You now understand the purpose of both products and their pros and cons. We even added tips on how to apply micellar water and toner! 

The bottom line is that micellar water and toner are different BUT complementary products. You won’t go wrong by incorporating these two products into your skincare regimen. 

Just remember to choose the best micellar water and toner for your skin type and needs! Your skin will thank you for it!

infographic about micellar water vs toner

Want to discover more amazing skincare products?

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  • Ashley Pena

    Ashley Pena brings over 13 years of seasoned writing and editing expertise, fortified by her Bachelor of Science in Management. Esteemed in the beauty domain, her content captivates readers with its depth and authenticity. While she navigates a broad spectrum of beauty trends, Ashley shines particularly as our resident K-beauty guru. Her articles are a harmonious blend of passion and profound knowledge, inspiring readers on their unique beauty journeys.

  • Amanda Meehan

    Amanda Meehan, a licensed esthetician and massage therapist, brings holistic beauty to the forefront. Trained at the Aveda Institute Denver and the Center for Natural Wellness School of Massage Therapy, her accolades include the High Honors and Beauty Is As Beauty Does awards. Beyond skincare, she's a certified Reiki Master and yoga instructor.

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