Toner vs. Serum: What's the Difference?


As I move into my twenties, I'm starting to become more aware of what it means to have a good skincare routine. My skin and I have not always been on the same page, and I know I'm not alone in that. One day you wake up with a pimple and the next day you're battling dry skin. A recent trend I've noticed over the years have been toners and serums. I never understood what their purpose was or what the difference was until I did my research. Toner is a water-like product that comes in a jumbo container. Its main usage is to provide hydration, perfect for oily and combination skin types. It also balances your skin's acidic pH and decreases visibility of pores and blackheads while also exfoliating your skin. I've been using this Mario Badescu Glycolic Acid Toner for about a month now. Within the first week of using this product, I noticed that it had reduced the discoloration of my acne scars. This toner is also alcohol free so your skin won't feel like it's on fire if you have sensitive skin.

"Toner is something I consider a second step of the cleansing process," said Dr. Alicia Zalka, a Yale-affiliated dermatologist. "The benefit is that, when used correctly, it can help remove excess oils and dead skin cells that may lurk on the face after washing."

So, you might be asking yourself, should I use toner? It all depends on your individualized skincare regimen. According to Zalka, "Toners are not necessary, but they can be a great adjunct to skincare regimen for those that need help with oily skin or markedly plugged pores."

Serum is a concentrated dose of actives, such as herbal extracts, vitamins, and chemical exfoliants that provide hydration and conditioning to target hyperpigmentation, fine lines, and wrinkles.  It is generally costlier than the toner and comes in a smaller bottle. Serums take more of an anti-aging approach while toners hydrate and balance your skin as it is already. If you're looking to target a certain area of your skin, a serum may be the thing for you.

"Serums are delivery systems. They are jam packed with different ingredients designed to perform a specific function," says Dr. Joshua Zeichner, Director of Cosmetic & Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. 

Serums seem to be more essential to a skincare regimen. The great thing about serum is that there are different ingredients to choose from to serve a certain purpose. Vitamin C, Herbal, Ultra Repair, and Wrinkle Lifting/Firming are a few options.

Looking to dive further into the research? Start here.

What are some of your favorite toners and serums? Let us know in the comments below!


featured image by Studio McGee