Difference Between Cleanser and Toner


What is Cleanser?


A brief description of a cleanser 


Cleanser is the foundation of any skincare routine.  But choosing the proper cleanser can sometimes be an afterthought.  We may focus on the more science driven aspects of our regime like hydrating serums and hyaluronic acid infused eye creams.  Does it really matter which cleanser you choose as long as it does the job of getting rid of dirt and makeup?  Simply put – yes it does!  


Moisturizers and toners play an important role in your skincare routine.  But in order for these products to work you must start with clean, make-up free skin.  Choosing the proper cleanser is crucial because there are many different types available, depending on your skin type. 


Foam Cleansers


These cleansers lather up when mixed with water.  They are lightweight and recommended for acne prone skin.  They tend to dry out skin more than oil cleansers but have a light texture and feel.  The downside to foam cleansers is that they contain sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS). This is a chemical contained in household cleaning products such as laundry detergent and dishwashing soap.  Sodium lauryl sulfate can be too harsh for acne prone or sensitive skin as it strips the skin of its natural oils and dries it out. 


This is a problem, especially for acne! Over-dried skin will produce more oil to replenish what has been stripped away. This disrupts your skin’s natural pH level and clogging pores.


Gel Cleansers


Gel cleansers have a consistency similar to jelly.  They don’t lather like foam cleansers and contain no SLS.  Like foam cleansers, they are water based but they leave the skin less dry and flaky.  They tend to be gentler for your skin, leaving it more hydrated.


Micellar Water


This cleanser is marketed as a great travel product since it requires no running water.  Micellar water is made up of tiny oil molecules (micelles) suspended in water.  It looks like regular water but has a silkier consistency.  You apply it to your face with a cotton pad to wipe away make up and dirt.  It doesn’t dry out the skin so it can be considered a cleanser and moisturizer.  If you use waterproof mascara or heavy foundation however, micellar water will not be enough to completely clean your face.  You’ll need to add another makeup remover to fully remove impurities.  Micellar water is often used after another cleanser to provide a deep clean.


Oil Cleansers


Cleansing your skin with oil sounds counter-productive but it’s actually very effective.  The oil in oil cleansers are lipophilic. This means they are attracted to other oils, including the oil in makeup as well as the natural oil our skin produces.  The oil in the cleanser attaches to the accumulated oil in your pores and dissolves it allowing it to be easily rinsed away. 


Oil cleansers work well on long-wearing makeup, including waterproof mascara, as well as sunscreen.  They’re also good for all skin types.  Even acne prone skin benefits from oil cleansing since they don’t strip away your own natural oil, causing your body to produce excess oil to replace it.  Dr. Jeannette Graf, a board-certified dermatologist and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine says, “Oil-based cleansers can also benefit oily skin, surprisingly, as they keep the skin’s acid mantle balanced.”


Empyri's oil cleanser will gently remove the day’s accumulation of dirt and oil without drying your skin. 




Cleansing is the first and most important step in everyone’s skincare regime. And there are cleansing ingredients that work for every skin type! Empyri makes a simple product with pure ingredients that works from the acne prone teen years all the way to the drier skin we have in adulthood.  We achieve this by using clean, scientifically proven ingredients like hemp seed oil, meadowfoam seed oil, and cannabis sativa root.  These oils won’t leave a residue or clog your pores while they gently dissolve and rinse away impurities.  Our cleanser also contains no preservatives (think alcohol) or emulsifiers to dry out your skin.




As I said earlier, cleansers are the first step in any skin care routine.  They are meant to remove the day’s dirt, excess oil and makeup.  What type of cleanser should you be looking for?  One that is:


  •     Non-drying
  •     Gentle, mild formulation that keeps your skin’s natural pH levels
  •     Completely removes the daily accumulation of dirt and impurities
  •     No harsh chemicals, dyes or fragrances to irritate your skin


Order of Use


Cleansing is step one in any skin care routine. A clean face is essential to the effectiveness of all other skin products.  


How often should you be cleansing?  Most of us grew up with the notion that it’s necessary to wash your face first thing in the morning and at night before bed.  This is often true of young skin that tends to be oilier and acne prone.  However, as we age, sometimes “less is more”.  Perhaps you can forego the morning cleanse in place of a light rinsing with water or gentle toner, followed by your moisturizing and serum steps.  It is possible to over wash your face and being too vigorous can sometimes exacerbate skin sensitivities and issues, such as rosacea. 


What is Toner?


A brief description of a toner 


Now let’s talk about the second step in a skincare regime – toner.  A toner is often used to remove the makeup residue left behind by waterproof makeup.  I’m old enough to remember using toner that was a harsh astringent – making my skin tingle and sometimes burn.  Ouch!  This alcohol-based type of toner was marketed to acne prone consumers.  Fortunately, today’s exfoliating toners are formulated to be gentler than the astringents of my youth.  




Toner ingredients vary depending on the skin types it aims to target. Some are medicated, containing ingredients such as salicylic acid or glycolic acid for acne. Others are formulated for dry skin and include humectants such as propylene glycol or alpha hydroxy acid. 


"Calming ingredients like niacinamide, aloe vera, and vitamin C can help to reduce inflammation and ensure that the toner doesn’t dry the skin out too much," says Dr Corey Hartman, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology in Birmingham, Alabama.


Any toner  that contains alcohol is damaging, even to acne prone skin. For this reason, empyri's toner uses alcohol-free witch hazel and aloe vera water. These are suitable for all skin types including oily, dry, and sensitive.  We also provide vitamin C sachets to add to our toner. This gives you the opportunity to manage the amount of this active ingredient, based on your skin’s needs. Vitamin C acts as a natural treatment for acne by killing bacteria, and is also a collagen booster and skin brightener.




One of the most common misconceptions is that toner is also a cleanser.  The function of a toner is not to clean your face.  Don’t be fooled by videos on social media of people saying “look how good my toner is at removing makeup residue”.  This simply means that your cleanser isn’t doing a good enough job.  Toners can serve two functions – as a prep for other skin products such as serum and to target a specific skin concern or type.  For example, at empyri we like to use our toner to dampen the skin to prepare it for the application of either our hemp moisturizing cream or facial serum.  It’s also the base for our pure vitamin C packets which stimulates collagen production and reduces fine lines and wrinkles.  


Order of Use


Toners should be the second step in your skin care routine.  Once your face has been cleansed of the daily accumulation of dirt, oil and makeup, toner is applied.  This step prepares your skin for moisturizers and serums or perhaps serves to deliver a specific treatment (such as vitamin C).  It can also be used in the morning to replace cleanser as step one of your routine.  Unless your skin is oily or combination, using cleanser in the morning may not be necessary.  


Empyri 3-Step Ritual


What are the Main Differences Between Cleansers and Toners?


Essentially, cleansers clean the surface of the skin and wash away impurities.  Toners either “prep” the skin to accept moisturizers and serums or they act as a treatment that targets a specific concern such as dryness.  Toners are not meant to clean up the residue or makeup left behind by your cleanser.  




Which is better?


You can’t compare cleansers to toners to determine which is better.  Both play important but different roles in your skin care routine.  


Are toners really necessary?


This is a question that many experts do not agree on.  Some dermatologists say that toners aren’t necessary unless you have oily or acne prone skin.  Other say they are beneficial if you want to target a specific skin concern, whether it be acne or even inflammation.  So, it really comes down to personal choice. Toners are an added benefit to your skin care routine especially if you have a targeted issue such as oiliness or dryness.  


Do I need both?


Again, this comes down to your skin’s own needs and your routine.  Cleansing is essential for everyone but some may be able to substitute with a toner in the morning if your skin is on the drier side.  We like to use both as part of a three step skin care system. 


Can the toner replace the cleanser?


The function of a cleanser is to completely remove the accumulation of dirt, sebum and makeup from your face.  Toner will not do this.  It can however, be used to replace cleansers in the morning if you’re just washing with warm water before adding moisturizer or serum.  If you’re using it in place of cleanser in the evening, you are not getting rid of all the impurities.  


What is the best way to use toner and cleanser?


The simplest and most effective skin care routine is three steps – cleanse, tone and moisturize.  Use a cleanser first to remove the daily build-up of dirt and makeup.  Then apply toner (add empyri’s vitamin C sachets) to prep skin for the final step which is moisturizer.  The vitamin C toner can also target skin issues such as acne or dark spots.  Some skin types may be able to skip the cleanser in the morning and just use toner and moisturizer.


How often should I use toner and skin cleanser on my face?


The frequency of your skin care routine depends on your skin type.  Cleansers can be used morning and evening for oilier acne prone skin or just in the evening for drier, mature skin.


If you’re using an astringent toner to target oiliness, it’s best to be cautious in how often you use them.  They can dry your skin’s own natural oils. Once or twice a week may be enough.


Toners with calming ingredients like aloe or glycerin are safe to use daily  to prepare your skin for moisturizers and serums. Added hydration from your toner is especially helpful in dry winter months.   




Cleanser is the base of your skincare routine and perhaps the most important.  Whether you have a wash-and-go routine or one that involves many steps, starting with a “clean slate” is essential. Removing makeup, dirt and excess sebum from your skin’s surface allows it to reap the benefit of the extra love you layer on afterwards. 


Our empyri hemp seed oil face wash works for all skin types including acne prone skin.  You get the best of both worlds – an effective deep cleanse with gentle moisturizing properties. 


Toners prep the skin for moisturizers while targeting specific skin issues such as dryness or acne.  Our vitamin C toner has the added benefit of boosting collagen production, brightening your skin tone and fading dark spots.  It also kills the bacteria that causes acne, without the drying properties of harsher astringents like salicylic acid. The individual sachets let you control the amount of vitamin C you add to our toner based on your skin’s sensitivity. 


Show your skin that it is loved.


Jennifer Grant with Hemp Roots


Author Bio: Jennifer is the president and founder of empyri.  Jennifer’s passion for formulation and product development was set ablaze in 2019, when she incorporated the healing power of cannabis roots into her long-standing three-step skin care system. Armed with scientific evidence on the actives in cannabis roots and seeds, a clean and conscious brand was born. Using her masters degree in bio-chemical engineering, Jennifer is forging a path to ...READ FULL BIO