Micellar Water vs Toner: What’s the Difference and Do You Need Them?

If you’re not too familiar with skincare products, I can’t blame you. There are tons out there and with new ones popping up every day it can get overwhelming. The good news is I love skincare products and am always researching and trying them out.

So if you’ve been hearing about micellar water and thinking it sounds just like toner; that’s understandable.  But they actually aren’t the same thing at all.

Micellar water and toner have different purposes. Micellar water primarily cleanses the skin, removing dirt, oil, and debris from your pores. Toner balances your skin’s PH level and provides helpful components such as moisturizing ingredients, antioxidants, and exfoliants.

They are two very different products, both of which can be very helpful.

In this article, I’ll cover what micellar water and toner are, the differences, and how each can benefit your skin. By the end, you’ll be able to decide if either (or both!) are right for you.

toner and micellar water

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How Micellar Water Works

If you’ve ever tried to wash a greasy dish you know that oil and water don’t mix. You need dish soap to really break up the oil and let the water wash it away.

Well, it kind of sounds gross but micellar water works in somewhat the same way.

Micellar water contains mild surfactants, which is a fancy way of saying cleaning agents, that help it remove the oil and dirt from your skin. The surfactant molecules stick together in clusters that are called micelles, thus the name micellar water.

Micellar water has been used for decades in Europe, particularly France, but has exploded in popularity in the US recently. It first became popular with makeup artists but now everyone is using it.

It’s a very light liquid, really almost feels like plain water but has a little extra slip to it. It’s great for removing makeup and for when you need to wash your face but don’t have access to facilities. It’s perfect for situations like hiking and camping. You can apply it easily with a cotton pad.

How Toner Works

A facial toner is a light liquid containing skin-boosting active ingredients. I think of it as an easy way to give my skin the vitamins and moisture it needs to stay glowing, firm, and even-toned.

If you’re like me and grew up in the ’90s swiping harsh, astringent toners on your skin (yup Seabreeze I’m thinking of you) then I’m relieved to tell you toners have come a long way.

Toners can be very gentle products, in fact, the ones I use have no alcohol, no dyes, and no artificial fragrances. No longer do toners strip your skin dry and have fumes that burn your nose. Well, at least the good toners, it’s possible those ones still existing but I recommend you stay far away from them.

The best toners are packed with antioxidants to support your skin’s health.  They often have moisturizing ingredients to give you a little extra hydration, and some of them have exfoliants to help your skin glow.

You can apply toner up to twice a day after cleansing your face.  They absorb very quickly so you can continue with the rest of your skincare routine immediately. Many people use a cotton ball but I use my hands so I don’t waste a drop. If you want to learn more about toners, and if you even need one, check out my article here. It covers all you need to know.

Micellar water on my hand
Micellar water on my hand

Benefits of Micellar Water and Toner

Let’s take a look at what makes each of these products worthwhile. I have both and use them regularly so I’ll add my personal experiences here.

 Micellar Water Benefits

Micellar water really only does one thing, but it does it well. It cleans your skin without leaving a greasy residue behind.  And that lack of residue is one of the most commonly advertised benefits of micellar water; you don’t need to wash it off.

I camp often in an RV (OK maybe it’s “glamping” and not camping because I do have a bathroom). But no matter how you do it, micellar water is great for camping. When I’m cramped in that teensy tiny shower with a very small water heater I need to get in and out as fast as possible.

Micellar water helps me get all the dirt and grime off my face before I jump in my two-minute shower.

It’s also great for removing the really thick sunscreens I use when outside for long periods. Sometimes when I’m out all day, I don’t want to glob on another layer on top of the existing one that’s already there.

Micellar water is great for taking off all the sunscreen and dirt and giving me a clean face to reapply a new SPF for the afternoon. And yes I always reapply sunscreen when outside all day, more than once actually!

One thing I do want to note is that if I’m at home and use micellar water to take off my makeup in the evening, I still usually use my regular face wash afterward.

Since I’m going to be applying my skincare products I want my face to be completely clean. And even though micellar water is very light, I still prefer to rinse it off so my skincare can be absorbed as easily as possible and I get the best results.

Toner Benefits

Unlike micellar water, toner has several benefits and can be used to address many skin concerns.

Toner can bring your skin’s ph levels back to where it should be, somewhere between 4.5 and 5.5. They can also provide antioxidant protection, hydrate, and exfoliate the skin.

My favorite toners are the ones that are packed with antioxidants. Those of you who read my articles often will know I am focused on maintaining and increasing collagen levels in my skin. Antioxidants are one of the easiest ways to do that because they help protect our skin from damage.

Anti-Aging Tip: Antioxidants are one of the best weapons against aging skin. Check out my article here about green tea, one of the most powerful antioxidants in skincare.

Since my skin tends to be normal to dry, I love a toner with some extra moisturizing ingredients such as glycerin or hyaluronic acid. Toner is very lightweight, so it’s not going to provide as much hydration as a lotion, cream, or facial oil.  But in the cold winter, every extra bit of moisture helps.

The last big group of toners is exfoliants. Exfoliants loosed up the dead skin cells on the surface of y our of skin. This allows them to fall off and the new younger-looking skin underneath to appear.

Regular exfoliation not only gives you glowing skin but helps fade wrinkles and dark spots and can promote collagen production.  This paper details the many benefits of Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) for skin.

If you’re interested, take a look at my complete guide to AHA’s for more information on how to use them. They’re affordable, suitable even for sensitive skin types, and have so many benefits for your skin.

Salicylic acid is considered a Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA) and has similar benefits. The biggest difference is that BHA’s are oil soluble and so are best for people with oily skin.

Mad Hippie toner on my hand
Mad Hippie toner on my hand

Do You Need Micellar Water or Toner?

The truth is that neither of these is a skincare product that is an absolute necessity in a skincare routine. Micellar water is convenient and great for travel, but a regular facial cleanser is all that you need if you prefer a minimalist routine.

I love using toner because it’s an easy way to give my dry skin more antioxidants and boost its moisture. To fight the signs of aging skin, the more antioxidants the better.   However, if I do run out or am traveling it’s not a big deal if I skip it for a few days.

So the decision lies with you. Micellar water is more of a convenience, while toner can be very beneficial to your skin. If you’re looking to reduce the appearance of wrinkles, fight hyperpigmentation or brighten your skin tone, I recommend toner as one more way to help.

Top Micellar Water and Toner Products

Garnier SkinActive Micellar Cleasing Water

This micellar water removes dirt and oil and doesn’t leave any film behind, although I do still rinse it if I can. For several years it has also served as my makeup remover. I can’t say for sure if it’s the best micellar water because it’s the only one I’ve used. But I can say it definitely gets the job done and doesn’t irritate my skin. If you use waterproof mascara (or any waterproof makeup)you may prefer this version.

Mad Hippie Hydrating Nutrient Mist

This toner is packed with antioxidants as well as glycerin and hyaluronic acid for hydration. It’s a mist that I find works best when I spray it on my hands and pat it on my face.  I’ve written a full review of this toner here.

Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 8% Gel Exfoliant

This toner uses glycolic acid to exfoliate and has green tea and chamomile to soothe skin.  I don’t use this daily, but find using it 2 times a week does a good job to keep my skin glowing.

Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA

If you have oily or acne-prone skin this toner is a great choice. It’s a very lightweight formula that almost feels like water. Salicylic acid can penetrate through excess oil to clear out the dirt and oil that can clog up pores and cause breakouts. It also exfoliates to brighten the skin.

Final thoughts On Micellar Water vs Toner

Skincare can be confusing, and while I love it, I realize not everyone does. I hope this article has been helpful to you in clarifying the differences between micellar water and toner. And that it makes your skincare choices a little easier.

Related Skincare Articles

Can You Use Salicylic Acid and Niacinamide Together?

Can You Use Hyaluronic Acid and Niacinamide Together?

Cerave vs Cetaphil: Which is Best For Your Skin