Toner vs Tonic

Non-Asian often cannot distinguish between a tonic and a toner. What’s the reason for it? Recently I saw a discussion in the internet smth like: “are tonic and toner the same or not” and immediately played with the idea of a post about it.

Bevor I started to use K-Beauty, I didn’t know anything about toners. From time to time I used tonics, but to say the truth I didn’t like them at all. They dried the skin and made it red and dull. And I chosed them exactly for my skin type!

After I started to use toners about 10 months ago my skin recovered, feels and looks much better. If I were asked which K-Beauty treatment I like the most, I would have said toners and peeling gels. They treat and clean very gently, moisturize even better than creams and restore the skin’s natural glow back.

To understand what is a tonic/toner, you should know what is the purpose of them.


What we knew before, I mean in the western world, was a tonic. It is the second step of cleansing after cleansing gel or soap. I remember, many years ago, I wanted to learn all the steps of skin care routine. And I bought myself a beautyguide book. I was taken aback, when I saw how many cosmetics you need to apply to achieve the goal of beauty.

And why do I need a tonic? Like I mentioned above, I didn’t like the tonics at all. I really hated them, but accurately applied every day. They worked bad and I thought it was my fault.

A tonic is a watery substance that has spirit as one of the main ingredients. It is used for cleaning only. They say a cleanser cannot remove all the dirt and make up rests, so tonic is needed to do this job. Simply give it on a cotton pad and wipe your face. You shouldn’t expect a gentle cleansing from this “water”. Dries, stretches and feels very badly on skin.

There are many tonics to find here in german drustores. I used the tonics of Nivea and Garnier. And was so glad, when I found the korean toners as an excellent alternative. I don’t wanna buy and use conventional tonics again.


At first sight toner seems to be the same like tonic, but it is wrong. They cannot be more unlike. Toner is a part of Korean skin care routine and comes after cleanser. Koreans use a double-cleansing system: first remove make up with cleansing oil or balm, then use the cleanser and after cleanser comes the toner.

Main purposes of toner:

  • restore skin’s natural pH level after cleansing
  • moisturize and nourish the skin
  • prepare the skin for applying of other treatment products

Toners can be very watery, less liquid and of gel-like consistency.

My first toner Super Aqua Ultra Waterfull of Missha
Has a gel-like consistency and doesn’t run. Very moisturizing.

In Korea they try the “7 skin toner method” it means you should apply 7 layers of toner one after another. A real moisturizing bomb! I’ve heard the recommendations of other beauty bloggers for this and tried. The result: I stopped it after 3rd layer, if I remember exactly. Not my thing.

Here My Tip if you wanna try: do it with watery toners and without containing acids, otherwise you can get skin irritations.

Korean beauty brands try to enrich their toners with useful and healthy ingredients like herbal and fruit extracts, hyaluronic acid, AHAs and BHAs.

For impure skin Green Tea toner of Benton.
Pyunkang Yul toner for acne troubles. According to the online website where I bought it, contains BHA (betaine salicylate).

Toners can be mixtured with other treatments, like Pyunkang Yul Essence Toner for instance. Or they’re very comfortable in form of sprays, so called Mists, like Pyunkang Yul Mist Toner. I’m going to purchase them for summer.

Don’t confuse toner/tonic with micellar water, like I did for a long time. They’re not the same. Micellar water is in reality a cleansing water to remove gently make up and dirt bevor cleanser. It doesn’t contain spirit, silicons, parabens and fragrance. Actually, the same micellar water can be used to remove make up from skin, eyes and lips.

Attention: micellar water contains surfactants which are responsible to remove make up, sebum, and dirt. But even if they’re mild, by long-term use they can irritate the skin. It is not my own opinion, but a conclusion of the opinions of other beauty-bloggers I’ve watched recently. So, do not use micellar water like a tonic, but rather remove by washing.

I personally think, there circulates a myth: toner cannot contain spirit. Liquid treatments that contain spirit can be only tonics. I don’t think it is true, because my most fave toner of Secret Key Black Out Pore Clean Toner is liquid and contains spirit. Here the ingredients:

Purified Water, Butylene Glycol , Methylated Spirit, Glycerin , Allantoin , Betain, PEG-60 Hydrogenated Castor Oil , Polyepsilon-Lysine, Papaya Fruit Extract, Witch Hazel Extract, Black Bean Extract, Black Sesame Extract, Sucrose, Charcoal Powder, Kaoline, Rice Extract, Garlic Extract, Disodium EDTA , Flavoring.

Contains spirit and moisturizes at the same time.

And there’re other toners of Secret Key which contain spirit/alcohol like Secret Key Tea Tree Refresh Calming Toner and Secret Key Witch-hazel Pore Clear Toner. What I find the most amazing, they contain spirit and give a deep moisturizing feeling at the same time.

All in one a toner is a very useful skin treatment. I cannot imagine my skin care without toner any more. No question for me toner beats tonic for sure. And I for my part wanna thank South Korea and it’s beauty industry for this wonderful gift.


Stay beautiful 🙂

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