Toner vs Tonic (Updated)

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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.

Tonic

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.

Toner

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.


The beauty industry does not stop to offer us always something new. Except of all kind of tonics described above there’re two other products standing very near to them, namely: hydrolats and thermal water. Hydrolat aka hydrosol or even simply herbal water is a side product of hydrodistillation of parts of plants like flowers, leaves, berries etc. This herbal water contains some for skin care and health useful substances. But because hydrolats are not long-living products and go bad fast, they usually are enriched in alcohol. So, pay attantion, if this one point is important for you. A thermal water is natural water of a hot spring. It is enriched in minerals important for human’s health and so has some benefits for skin care too and is suitable even for very sensitive skin.

 

 

Toners & Tonics, Waters I recommend

Below I list some toners I personally use or used in the past and found them really good to recommend. I add links to those of them I’ve already reviewed.

 

Thermal Water

My first thermal water from La Roche-Posay (France) – Feels like normal mineral water, but is milder and does not tight the skin after it dries out like normal water.

 

Another water from a hot spring I’ve been using at the moment from Avène (France). I like that the dispenser is much smaller than by L R-P, but they feel alike.

 

 

Oily / Impure Skin

 

Benton Deep Green Tea Toner. (South Korea) – A watery toner made of green tea water and extracts. Very good moisturizing, nourishing and soothing irritated skin. Full review here: Would you like a cup of tea? – Benton Deep Green Tea Toner and Lotion review

 

Pyunkang Yul Acne Toner (South Korea) – with willow bark extract. Cleanses pores from sebum and dirt, fights bacteria and is desinfecting. Full review here: PYUNKANG YUL Acne Toner and Acne Cream review

 

Secret Key Tea Tree Refresh Calming Toner & Black Out Pore Clean Toner. (South Korea) – Both toners work well for oily and impure skin removing excessive sebum, cleanse the pores, desinfect and leave it refreshed. Can be used preventively against impurities and black heads. Both of them contain alcohol.

 

 

 

Sensitive Skin (Vegan & Organic)

Whamisa Organic Flowers Toner Deep Rich. (South Korea) – Organic, vegan cosmetic, contains no chemichals. A gel like nourishing toner with amazing scent of wild flowers. Full review here: Whamisa review – testing samples: Deep Rich Toner, Sebum Treatment and Organic Fruits Peeling Finger Mitt

My new lovelies, alcohol-free toners of Aromatica (South Korea): Rosmary Refresh, Orange Soft Peel and Lavender Relaxing. All of them are very soft, refreshing and veryyyyy hydrating. The original size 375 ml, here in mini size – 50 ml. USDA organic certified.

 

 

Brightening

Frudia Citrus Brightening Toner. (South Korea) – Watery toner made of fruit water and extracts with brightening and antioxidative effect. Full review here: FRUDIA Citrus Brightening Toner review

 

Hydrating

Missha Super Aqua Ultra Waterfull Active Toner. (South Korea) – Gel-like toner with deeply moisturizing effect. Perfect for dehydrated, dry skin (for all skin types actually) and for winter care.

 

Pyunkang Yul Mist Toner. (South Korea) – Liquid toner as mist spray. Contains no water, but is made to 90% of Goldthread extract. Deeply moisturizing and refreshing. Perfect for all skin types, for hot and cold seasons against dehydration.

 

And my fave Pyunkang Yul Essence Toner, here in mini size.

 

Nourishing (and Hydrating)

KLAIRS Supple Preparation Facial Toner. (South Korea) – Watery toner, restores pH-Balance of skin. Nourishes and moisturizes.

d’Alba Piedmont First Spray Mist Serum. (South Korea) – A double phase serum as mist spray. Made of white truffle, moisturizes and let the skin glow. Can be used as toner. Full review here: Italian dawn – Korean sky: d’Alba Piedmont First Spray Mist Serum & Peptide No Sebum Mild Gel Cleanser review

 

Dr Hauschka Facial Toner (Germany) – This is a spray tonic and its formulation reminds me of Korean toners. Very gentle, for dry, normal and sensitive skin, but I think its suitable for all skin types. Moisturizes and gives a cooling feeling, perfect for summer. Actually it is called facial activating tonic, it should revitalize and regenereate the skin.

Anti-Age, Retinol, Acidic

Pixi Retinol Tonic (United Kingdom) – It’s my first retinol, first Pixi and first retinol in tonic. Very gentle, but heavy scented. Enriched in antioxidants and vitamin A this tonic not only nourishes and moisturizes, but should support skin’s regenerating, reducing of fine lines and simply prevent aging process as possible.

 

 

Stay beautiful 🙂

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