Toner vs Serum: What's the Difference?

In recent decades, skincare shelves have gone through an evolution all their own. Whereas there were once just cleansers, toners, and moisturisers, there are now serums, essences, ampules, floral waters ... and surprisingly, that's just the beginning of the list!

Which surely brings you to ask what the differences are amongst all these products. If you use one, do you need to use the others? If you use two, do you get double the benefits?

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What's the difference between a toner and a serum?

If you visually compare a toner and serum, the telltale difference is the consistency. Toning products tend to be waterlike and come in jumbo containers, whereas serums tend to be thicker yet still lightweight and come in preciously small bottles. Generally, serums are costlier than toners too.

While it's helpful to understand how to tell the difference, this doesn't answer the heart of your question. What you really want to know is what toners and serums DO differently.

In general, modern toning products are formulated to:

There are, in fact, three significantly different types of toning products, which you can learn more about in our Ultimate Guide article, 'What are skin toners for?' Each type of toner excels specifically in one of the above benefits.

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Now, compare these benefits to those of a serum, which is formulated to:

  • Give a concentrated dose of actives, such as herbal extracts, vitamins, chemical exfoliants, or humectants

  • Provide intense yet lightweight hydration and conditioning

  • Target and treat skincare concerns such as hyperpigmentation, fine lines, and wrinkles

The standout difference, which you've likely picked up on, is the concentration of active ingredients that target specific skincare concerns. This accounts for the higher price of a serum. While there's definitely some overlap between the benefits of a toner and serum, there are also some key differences.

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If you use a toner, do you need to use a serum?

The answer to this question depends on what you want to achieve for your skin. Do you want to treat or prevent a targeted skincare concern? If so, then integrating the perfect serum into your skincare routine will definitely benefit your complexion. For example, in the case of hyperpigmentation, we'd recommend integrating a product with vitamin C, such as asap super c serum 30ml. If you're more concerned about fine lines and wrinkles, then we'd recommend HydroPeptide Power Serum or something similar.

What these products have in common is a concentrated and targeted dose of effective active ingredients, which you're unlikely to find in a toner. So, although you can certainly use a toner alone and skip the serum, there are definitely benefits to using both.

If you use both a toner and a serum, will you get double the benefits?

Now you know that using a toner and a serum in combination can benefit your skin. Whether you see extra benefits depends on your selection of toner.

For example, if you use asap super c serum 30ml to even your skin tone, then you would also benefit from an exfoliating toner such as Pixi Glow Tonic 250ml. These two products contain different active ingredients that address the same concern. We can't promise a literal doubling of benefits, but you'd definitely see some additional benefits by using both products.

Again, if you were to use HydroPeptide Power Serum for fine lines and wrinkles, you'd definitely see additional benefits from a complementary toner such as Dermalogica Multi-Active Toner 50ml.

Understanding the key active ingredients and aims of each of your skincare products is the key to achieving optimal benefits from your routine. If you need more clarification, our skincare experts are always happy to help at service@adorebeauty.com.au or 03 9486 7179.