Micellar Water vs Toner: Differences and How to Use

Micellar water and toner are two popular skincare product types. Have you ever wondered what the difference is between micellar water vs toner and whether or not you need to use them both in your skincare routine?

Micellar Water vs Toner: Bioderma Sensibio H2O Micellar Water Make-Up Remover for Sensitive Skin and Thayer's Rose Petal Witch Hazel Toner

The truth is, they serve similar functions, but there are some key differences in how they work and how you use them. They’re both designed to work in the early stages of your skincare routine, but they have different purposes.

Let’s take a look at micellar water vs toner and how these two products work so, you can decide which one is right for you.

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What is Micellar Water?

Micellar water is made up of micelles, which are tiny oil molecules suspended in soft water formulated to act as surfactants and cleanse your skin. It gently lifts dirt from your skin without irritating sensitive skin or stripping away essential moisture.

Micellar water originated in French skincare. France is known for its alkaline hard water, which can cause irritation and disrupt the skin’s natural moisture barrier since the skin has a naturally slightly acidic pH. Micellar water cleanses while respecting your skin’s natural pH.

Micellar water can remove makeup, but it is not as effective at removing full coverage makeup like foundation or mascara because it doesn’t contain ingredients that help break up heavy makeup. Micellar water might be a good option for those who wear lighter makeup, including a lightweight foundation or CC cream and concealer.

Micellar waters typically use purified or mineral-enriched water to cleanse your skin. You might even be able to get away with using it alone as a moisturizing cleanser!

How to Use Micellar Water

Saturate a cotton pad with your micellar water and gently sweep it across your skin to remove makeup, dirt, oil, and residue.

You can also use micellar water in a two-step cleansing routine. Use it as a makeup remover (first cleanse) and follow with a water-based second cleanse to remove any residual makeup and dirt that the micellar water may have missed.

Continue with the rest of your skincare routine: toner, any serums or treatments, moisturizer, plus sunscreen in your morning routine.

Micellar water is probably perfect for you if:

  • You wear light makeup.
  • You have dry or sensitive skin. Micellar waters are less irritating than traditional cleansers because they contain fewer ingredients that could cause a reaction.
  • You don’t tend to break out.
  • You enjoy the convenience of cleansing without having to rinse off a product. It’s especially ideal for travel and as an alternative to makeup wipes.

Micellar water probably isn’t the best option for you if:

  • You wear full coverage makeup. Micellar water isn’t as effective at removing full face makeup like foundation or mascara and you might need to use a separate makeup remover first.
  • You have oily or acne prone skin. Micellar water may not completely remove dirt and oil, which can clog pores and worsen acne and breakouts.
  • You want a deep cleanse. You may prefer to double cleanse with a cleansing balm and follow with a water-based cleanser (like a cleansing foam) to completely remove dirt, makeup, oil and other debris.

The Bottom Line: Micellar water is more suitable for people wearing minimal makeup and needing a quick cleanse before moisturizing. Micellar waters best suit those with very dry skin or sensitive skin that tends to be easily irritated by-products that contain stronger actives.

What is Toner?

Toners are liquids that help prepare your skin for the moisturizing treatment stage of your skincare routine.

Toners are used after cleansing. They usually help balance the skin’s pH and remove any leftover oil or residue after cleansing. While some toners are water-like in texture and formulated with basic ingredients, other toners have a richer texture contain actives to address specific skin concerns.

Many toners on the market today are alcohol-free, so they won’t dry out your skin like toner formulas from years ago. Some toners deliver a burst of hydration and can also tone, tighten, and detoxify the skin. They can also help remove dead skin cells and cleanse the surface of the pores.

Toner: Good for All Skin Types?

Toners can work for all skin types depending on the formula:

  • Some toners are formulated for oily skin to tighten pores and keep sebum under control.
  • Some contain actives like salicylic acid to address acne for acne-prone skin.
  • Some toners may contain moisturizing ingredients for dry skin.
  • Some toners contain anti-aging and brightening ingredients like an exfoliating acid, i.e., an alpha hydroxy acid like glycolic acid or lactic acid for aging and mature skin.
  • Some toners contain soothing ingredients for sensitive skin.

How to Use Toner

Use toner directly after cleansing the skin. Apply with a cotton pad and do not rinse. Follow with any treatments or serums and moisturizer. As the last step of your morning skincare routine, don’t forget to apply sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.

Micellar Water vs Toner: What’s the Difference?

Micellar water and toner are both designed to be applied with a cotton pad and don’t need water. But they each have their separate purposes and uses.

Micellar waters are used in the cleansing step of your skincare routine, and toners are used after cleansing in the toning step of your skincare routine.

Micellar waters are versatile because they can remove makeup and cleanse your skin without having to rinse it off. Micellar waters are more focused on cleansing the skin and moisturizing your complexion.

Toners are best used after cleansing, but they shouldn’t be used as an all-over face wash because toners can actually dry out the skin. Toners are a supplement to cleansers. In fact, many don’t use toner in their skincare routine at all. Some feel that toner isn’t necessary in your skincare routine.

Which is Better: Micellar Water or Toner?

Micellar water and toners have similar purposes, and they’re great for daily use because of their convenience. Micellar waters can be a bit more versatile because you can remove makeup with them, but they may not always be the most effective option.

Toner can be beneficial because, depending on the formula, they can reduce irritation, remove dead skin cells, balance your pH, and refresh your complexion.

What will be better for one unique complexion won’t work for another, so be sure to consider your skin type and skin concerns when deciding to use these products in your skincare routine.

Can Micellar Water and Toner Be Used Together?

Depending on your skin concerns and needs, micellar water and toner can be used together.

Micellar water is a great first step because it gets light makeup off your face without irritating your skin.

You can then follow up with a toner to remove any leftover makeup, dirt, and oil.

Choose a moisturizing toner for dry skin, a soothing toner for sensitive skin, or an exfoliating toner for aging, oily, or acne-prone skin that contains ingredients like glycolic acid or salicylic acid to help clean out your pores.

Micellar Water and Toner Picks

Bioderma Sensibio H2O Micellar Water Make-Up Remover for Sensitive Skin

Bioderma Sensibio H2O Micellar Water Make-Up Remover for Sensitive Skin is a best-selling micellar water that removes makeup, dirt, debris, pollution, and other impurities while respecting the skin’s hydrolipidic film.

It contains highly purified and pharmaceutical-grade water. Mannitol and xylitol moisturize the skin. Cucumis sativus fruit extract soothes and acts as an anti-inflammatory.

Laboratoire BIODERMA created micellar technology and formulated this product at a physiological pH of around 5.5. It’s formulated with a Dermatological Advanced Foundation patented complex that helps strengthen the skin’s resistance to external stressors.

If you wear heavier eye makeup, consider leaving the micellar-soaked cotton pad on your eyelids for a few extra seconds. You can also use more than one cotton pad to remove heavier makeup.

The micelles in the formula are similar to the skin’s natural composition and trap impurities, leaving the skin feeling clean, comfortable, and hydrated. It supports the skin’s moisture barrier while protecting from irritation.

Ideal for sensitive skin, this micellar water soothes the skin with no fragrance, alcohol, or parabens. This micellar water is also oil-free and won’t leave behind any residue. No rinsing is needed!

Per Bioderma, this micellar water removes 99% of makeup, 98% of fine particles, and 78% of heavy metals, based on a test on 10 volunteers on the effectiveness of this product on foundation removal.

Garnier SkinActive Micellar Cleansing Water



Another highly effective micellar water that you can find in most drugstores is Garnier SkinActive Micellar Cleansing Water. This micellar water is affordable and works just as well as some of the higher-end micellar waters on the market.

The best thing about Garnier SkinActive Micellar Cleansing Water is that you can use it to remove makeup, but since it’s soap-free and alcohol-free, your skin won’t feel tight or dry after using it.

This micellar water is non-greasy, fragrance-free, dermatologically tested.

It comes in several different varieties in addition to the variety for all skin types above: Waterproof, Mattifying, Hydrating, and Brightening.

Thayer’s Witch Hazel Toners


Thayer’s Witch Hazel Toners are so popular that they have over 65,000 reviews on Amazon.

Thayers Witch Hazel products use a proprietary formula of certified organic aloe vera extract and certified organic witch hazel (extracted without alcohol). Witch hazel is soothing and has astringent and antioxidant benefits.

The formulas soothe, hydrate, and nourish the skin and promote a more even skin tone with continued use. Vegetable-derived glycerin moisturizes without clogging the pores.

Here’s why people love these products: they are non-drying and alcohol-free, can be used as face mists or on the skin as toners, and the ingredients are simple.

These products are alcohol-free, so they won’t dry out your skin as harsher toners will. They are also paraben-free, phthalate-free, and non-comedogenic, so they won’t clog your pores and cause acne or breakouts.

These products come in many different varieties, including Original, Rose Petal, Lavender, Cucumber, Coconut Water, and an Unscented fragrance-free option.

NOTE: If you have sensitive skin or are just looking for a gentle toner, Thayers Unscented is ideal for you. It gently cleanses the face without overdrying it.

Related Post: The Best Korean Toners for All Skin Types

Neutrogena Oil-Free Toner

Neutrogena Oil-Free Toner is an alcohol-free toner that you can use daily before moisturizing. It refreshes the skin without stripping the skin of its natural oils.

It contains panthenol, which is an anti-inflammatory that soothes the skin. Panthenol moisturizes the skin and reduces transepidermal water loss. Sodium PCA (Pyrrolidone Carboxylic Acid), a compound found naturally in our skin, hydrates and moisturizes the skin.

It removes any leftover makeup after cleansing without any tightness or dryness. It leaves your skin fresh and clean skin.

This facial toner is alcohol-free, oil-free, hypoallergenic, and non-comedogenic, so it won’t clog pores.

FAQs

How is micellar water different from makeup remover?

Micellar water is formulated to remove light makeup while makeup remover contains ingredients to remove a full face of makeup including stubborn eye makeup.

How is micellar water different from a normal cleanser?

Micellar water is formulated to remove makeup, dirt, and oil without being rinsed off your face, so no water is needed. It is also formulated to be gentle and support your skin barrier, which makes it ideal for those with dry or sensitive skin.

Should I moisturize after using micellar water?

Yes, after you use micellar water, you should apply the rest of the products in your skincare routine that follow cleansing, including a moisturizer. And don’t forget the sunscreen in your AM routine!

Should you wash your face after using micellar water?

You may want to wash your face after using micellar water if you have oily or acne-prone skin to ensure that all of your makeup, sunscreen, dirt, and oil are removed from your face.

Which comes first, micellar water or toner?

Use micellar water first to remove makeup, dirt, oil, and other impurities, then follow with a toner to remove any residual debris and to balance your skin’s pH.

Can you use micellar water as a toner?

Yes, micellar water can be used as a toner to cleanse the skin and balance the skin’s pH while respecting the skin barrier.

Final Thoughts on Using Micellar Water vs Toner in Your Skincare Routine

Micellar water and toner are both great options for different reasons. Toners can help balance your skin’s pH, remove dead skin cells, and refresh your complexion after you cleanse with micellar water that removes makeup from the skin’s surface.

Try using toners with micellar water to get the best of both worlds.

Thanks for reading, and until next time, here’s to your good skin health!