Understanding the Difference Between Toners and Astringents + Which One to Use

So, let's finally solve the toner-astringent puzzle, and help you pick the right product for your skin.

August 21, 2023 4 minutes read
Woman applying a face toner with cotton pads

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If your skincare routine involves more than just a cleanse and a moisturizer, you’ve likely stumbled upon toners and astringents when shopping for skincare. And given their similar function in cleansing the skin, toners and astringents are often used interchangeably for skincare products, making it hard to choose the right one for you.

However, these two products are vastly different, and comitting to one or the other will depend on your skin type and skincare goals.

Therefore, in today’s article, we'll be clearing out the confusion when it comes to these two, stating their benefits, differences, and how to choose the one perfect for your skin needs.

So, here are all the deets you need to know!

What Is a Toner + Benefits?

woman using a face toner

A toner is a liquid-based formula, and is typically used to soothe, hydrate, or exfoliate the skin. Unlike before, toners these days are alcohol-free and contain ingredients, such as glycerin, exfoliating acids (like glycolic acid), antioxidants, rice water, niacinamide, and others.

Toners' main function is to wipe off traces of dirt or makeup residue missed after a cleanse and prep the skin for the skincare steps that follow. Plus, they offer a plethora of other skin benefits:

What Are Astringents + Benefits?

woman applying an astringent to her face

Astringents are, just like toners, liquid-based products but stronger. However, they typically contain alcohol (and not the good kind), such as rubbing alcohol or isopropyl alcohol. Luckily, there are other alcohol-free astringents that contain plant-based ingredients, like witch hazel, white willow bark, yerba mansa, myrtle, and calamine, to name a few.

The term astringent comes from the Latin word adstringere, which, in essence, means to constrict, shrink, or bind fast. In cosmetics, these types of products are usually formulated for oily skin to reduce excess shine and oil, as well as shrink pores. In addition, thanks to their antiseptic, anti-viral, and anti-bacterial properties, they can also:

How To Choose The Right One For Your Skin Type

woman with dry skin applying a skincare product with a cotton pad

Choosing the right product according to your skin type is super important to enjoy the very best out of them. If you are confused about which to opt for, here's an easy guide for you:

#1: Oily, Acne-Prone & Combination Skin

Astringents are more potent products and can be drying due to their alochol content. But this also renders them effective in ridding the skin of thriving bacteria and giving it a more thorough cleanse. Therefore, if you have oily, acne-prone skin, an astringent fitted to your daily routine is a great way to reduce shine and combat acne.

Similarly, combination skin typically produces excess oil on the T-zone area with the rest being normal. In this case, you can opt for an astringent for your T-zone, and a mild toner to hydrate dry areas on your face.

Nevertheless, if you're weary of applying alcohol to your face (understandably, as it can be pretty harsh on the skin), you can go for a toner that contains ingredients like salicylic acid or witch hazel. These will exfoliate the skin, reduce oil production, and fight acne all at the same time, while being gentler on your skin.

#2: Dry, Sensitive, & Normal Skin

For dry and sensitive skin types, toners are ideal due to their mild nature and hydrating benefits. Compared to an astringent, which may be too drying and harsh, a toner is a much safer option and, with it, the risk or skin irritation is minimal.

Plus, if your skin is easily sensitized and prone to redness, you can opt for toners with soothing agents, like chamomile tea extract; and no matter what, avoid those that contain fragrances, as these can be pretty irritating to your already compromised skin barrier.

Similarly, if you have a normal skin type, go for toners, as there's no need to treat any acne-related issues with an astringent in your case.

How to Use Toners and Astringents

woman using a cotton pad to dab on a face toner

Both toners and astringents are applied in a smiliar way, after cleansing, as the second step in your daily skincare routine. Regarding the frequency of use, hydrating toners, packed with humectants, can be applied twice a day, every day. On the other hand, those that contain exfoliating or brightening agents, should be used less frequently and only in the evenings, followed by sunscreen the next morning.

Similarly, astringents should be used with cution and only once a day, preferably as a part of your nighttime skincare routine. This is because of their potential drying effect, which, if overused, can disrupt your skin's pH and trigger overproduction of oil.

When it comes to application method itself, they are used in the same fashion:

Note: You might feel a tight and tingling sensation after an astringent, and that's normal. However, if the sensation gets unbearable and feels like a volcano erupting on your face, or you get intense redness, rinse off and discontinue use immediately!


As you can see, toners and astringents are similar, given that they are both liquid-based and used after washing the face to remove any last traces of impurities from the skin's surface. However, they do differ in various ways.

And so, astringents contain higher levels of alcohol or botanical-based astringent agents, making them ideal for combating acne and excess oil production on the skin. Toners, on the other hand, are more mild, hydrating, and packed with ingredients targeting skin-specific concerns.

Thus, it's important to stick to the one suitable for your skin type. Toners are excellent for dry, normal and sensitive skin types; while astringents are designed to work best on oily, acne-prone skin.

If you are still unsure of what to choose, you can consult your dermatologist for more guidance on the right one for you.

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