Are Toners Redundant? Why Not Just use an Exfoliator Instead?

If you turn over the bottle of toner and compare the ingredient list to an exfoliator, you will see many similarities.

From salicylic to glycolic acid, toners and exfoliators have ingredients that work hard to make your skin look its best.

Naturally, this leads many to wonder whether they just ditch one of the products in the first place and use the other.

After all, we men love 2-in-1, 3-in-1, and even 4-in-1 products!

Well, before you throw out anything out, it’s important to know the similarities and differences between these skincare products.

We’ll also discuss the benefits of using toners and exfoliators in your skincare routine.

Fundamental differences between toners and exfoliators

man holding two cotton pads on his eyes

While toners and exfoliators can provide various benefits, they serve very different purposes. Here’s how these skincare products differ from one another:


Here are some of the ingredients within each product and how it impacts the skin:

  • Toners: Often included in toners will be astringents, often in the form of witch hazel and alcohol. These ingredients help to tighten the skin, reduce the appearance of pores, and lift excess oil and dirt deep within the pores. Additionally, toners may include humectants like glycerin and aloe vera to help hydrate the skin. The role of the toner is to improve complexion and balance the skin’s pH levels.
  • Exfoliators: Here, you’ll find a higher concentration of acids, like salicylic acid (beta hydroxy acid), glycolic acid (alpha hydroxy acid), and lactic acid (alpha hydroxy acid). The acids lift deep-set oil and unclog pores. Beta hydroxy acids are more concentrated and often used to treat acne. Alpha hydroxy acids are gentler and are often used by men with dry to normal skin. Aside from chemical exfoliants, you’ll also find physical exfoliants. Physical exfoliators have a grit or substance that causes friction to remove dead skin cells – they are physically abrasive.

Frequency of Use

Given the milder nature of toners, they can be used twice daily without irritating. However, dermatologists recommend that an exfoliator be used no more than two to three times weekly. Excessive use of an exfoliator often leads to irritation and dry skin.

Skin Concerns

While men of any skin type can and should use a toner, those with oily skin will see the biggest change in their complexion. Exfoliators, on the other hand, should be used by all skin types (oily, combination, dry, and normal) as they help to slough away dead skin cells. By clearing the way of old skin, new skin can emerge, giving the complexion a brighter, more youthful appearance.


Toners are applied via a cotton pad and are intended to be left on after application. On the other hand, exfoliators are often applied with your hands (although some cotton pad chemical exfoliators exist) and should be rinsed off after application.

Toners are a Dependent Product

While an exfoliator can stand by itself as a skincare product, toners are not so much. Since toners contain some form of an astringent, they must be used in tandem with a face cream, when doing so, you improve the moisturizer’s effectiveness by allowing it to penetrate deeper into the skin.

Expiration Date

As we recently discussed, toners essentially have no expiration date (although they may lose effectiveness over time). Exfoliators, on the other hand, often contain many natural ingredients or may separate with time. Exfoliators are good for about six months to one year after opening (source).

Similarities between toners and exfoliators

man rubbing a cotton pad on his face

Here are a few commonalities between toners and exfoliators:


As we touched on at the start, there are many shared ingredients between toners and exfoliators. For example, both products may contain salicylic acid, glycolic acid, and lactic acid. However, the concentration of these ingredients is different. Toners contain a lower concentration of these acids, whereas exfoliators contain a higher concentration.


For the most part, the difference in cost between a toner and an exfoliator is negligible. Of course, you have outliers that may be more or less expensive. But by and large, expect to pay roughly the same amount for both products, about $10 to $20.


The effort to use either product is minimal. Both take under a couple of minutes to apply. As outlined previously, toners are left on, whereas exfoliators are rinsed off.

Benefits of Using Both Products

Although toners and exfoliators are two different skincare products, they are not mutually exclusive – both can work together to get the most out of your routine. Given the mild nature of toners, they can safely be used daily without worrying about irritation or dryness. Men with oily skin will appreciate this the most as a toner allows them to manage their complexion with precision, ensuring breakouts stay under control.

Additionally, exfoliators should be a part of every man’s skincare routine. Any other skincare product’s ability to remove dead skin quickly and effectively is unmatched.

Ultimately, diligently using both toners and exfoliators can help improve your skin’s overall health and appearance. Despite the myth that toners may make you look older, skin experts agree that toners are an essential part of any skincare routine.


Given the differences and similarities between toners and exfoliators, it would be wrong to think they are redundant and that you can use one instead of the other. Toners and exfoliators serve unique roles in a man’s skincare routine and should be used regularly to get the most out of your routine. By doing so, you’ll have the tools necessary to improve the look and feel of your skin for the long haul.

Adam Williams

As the lead editor of Tools of Men, Adam loves men's grooming products. Particularly of interest is managing facial hair and perfecting the art of the modern man's skincare routine. His work has been featured or quoted in several publications, including New York Magazine, Vice, Sharpologist, MIC, Elite Daily, and more. When Adam isn't working, he enjoys spending time with his two little kids who keep him both on his toes and young at heart.

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