What’s the Difference Between Toner, Serum, and Peels

With the recent advances in marketed cosmetics, even experts can sometimes find themselves feeling overwhelmed or confused when differentiating between the products that they need versus the ones they already have. This is especially relevant as beauty routines have become increasingly complex, such as the 10-step Korean beauty routine that recently became popular for its alleged ability to provide flawless skin. To assist in this decision-making process, the guide below was compiled to help identify the benefits and differences between three of the more commonly confused products: Toner, Serum, and Peels.


A peel, in cosmetic terms, is a shortening of the original name chemical peel. These products use acid solutions (typically alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), trichloroacetic acids (TCAs), or (phenol) applied to the skin to remove outer damaged or dead layers. Similar to exfoliation, this process reveals underlying layers of skin to effectively smooth its appearance, improve the texture, and tone the areas where it is applied. Peels are considered effective for reducing the appearance of wrinkles, blemishes (such as acne), or uneven coloring (such as age or sun spots).

Supposedly, chemical peels have been around for centuries, dating back to Ancient Rome and Egypt. Today’s chemical peels are considered most effective for individuals with lighter skin tones, as — unlike exfoliation or microdermabrasion — the chemical treatment will often bleach the underlying skin layer to a slightly lighter tone than it would otherwise appear as. Darker-skinned individuals looking for the benefits of a peel may be better served by microdermabrasion, which performs a highly similar function by “sanding” imperfections out of the skin rather than chemically peeling the afflicted layer away. Exfoliation and microdermabrasion procedures require more applications to show an effect.



Many people have recently been asking why they would need a serum when they already use a moisturizer — and whether the two are the same thing. Serums are typically water-based, containing smaller molecules designed to be absorbed into deeper layers of your skin, and should be applied once daily after cleansing, but before moisturizing for best results. Following application, serums should be entirely absorbed, leaving skin smooth and velvety. As for what these molecules do, serums are designed to be both highly specific and highly potent, containing high concentrations of active ingredients to alleviate various skin conditions.

For different effects, you can look for several different ingredients including:

  • Anti-Aging: Antioxidants (Green Tea, Resveratrol, Ferulic Acid, Retinol)
  • Dry Skin: Vitamin E, Niacinamide, or Glycolic or Hyaluronic Acids
  • Acne Prone Skin: Vitamin C or Salicylic Acid.

Given the high level of active ingredients, those with sensitive skin should be careful when selecting a serum to avoid irritation. While the high concentration of certain ingredients may irritate, these concentrations make serums some of the fastest acting products on the market.


Toners are designed to complete the cleansing process, used after typical washing or cleansing to remove any particulate matter lingering from the day and any residues left by cleansers themselves. What toner you want depends greatly on your skin type. Oily or combination skin types can benefit from lightweight formulas, especially those containing ingredients such as alcohol or witch hazel, which can reduce enlarged pores and oil production. For dry or sensitive skin, heavier formulas, containing additional moisturizing agents or humectants, can reduce redness and flaking.


Finding Quality Products

To reap the full benefits of a natural skincare routine, refuse to sacrifice quality for the price. While sub-par products will often hurt rather than help your complexion, buying natural, environmentally friendly products can help establish balance in your beauty routine and the world around you.


About the author:

Kurt Darrell is a freelance writer based in Atlanta, Georgia. He’s just a guy who wants to research about things and write content about it. He is also working on his life and wellness blog.

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