Cleanse and Tone 101: What to use, how to use it, when to use it

I’ve been into skincare for as long as I can remember. I’ve been good at it for about three years. By ‘good at it’, I mean using the right products for my skin, expanding my routine and learning about ingredients.

For me now, a lot of this is second nature, but when my colleague asked me “do you use a toner and what is it for?” I realised it’s not as simple as it used to be in the Clinique three step/ cleanse-tone-moisturise days. Nowadays we have balms, oils, exfoliators, masks, serums, essences (I should admit I have no idea what essences are supposed to do) – the list is always growing.

I frequently get overwhelmed by the products I have, the issues they are supposed to tackle and how on earth I am supposed to squeeze them into only two routines a day!

So, I thought it would be useful both for me and for anyone new to the skincare world to take a look at the types of products I use and how I use them. 

These products and routines are suited to my skin type and concerns (normal/dry, acne prone, not sensitive, drastically dehydrated, with post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation). I am by no means an expert and the products I use are what work for me. Hopefully this post will start a bit of a discussion amongst the skincare fam and a few extra tips will be shared.

A selection of my morning and evening routines


What does it do?

Does what it says on the tin. Cleansers are designed to remove your make-up and clean your skin. Arguably it’s not as simple as it used to be – the make-up removers and tissue-off cream cleansers of old have been replace by oils, balms, gel to oils, foaming cleansers that aren’t really foaming cleansers but still foam… Confused yet? Read on…

What different products are available?

For removing make-up your best options are make-up remover, an oil-based balm, an oil or a micellar water. Oils are really great at removing make-up. They melt down mascara, draw grime out of your pores and get them ready for a good skin cleanser – all without out stripping your skin of its own natural oils. Be warned though – you will look a panda if you use oil to remove mascara. I personally don’t ever use make-up remover and rarely use micellar water (although I always keep a bottle for when I am wearing really heavy eye make-up). Lots of people do prefer this as their first step, and I believe a decent make-up remover is best if you wear waterproof mascara (I don’t).

I suppose I had better mention cleansing wipes. My two best friends still use them. I don’t, never have – not even on flights. Even before I realised they are useless (thanks Mrs. Hirons), I have always hated the feel of them on my skin. Yuk Yuk Yuk.

The second cleanse is where you can go to town – it really depends on what textures you like. You can of course use oils and balms for a second cleanser as well. There are also gel to oil versions (which will remove face make-up but tend not to be so great for mascara in my experience) and lovely cream cleansers. There are also foaming cleansers if you are a fan of the old school familiarity. Traditional foaming cleansers will strip your skin of its oil, bad news if you have dry skin for obvious reasons, and also for oily/acne prone skin because they will cause further irritation. If you must use a foaming cleanser, try and look out for ones which don’t contain SLSs so won’t dry out your skin such as the Mizon Egg White Bubble Cleanser (I have not tried this).

How often do I use it? 

Every day, twice day.

How do I use it?

In the morning I like a lighter cleanser, so I would go for a oil cleanser, a gel to oil or a cream. Very occasionally I will use a balm, but that is usually because I want the ‘experience’ rather than because I feel my skin needs it.

I am a hard-core flannel user – a fresh one every day, used morning and night. I run it under hot water, wring it out, flap it around to cool it a bit, then hold it onto my skin to steam and then wipe away the product. I repeat this anywhere from two to four times.

Washing my face in the evening is my favourite part of the day. You can read more about why in my post on cleansers here. I am a dedicated double cleanser. I don’t use eye make-up removers; I love me a balm! I also don’t wear a lot of make-up, but I do wear SPF daily, so a balm is more than up to the task.

I will start with a balm or an oil to remove my make-up and make sure my skin is crap-free so my second cleanser can really work on cleaning and treating my skin. Because balms and oils are so luscious, it is at this stage I usually spend a bit of time giving my face a massage. Then I remove with the flannel and I move onto second cleanse, which is usually similar to what I would use for my morning cleanse. And remove with flannel.

Which products do I like? 

First cleanse: Emma Hardie Moringa Balm, Clinique Take the Day Off Balm, Trilogy Make-Up Be Gone Cleansing Balm, Body Shop Camomile Silky Cleansing Oil

Morning/second cleanse: Jordan Samuel Skin Plie, Oskia Renaissance Cleansing Gel, Clinique Redness Solutions Cream Cleanser, Trilogy Cream Cleanser, Sunday Riley Blue Moon, Omorovizca Thermal Cleansing Balm, Balance Me Cleanse and Smooth Face Balm.

Micellar Water: Bioderma Sensibio H2O Water, Garnier Micellar Cleansing Water


What does it do?

There are different types of toners available but the best way to describe them is that they ‘prep’ the skin for the treatments you want to use. From the extensive ‘market research’ (read ‘online shopping’) I have done over the years, toners tend to fall into two camps – exfoliating (or acid) or hydrating.

What different products are available?

Exfoliating toners are usually (not always) a slightly more gentle form of exfoliation than the ‘treatment’ products (which I will get to in the next post). Not always, but they are usually OK to use at least once a day. These toners are a great way to remove any dead skin cells from the surface of your skin and prepare it so that your serums, oil and moisturisers sink in better. The ingredients you want to be looking for are acids – AHAs (usually glycolic acid) and BHA (salicylic acid). Salicylic is preferable if you suffer from acne or are breakout prone as it is able to penetrate deeper into the skin and tackle bacteria. They usually come in liquid form or pre-soaked pads.

Hydrating toners are the ones that some would argue aren’t necessary. The idea is that they add a layer of hydration which will be locked into the skin when you apply your serum/oil/moisturiser on top. Most of them are made up of water, a few moisturising ingredients and occasionally some oils. I like them for two reasons. The first is the experience – they smell good and it can just be really bloody lovely to spritz your face. The second reason is that I like to apply a lot of my serums and oils onto damp skin and tap water is often very drying so its nice to add some hydrating moisture.

Some hydrating toners will have added benefits, such as soothing inflammation.

How often do I use it?

Exfoliating – most products are OK to use once or twice a day. You really need to pay attention to your skin though. I used to use salicylic toners twice a day. My skin was always congested though – and after reading a blog post by Jordan Samuel on over-exfoliation, I cut down to only using toners once or twice a week. It has made a huge difference – too much exfoliation was damaging my skin. You need to consider your skin and see what works for you.

Hydrating – twice a day. Or more. Everytime I do my routine, I spritz. I also keep a bottle of hydrating toner on my desk and spritz over my make-up during the day.

How do I use it?

Exfoliating – After cleansing I pat my skin dry, the soak the cotton pad in toner (or take your pre-soaked pad) and swipe over my face and next (avoid the eyes). Then I follow with the hydrating toner. The majority of these come in spritz form, ie a spray bottle. Some don’t and may need cotton wool – or you could always decant into a spray bottle!

Which products do I like?

Exfoliating – Clinique Mild Clarifying Lotion*(BHA), Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Exfoliating Lotion, Pixi Glow Tonic, First Aid Beauty Facial Radiance Pads, Dr Dennis Growth Alpha Beta Peel (also available in Sensitive and Extra Strength).

Hydrating – Clinique Moisture Surge, MV Organic Skincare Rose Hydrating Mist, Herbivore Botanicals Rose Hibiscus, Sukin Hydrating Mist Toner

Anti-inflammatory – La Roche Posay Serozinc, NIOD Superoxide Dismutase Saccharide Mist

*The original (and best) formula has been discontinued. I personally won’t be purchasing the updated version when mine runs out. You can read more about the difference on Caroline Hirons’ blog.

If you want to see how I use and mix my products on a daily basis, depending on what my skin needs, please check out my Instagram account @infatuatedbybeauty

What products do you like? Any particular tips or ‘hacks’ that you love in your routine?

Keep an eye out for my next 101 post on Treatments.

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