Toner vs. Essence vs. Serum vs. Ampoule: What’s The Difference?

A rundown of the most celebrated Korean skin care essentials and their differences explained.

Medically reviewed by Dr. Vindhya L VeerulaDr. Vindhya L Veerula, MD, FAAD
By Ramona SinhaRamona Sinha, Certified Skin Care Coach  • 

If you are fascinated with K-beauty, you know that the products sometimes get pretty confusing. And most often, beginners find it tough to understand the difference between toner, essence, serum, and ampoule.

They all may appear similar but serve different functions and work differently on your skin. And once you understand their functions and benefits, you will know which product does what and how to layer them.

Testing and trying all products may take a lot of time and patience. Therefore, it helps when you have a guide to help you start your skin care journey. This article explains the differences between all the products to help you understand their benefits and usage. Scroll down.

What Is The Difference Between Essence, Toner, Serum, And Ampoule?


Image: Shutterstock

What Is It?

The second step in the CTM routinei  XA basic skincare routine that begins with cleansing the face with a cleanser, followed by the use of a toner and a moisturizer. is toning your skin. This involves closing open pores, clearing clogged pores, and removing the whiteheads and dead skin that accumulate on the topmost layer of your skin. Toner also works as a double cleansing step while balancing your skin’s pH levels.

What Does It Feel Like?

A toner has a watery consistency and evaporates quickly. It even sweeps away all the residue left from cleansing.

How Do You Use A Toner?

Toners come in spray bottles. Spray a little on a cotton pad, and rub it all over your face. If you look closely, you will see be able to see tiny particles like dead skin cells, dust, grime on the cotton pad.

What Type Of Ingredients Go Into A Toner?

A toner contains water along with essential oils, plant extracts, and other active ingredients that exfoliate your skin and act as gentle abrasives to soothe your skin.

Why Is Toner An Essential Step In Your Skincare Regimen?

Cleansing with just a face wash or makeup remover is not always effective. Some of your pores will be left open while some of them will be clogged. Toning is an effective double cleansing step that also exfoliates your skin.

Quick Tip
Alcohol-based toner may dry out your skin and make it flaky. It may also cause skin irritation.


Image: Shutterstock

What Is It?

An essence is the epicenter of the Korean skincare routine, as it hydrates your skin from within. If you haven’t fixed this part of your routine yet, you need to do so right now – get your hydration game up with an essence. The generic moisturizers we use do not cut it anymore. You need something that brings out the inner glow and brightens your skin. Use a toner followed by an essence.

What Does It Feel Like?

Essence feels like water, which is its primary ingredient. It also contains active ingredients. Its watery consistency makes it permeable and effective. If you feel like the essence is evaporating quickly, don’t worry – that’s how it is supposed to be.

How Do You Use Essence?

You cleanse and tone before you use an essence. Take one pump into your palms and start applying it near your chin, and move up. It is watery and evaporates quickly, so give it a few minutes before you move on to the next step. Some brands come with a spray nozzle that you can use as a mist.

What Type Of Ingredients Go Into An Essence?

Essence primarily contains water, along with other active ingredients, extracts, and HCAs that help brighten your skin and retain moisture. Ingredients vary depending on the brand and the type of skin it is targeting.

Why Is Essence An Essential Step In Your Skincare Regimen?

Our skin is exposed to free-radicals, sun, and pollutants that are not only harmful but also take away your skin’s moisture, thus making it look dull and tired. Over time you will start noticing fine lines and wrinkles – which is where the essence helps.


Image: Shutterstock

What Is It?

A serum is a gel-like, lightweight formula that is loaded with powerful ingredients to treat specific skin problems like wrinkles, fine lines, pigmentation, and dullness. Serums are slightly heavier than essence and toner because they contain highly concentrated and potent active ingredients.

What Does It Feel Like?

Serums are spreadable, gel-like, thick, and lightweight. They get easily absorbed into your skin. Most of them are watery, while some might feel a little greasy for a while (depending on the product). If you have oily skin, choose something that is more absorbent.

How Do You Use A Serum?

Serums usually come in ‘dropper’ bottles or pumps. Just take a few drops or one pump and apply evenly all over your face. The serum gets absorbed in no time. Wait a minute before you move to the next step.

What Type Of Ingredients Go Into A Serum?

There are all kinds of serums with many combinations. It is usually a blend of active ingredients like peptides that stimulate cell growth and repair, and vitamin C, HCAi  XHydroxycinnamic acids are phytonutrients widely used in skin care for their anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anti-aging properties. , and AHAs. They battle aging issues like wrinkles and fine lines, and make your skin looking visibly plumper and youthful.

Why Is Serum An Essential Step In Your Skincare Regimen?

Look at serums as an instant magic wand. You apply one to your skin and you get visible results. As you age, your skin becomes more susceptible to damage and its ability to produce collagen diminishes. This causes wrinkles and saggy skin. Serums act like little fillers that transport active and potent ingredients to brighten and improve the health of your skin.


Image: Shutterstock

What Is It?

An ampoule is yet another interesting find by Koreans. Ampoules are a highly concentrated version of a serum, and act like a booster or a shot. But, unlike serums, ampoules can only be used for a short duration of time. They come in handy when you have an important event or occasion coming up.

What Does It Feel Like?

Ampoules have a very similar consistency to a serum. They can be thicker or thinner, depending on the brand.

How Do You Use An Ampoule?

Ampoule should be used after cleansing and toning. The directions for use and the amount of product you need are usually specified on the package. If you get the product in a dropper bottle and not as booster shots, then take a few drops in your palm and apply it like a serum.

Quick Tip
You can mix a few drops of the product with a moisturizer and apply it to your face every morning to rejuvenate your skin instantly.
What Type Of Ingredients Go Into An Ampoule?

Ampoules contain active ingredients, peptides, plant extracts, vitamins, and essential acids. They are highly concentrated and extremely potent.

Why Is Ampoule An Essential Step In Your Skincare Regimen?

Ampoule is time-bound and needs to be used for a stipulated period. The ingredients are highly concentrated and are not meant to be a part of your regular skincare regimen (unless it is prescribed by a dermatologist).

Final Verdict

Different types of skin care products being applied to a woman's face

Image: Shutterstock

Infographic: Toner, Essence, Serum, And Ampoule: How Are They Different?

While serums and ampoules have a gel-like consistency, toners and essences are watery in consistency. Each of these items serves a certain purpose to benefit your skin and give it the nutrients it lacks. Learn the distinctions between toner, essence, serum, and ampoule by viewing the infographic below.

toner, essence, serum, and ampoule how are they different (infographic)

Illustration: StyleCraze Design Team

Save the high-quality PDF version on your device now.

Download Infographic in PDF version Download Infographic
Download Infographic in PDF version

I hope this article made you understand the difference between toner vs. essence vs. serum vs. ampoule. They are all different parts of the Korean skincare routine that serve a different purpose in taking care of your skin. A toner is of a watery consistency that removes residual dirt, oil, dead skin, and grime. Essence comes as the next step in the routine which penetrates the deeper layers of your skin, making your skin look radiant. A serum, on the other hand, is of a gel-like consistency that reduces fine lines and wrinkles. Last, but not least, an ampoule is of a higher concentration that leaves your skin smooth, firm, and glowing.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which is better – ampoule or essence?

Ampoule and essence serve different purposes. For daily use, it is better to use essence, while ampoule should be used on the days when your skin needs extra care.

Can I use essence, ampoule, and serum together?

Yes, you can use essence, ampoule, and serum together if your skin is extremely dehydrated and dull.

Key Takeaways

  • Toner serves as a double cleansing phase and balances the pH levels of the skin simultaneously.
  • An essence is one that hydrates your skin from within.
  • A serum treats skin issues like pigmentation, wrinkles, dullness, and others.
  • An ampoule is a highly concentrated form of serum that functions as a booster or a shot.
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