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Essence vs Serum vs Toner: The Differences Explained For Your Routine


Cleanse, exfoliate, moisturize, SPF. By now, you’ve got the basics of skincare down to a science. Diving into the world of K-beauty means that terms like essences, serums and toners become commonplace.

So, what do these products do, and how are they different from each other?

Korean beauty is all about helping your skin thrive and preventing issues before they even occur. You might have guessed that these 3 products in the Korean 10-step routine do the heavy lifting to make your skin hydrated, even, and plump. Well, you’re right!

Just like different parts of a well-oiled machine, these products all have their own jobs and target specific concerns. Read on to get a crash course in essences, serums and toners.


Serum vs Essence: What’s the Difference?

While toners have been a part of Western skincare for years, essences and serums are still very new for most people.

An essence is usually applied as step 5 in your routine, just after toning. Essences are concentrated liquids used to intensely hydrate your complexion. They aren’t just for dry skin types, though!

Hydrated skin is the key to good skin. Seriously. When your skin is hydrated, your other products work better, blemishes heal faster, makeup goes on smoother, skin feels better in general, need I go on?

Next in the routine comes serum. Serums, like essences, are crazy-concentrated shots of nutrients to your skin. Serums target specific skin concerns to help you reach your skin goals. Fighting dark spots, wrinkles, dullness, or redness? There’s a serum for you.

The Benefits of Serums and Essences

You get the gist of these new products, but you want to know how they can help you, specifically. Let’s start with essences.

Essences are the extra punch of hydration you need in your routine. Sometimes moisturizer just doesn’t cut it, so essences go deeper to hydrate more layers of skin.

The skincare market is huge, so you can find an essence that works best for your skin type. Oilier complexions can benefit from watery essences that add hydration without clogging your pores. Dryer faces can opt for a thicker essence that has soothing ingredients like green tea or aloe.

Essences transform your skin to be brighter, plumper and softer. They can also help your skin absorb the rest of the products in your routine better, increasing their effectiveness.

Onto serums. Serums are the choose-your-own-adventure solution in skincare. Dull, aging skin? Choose a gently exfoliating and brightening serum. Acne scars?

Grab a serum that helps lighten pigmentation with ingredients like vitamin C. Basically, if you have a concern, there’s a serum out there for you.

Adding in a serum means you can fight fine lines, even out your skin tone, brighten your complexion, minimize pores or reduce acne. It really is the unsung hero in skincare.

How to Use Serums and Essences in Your Routine

Balling on a budget? No worries. Serums and essences are made to be used sparingly because of their high concentrations. For both essences and serums, simply shake a couple of drops into your palms and press them into your face to absorb. The heat from your hands will help it absorb faster. Give your skin a little moment to absorb the products, then move on to the rest of your routine.

In general, it’s important to incorporate these products into your routine slowly and one at a time. These potent steps can cause irritation to sensitive skin, so we recommend you start with an essence, which can be gentler than powerhouse serums. When added correctly, serums and essences can truly bring your skin to the next level.

Serums and essences can be used together in your full Korean skincare routine, or they can be used separately if you want to target a specific issue or be more time-efficient.


Serums and Essences: A Brief History Lesson

Where did these products adored in Asia come from? Well, nobody really knows, but the first mention of “beauty waters” came from Japan in 1813. Serums and essences have changed names throughout the years, but they’ve been passed down for generations and are only now gaining popularity in the West.

Serums and essences are free of most thickeners, and instead are formulas with small molecules that penetrate deep. Look for serums with antioxidants and peptides to nourish your skin from the inside out.

Both essences and serums can be customized to your skin needs. Firstly, take into account your skin type and skin goals. Find products with ingredients that target these and will soothe your complexion.

What About Toner? Essence vs Serum vs Toner Differences

Toner is the simplest of these products to understand because it’s been around in the West for a while. In the Korean routine, toner comes just after cleansing, and works to deep clean, reduce pores, and bring your skin to an optimum pH.

Simply dampen a cotton pad with toner and swipe it all over your face to get that fresh-as-a-daisy feel. If you need an in-depth guide to toners, we’ve got you covered: check it out here.

Final Thoughts

Long story short, essences and serums are the skincare additions that will boost hydration and take on all your skin concerns. When incorporated correctly, they can make glowing, clear skin a reality for you. They can work for all skin types, regardless of tone or age. So, what are you waiting for? Level up your routine!

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