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

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

As if the world of skincare wasn’t complicated enough, it seems like new products are popping up everyday. Most nights if you manage to wash your face it’s a win, but if you’re looking to up your skincare game it’s important to learn the different types of products so you can determine which one is right for you. It gets a little complicated, but stay with me, I’ll explain the difference between Essence vs. Toner vs. Serum.

Essences Serums Toners

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

Sometimes the words are used interchangeably and while they have some similarities, make no mistake these are different products. In order of application, an essence or toner would be used first, then something like a serum, followed by a moisturizer. Stick with me, I’ll explain.

Let’s start with the basics.

Related: What Does Toner Do & Why Do You Need It?

What Is Toner?

A toner’s job is to remove any remaining traces of product or impurities from your skin (even after cleansing) and restore your skin’s PH levels.

PH? Yup. Remember your high school chemistry class? Turns out learning how to tie-dye wasn’t the only helpful thing you learned. Your skin’s natural PH lives somewhere around 4.7 and 5.75. Some cleansers can be as high as 7, so you’ll want to use a toner to restore your skin to its ideal PH level.

Some of my favorite toners are the Innisfree Green Tea Moisture-Balancing Toner, The Ordinary Toning Solution,  and the Pixi Glow Tonic.

This explains what toner is in the Essence vs. Toner vs. Serum combination.

How To Apply It: Pour some product onto a flat cotton pad and wipe gently across your skin.

When To Apply It: Morning or Evening

Related: The Art of The Double Cleanse

What Is Essence?

GIF essence friends couch - animated GIF on GIFER

Essence essentially preps your skin for deeper penetration of the products to follow. They have highly concentrated levels of active ingredients which allows your skin to better absorb all of the products to follow. Essence is extremely popular in Eastern &  Korean skincare spaces. Essence is a concentrated formula that treats skin at a cellular level, specifically target wrinkles, fine lines, and dull skin tones. The consistency of an essence varies from product to product. Some are more watery and others are tackier.

Some of my favorite essence formulas are the Then I Met You Giving Essence & Dr. Jart+ Biome Essence.

This explains what essence is in the Essence vs. Toner vs. Serum combination.

How To Apply It: Apply via your fingers and tap the product into your skin with your fingertips.

When To Apply It: Morning or Evening, after toner and before serums

See Also

What Is a Serum?

You’ve cleansed, toned, and applied essence – what’s next? It’s time to apply your serums. There’s no hard and fast rule here but more people recommend using no more than 3 serums in one skincare session. Serums traditionally come with a dropper and they deliver high concentrations of the specific ingredients in the product. I talked more about my favorite serums and how I use them in this post on Skincare Routines For Beginners.

My personal favorites for the morning are: Hyaluronic AcidVitamin C or Niacinamide on alternating days

My personal favorites for the evening are: Hyaluronic AcidBHA or Retinol (on alternating days)

How To Apply It: Gently massage into the skin via fingertips

When To Apply It: Morning and Evening

Related: How To Start a Skincare Routine For Beginners

Final Thoughts on Essence vs. Toner vs. Serum

All skincare products are made differently and it’s important to pat attention to the ingredients. Your unique skin will require a unique formula so be careful about introducing too many new ingredients at one time. Start small and give your skin time to adjust, and don’t forget to always patch test before using a new product.