Toners vs Essences vs Serums vs Ampoules

May 16, 2019

Differences between toners, essences, serums and ampoules

Quick PollHow many skincare products do you use in your skincare routine?

Count any of the following you use: Cleansers, toners, essences, serums, ampoules, skin boosters, skin oils, creams, etc. How many of you them do you have and use at the moment? Vote here:


With K-beauty taking over the beauty landscape in South East Asia, it is no surprise we are bombarded with a plethora of skincare and cosmetic products. From a skincare routine merely comprising of the basics (cleanser, toner, moisturiser), we now have cleansing balms, cleansing oils, cleansing foams (we will write another post on the differences between the different types of cleansers soon), toners, serums, essences, creams, facial oils and moisturisers. HOLY MOLY. It is no wonder why we have problems choosing the most effective product for our skin.

*Deep breath* - Let’s tackle one thing at a time and the deep dive into the question I get most from my friends: “What’re the differences between toners, serums, essences and ampoules, which one is better for my skin?” What these things have in common is that they are normally thicker in consistency as compared to a toner, so you should use them after your face is cleansed and toned.


In the past, the OG toners were mostly astringent toners containing a high concentration of alcohol to eliminate greasiness and are incredibly drying. Some of us may remember the stinging after-effect on our zit-filled face after applying a cotton pad soaked with toner *cringe*. Toners have evolved since then, with K-beauty and Korean celebrities such as Jungkook, Irene Kim making reference to toners as part of their daily skincare routine. There are hydrating toners which are filled with plant extracts, essential oils and other active ingredients to hydrate and soothe your skin (some are even alcohol-free). Toners are great a restoring the skin’s PH levels to normal after cleansing.

Used after cleansing, toners are usually applied on a cotton pad and rubbed all over the face. The water-like consistency of toners is great for removing any remaining impurities and dirt from your skin. 


Following toners are essences which have been made popular by Koreans (of course) and have been the epicentre of Asian skincare routine for a long time now. Essences are all about hydration, hydration, hydration. If you are looking to have that glowy, radiant, plump, and smooth skin, hydration is your mantra. Think juicy grape vs dried up raisin (no brainer right?)

Essences are your best weapon against dehydrated skin (which leads to fine lines, wrinkles and dull skin) as they aim to hydrate your skin from deep within. And while we’re at it let us quash the age old myth that an oily skin does not need additional moisture – this is so so wrong! Basically: oily skin – skipping moisturiser – skin dries out – produces MORE oil. You just need to look for non-comodegenic moisturisers which will not clog your pores.

Beyond hydration, many essences also contain active ingredients with antioxidants and minerals to help nourish skin and retain moisture.  Think of toners and essences as the prep steps before the main treatment, your serum.

Used after your toner, essences should be applied by patting and pressing it gently into your skin for quick-absorption. 

Serums / Ampoules

To simplify things, serums and ampoules belong to the same group, and are applied after your essence, right before your moisturizer. In fact, "Serum" and "Ampoule" are nothing more but marketing words now. Some may say that an ampoule is an amped up version of a serum but these terms have been used interchangeably around the world and the lines have been blurred drastically.

Serums/ampoules have a higher concentration of few key active ingredients to help target specific skin concerns such as dark spots, wrinkles, acne scars, uneven skin tone, etc. and are usually thicker in consistency as compared to essences. You may use a blend of ampoules and serums to treat different skin concerns. Here are some of our favorite ampoules and serums which target different skin conditions:

AXIS-Y Artichoke Intensive Skin Barrier Ampoule 

Targets: Combination, acne-prone skin and acne scars


AROMATICA Rose Absolute First Serum

Targets: Wrinkles and fine lines, aging skin


AROMATICA LIVELY SuperBrite Vita Serum

Targets: Dull and tired skin


Pyunkang Yul Moisture Serum/Ampoule

Targets: Sensitive, dehydrated skin



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