Title: What’s the difference between an essence, serum and ampoule? Episode 18 of the Korean Beauty Show Podcast
On today’s episode of the Korean Beauty Show podcast, we’re taking a look at the difference between essences, serums and ampoules. Firstly, I'll explain what they are, how you use them and why you might want to add them into your skincare routine.
While it might seem like these are just different names for the same products, technically these are three different products. They can all be used and layered in a single skincare routine.
The difference between them comes down to their potencies, textures and positions within the skincare routine.
You don’t have to use all of them – feel free to mix, match and find the right fit for your skin.
An essence is a lightweight liquid that is designed to follow cleansing and toning in your skincare routine. The primary objective is to prep the skin for your next layers of skincare. It also adds hydration to the skin.
This is one of the key steps in a typical Korean Beauty routine. It's also one that distinguishes Korean skincare from other beauty routines.
What’s in Essences: Essences can contain anything from plant extracts and antioxidants to brightening ingredients like niacinamide or soothing ingredients green tea. Some essences contain trending K-Beauty ingredients like snail mucin (Cosrx Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence).
Why Use One: Adding an essence to your skincare routine provides a good base for your skin. It not only helps to better absorb the next products you apply, it also allows them to penetrate more deeply into the skin, which makes them more effective.
What is a First Treatment Essence or Starting Essence? Often abbreviated to “FTE”, First Treatment Essences are often made up of fermented ingredients. This process of fermentation reduces the molecular size of the ingredients so that they are more deeply penetrated into the skin.
A cult favourite of this variety is Missha The First Treatment Essence Rx (Pro Ferment). Another is Tosowoong’s Time Shift First Essence. Ferments are not for everyone (i.e. people with fungal acne).
The first thing you’ll notice about a serum is that the product’s viscosity (i.e. how thick it is) as well as the potency is increased compared to an essence.
What’s In Them: Serums are typically concentrated with more active ingredients than other skincare products.
Why Use One: You can tailor your serum to help you achieve a particular skincare goal:
Ampoules are the most potent of the skincare products.
What’s in Them: They are formulated with more concentrated actives to deliver a powerful solution for specific skincare needs.
Why Use One: Because they’re absolutely jam-packed full of the star ingredient!
Take the iconic Missha Time Revolution Night Repair Probio Ampoule, which is infused with Bifida Ferment Lysate or Toswoong Propolis Sparkle Ampoule, which contains a whopping 80% propolis extract to remedy dull skin.
Technically, an ampoule can be applied before or after a serum. This all depends on the viscosity of the product. To decide where to use it, arrange your products from thinnest liquid to thickest.
First and foremost, the line between essence, serum and ampoule are becoming blurred as more and more products hit the market. There’s also a difference between the naming conventions used by different brands. In particular, between Japanese and Korean products.
Technically, the potency and viscosity of essences, serums and ampoules should all be different:
However, this is not always the case.
Rather than fixating on what the bottle or brand says, my advice is to consider what your skin needs and choose products that meet those needs accordingly.
If you like, you can layer each of these products in your routine. This allows you to target more than one skincare objective within the same routine (i.e. anti-aging essence, brightening serum and hydrating ampoule). BUT if you prefer to just use one or two of these products, that’s totally fine!
Ditto the placement of products in your routine – if you end up with a serum that’s more watery than your essence, there’s no issue with using the serum first, and then the essence. There are no rules in skincare.
My go-to is to work my way up from the product with the most watery consistency to the one with the thickest so there are no issues with product penetration.
"Rather than fixating on what the bottle or brand says, my advice is to consider what your skin needs and choose products that meet those needs accordingly."- Lauren Lee, Host of the Korean Beauty Show podcast
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