Let's take a look at the difference between essences, serums and ampoules. We’ll explore what they are, how you use them and why you might need them.
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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.
Let’s explore what’s in them and how they’re different.
First things first, an essence is a lightweight liquid that is designed to follow cleansing and toning in your skincare routine. The primary objective is to add hydration to the skin.
This is one of the key steps in a typical Korean Beauty routine, and it’s one that distinguishes Korean skincare from other beauty routines.
What’s in Them: Essences generally comprise plant extracts and antioxidants. They may also include brightening ingredients like niacinamide or a soothing component like green tea. Some essences contain trending ingredients like snail mucin (Cosrx Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence).
Why Use One: Adding an essence to your routine provides a good base for your skin to better absorb the next products you apply in your skincare routine. It 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).
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, such as wrinkle reduction, brightening, hydrating or calming. is one such product that assists with brightening and hydrating.
Try AXIS-Y Dark Spot Correcting Glow Serum. It's a TikTok viral Korean beauty serum that's perfect for dark spots.
Ampoules are the most potent of the group.
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.
A word on where to use it in your routine – technically, an ampoule can be applied before or after a serum, depending on the viscosity of the product. To decide where to place it within your lineup, arrange your products from thinnest liquid to thickest, place your ampoule where it belongs, and apply in that order.
First and foremost, the line between essence, serum and ampoule are becoming blurred as more and more products hit the market. There’s also often a difference between Japanese and Korean products vs Western ones.
Technically, the potency and viscosity of essences, serums and ampoules should be different. Essence should be the most watery and lightest in terms of active ingredients; ampoules should be the thickest and jam-packed full of actives. However, this is not always the case.
Therefore, it’s important 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).
"The potency and viscosity of essences, serums and ampoules should be different. Essence should be the most watery and lightest in terms of active ingredients; ampoules should be the thickest and jam-packed full of actives."- STYLE STORY
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