Essence vs. Toner vs. Serum

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Essence vs. Toner vs. Serum

Essence vs. Toner vs. Serum confusing. As the skincare world continues to evolve and practiced trends from Asia migrate over to the Western world, it seems like there’s always a new step to add to your routine. It can be overwhelming, confusing or just elicit a general ‘WTF’ response.

While you’ve probably got your cleansing routine down pat, it can start to get a little murky for newbies and experts alike after that.

Toners, essences and serums are often confused and interchanged and that’s because while they have major differences, there are some overlaps. For example, essences and toners are both used to prep your skin to better absorb the skincare steps that follow it (like serum and moisturizer). Don’t worry! We’re here to break it down for you.


Let’s tackle toners first since this is the first product you use amongst this often confuddled trio. Toners usually come in a larger bottle than essences or serums and have a water consistency. Typically, they are applied by using a cotton pad and sweeping it across your skin.

Toners are used after cleansing to restore skin’s PH levels to a normal level. Depending on what cleanser you use, your skin’s PH levels can be a little out-of-whack immediately after cleansing.

It also replenishes the moisture of your skin if it feels dry, and serves as an unofficial last step (depending on how deep you cleanse – ahem, double cleanse!) to remove any leftover impurities.


Following toner, you apply an essence. While essences have been a staple of skincare routines in Asia for a while, they are fairly new to the Western beauty world. Essences are basically the love child of your toner and serum. They are more lightweight and less concentrated than serums and serve as an additional layer of hydration.

Packed with nutrients, antioxidants and vitamins, essences provide a more targeted treatment depending on your skin concern. Essences should be applied by patting and pressing it gently into your skin for quick-absorption.


After you’ve cleansed, toned, and essenced (pause for applause because your commitment is commendable), it’s time to apply your favorite serum (or serums!). You’ll find that serums have the thickest consistency of the three, which is also why they’re last in order of layering.

They’re often packaged in smaller bottles with a dropper or pump. Serums deliver a high concentration of a few active ingredients that target specific skin concerns. Serums should be gently massaged into skin for a deep delivery of ingredients.

Essence vs. Toner vs. Serum