If you’re into skincare, you’ve probably heard of the Korean 10-step skincare routine, where toner and essence are considered essential steps.
But do you really need both, or are they just the same thing packaged differently? While they may look and feel similar, toner and essence have some important differences.
For example, toners are typically used to remove residue from cleansers and pollutants from the day, while essences soothe skin at the cellular level, encouraging a smoother, healthier complexion.
A similarity between the two is that they both help prepare the skin for the next step in your routine. Including both in your routine can provide numerous benefits, such as maintaining healthy pH levels and accelerating natural turnover.
I’m here to shed some light on these marketing terms and help you understand the differences.
While the labels “toner” and “essence” may not have strict scientific definitions, it’s important to understand the intended use and benefits.
Let’s get started so you’re equipped to know what to buy and what to leave behind as a savvy consumer.
Essence Vs. Toner – Key Differences
Toner: Removes residue and pollutants after cleansing.
Essence: Soothes skin at a cellular level and promotes a healthier complexion.
Ingredients & Formulation
Toner: Often contains astringent properties and helps balance pH.
Essence: Has a higher concentration of active ingredients for hydration and nourishment.
Role In Skincare Routine
Toner: Prepares the skin for the next steps in the routine.
Essence: Acts as a bridge between toner and serum.
Toner: Watery consistency, lightweight form, sometimes in spray.
Essence: Slightly thicker texture for better absorption.
Toner: Common in Western skincare practices.
Essence: Gained popularity through Korean skincare practices.
Toner: Advertised as refreshing, balancing, clarifying.
Essence: Often described as hydrating, nourishing, revitalizing.
PRO TIP: If you’re unsure how to choose the right toner for your skin concerns, check out my ranking of the best K-beauty toners for all skin types, including oily and acne-prone skin, combination skin, as well as dry and sensitive type.
Do You Need Both Toner And Essence?
Whether you need both a toner and an essence1 in your skincare routine depends on your skin type and its needs.
Toners can help balance the skin’s pH levels, making it more receptive to the rest of your skincare routine.
If your skin is on the oily side, a toner can help control sebum production and remove excess oil during the cleansing process, while an essence can boost hydration prior to using a moisturizer.
Overall, both toner and essence can have benefits, but it’s important to consider your skin’s individual needs and determine if they are necessary.
Should I Use Toner Or Essence First?
Generally, toner is applied first to remove any remaining impurities and balance the skin’s pH levels, while essence is then applied to provide additional hydration and nourishment.
Can I Skip Toner And Use Essence Instead?
While toner and essence serve different purposes, you can skip toner and use essence instead if it provides sufficient hydration and addresses your specific skincare needs.
However, toners often have additional benefits like pore minimization and oil control, so skipping toner may result in missing out.
Everything You Need To Know About Toners
Toners are water-based solutions that contain active ingredients to help improve the overall appearance and health of the skin.
From a chemical standpoint, they typically contain water, humectants, and various active ingredients such as antioxidants, exfoliants, and skin-soothing agents.
They’re formulated to work by removing any remaining traces of dirt and oil from the skin. As they do this, they also help in restoring the skin’s pH balance.
Toners should be used in the middle of a skincare routine after cleansing and before applying any serums or moisturizers.
Because of their watery consistency, they’re best applied onto a cotton pad but can also be applied directly onto the face.
Different types of toners are available for various skin types, including oily, dry, and sensitive skin.
Different formulations of toners can help address different skin needs by containing ingredients such as salicylic acid for acne-prone skin, glycolic acid for exfoliation, or hyaluronic acid for hydration.
Benefits Of Toner
A toner can be a valuable addition to a skincare routine because it serves as an intermediary step between cleansing and moisturizing.
While cleansers effectively remove dirt and impurities, they may disrupt the skin’s natural pH balance.
Toners help restore this balance, creating an optimal environment for the skin to absorb the subsequent skincare products.
They can provide an extra layer of hydration, which is particularly beneficial for those with dry or dehydrated skin.
Also, toners often contain targeted ingredients such as antioxidants, exfoliants, or soothing agents that can address specific skin concerns more effectively than a cleanser or moisturizer alone.
By incorporating a toner into your skincare routine, you can enhance the overall effectiveness of the other products you’re using to achieve healthier, more radiant skin.
Potential Negative Effects Of Toner
When evaluating whether to incorporate a toner, it’s important to assess your specific skincare needs and consider whether the additional benefits outweigh the potential drawbacks, especially if you already have a cleanser that adequately addresses your skin concerns.
One downside is the risk of skin irritation or dryness, particularly with toners that contain alcohol.
In previous decades, astringent properties of toners were often alcohol-based2. These older formulas were harsh and potentially irritating, particularly for individuals with dry or sensitive skin.
However, skincare formulations have evolved over time, and many modern toners now come in a wide selection of water-based formulas.
Still, you need to read labels carefully because using the wrong type of toner for your skin or overusing it can disrupt the skin’s natural balance.
Too many exfoliating ingredients can increase skin sensitivity or sun sensitivity, for which you’ll need to use proper sun protection.
Everything You Need To Know About Essences
Essences3 are lightweight skincare products with a watery consistency.
They often contain concentrated active components such as botanical extracts, antioxidants, and hydrating agents and are formulated to penetrate deep into the skin.
Essences replenish moisture4, boost skin cell turnover, and enhance the absorption of subsequent skincare products.
They address specific concerns like dullness, fine lines, or uneven texture, improving overall skin tone and texture.
They serve as an extra layer of hydration and nourishment between cleansing and moisturizing.
To effectively penetrate the skin for maximum benefit, essences are applied after cleansing and toning but before serums or moisturizers.
Benefits Of Essence
- Enhanced hydration
Ingredients like hyaluronic acid, glycerin, or aloe vera, which are known for their hydrating properties help to replenish and retain moisture in the skin, leaving it plump and well-hydrated.
Incorporation of vitamins such as vitamin E or vitamin B5, antioxidants like green tea extract or resveratrol, and beneficial plant extracts such as chamomile or rosehip oil provide essential nutrients and antioxidants that nourish the skin and protect it from damage.
- Improved skin texture
Active ingredients like AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids) or BHAs (beta hydroxy acids) found in some essences exfoliate the skin gently, removing dead skin cells and promoting cell turnover to smoothen the skin’s texture, reducing the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and roughness.
- Enhanced absorption
Ingredients such as niacinamide or panthenol strengthen the skin barrier and increase its absorption of other products.
- Brightened and even skin tone
Ingredients like niacinamide, vitamin C, or arbutin, which have brightening properties help to fade dark spots, even out skin tone, and promote a more vibrant complexion.
What Is The Disadvantage Of Essence?
Some essences can be expensive, which may not be affordable for everyone.
Additionally, some essences contain fragrances or other ingredients that may irritate sensitive skin, so try to to patch test with a sample before you splurge.
Difference Between Essence Vs. Toner
Now let’s get into details and compare these two skincare product:
1. Functions, Ingredients & Formulation
Toners often incorporate astringent properties and aim to balance the skin’s pH levels. They may contain ingredients like witch hazel or salicylic acid to provide a refreshing and clarifying effect.
Essences, however, have a higher concentration of active ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, vitamins, or plant extracts, which are specifically chosen to provide deep hydration and nourishment to the skin.
Toners typically feature a watery consistency, often found in spray or liquid form, allowing for easy application whereas essences have a slightly thicker texture for better absorption into the skin.
2. When You Use It In Your Skincare Routine
Toner prepares the skin by removing any remaining impurities after cleansing and creates a clean canvas for layering products.
Essence acts as a bridge between toner and serum, delivering an extra layer of hydration.
3. Cultural Influence & Marketing Terminology
The cultural influence and marketing terminology surrounding toners and essences is due to the regions where they originated.
Toners are commonly used in Western skincare practices and marketed as refreshing and clarifying, whereas essences have gained popularity through
Korean skincare practices and are marketed as nourishing, hydrating, and revitalizing.
Korean skincare routines prioritize multiple layers of hydration, and essences play a central role in providing deep nourishment and boosting skin vitality.
PRO TIP: Depending on your skin type and concerns, you can choose from essences with various ingredients like niacinamide, hyaluronic acid, mugwort, snail mucin, galactomyces and more!
For all you busy folks out there, I created a list of the best Korean essences that includes options for dry skin, mature skin, acne-prone skin and even sensitive, reactive skin type!
Toner Vs. Essence – Similarities
There are a few things these two have in common:
Both are used to prepare the skin for better absorption of products.
Both contribute to enhancing hydration levels and maintaining moisture.
3. Skin Benefits
Both offer specific skin benefits with special ingredients targeted to address specific concerns.
Which Is Better: Essence Or Toner?
It’s difficult to say which is better between essence and toner, as it depends on an individual’s skin type, concerns, and preferences.
However, for someone looking for added hydration and nourishment, an essence with hyaluronic acid and botanical extracts may be a good choice.
On the other hand, someone with oily skin may benefit more from a toner with salicylic acid to help unclog pores and control sebum production.
Toner Vs. Essence: Which One Should You Use?
Here are some tips on when to use toner or essence:
Use toner for:
- Oily or acne-prone skin, to remove excess oil and impurities that can clog pores.
- A quick and easy step in your routine, as toners are lightweight and fast-absorbing.
- A refreshing feeling after cleansing and to balance your skin’s pH levels.
- To enhance the absorption of moisturizer later on.
Use essence for:
- Dry or dehydrated skin, as essences are hydrating and help to lock in moisture.
- Specific skin concerns, such as fine lines, dullness, or uneven skin tone, as essences often contain active ingredients that can target these issues.
- An improved complexion overall, as essences can nourish and enhance the skin’s natural glow.
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