Serum vs Essence vs Toner: The Differences and How to Use Them Together

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Serum vs essence vs toner

K-beauty can be quite a deal if you are not so conversant with the products, especially when they begin to look and feel alike. For instance, serums, essences, and toners come in consecutive steps in your routine and you may assume they are for the same purposes.

But there is a difference between them. Each of these products is unique in its way, uses, and method of application. To start with, the order of application of these products starts with toner, essence, and then a serum.

Just so you understand the comparison of serum vs essence vs toner, I have put this article together to guide you in differentiating your products.

What Is Serum and What Does It Do?

A serum is a product that has a consistency that borders between being watery and viscous. It contains lightweight actives that have moisturizing, antioxidant, anti-aging, and healing properties.

Because of its consistency, it quickly absorbs into your skin. On absorption, the serum fortifies your skin with these ingredients and works to improve the health and appearance of your skin.

Rather than laying over your skin as a seal, serums absorb into your skin and retain moisture; for instance, serums that contain hyaluronic acid and niacinamide.

In addition, applying serum to your skin helps to open up your pores to receive other ingredients down your routine. The water-based nature makes ingredients delivery effective.

Serums are formulated for every skin type and to treat a wide range of skin issues. According to their unique formulas, a serum may perform the sole purpose of hydrating your skin and alleviating dryness. Some serums contain retinol which helps to treat signs of aging.

What Is Essence and What Does It Do?

Skincare essence is one of the products in the detailed K-beauty skincare routine. While some people will see it as ostentatious, it can be quite beneficial if you know what it is and what it does.

Essence behaves like toner and serum; better put, it mediates them in skincare order and function. Just like toners, essences unclog your pores of debris and help to regulate oil production. Like a serum, skincare essence contains active ingredients that nourish your skin.

Essences are a class of hydrating skincare products that are beneficial to every skin type. They have a liquid consistency that may be very watery or sticky.

Also, some skincare essence comes in mister bottles which makes them very handy for midday touchups while you’re on the go.

These products have humectant property which helps them retain moisture in the layers of your skin, keeping it plump and glowing. With this as one of its highlights, essences help to increase your skin’s resilience against environmental irritants.

What Is Toner and What Does It Do?

Toners are skin cleansers that continue the cleansing step from where your facial cleansers stop. More so, they cleanse your skin an extra step, getting rid of oil, dirt, and makeup residues. A toner can also help to remove soap scum from your skin.

Coming in at the beginning of your routine, toner prepares a clean surface for the products on your routine. On a clean canvas, absorption is at its peak and the ingredients are more effective.

Cleansers, the chemicals in your products, and environmental aggressors tend to alter your skin’s natural pH and throw your skin off balance.

Cleansing your skin with a toner will balance your skin’s pH and put your skin in a better place to receive, absorb and respond to active ingredients.

Additionally, toner helps to refine your pores and create a clearer path for better penetration of active ingredients. The pores refining benefit of using toner extends to regulating oil production and controlling acne breakouts.

Serum vs Essence vs Toner

1. Their appearance

Although they may look alike, you can start differentiating them by their packaging. Serums come in small glass bottles with a cover that has an applicator.

Toners and essences share more similarities in their physical appearance because they may come in bottles of similar sizes.

Toner and essence may come in bottles with lids or mister bottles. However, a difference is that essence may not always be as watery as a toner.

To sum it up, in terms of physical appearance and consistency, toners are the lightest while serums are the thickest with essences weighing in between.

2. Composition

Serums are made up of active ingredients like hyaluronic acid, retinol, vitamin C, AHAs like glycolic acid, BHAs like salicylic acid, and niacinamide. These ingredients are what make serums potent treatment options for different skin concerns.

Essences are also made of actives, but they are not as concentrated as serums. So, on their own, they are not sufficient to treat skin concerns and improve the health of your skin. Essences contain a higher concentration of water when compared to serum and this reduces their potency.

Toners are the least concentrated of the three products. They contain the highest concentration of water, alongside essential oils like tea tree oil and chamomile oil, and some active ingredients. 

3. Purpose

Toner is on the cleansing end of the spectrum of skincare products and routines. The first thing a toner does is cleanse your skin and remove residues of oil, dirt, and makeup.

Balancing your skin’s pH, refining pores, regulating sebum production, and controlling acne breakouts are added benefits.

Moving forward on your routine, essence, and serums are not cleansers. They continue from where toners stop; they hydrate your skin and repair skin and tissue damages that may arise from any skin concern.

Skincare essence hydrates your skin from within because they penetrate better than toners and work on a cellular level.

While doing this, the active ingredients in the essence also begin to work on your skin. Also, the essence contains antioxidants that protect your skin from environmental aggressors.

Serum, the most concentrated of the three, is more targeted in its line of action. Serums are more specific in their purposes; they carry out functions like skin hydration, skin brightening, skin resurfacing, treating acne and fading scars, treating signs of aging, and aligning your skin tone.  

4. Method of application

Toners, the wateriest of them, are applied with a cotton ball or by misting (if you’re using a misted toner) it all over your face.

Essences are applied with the hands. Using a cotton ball will rather waste the actives in the formula. All you need to do is take a little in your hand and gently tap it all over your face.

Serums are more viscous, and they come with a dropper applicator which makes taking it out of the bottle easy. After pumping it out, release the serum onto your palm and gently tap it all over your face using your hands.

Is Serum the Same as Essence?

No, it is not. Although they may look and feel alike sometimes, serums are different from essences. Serums have a more concentrated formula of active ingredients used to treat specific skin concerns. Also, they are more viscous and are packaged in small bottles.

On the other hand, essences are watery and less concentrated. They may come as facial mists or in bottles that require using cotton balls for application.

Like a serum, skincare essence also contains active ingredients with which they moisturize, nourish, and protect your skin.

Both products can fortify your skin with antioxidants and prevent the formation of free radicals that can cause premature aging and other skin issues.

Should You Use Essence or Toner?

You may use either or both essence and toner in your routine. What you use or do not use depends on the results you hope to achieve and your skin concerns. If you have very oily skin or combination skin, using both products will be excellent for your skin.

Both products will help to regulate oil and moisture levels, which is very important for controlling acne outbreaks. However, if you’d rather stick to one, you should use a product that addresses the needs of your skin.

Moreover, if you want to drop your toner and use just essence, you should use a very mild cleanser that won’t leave product residues or dry out your skin.

Can You Use Essence Without Serum?

Some skin experts say it is okay to replace serum with essence on some days if you have sensitive skin and cannot tolerate the thickness. In such a case, you may use essence after cleansing and moisturize afterward.

However, essences cannot fully play the role of serums in skincare. As mentioned earlier, serums are more concentrated. Therefore, they are more effective in treating your skin concerns.

Should you Use Serum, Essence, and Toner Together?

You may use toner, essence, and serum if you want a detailed skincare routine and want to reap the maximum benefits of your products. What goes in your routine depends on what you want for your skin.

Rather than seeking a comparison of serum vs essence vs toner to make a choice, you can combine all three in your routine. When you apply them correctly, your skin will have you to thank for its glory days.

How to Use Serum, Essence, and Toner Together in Your Routine

  • Start your routine by cleansing your face to get rid of oil and dirt residues
  • Afterward, dampen a cotton pad with toner and gently wipe across your face to remove stubborn residues and deep cleanse your pores
  • Moving on to essence. Take a little in your palms and gently press it onto your face
  • Wait for a minute so your skin can absorb the product. However, it should not dry up before you apply serum
  • While your face is still damp with essence, pump out the serum onto your palms and gently tap it into your skin. Ensure you reach areas like your undereye and the sides of your face
  • Allow the serum to absorb into your skin before you go ahead to moisturize and apply other creams and face oil
  • Finish off your routine with sunscreen lotion so you do not throw away all your effort to UV rays


Is essence a toner or serum?

Essence is neither a toner nor a serum. It may look or feel like either of the two, but it is a different product.

The main differences are essences are lighter than serums but heavier than toners. Also, essences are less concentrated than serums but more concentrated than toners.

Do you need essence if you use toner?

Using essence is optional for some people but this does not suggest that you shouldn’t use it. It helps to ultra-hydrate your skin, prepping it for other products down your routine.

Can you skip using toner in your routine?

You may skip using toner if your cleanser is very mild and does not dry out your skin excessively or throw your skin off its pH balance. Moreover, you should use a serum that contains active ingredients which can hydrate, moisturize and nourish your skin.


Why look for a comparison of serum vs essence vs toner when you can use the three products in your daily routine? Each is unique and contributes its special functions to improve the health and appearance of your skin.

Although they look alike and may have similar methods of application, comparing serum vs essence vs toner shows that they aren’t as similar as they look.

Know what each does for your skin, identify the needs of your skin, and use them appropriately, then you’ll get a bang for your buck.

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