Toner || Essence || Serum: CIIN’s Final Verdict


We are constantly getting bombarded with various types of skincare ingredients and formulas, but with the heightened popularity of Korean skincare regimens it seems we are getting confused more than ever. Korean beauty or K-beauty relies on the concept of layering quite a number of items and it includes products with names like essence, softener, cleansing oils etc. But how do these differ from our regular toner and serum. Let’s explore together below…



This is probably a no-brainer as we all grew up knowing what a toner is and possibly using it. Simply put, a toner is used after cleansing to restore the skin’s PH balance and to remove makeup and dirt residue. Toners today differ from the formulas that were available in the past in the sense that today they are not over drying and they have different functions. Some toners are used for hydrating, some for brightening, others are for oil-control and so on.




I, for one, was skeptical about the idea of purchasing the full range of a certain brand but it seems there is some truth to what that sales person is saying… brands nowadays formulate their products so that they all work compatibly on your skin. Toners in Korean beauty are referred to as ‘refreshers’ and they are gentler on the skin than our regular toners. Some people do not believe in toners and some rely on them for their life and both are right. You have to figure out what works best for you.


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Despite the fact that an essence may look and feel like a toner but they are NOT the same thing. Essences are used to aid cell renewal and regeneration, to prepare the skin for the next step in your beauty routine, and they do not cleanse like toners. Essences usually have a watery texture but have a thicker consistency than toners. In fact, essences are closer in formation to serums, and even though they usually contain one or two active ingredients they still have less active ingredients than serums and are not as concentrated.




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Essences are usually applied by patting the face with the fingertips, while toners are applied using a cotton pad, you must refer to the instructions however. Despite finding some brands that call a toner an essence (they may think our confusion will lead to more sales!!) but you should be able to tell the difference when you read the number of active ingredients as well as learn its function.


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As discussed previously the major difference between serums and essences is the serums’ ability to hold more concentrated active ingredients than essences. Serums differ according to the skincare goal or problem they target be it anti-aging, acne, hyper pigmentation, or brightening. Even though you could use both essences and serums in your routine but this is probably more advisable for people with dry skin problems.




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In conclusion, learn more about your skin and its needs. Go to an expert if needed. And customise your skin care routine accordingly, you may want to include all of the above or not, let your skin be the judge of that. But if you’re like me, it will take a lot of trial and error before I settle down on the combination I’m more comfortable with. And keep in mind you have to shake things up with regards to your routine every once in a while depending on the season and on the needs of your skin.