What’s the Difference: Serums, Essences & Ampoules
Skincare is a whole new science that needs endless exploration! It has so many layers, tools, products, terms that you simply can’t be competent enough with a shopping-only approach, unless you have a qualifying medical degree. Even if you’re an experienced skincare product user, you might still find it hard to understand the real needs of your skin (other than the obvious ones that show on your face) and differentiate between such unique products as serums, essences, and ampoules that can treat dozens of skin issues you’re currently experiencing.
Well, consider yourself a senior at Fashionisers University, because you are about to graduate with an honor degree specializing in the best Korean skincare practices.
Where Do Serums, Essences & Ampoules Come From?
First off, you’ve probably noticed that these product types have never been popular in the US and even European market before. And you’re right! These are some of the late developments of the Korean beauty markets that are rapidly penetrating into the US market.
Ever felt like procrastinating from your 3-step skincare routine? Well, you are very lucky you were not born in South Korea, where fashion-forward women can spend hours on a 27-step routine for skincare alone! Most of that routine is comprised of cleansers, toners and the three products we’ll be discussing today.
Once your face is cleansed and toned, you’re supposed to use the essences. It doesn’t have to be a single product, you can mix and match a few essences, each targeting a number of issues.
Now, there is not much difference between essences and serums; they are primarily the same thing.
Just a few differences to note when you go skincare product shopping. Essences, which are often called miracle water, are lighter than serums, and that is one of the main reasons why it should be applied in the beginning (the lightest textures go on first). They also provide another layer of hydration after the toner (which, in their turn, might be labeled as mist, skin refiner, skin balancer, skin hydrator or simply lotion on Korean products), and just before the round of serums, which are more concentrated.
This is the traditional differentiation between these two products. However, the beauty industry doesn’t stand in one place. Every day new essences and serums are launched into the market; essences that are thicker, and serums that are lighter. The line between them is getting even blurrier, and with some products, texture and purpose are more decisive than the term on the bottle.
While it’s more than beneficial to know the traditional process, don’t feel bound to it, base your choices on the products you purchase, your time, and the needs of your skin; everyone has a different package of skin issues and these needs may change over time.
Despite the light differences between serums and essences, these two products are both concentrates, and the term might play a decisive role only when you’re purchasing products from US and Korean market simultaneously. Other than that, sometimes you will find the words serums and essences being used to denote the same product.
As essences usually come in big bottles, similar to cleansers and toners, you can apply it generously. There is a very little chance you will overuse an essence with one application.
And just when everything seemed to be very easy, here’s one more detail you should be aware of. With the fast speed the Korean beauty market is moving with, you will soon start spotting pre-essences and post-essences on the store shelves. For now, these terms seem to be a marketing trick, but just to be on the safe side, consult with a skincare expert when deciding where they go in your routine, if you select any.
It’s also important to know about the existence of essence toners and essence lotions. Despite the name, these products are essentially toners that possess the same consistency as essences. Do not think that they will substitute your dose of daily essences.
● are light and can be applied generously
● come in big bottles
● are not very expensive
● hydrate and moisturize the skin
● do not show an immediate result
● don’t penetrate into the deeper levels of the skin
As we’re done with the first step of extensive skincare, Korean style, we can move a step further to serums. As you already know, they are very much like essences, but some of the ingredients packed in the bottles also brighten your skin, reduce dark spots and wrinkles, as well as do many other beauty tricks.
The level of concentration in these products is much higher than in a toner or essence. They usually have an oil-like texture and come in smaller bottles than toners or cleansers. Serums are also a Western trend. In fact, US companies started producing serums just recently. Before that, the Korean market called the same products… guess again… essences.
● provide more moisture and extra hydration for your skin
● deliver nutrients into the deeper levels of your skin (where toners and face creams can’t reach)
● depending on the serum type, can deal with skin issues like dark circles and wrinkles, etc.
● are great anti-aging products
● are expensive, in comparison with creams and cleansers. This is due to the ingredient list, which excludes water and other ingredients found in regular face creams. (Note: Despite this, sometimes you might find some serums that include water in their ingredient list).
● are targeted to one or a couple of skin issues
Finally after you’re done with the cleaners, toners, essences, and serums (in that exact order), you might need an ampoule added to the routine. Ampoules come after serums, and have a much higher concentration than the formers.
Many cosmetics companies will not suggest using their serums and ampoules simultaneously and will advise on peaking one. However, approach ampoules like a kind of medicine, a product with a very strong effect for treating a serious issue and something not to be played and experimented with.
Traditionally, this is the third step in the essence-serum-ampoule tango, but in some routines of the Eastern market, ampoules might be placed as the first step, to boost your skin and prepare it for the upcoming treatment.
The ingredients you usually find in an essence are multiplied in one drop of an ampoule. This is the reason why you would most probably use them to deal with a specific skin issue like sever acne. You don’t need to use an ampoule every day, they will work best in a certain period of time when you need a feature of your skin boosted.
They penetrate to some of the deepest layers of your skin and are usually very effective. Ampoules start impacting your skin very quickly after application, so you will see the results right away.
If after several applications, you don’t notice any positive changes, maybe you have selected the wrong ampoule; it’s time to consult a skincare expert… again.
As you noticed, the higher concentration you want, the smaller bottle you get. Ampoule bottles usually come with droppers to ensure you don’t overuse the product or it doesn’t go to waste (because you have paid too much for it, haven’t you?).
For a final note, ampoules are the mixture of the beauty and medical industries, the result of those two coming together.
● intensively treat a specific skin issue or boost a skin feature
● can be used to treat acne or unclogging pores
● fast results in short time
● should not be overused
● are not versatile and focus on one issue or feature
● more expensive than toners, creams, essences and serums
A Word of Caution!
Before you go crazy buying a bunch of essences, serums, and ampoules, remember that a 27-step skincare routine is a heavy labor for your skin. Any product you apply must have a purpose and needed at the time of application
You should never compile your own product list and routine, without the help and advice of a skin expert. No matter how good you think you are, there is definitely something you will miss or misunderstand.
An expert will tell you what exact problems your skin has, what you should and can deal with, and what products you will need to succeed in that combat. Moreover, if you’re mixing a few essences or serums in one routine, make sure they will not counter-attack each other and can work like a team.
If your skin care routine includes 30 different products, never take it as a sacred mission. You can skip a product or two or even three if you feel your skin doesn’t need it at the moment. Don’t overuse products and overload your skin; remember that your skin is very sensitive, it needs a thorough care and attention, but never a circus show with everything and anything included. The quantity is never the best option here.
Keep in mind that your skin absorbs more than 65% of anything you will apply, make the right choices and your skin will be thankful to you.
Photos courtesy of @ChiaraFerragni, @skii