While cleansing and moisturising are pretty self explanatory, when it comes to your skincare routine, the jumble in the middle can get pretty confusing. Have you ever wondered what on earth are the differences between an essence, serum and ampoule? Here’s your 101:
Essences: Also known as “Treatment Water”, essences predominantly add hydration to the skin but include other skin-loving ingredients such as antioxidants, niacinamide and plant extracts. Think of essences as sheet masks, but without the masks. They are normally applied after using a toner, but before slathering on a moisturizer. A popular Korean essence is MISSHA First Treatment Essence, which has received something of a cult status as a dupe for the SK-II essence that costs nearly twice as much.
Serums: Here is where things get a little more tricky. All serums used to be called essences in Korea, but now serums and essences coexist and there's a blurring of the lines when it comes to defining them. Generally, a serum is thicker in consistency, and have a higher concentration of active ingredients to address specific skin concerns such as acne, large pores, dullness etc. These days, the words essence and serum are largely interchangeable, and more of a marketing tool rather than a definition, as both products are applied to the face at the same step within a skincare regime and both produce almost similar results. Koreans generally would not apply both essence and serum together, as essences today are often extremely similar to a serum.
Ampoules: Ampoules are nicknamed “Supercharged Serums” because they are often more concentrated in their active ingredients than a serum, therefore making them the priciest but most effective item discussed in this post. A little goes a long way with ampoules, so Koreans don't normally use ampoules on a daily basis, as they are more commonly used temporarily for stressed skin, or when your skin is not “cooperating”.
Essentially, serums, essences and ampoules are all the same thing: concentrated skin treatments. While ampoules are the most concentrated and essences the least, the concentration varies depending on how the product itself is formulated by specific brands (after all, there’s no concentration formulation standard that all serums have to comply with in order to be a serum). These wordings are mostly marketing tactics to differentiate skin care products, when they all generally function in quite similar manners.
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