Toner Vs. Essence: Is There A Difference Between These Skincare Staples?

You've probably heard of toners, a skincare essential that helps remove any residue after the cleansing process of your routine. In South Korea, which is known for itsĀ 10-step skincare routine, there's a product with a similar look and feel known as an essence. However, the 20-step skincare routine consists of using both a toner and an essence because they technically serve different purposes. So, while they may often be confused for being the same thing, they actually are not.


Oftentimes, a toner removes residue after a cleanse, right before a moisturizer or other face creams or treatments are applied. Many toners vary from one another, though, depending on what the ingredients in the toner are targeting. As a water-based product, many different toners may address different needs or concerns such as acne, pores, brightening, or more. "They may be helpful for those with acne-prone skin by reducing oil levels on the skin," Dr. Brendon Camp, a board-certified dermatologist, tells InStyle. "They may lessen the appearance of pores, aid in the absorption and penetration of skincare products, refresh the skin, brighten the appearance of skin, assist in exfoliation, and help maintain the pH balance of skin."


Now, let's dive into the real differences between essences and toners.

What is an essence?

While toners strip away excess dirt and oils, even after the cleansing step of your routine, it only prepares the skin for the next layer of treatments on cleaner skin. However, an essence provides a different effect. According to Healthline, an essence contains active ingredients to help hydrate, protect, soothe, and boost your skin health. In fact, a study published in the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology looked into serum and essence usage for 12 weeks and found improvements in "face hydration, skin barrier function, skin firmness, and skin lift."


With an essence, skin cells can rehydrate, the skin barrier is protected, skin pH can be rebalanced, and the epidermis is smoothed and softened. Also common in an essence is the implementation of plant extract ingredients which may provide antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits as well (via Healthline). Essences are known for containing more natural ingredients, which is part of what makes them such a popular staple in Korean skincare.

How to use essences and toners together

The Korean 10-step skincare routine goes as follows: makeup remover or oil cleanser, water-based cleanser, exfoliator, toner, essence, treatments, sheet mask, eye cream, moisturizer, and SPF during the day. A simpler skincare routine is usually just three steps: cleansing, toning, and moisturizing, although, during the day, SPF should be an added fourth step (via The New York Times). Because they serve different purposes, a toner and an essence can be used together, as seen in the Korean routine. However, because of the benefits an essence offers, toner will need to be used before the essence. Otherwise, the toner may remove any of the ingredients the essence is trying to provide your skin.


"Toner should be used first," Dr. Stacy Chimenot, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist explains to Fab Fit Fun Magazine. "Think of toner as the product that will get your face its cleanest, that fights against pollutants and refreshes the skin. The essence will then smooth the skin, accelerate skin turnover, and enhance the effects of the products you apply afterward."

Both toner and essence come in a wide variety of options, so it's important to identify what your skin concerns are and look for helpful ingredients in the products you choose.