The difference between essences, ampoules, and serums and how to get the most of them.


K-Beauty is pretty famous for coming out with a wide variety of products with an even wider variety of terminology. Remember when BB cream rose to popularity? Soon we had CC, DD, and even EE creams. 

These days, something similar is happening with essences, ampoules, and serums. Naming conventions and formulation standards aren’t consistent. So it can be confusing to differentiate everything and find out which is which, or what even to use.  

  • Essences are used as a go between your toner and serums 
  • Serums and ampoules are often used interchangeably 
  • Layering is key: cleanser, toner, essence, serum/ampoule, moisturizer
  • When layering serums: thinnest to thickest


Essences (also known as water essences) are a staple of K-Beauty and one of the few products that aren’t prone to be confused with similar products. Once a skin care secret known only throughout Asia, it has become increasingly popular in the US. 

Most essences have a lightweight and watery consistency due to a lower concentration of active ingredients. They can be thought of as an inbetween for your toner and serum. Essences are meant to serve as another layer of moisture while nourishing the skin. They also help other products penetrate the skin easier for optimal results.

Serums & Ampoules

As far as K-Beauty is concerned, serums and ampoules are often used interchangeably. They both contain higher concentrations of active ingredients and are used after your essence of choice. Serums / ampoules are great ways to personalize and target your specific skin concerns.

You may have heard that ampoules are extra concentrated, but there is no standardized concentration, formula, or regulation that differentiates between the two. It is recommended that you check with the directions or perform a spot check before adding a serum to your routine. But at the end of the day, both products perform similar functions. 

Layering is Key

One of the key tenets of K-Beauty comes from properly layering all of your skin care products. Especially if you are using multiple serums/ampoules. Here’s a quick guide on properly layering your essences and serums.  

  1. Apply essence after cleansing and toning.
  2. Layer serums from thinnest to thickest (by consistency).
  3. Wait a minute or so (depending on consistency) for products to absorb into skin before applying the next layer.
  4. Always follow up with your favorite moisturizer to lock in all the active ingredients. 

Oil based serums should almost always be applied last if they are part of your routine. Oils are typically heavier and do not absorb as deeply into the skin. They are meant to help lock in moisture and protect the skin. 

Our Take

If you’re looking to add an essence, serum, or ampoule to your current skin care try not to pay so much attention to the “type”. They are all packed with active ingredients with a variety of benefits. Instead identify your skin type, concerns, and goals. Find a product that matches those criteria and make sure to layer properly.

As always, when trying out a new ingredient conduct a spot test before adding it to your routine. And never introduce multiple products at once. 

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