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Essence vs. Toner: What’s the Difference?

Once you’ve mastered the most basic steps of a good skincare routine, such as cleansing and moisturizing, it can get a little trickier to understand other products, such as face toners and essences, and what they can do for your complexion. For instance: What does face toner do, and how is that different from an essence? Is toner for oily skin only? Why do you need an essence for skin? We’re here to help. While both are often used as a prep step, face toner and essence are two different formulas that offer respective benefits for skin. Here’s how they differ.

What is toner?

Toners are a skincare product designed for use after cleansing. They usually have a silky, serum-like consistency, and have been around a long time. Face toners were once a staple for those who dealt with breakouts or excess oil; in fact, toners for oily skin had astringent properties (meaning they remove oil) or alcohol, which were thought to give skin a deeper clean than cleansing alone. For that reason, they were often considered drying, and thus not ideal for the skin barrier.

What does toner do for skin?

These days, toners are far less drying than the first-gen versions. While they still remove impurities from skin, indeed delivering a more thorough clean, newer formulas work to restore skin’s pH balance and even hydrate skin as they purify pores. For example, Tonique Confort is an alcohol-free formula that nourishes and moisturizes skin, leaving it instantly smooth and soft.

Since toners can remove debris from skin, they’re best applied using a cotton pad. That way, you can remove any residue from skin instead of simply moving it around your face.

What is face essence?

Face essences are newer skincare category found in K-Beauty (Korean skincare also paved the way for ampoules, by the way). They’re usually more watery in texture than face toners, so they tend to sink into skin more quickly. There, they can hydrate skin and offer other benefits depending on the formula, and it’s often said that in dampening skin with essence, it allows the following skincare products to better penetrate.

What does face essence do for skin?

Compared to toners, face essences offer more of a targeted treatment. They can hydrate, smooth or brighten skin — or all of the above. In doing so, they essentially ready skin for the rest of your skincare routine.

Some use popular active ingredients to do just that. Clarifique Dual Face Essence, for instance, is an exfoliating face essence that includes salicylic and glycolic acids; it helps with refining skin texture and tone and improves the appearance of large pores. To get the most out of face essence’s benefits, simply pat it into skin with your hands after toning and before applying serum.

While you can choose between toner and essence, you can also use them together. They’ll ensure you get the maximum benefit from skin, leaving it clean and nourished.

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