What’s the difference between a toner and an essence? The concept of toners started in Korea, and they can be used interchangeably with an essence. However, these products actually serve very different purposes and have very different textures. So, what do these differences mean for your skin and skincare routine?
Firstly, within skincare routines, there are three elements: cleanse, consistency, and complete. Cleansing is removing your makeup and washing the skin. Now, “consistency” is where essences and toners come in. For instance, they are usually very watery products. Normally, you’d apply them first after washing, and then, follow them up with something thicker like a serum, moisturizer, or overnight mask to lock in everything. For daytime, sunscreen, makeup, and serums could also fulfill the “complete” element. As mentioned before, this last component is very important because it will secure toners and essences.
Likewise, what exactly is a toner? Why is it so liquidy, and what is it supposed to do? The purpose of a toner, especially one from K beauty, is to rebalance the skin. Our skin has natural a pH level which indicates how acidic or alkaline our faces are. If something is too acidic, it can burn the face, and if it’s too basic, it can cause skin barrier disruption. For example, some cleansers, especially soaps, tend to be a little more on the basic or alkaline side. It is definitely possible to get a basic cleanser that is completely pH balanced, but if have oily skin, you might need a more alkaline cleanser. In the long term, an unbalanced pH can damage the skin barrier, allow pathogens into the skin more easily, and cause dryness. For that reason, many people use toners.
A toner rebalances the pH. So, whether your cleanser is super acidic or super basic, toners help rebalance it. Toners also help other products penetrate deeper. Normally, they are used before serums and moisturizers. Using a toner beforehand will allow your skin to get balanced, and it will enable those active ingredients to subsequently dive deeper into the skin. Although this is the primary purpose of toners, not all of them are the same. For example, the glycolic acid toner from the Ordinary (3.6 pH) is much different from the 2% salicylic acid toner from Paula’s Choice although they’re both acids.
Acids are a little lower on that pH scale and will penetrate deeper. For someone who has acne or oily prone skin, this deep penetration can be super helpful. There are also toners with slightly higher pH levels such as the one from Pixi Beauty. This one is not for sensitive skin, and it has retinol. Some toners also contain alcohol or witch hazel. These ingredients aren’t always horrible for the skin. They can help degrease the skin, and before certain chemical peels or medical aesthetic treatments, we can use these types of toners to make sure that we’re prepping the skin properly.
In contrast, essences are less for rebalancing and more for hydration. If you look at the consistency of essences, they’re like thick waters. They’re not as liquidy as toners, but they’re not as thick as serums either. Essences are normally part of a 10 to 15 step skincare routine. But for many, these long routines are not sustainable long-term. Plus, using that many different products and ingredients can potentially irritate your skin in the long run. All of that aside, essences do feel amazing on the skin, and they are an extra layer of hydration or moisturizer.
Some essences are purposefully pH balanced, but most don’t have a very low or high pH anyways. That’s because most essences aren’t treatment based whereas most toners are. Essences normally have things such as pomegranate, vitamin C, and other nourishing ingredients. You can use essences and toners together, and if you want to layer them, it’s best to apply toners first and essences second. Take into account though that neither toners nor essences are essential. The most important steps are cleansing, moisturizing, and as always, putting on SPF.
The Ordinary Glycolic Solution- $10
Inkey list Glycolic Toner -$10.99
Inkey List PHA Toner- $10.99
Glossier The Solution -$24
Paulas Choice BHA4 fl. oz - $32
5% Mandelic Water Wishtrend - $23
Juice Beauty Toner Mist- $25
Bliss Clear Genius Essence- $18
Pyunkang Yul Essence- $11.78
Frudia Avocado Essence- $14.89
Frudia Pomegranate Essence -$21.74