Toner vs. Essence: What's the Difference?

Toner vs. Essence: What's the Difference?

Posted by Brooklyn S. on

Toners and essences are water-like beauty elixirs that have taken the skincare world by storm, especially after the popularity of the 10-step Korean skincare regimen.¹  Anyone interested in elaborate skincare routines might know what toner and essence are, what they do for the skin, and how to use them. However, a novice may find it hard to distinguish between a toner and an essence, their purposes, and their uses. 

So, if you're not sure about the differences between toner and essence or how to use them, here's a complete breakdown of each product to help you choose what's most suitable for your skin:

What is a Toner?

A toner is a water-based product that usually contains natural or synthetic compounds that help to cleanse your skin. After cleansing, a toner is applied to the skin to draw out further any residual oil, grime, dirt, and makeup. Toning products usually contain glycerin, lactic acid, salicylic acid, alpha-hydroxy acids, and water.²

Toner also prepares your skin for soaking in the ingredients of the other skincare products you apply afterward. Also, since toners help to cleanse the pores and reduce sebum levels on the skin, they can be drying for the skin.

What is an Essence?

Unlike other commonly used skincare products like cleansers and moisturizers, which are easy to understand, essences may seem confusing as the name doesn't give away its purpose. An essence is a liquid skincare formulation that contains active ingredients, such as vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. These compounds are delivered to the skin to facilitate hydration, nourishment, and rejuvenation.

Essences also help prep the skin to receive ingredients from serums, moisturizers, and other products applied after using essence. Due to their intensely hydrating and nourishing properties, essences are commonly recommended for people with dry, dehydrated, and aging skin.

The Difference between a Toner and an Essence

An essence is used after cleansing, exfoliating, and toning the skin. Many may think toner and essence as the same due to consistency, but essence does the opposite of a toner. Instead, essence is more comparable to a facial serum as it is meant to add hydration and moisture to the skin.

Essences are also lightweight and water-based and come in runny liquid formulations that boost hydration and radiance to the skin. ³ Like a toner, an essence is also applied to cleansed skin, but its primary role is to hydrate the skin. 

Other than boosting the skin's hydration level, some essences are also created with a higher concentration of active compounds than toners. These active ingredients are added to restore and retain moisture and enhance the penetration of other products into the skin. In addition, essences are usually packed with antioxidant ingredients, which protect the skin from oxidative stressors and prevent cell damage that can cause various skin problems.

Why Should You Use a Toner?

With so many toners on the market, different toners can offer various skincare benefits. So, it's best if you opt for the one that best suits your particular skin type and helps to alleviate your skin concerns. Toners can be helpful for people struggling with acne and oily skin as various toners help to control and regulate the level of oil on the skin.

Depending on the ingredients added to the formula, a toner can help to refresh and brighten the complexion. Toners with AHAs and BHAs can accelerate skin cell repair and renewal, sloughing off dead, dull, and dry layers of the skin. Also, toners can help to shrink enlarged pores, making the skin appear smoother and tighter. In addition, toners are known to maintain the skin's pH balance. A toner can also improve the absorption and thus the effectiveness of other skincare products.

Why Should You Use an Essence?

To have healthy skin, you need to use the right products. There are many different kinds of toners, moisturizers, serums, and essences that can help your complexion look better. However, when looking at these options, it's essential to understand why you should choose one type of product over another or why you need to add any of these to your skincare routine.

Essence is an excellent choice for those noticing signs of aging because it can help to prevent wrinkles and fine lines. Toner is also helpful, but you don't want to apply it too much. This could cause dryness and irritation on the surface of your skin. On the other hand, you can quickly get the benefits of an essence by applying it directly to your face. In addition, essences are one of the most effective skincare products for relieving dryness and dehydration.

Should You Use Both?

If you're looking for the best way to care for your skin's needs, you should consider using a toner and an essence together. As discussed above, a toner and an essence are different products with different functions. However, you can incorporate both products into your skincare routine to get the best of both worlds and reap the benefits of both products.

You can either layer both products on top of one another or use them alternatively. For example, you can use a toner and follow it with an essence or use a toner as a part of your morning skincare routine and apply essence during your nighttime skincare routine (or vice versa). While layering toner and essence, use your toner after cleansing and exfoliating the skin, and then press essence onto the skin. You can also find two-in-one products containing the ingredients of both toners and essences together to make your skincare routine simpler.

How to Choose a Toner or an Essence?

To ensure that you're getting the best results from your toner and essence, you should know how to choose one. Here are some tips to help you find the perfect product for your needs.

  • Read the ingredients list and look at what's included in the bottle
  • Consider the price and choose according to your budget
  • Check out customer reviews and testimonials online
  • Make sure that you have the right product for your skin type
  • Always read the instructions carefully
  • Use your fingers or cotton pads
  • Keep the product away from your eyes
  • Be careful when using any new products. Do a patch test.

How to Use a Toner?

While there are no right or wrong ways of applying toner to your skin, applying it to the skin with either a cotton ball or pad is usually recommended. The reason to use a toner with a cotton ball is to remove the remaining impurities left on the skin after cleansing. In addition, a cotton ball or pad will help to lift the dirt, oil, makeup, and other pollutants off the skin.

Don't forget that toners can be drying to the skin. Hence don't overdo them, or you might end up with dry, dehydrated, or irritated skin. Also, choose a toner with natural and soothing ingredients. Avoid formulas with alcohol, fragrances, and other harsh chemicals.

How to Use an Essence?

Just like toners and essences are different, their application methods also vary. With essences, you're adding a burst of moisture and hydration to the skin, so you should use them by hand.

Just pour out a small amount on your palm and use it with your fingertips. Applying the essence to your fingertips and pressing it into the skin helps the products applied afterward penetrate deeper into the skin and yield better and faster results.

Applying your essence directly onto the skin will help to maximize its effectiveness. You can also apply it using your entire hand. Using the whole hand, you will also be employing warmth of your hand to the skin, which will boost the absorption of the essence.

Final Thoughts

We hope the difference between toners and essences is clear by now. Whether used within two steps or ten, these products are jam-packed with some of the most powerful ingredients in the skincare world.

When incorporated into your daily routine, you too can fulfill your skin dreams and answer your skin's prayers. Adding a toner and essence to your skincare routine can elevate your skincare game. Active ingredients in them can instantly bring life to your skin by enhancing its hydration, glow, and plumpness. All you have to do is look for the right ingredients for your skin.



  1. Kim, Soo. (2022). ‘10 Step Korean Skincare Routine: Easy Tips For Flawless Skin’, Newsweek. Accessed August 1, 2022. Available at:
  2. Starkman, Evan. (2021). ‘AHA and BHA for Skin: What to Know’, WebMD. Accessed August 1, 2022. Available at:

  3. Rose, Kaitlyn. (2021). ‘Water Based Moisturizer vs. Oil Based Moisturizer: What's the Difference,’ The Derm Review. Accessed August 2, 2022. Available at:

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