Essence, Serum and Ampoule

Essence, Serum and Ampoule

how are they different?

As well as being nourishing, brightening and hydrating, the Korean skincare routine is complex! There are so many steps, several of which exhibit lots of similarities. Take essence, serum and ampoule for instance. They all technically do the same thing but at different potencies, textures and positions within the skincare routine.

what is an essence?

An essence is a lightweight liquid that follows cleansing and toning. Its primary objective is to add hydration to the skin. Essences generally comprise an abundance of plant extracts and antioxidants but may also include an additional focus.
Korean Brightening and Soothing Essences
For example, they may incorporate a brightening ingredient such as niacinamide (D’Alba White Truffle First Spray Serum), have a soothing component, perhaps centella asiatica or snail mucin (Cosrx Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence) or all the above. Adding essence to your routine also achieves a better foundation upon which to layer remaining products, allowing them deeper penetration and more effectiveness.
Korean Essence
Just to confuse things further, there’s essences and there’s first or starting treatment essences (STEs or FTEs) such as the Missha First Treatment Essence and the Secret Key Starting Treatment Essence. FTEs are primarily made up of fermented ingredients and have a watery texture. FTEs are applied directly after cleansing, prior to toner, hence their name commencing with First or Starting, indicating the start of the routine. Fermentation basically reduces the molecular size of the ingredients so they are able to penetrate more deeply into the skin. This process also allows following layers to be better received.
Korean FTEs

what is a serum?

As we progress through the routine steps, product viscosity and potency usually increase. Serum is commonly used in both western and Asian skincare.
Korean Vitamin C and Beta Glucan Serums
They are typically more concentrated with actives focused on achieving a particular goal such as wrinkle reduction, brightening, hydrating and calming. For instance, the iUNIK Beta Glucan Power Moisture Serum is designed to achieve a stronger moisture barrier while the Klairs Freshly Juiced Vitamin Drop targets brightening with anti-ageing benefits through powerful antioxidant, Vitamin C.
Korean Serum

what is an ampoule?

Ampoules are the most potent of the group. They are formulated with more concentrated actives to deliver a powerful solution to address specific skincare needs.
Korean Ampoules
Take the Pyunkang Yul Moisture Ampoule. It is formulated with only six ingredients (90% Captis Japonica Root Extract) to deliver a powerful hit of soothing hydration. The iconic Missha Time Revolution Borabit Ampoule is infused with Bifida Ferment Lysate to target the signs of ageing.

do you need them all?

The lines between essence, serum and ampoule are becoming increasingly blurred as more and more products hit the market. They are all targeted treatments with concentrated actives to achieve specific skin outcomes. Consider what your skin needs and select accordingly. You can layer one, two or all three steps in the one routine to address more than one objective. When used properly in a controlled routine, they can achieve wonderful results.



  • Carrie

    What an amazing page. Keeping it real and breaking it down perfectly. What is good for the skin, and what’s bullshit for the skin. However, what the heck is emulsion? Where does it fit in?

    Absolutely love this site. Xxx #koreanskincare #acutabovetherest xx

    • denise

      Thanks for your comment and your lovely feedback! It is greatly appreciated Carrie.

      An emulsion is an optional step that sits between serum and cream. It’s usually lotion like in texture, reflecting a lightweight layer of moisture. It can be an additional layer during drier months or for drier skin types that need a bit extra. I like to use it in place of cream when I apply a sleeping mask (otherwise it can be too heavy for my combo skin), or if I’m already using a highly moisturising sunscreen. Emulsion can be a nice replacement for cream for oilier complexions in hot weather too. Many ways to use it but certainly not an essential step. Hope that makes sense 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *