Explaining Serums, Ampoules and Essences

Essence, Serum and Ampoule

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.  They all technically do the same thing but at different potencies, textures and positions within the skincare routine. 

What is Essence?

An essence is a lightweight liquid that follows cleansing and toning and its primary objective is to add hydration to the skin.  Essences generally comprise an abundance of plant extracts and antioxidants but may also include a brightening ingredient such as niacinamide, a soothing component perhaps centella asiatica or a skin food that addresses all these and more like snail mucin (Cosrx Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence).  Adding essence to your routine also achieves a better foundation upon which to layer remaining products, allowing them deeper penetration and more effectiveness.

First/Starting Treatment Essences

To confuse things a little further, there are essences and then there are first (or starting) treatment essences.  FTEs are primarily made up of fermented ingredients and are applied directly after cleansing and before toner.  Fermentation reduces the molecular size of ingredients so they are more deeply penetrated into the skin.  A cult favourite is the Missha The First Treatment Essence Rx (Pro Ferment).

What is a Serum?

As we progress through the routine steps, product viscosity and potency generally increase.  Serum is commonly used in both western and Asian skincare.  It is typically more concentrated with actives focused on achieving a particular goal such as wrinkle reduction, brightening, hydrating or calming. Bulgarian Rose Water makes up 88% of the Heimish Bulgarian Rose Water Mist Serum and is full of skin-loving nutrients and vitamins. JUMISO Helloskin All Day Vitamin Brightening & Balancing Facial Serum combines the powerful brightening effects of Vitamin C with Adenosine, leaving you with healthier looking skin.

What is an Ampoule

Ampoules are the most potent of the group.  They are formulated with more concentrated actives to deliver a powerful solution that addresses specific skincare needs.

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 Night Repair Probio 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 these products to address more than one objective within the same routine.  When used properly in a controlled fashion, they can achieve wonderful results. 

You can find the full article differentiating essence, serum and ampoule by Denise at CLAY + essence here.

You can find more blog posts with skincare tips below

All you need to know about Acne : here.

Tips to reduce the recurrence of blackheads by Katrina at April & Ko : here.

The importance of incorporating double cleansing into your skincare routine can be found here.

A review of the Neogen Green Tea Cleansing Stick can be found here.

An in-depth post detailing all 10 steps of the Korean skincare routine can be found here.

How to achieve glass skin can be found here.

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