Ampoule Vs Serum Vs Essence: What Is The Difference?

So, you’ve come to love Korean skincare, or you’re curious to find out more about the world of K-beauty. One thing all K-beauty newbies come to wonder about are ampoules and what sets them apart from serums and essences.

Ampoules are often more concentrated and stronger with more active ingredients in comparison to serums and essences. They are more potent than serums and essences as they are rich in super-charged ingredients. You will often notice that ampoules are packaged in smaller bottles than serums while essences are often found in large bottles. This indicates that ampoules must be used sparingly or only when your skin requires special attention while essences and serums can be used daily. That’s the summarized explanation, now let’s dive deep into the world of ampoules, serums and essences.

What Is An Ampoule?

Ampoules have been staples in Korean skincare for a long time now. However they are quite a new concept in western skincare and the rest of the world. As we mentioned above, ampoules have a higher concentration of active ingredients. Similar to serums, different ampoules target different skin concerns and are formulated with ingredients to tackle these specific concerns accordingly. However, in contrast to serums, ampoules tend to be used for a finite amount of time only when it is needed, say for an example if you’re going through a sudden skin crisis or if you’re looking forward to a special occasion and want to look your very best.

Photo Courtesy: The Zoe Report

What Is A Serum?

Serums are more widely known as a lot of skincare companies have a serum or two under their wing. Serums are quite similar to ampoules, however tend to be less concentrated in comparison. They’re however more concentrated than essences and are somewhat like moisturizers but stripped down to the strongest ingredients. They are also more lightweight than moisturizers and are more effective in targeting specific skin concerns. They can be used daily during your morning and night-time skincare routines and come in various different consistencies.

Photo Courtesy: Herbivore Botanicals

What Is An Essence?

Essences are yet another skincare trend that originated from South Korea which K-beauty junkies have come to know and love. You cannot complete the famous 10-step Korean skincare routine without an essence. Essences help your skin absorb all other products you lather on and allow deeper penetration. Essences are the least concentrated in comparison to ampoules and serums, however they do work hard in prepping your skin to take on ampoules and serums, along with the rest of the products in your skincare routine. They are often used after toners to add another layer of hydration to your skin. They’re most often very lightweight and watery, however newer formulations in the market are getting thicker. 

Photo Courtesy: the klog

Can I Use Ampoules, Serums And Essences Together? Which Comes First?

Absolutely! You can layer them on if you feel like your skin needs an extra boost. Just keep in mind to use lightweight products first and then go to the thicker one. As ampoules and serums come in various different consistencies, some ampoules are more lightweight than some serums and vice versa. As essences are often watery and the most lightweight among the three, use essences right after your toner and before an ampoule and/or serum. Whichever one feels lighter, apply that product first and you’re good to carry on with the next steps in your regimen. As we’ve mentioned before, it’s best to use ampoules sparingly while using essences and serums daily.

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Where Does Ampoules, Serums And Essences Fit In The 10-Step Skincare Regimen?

The 10-step Korean skincare regimen has a few deviations across the web. We believe that the rightful spot for essences are right after toner as the fifth step while ampoules together with serums are the sixth step of the routine. So you’re going from an oil-based cleanser first, then a water-based cleanser, followed by a toner, then an essence, then either an ampoule or a serum (or even both). 

At What Age Is It Best to Start Using An Essence, Serum Or An Ampoule?

When serums first came into the market it was meant to be used on “mature-skin”, meaning that it was meant to be used as an anti-aging product. However, now we know that it’s better to focus on preventative skin care than to wait around for the skin concerns to arise and then try to treat them. Therefore, if you ask us, there is no particular age when one should start using a serum or any other skin care product for that matter. There’s no such thing as “I’m still young, I don’t need skincare”. Using skincare products before damage is definitely the way to rock a youthful look even later in your life.

Photo Courtesy: Innisfree

Are Essences, Serums And Ampoules Sometimes The Same Thing?

As a matter of fact, yes. Although ampoules are often more concentrated than serums which are often more concentrated than essences, that may not always be the case as there is no standard in concentrations that ampoules, serums and essences have to comply with. So yes, the lines are getting pretty blurry with the new formulations in the market.

How Soon Can I See A Difference After Using An Essence, Ampoule or A Serum?

You should expect results to be seen in about four weeks as this is the duration taken for your skin cells to turnover. The concentration of the essence, serum or ampoule does not affect the rate your skin cells turnover. Patience is a virtue when it comes to your skincare regimen too. So wait a month before you decide to judge whichever product you are using, or to review it. 

Photo Courtesy: babeandbeauty

What Active Ingredients Are Used In Essences, Serums And Ampoules? What Should I Look For?

These three are almost always customized to treat particular skin concerns and skin needs depending on your skin type. The active ingredients that target hyperpigmentation will be different from the active ingredients that’s meant to be anti-aging. Same way, the active ingredients that target dry skin should be different from the active ingredients that tackle sun damage. Let’s be realistic, what works for someone else who may have the same skin concerns as you and the same skin type, the same product may not work out very well for you. Each of our skin is unique to us and so is the way they react to different ingredients and products. So, as we mentioned before, give your essence or serum or ampoule a fighting chance and use it regularly for at least a month before you move on to another one. Of course if you experience an allergic reaction, you must stop using the product immediately.

When it comes to your skincare regimen, trying to come up with the “perfect combination” can take some time and so will figuring out the correct active ingredients for your unique skin. To give you somewhat of an idea for what to look for, we’ve researched and listed below some common active ingredients and their functions.

  • For Hydration: Look for hyaluronic acid, glycerin and ceramides.
  • To Brighten: Look for niacinamide, vitamin C, arbutin and galactomyces. Try the TIA’M – My Signature Red C Serum which is formulated with Vitamin C and other brightening ingredients.
  • To Calm Acne: Tea tree oil, bee venom, vitamin C and propolis. Try the Some By Mi – AHA BHA PHA 30 Days Miracle Serum which is formulated with tea tree oil and other ingredients that work against acne, whiteheads, blackheads and enlarged pores.
  • To Smoothen Skin: Lycopene, adenosine, niacinamide and lactic acid.
Photo Courtesy: Lo.Li. Pharma

Do I Have To Use Essences, Ampoules And Serums All Over My Face?

Although essences are meant to be used all over your face and neck, ampoules and serums on the other hand can be used as spot treatments as they’re pretty concentrated. This is also why they are relatively more expensive than essences, but the great thing about Korean skincare is that despite how effective and amazing most of the products are, a vast majority of them are very affordable. If you’re using a brightening serum or ampoule, you can use them on just dark spots. If you’re using a hydrating or moisturizing serum or ampoule and have combination skin where you have dry areas on some parts of the face, you can apply the product on just those areas. Or if you’re a skincare junkie that just loves to lather products all over your face (like us), then by all means do go ahead. No issue with that, you do you! 



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