Essence vs. Toner vs. Serum: What's The Difference?

As the skincare world continues to evolve and practiced trends from Asia migrate over to the Western world, it seems like there's always a new step to add to your routine. It can be overwhelming, confusing, or just elicit questions such as 'WTF is the difference between toner and serum?!' or "what is an essence lotion vs toner?!" While you've probably got your cleansing routine down pat, it can start to get a little murky for newbies and experts alike after that.

Toners, essences, and serums are often confused and interchanged, and that's because while they have significant differences, there are some overlaps. For example, toners and essences are used to prep your skin to better absorb the skincare steps that follow it (like serum and moisturizer). Don't worry! We're here to break it down for you.


Let's tackle toners first since this is the first product you use amongst this often confuddled trio. Toners usually come in a larger bottle than essences or serums and have a water consistency. Typically, they are applied by using a cotton pad and sweeping it across your skin.

Toners are used after cleansing to restore the skin's pH levels to a normal level. Depending on what cleanser you use, your skin's pH levels can be slightly out-of-whack immediately after cleansing. It also replenishes your skin's moisture if it feels dry and serves as an unofficial last step (depending on how deep you cleanse - ahem, double cleanse!) to remove any leftover impurities.

Shop our Toner Collection and you should try…

Light Controlling Toner: This is our OG toner and a cult-favorite with light exfoliation and pore-tightening powers.

Hydraphel Skin Supplement: A silky, hydrating toner to revive dull, dry complexions and jumpstart skin renewal.


Following toner, you apply an essence. While essences have been a staple of skincare routines in Asia for a while, they are relatively new to the Western beauty world. Essences are the love child of your toner and serum. They are more lightweight and less concentrated than serums and serve as an additional layer of hydration.

Essences are packed with nutrients, antioxidants, and vitamins and provide a more targeted treatment depending on your skin concern. Essences should be applied by patting and pressing them gently into your skin for quick absorption.

Shop our Essence Collection and you should try…

NEW VTM Micro-Essence: a restorative essence lotion scientifically formulated to treat dry, pigmented, and damaged skin, revealing lasting radiance.

Firmarine Essence Lotion: Packed with Spirulina Maxima, Aloe, and a unique energizing oxygen complex, this essence hydrates, revitalizes, and instantly lifts and firms your skin.

White Marble Essence Lotion: This essence rehydrates, re-plumps, and restores skin luminosity for a brighter, glowing complexion.


After you've cleansed, toned, and essenced (pause for the applause because your commitment is commendable), it's time to apply your favorite serum (or serums!). You'll find that serums have the thickest consistency of the three, which is also why they're last in order of layering. Serum's are often packaged in smaller bottles with a dropper or pump. Serums deliver a high concentration of a few active ingredients that target specific skin concerns and should be massaged gently into the skin for a deeper delivery of ingredients.

Shop our Serum Collection and you should try…

Timeless Skin Serum: A source for prevention for maturing skin, this serum stops aging in its tracks while hydrating and restoring the tone, texture, and elasticity of the skin.

Transphuse Day Serum: Adds an instant plump to existing fine lines, wrinkles, and skin that has lost its bounce for smoother, younger-looking skin.

Does that clear it up a little? If you still are confused or have any questions, slide into our DMs on Instagram! We're always here to chat!

1 comment

Although I am no longer a licensed esthetician (retired) I want to commend you for educating your customer; explaining the difference and the need for using various products in order to have optimum skincare results.

Eileen June 25, 2021

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