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

It’s easy to understand the confusion between toners, essences, and serums. These skincare products are often mixed up and interchanged. That's because while they have significant differences, there is some overlap. For example, toners and essences are often used interchangeably due to their common purpose of hydrating and prepping the skin for the next steps in your ritual. Serums boast a variety of benefits, and of all the products in your ritual, they are the most highly-concentrated, targeted treatments. Each serum is designed to address a specific skin concern.

Changed skin lies within the nuanced differences between these products and layering them to suit your skin’s unique needs. Learn what each of these science-backed formulas can do to enhance your ritual and support your healthiest complexion.


What It Is: Toners are lightweight and have a water-like texture. They’re recommended after cleansing to remove any residual dirt and debris, balance pH levels, and prep skin for the rest of your ritual.

Recommended For: Oily or Combination skin, helping rid the skin of pore-clogging dirt and excess surface oils.

Usage: Apply toner after cleansing by dampening a cotton pad and sweeping across the skin.

Toners to Try:

Light Controlling Toner: This clarifying facial toner sweeps away surface oils while lightly exfoliating and binding moisture to the skin for a fresh-faced complexion.
Best For: Normal to Combo/Oily skin types, resulting in a shine-free finish. 

Shake-It Tinted Treatment: Not a traditional toner, rather the last step in your
skincare ritual. This unique shake-to-activate, tinted treatment delivers similar
benefits to a toner: visibly refines pores, helps to even skin tone, and controls excess oil.
Best For: All skin types, leaving skin with a sheer-matte finish.

Shake-It Tinted Treatment with textural spill


What It Is: Essences are heavier than toners, but not as concentrated as serums. Compared to toners, essences will have more active ingredients, such as antioxidants and vitamins, designed to replenish moisture, protect, and boost overall skin health.

Recommended For: Dry skin types, adding an extra layer of hydration to the skin.

Usage: Apply essence after toner by patting and pressing gently into your skin for quick absorption. Depending on skin type, you may prefer to use both toner and essence, or only one. Drier skin may choose to forego toner. Oily skin may not require essence. Choose what is best for your skin’s unique needs. 

Essences to Try:

Skin Supplement Essence: This lightweight, energizing essence comforts and
soothes dry skin by coating the complexion with hydrating ProVitamin B5 and Allantoin.
Best For: Dry Skin, leaving the complexion refreshed and reinvigorated.

VTM Micro-Essence: This restorative facial essence lotion is scientifically formulated to treat dry, pigmented, and damaged skin. Refreshing, weightless hydration melts into skin, refining pores and improving tone and texture over time.
Best For: All skin types, revealing lasting radiance.

Soothing Relief Hydration Lotion: Powered by our innovative SensCalm³® Complex, this silky essence lotion melts quickly into the skin, leaving the complexion both instantly soothed and infused with lasting moisture. The term “essence lotion” describes a hydrating treatment infused into a slightly-thicker lotion or gel texture that functions as an essence in your ritual.
Best For: Sensitive skin types, to calm the complexion. 

VTM Micro-Essence


What It Is: Serums are packed with potent, concentrated benefits and are used to target various skin concerns. Serum will be the thickest consistency between toners and essences, which is why they’re layered last. Depending on the powerful ingredients included, serums can address signs of irritation, the look of fine lines and wrinkles, and resurfacing of skin texture.

Recommended for: All skin types—choose the serum (or serums) with the concentrated benefits that will suit your skin’s unique needs.

Usage: Apply serums after toner and essence, but before moisturizer. Smooth across the face or pat gently into the skin, taking care to avoid the eye area. As the skin around the eyes is the most delicate part of the face, our experts suggest applying eye creams immediately following cleansing. This prevents cross-contamination of strong active ingredients under the eye, which could lead to skin sensitivity.

Serums to Try:

Phormula 3-10 Serum Concentrate: This powerful treatment serum supports skin rejuvenation, improves complexion vitality, and leaves skin soft and supple.
Best For: Mature skin, yet suitable for all skin types.

Timeless Skin Serum: This lightweight serum targets signs of aging, improving skin tone, texture, and preserving precious moisture.
Best For: All skin types, delivering targeted nutrients.

Soothing Relief Hydration Serum: This milky serum coats the complexion in soothing benefits by replenishing vital hydration and strengthening the moisture barrier.
Best For: Sensitive skin, revealing a soothed and healthy-looking complexion. 

Phormula 3-10 Serum Concentrate with textural spill and dropper

If you’re unsure of your skin’s precise needs, follow our skin type guide to discover which products are the best fit for your complexion. 

Looking for a product to address specific skin concerns? Take our quiz for curated results. 

1 commentaire

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 25 juin 2021

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