Ampoule vs Emulsion vs Essence vs Serum


Serums, ampoules, essences, and emulsions, what's the difference between them?

I’m demystifying, breaking down, and explaining the ins & outs of the immensely popular Korean 10 step skin care routine (or 12 step, 14 step, they can get very complicated!). We’re going to dive into the nitty-gritty of ampoules, emulsions, essences, and more!

Each of these products will be also listed in the order they should be used in your daily routine so you can also use this as a step by step guide on how to navigate your products and build a daily routine.

Ampoule vs. Emulsion vs. Essence vs. Serum

When do you use toner?

Toner is usually a water/gel based product that’s main purpose is to re-balance your skin’s pH levels after cleanser. Is this step really necessary? After using a cleanser, your skin becomes more alkaline. Using a toner helps restore that balance. A healthy pH is around 5.5; just slightly on the acidic side. When your skin is at its most healthy, it’s acid mantle protects your skin from external pollutants and keeps bacteria from overproducing. If your PH balance gets out of whack it can create an easier environment for dermatitis, acne, and other skin issues.

Just make sure to use toner immediately after using your cleanser while your skin is still damp. The ingredients will soak into damp skin more effectively than dry.

What’s the difference between a serum and an emulsion?

Emulsions are light-weight water-based moisturizers that help prepare your skin to absorb other beauty products. Since these products are water-based they are noncomedogenic and therefore great for sensitive skin!

Emulsions are also the perfect product for oily or combo skin types, as they hydrate but still allow your skin to breathe. This might sound like too skimpy of a product if you battle dry skin but in fact, emulsions are perfect for adding an extra layer of hydration to your routine — just use a face cream on top and enjoy your lush hydrated skin!


What’s the difference between an Essence and a Serum?

Ampoule vs. Emulsion vs. Essence vs. Serum

Essences and Serums are practically the same things but with one small difference. Essences are lighter weight than a serum and have a more watery consistency. Serums still have a watery consistency but slightly thicker. These products both boast small molecules that can penetrate and reach the third layer of our skin, providing direct nutrients to our skin. Serums are more potent than essences so if you have to pick and choose I’d skip the essence.

Essence vs Serum

Don’t put too much merit into the name on the bottle though, as Korean skincare becomes more mainstream in the states the terms seem to be sliding around without any rhyme or reason.


“You can still find the more watered-down essences (and I frequently see this type of product called an “emulsion” as well), that line is completely blurred. Serums are getting more lightweight and essences are getting thicker, and they both can contain high concentrations of active ingredients.

In fact, the very words “essence” and “serum” are nothing but marketing words now. Basically (and I’m generalizing here), western women understand “serum” and Asian women understand “essence,” so now that we’re all exporting our products to each other’s countries, the terms essence/serum/concentrate are practically interchangeable.”

Ampoule vs. Emulsion vs. Essence vs. Serum

Ampoule vs Serum

Ampoules have recently gained popularity in South Korea and are now slowly trickling into the states and other markets. These are super-boosted serums! An ampoule is like a serum, except it usually has a higher concentration of one main active ingredient. They’re thicker and stickier than other products in the essence family. Ampoules are a great way to target specific skin concerns like dark spots, dry skin, or tone.

Ampoules are the heavyweight champion of the Korean skincare routine and don’t necessarily need to make an appearance in your routine every day. Save these products for when your skin needs some serious pampering.


Are there any other products or skincare trends you’d like to see a breakdown on? Leave a comment and I’ll get cracking!



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