So, What's the Difference Between Toner and Essence Anyways?

Dermatologists demystify the two confusing skincare products.

What's the Difference Between Toner and Essence?
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Toners and essences both come in bottles and look like clear liquids that could easily be mistaken for water, but both K-beauty staples serve different purposes.

And if you follow any skincare influencer or dermatologist on Instagram or TikTok, you've probably seen opposing views on whether or not these skincare products are necessary steps in your routine. Confused about the difference between toners and essences? Don't know if you should be using these products? Same.

That's why we turned to two top dermatologists to demystify the difference between toners and essences, how to figure out if they're beneficial for your skin, and how to incorporate them into your skincare routine.

What Is a Toner?

A toner is a water-based liquid used after cleansing the skin to further remove any dirt, oil, and debris, and preps the skin for the rest of the products in your skincare routine.

Dr. Brendon Camp, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City says not all toners are the same, and formulas can offer a variety of benefits depending on your skin type and concerns. "They may be helpful for those with acne-prone skin by reducing oil levels on the skin," he says. "They may lessen the appearance of pores, aid in the absorption and penetration of skincare products, refresh the skin, brighten the appearance of skin, assist in exfoliation, and help maintain the pH balance of skin."

What Type of Toner Should You Use?

"Before adding a toner to your skincare regimen, determine what it is you want out of your toner. For example, selecting a toner that will help gently remove excess oil may be a good option for someone with acne-prone or excessively oily skin, but not appropriate for someone with dry skin," Dr. Camp explains. "An alcohol-free product is a better option for someone with dry skin as it is less likely to contribute to further dryness."

As for how often to use toners, that also depends on the formula. Most can be used every day, either morning or night, or both if needed. "Pay attention to how your skin reacts to a toner; it may not be necessary to use it twice daily if in combination with other skincare products it causes too much dryness," Dr. Camp says.

Exfoliating toners can be used two to three times a week to experience their benefits with minimal risk of dryness and irritation.

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Paula's Choice Pore-Reducing Toner

Paula's Choice Pore-Reducing Toner
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Chantecaille Purifying and Exfoliating Phytoactive Solution

Chantecaille Solution Phyto Active
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Renée Rouleau Moisture Infusion Toner

Renee Rouleau Moisture Infusion Toner

What Is an Essence?

Although an essence is used right after cleansing, it does the opposite of a toner. "Essences refer to lightweight, liquid formulations, often water-based, that can add a boost of hydration or brightening to the skin and are meant to be applied as a first step after cleansing," explains Dr. Marisa Garshick, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City.

In addition to the extra hydration, some essences are formulated with higher concentrations of active ingredients to help the other products in your skincare routine better penetrate the skin, and some contain antioxidants to add further protection against free radicals and pollution.

Who Should Use an Essence, and How Do You Use One?

The good news: essences are safe for all skin types, and Dr. Garshick says they can be universally beneficial because they boost hydration.

Even better news: the product is easy to incorporate into your skincare routine. "An essence can be incorporated into a daily or nighttime routine and is safe to use one to two times per day," says Dr. Garshick. "It is generally best to apply after cleansing and prior to applying any serums or moisturizers."

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SK-II Treatment Essence

SK-II Facial Treatment Essence
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Innisfree Firming Energy Essence

Innisfree Firming Energy Essence

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CosRX Snail Mucin 96% Power Repairing Essence

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Can You Use a Toner and an Essence Together?

The short answer? Yes – but it's important to use a toner and an essence in the right order.

"Essences are typically lightweight solutions that contain a high concentration of active ingredients, be they anti-aging or hydrating, that are pressed into the skin after cleansing," says Dr. Camp. "If using an essence in combination with a toner, essences are applied right afterward. Moisturizers can be layered on top of essences to seal them into the skin."

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