Essences. Serums. Ampoules. First Treatments. This is the best part in the korean skincare world…but most probably the most confusing and obscure to those that are approaching it for the first time. But you’re lucky, as we got it covered for you! Just keep reading…and let the magic of cosmetic science unravel before your eyes ; )
So, let’s briefly review the steps we’ve gone through until now:
- You’ve removed make up and sebum excess with oil-based cleansers;
- We’ve removed the remaining impurities with water-based cleansers;
- You’ve gently exfoliated your skin using either a manual or a chemical exfoliator;
- You’ve rebalanced your skin pH and added a first layer of hydration using a toner (a.k.a. skin refresher, skin softner or simply “skin“).
Now it’s time to start giving to your skin what it needs the most: active ingredients.
Steps 5 (essences) and 6 (serums) of the skincare routine are focused on targeting specific skin problems or issues that your skin might have. They provide nutrients, not hydration. In fact, all the heavy ingredients (like emollients) are left out from their formulation and they just focus on high concentrations of active ingredients. The molecules they’re made of are particularly small, so they can sink right into your skin and help it from the inside. Whatever your issue is, rest assured that you’ll find the right active ingredient(s) for you!
The reason why I’ve chosen to talk about them in a single blog post, instead of splitting the steps in 2 separate articles as I’ve done until now, is because, well, the line between the two has blurred a lot during the past years: essences and serums are pretty interchangeable now. You can use both if you feel like so, or just one or another -your skin decides!
Essence vs. Serum
So here starts the battle. Meet the two opponents: Miss Essence and Mr Serum.
Mr Serum is strong and thick, full of highly concentrated active ingredients.
Miss Essence carries the same ingredients, but in a lighter, more watery form. In this sense, she can be seen as an hybrid between a toner and a serum, and she carries the best of both worlds: she aids skin repair, but at the same time she also brings a bit of hydration.
Apparently, essences (that are really unknown in the western world as a concept) have been developed specifically to cater to the needs of asian women, genetically troubled by a thinner moisture barrier than other races: they tend to be a lot drier and more de-hydrated, so essences provide that extra-moisture, together with active ingredients, that they particularly appreciate. So it is often said that essences could be too heavy for oilier skin types -but from my personal experience (and I have an oily skin) that is not aways necessarily true. To the point that, sometimes, I have found essences that are lighter than serums, easier to apply and faster to penetrate into my skin, leaving it not sticky or whatsoever. But I guess it all depends on individual products and on individual skin needs.
So I’ll leave the final judgement to you!
Remember that you can choose one or the other, or you don’t have to choose at all: if you want (if your skin needs it) you can use an essence first and a serum right after. It really doesn’t matter, as long as your skin benefits from the process.
Someone said ampoule?
Now. Ampoule. This exotic name recalls (again!) crazy scientists in white scrubs playing the little alchemist game in the dungeons of a medieval castle. Okay, I’m letting my fantasies run wild once more. Back to reality.
When you finally thought you understood what the difference between an essence and a serum was, these little cute small bottles with a dropper magically appear from nowhere…and you’re lost again. No no no. Don’t, please. It’s actually pretty easy. Follow my (inner) voice.
Imagine active ingredients.
Imagine them in a watery, diluted form: that’s an essence.
Imagine them in a more concentrated, thicker form: that’s a serum.
Now, figure the active ingredients in a super highly concentrated form, so concentrated that you just need a few drops of them (that’s why the bottle is so small and comes with a dropper): well, that’s an ampoule. This treatment is spot on, no need to cover your entire face with it (well, of course you could, technically, if you needed it on your entire face). Got dark spots? Dry Patches? Fine lines here and there? Apply the active ingredient that you need where it’s needed. End of story.
Someone else said first treatment?
Okay, I was cheating. Ampoules were not exactly the end of the story. Yes, there are First Treatments too. Very weird creatures. Even more watery than essences, but always bringing good stuff inside. So watery, in fact, that they almost look like toners, at the point that someone calls them “rich toners” or “super toners” -also meaning that they can actually replace toners, and be used right after cleansing.
Generally, as other bloggers stated somehwere, anything that starts with “first” (first treatment, first care) is supposed to be used as your first step in skincare. My suggestion? Always read the label. Manufacturers always know best at which point of your routine a certain product gets its maximum efficacy, so they will tell you. No doubt about that.
To sum it up
I prepared a small diagram that maybe can help you anyway. I put all these great products on an imaginary scale that varies from “super watery” to “super thick”, and similarly from “diluted” to “concentrated”, so you can actually see their position on the scale.
I really hope this article made a little bit more clear what these different products are. Once again, the choice to use one, two or all of them at once doesn’t really matter. What matters is that you supply your skin with the active ingredients that it needs the most: that depends, of course, on the issue(s) you have (or you want to prevent).
So, to make it easier for you to choose the right treatment, I will write a full post on ingredients to search for in an essence/serum/ampoule. I hope you’ll find it useful! (^_^)
Let me know what you think about this post! Did you find it useful? Share your comments, ask questions…the more you comment, the merrier I am : )