Toner Vs Essence: Is There a Significant Difference?

What is the difference between a toner and essence?

If you’re confused by all the skincare terminology and you’re not sure what these two treatment products can do for you, I got the best guide just for you!

You’ll learn exactly what makes these two Korean skincare products different and which is right for you.

Let’s get started!

What is the Difference Between a Toner and Essence?

What is the difference between toner and essence, and how can you decide which one will best fit into your skincare routine?

Ever since the ten-step Korean skincare routine became a global hit, people have wondered what an essence is and whether it should replace their toner.

These are two different types of products, and they have slightly different purposes and formulations.


Toner is the first skincare step after your cleansing routine. A traditional toner is known for its alcohol content and ingredients like witch hazel.

putting toner in a clean cotton pad

An alcohol-based toner will reduce your pores and excess oil; however, its effects are only temporary.

This is not a suitable product for sensitive skin; that’s why you should opt for modern formulations based on gentle ingredients.

Korean toners aren’t the astringent toners you’re used to hearing about. Instead, these products promote skin health and target various skin issues, not just lack hydration.


Toners have a watery texture and are the thinnest product in your skincare regimen. That’s why they are the base layer after a double cleanse.

Skincare professionals recommend that you layer your products according to their thickness, from the thinnest to the thickest.

Although not all toners are watery, they are still usually thinner than the remaining products of your routine.

In some cases, toners can be as thick as an essential because it’s pretty hard to draw a straight line between groups of products in the modern skincare world.


Because of the watery texture, most people apply toners with a cotton pad. In my opinion, that’s just a waste of product, and I prefer adding it to my palms and patting it on my skin.

Types Of Toners

Forget about alcohol toners, and welcome to the world of modern options. As I mentioned above, Korean skincare is all about gentle ingredients, so you’ll find many formulations to fit your skin type.

One of the most popular types is an exfoliating toner. The active ingredient is usually an acid, such as salicylic acid, lactic acid, glycolic acid, etc.

This type will remove dead skin cells and promote cellular turnover for more radiant skin.

The other most popular option is hydrating toners. These are generally based on hyaluronic acid as the key ingredient because it has proven moisturizing effects.

Think of it like this: one removes something (dead cells) while the other adds something back to your skin (much-needed hydration).

If you’re looking for the best Korean toner for dry skin, the perfect choice might also contain glycerin, green tea extract, chamomile extract, snail mucin, etc.

READ MORE: Micellar Water vs Toner: Which is the Best?


Essences are an essential step in Korean skincare regimens. But, did you know that Koreans actually consider it to be one of the most crucial skincare products in their routines?

a pink essence spray

This liquid skincare product is mainly used to boost hydration and prepare your skin for serums. It has a more concentrated formula than a toner but a less concentrated one than serums.

The best Korean essences for your skin are packed with natural ingredients that have numerous benefits, including hydrating, brighter skin, radiant complexion, younger skin, and more.

Essence is the next step after a toner.


When it comes to consistency, essence lotions are slightly thicker than facial toners.

Facial essences don’t have a viscous texture like serums, but since they’re more saturated with ingredients than toners, they’re somewhere between watery and viscous.


According to most people in the battle essence vs. toner, the biggest difference is that essence should be applied with your palms and not on a cotton pad.

However, if you’re like me and pay a lot of attention to reducing waste, you’ll apply both essences and toners on your palms and the skin.

Types Of Essences

There are many types of essences depending on the issue you want to target. The most common is a hydrating essence based on ingredients like hyaluronic acid, algae, glycerin, etc.

Anti-aging essences are also quite popular. They are packed with ingredients that plump the skin, promote changes on a cellular level, and provide brighter skin and a more radiant complexion.

Also Check: The Best Essence For Glowing Skin

Check this doctor’s explanation:

Can You Use Both Toner and Essence at the Same Time?

Absolutely! You can use toner and essence in the same skincare routine, but you don’t always have to practice that.

pretty girl putting essence on her bare face

If you’re familiar with the 10-step Korean skincare routine, you already know that Korean women love layering toners and essences one after another.

After double cleansing, the skin might have slightly different pH levels than the preferred ones, even if the cleansers are gentle.

That’s why toner will balance those levels and prepare the skin to absorb the following steps much better.

Modern toners aren’t just meant to balance your pH, you can easily find the best Korean toner for your skin type because they can contain a range of ingredients to treat skin concerns such as uneven skin tones, dark spots, dehydrated skin, skin texture, etc.

As you can see, these products serve multiple purposes, so it’s not always a must to use both serums and essences.

If you feel like your skin is too dry, flaky, and in desperate need of hydration, you shouldn’t hesitate to use toners and essences.

Oily skin might not enjoy that much hydration, so you can treat oily and acne-prone skin with an exfoliating toner, then add an essence or a serum.

What should you apply to your skin after cleansing, toner, or essence? Toners go right after your cleansing routine, preferably on damp skin, unless you use an exfoliating toner.

The next step after the toner is an essence. Then, you can continue layering thicker products such as ampoules or serums.


Can you use essence instead of toner?

If you have dry skin and need extra hydration, skip the toner and apply skin essence. But, it will be even better if you combine both products. Check our list of the best Korean toner for dry skin for great options.

Do you need an essence?

Although Koreans consider essences an essential step in their skincare routines, that doesn’t have to be the case for you, however, this product category has numerous benefits, and it can amp up your skincare game.

What comes first, essence or toner?

After cleansing, toner is the next product to apply, then an essence. The role of toners is to rebalance the skin’s pH levels and prepare it to absorb better other products such as essences, serums, etc.


Now that you know the difference between a toner and essence, you also know that these products are very similar.

Toners come first in a routine, balance the pH, are more watery, and target various concerns.

Essences go after toners, are thicker, more concentrated, deliver a stronger boost of hydration, and can also attack several concerns.


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  • De, MaryAnn. 2019. “Dark Spots on the Skin: Causes and How to Treat Them.” Medical News Today. March 29, 2019.
  • Jegasothy, S Manjula, Valentina Zabolotniaia, and Stephan Bielfeldt. 2014. “Efficacy of a New Topical Nano-Hyaluronic Acid in Humans.” The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology 7 (3): 27–29.
lady putting toner on a cotton pad

Do you have any thoughts on the difference between a toner and essence? Which do you use most often? Share below!

About Martina Todorovska

Martina is a graduated Doctor of Dental Medicine with a huge obsession for anything beauty-related. Her freelance writing started out as a creative outlet and turned out to be a full-time job. If you have any beauty questions, the chances are Martina has the answers. READ HER LATEST ARTICLES . Follow her on LINKEDIN , INSTAGRAM. Learn more about her HERE.

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