I wrote several articles/reviews on toners in the past year. Some of which you might have read. If you did, you also know that I disagree with the “standard” definition of a toner, saying it’s a product meant to “remove cleanser residue, restore skin’s pH value and close pores”. In my humble opinion, none of that is actually true.

A good toner should prep your skin for your next skincare step AND, more than all other things, HYDRATE your skin. Which makes your toner a genuine skincare and not a “cleansing” product.

Lately, we have seen the upcoming of many (mostly Korean) brands, selling a different – yet similar – type of product, called an  “ essence”. To make it even more complicated : some Korean brands call their essences “toners” (if you still follow me).

In order to get things clear to you, and help you choosing the right type of product, here’s what I make of it :

The difference between a toner and an essence is the TEXTURE, the ACTIVE INGREDIENTS and APPLICATION OF THE PRODUCT.


Texture :to me, an essence is actually thicker, more gellified than a toner and has a consistency in between a toner (watery) and a serum.

Active Ingredients :most essences carry more active ingredients than most toners (there might be exceptions to this rule) and their thicker consistency generally makes them more “caring” (hydrating) than the standard toner product.

Application :in the Korean skin care method – and thus in our routines also – the toner is used BEFORE the essence. Both are considered to be essentiel steps in a skincare routine.

In practice, we (Europeans/Americans) might not have the patience to apply both a toner and an essence and we might actually choose to use only one of them. A good toner will hydrate and prep your skin for the next step and so will an essence. An essence, however, will give your skin even MORE MOISTURE (mostly in the form of HYALURONIC ACID). A toner will feel more “refreshing” as where an essence will give your skin more comfort and eliminate any feel of dryness.

If you want to do a full routine, the way Koreans do, you should use BOTH an essence AND a toner. In practice, you might want to skip a step and use your toner in the morning and an essence at night (or the other way around). Whatever you choose to do : both options are good. Just remeber that an essence will give you even more moisture and will be even more “skin prepping” than most toners.

I personally use either both products (when my skin feels like in need of lots of moisture) or just take one of them (when my skin feels well moistured). If I come out of a warm shower, I will mostly use both, if I have just cleaned my face with a very gentle cleansing oil/balm I generally skip one step.

Some of my favorite essences are from Leegeehaam, Missha (Time Revolution) and Klairs. SVR makes a nice one too and is available from your pharmacist. The other three are Korean and I get those from My Little Wonderland (Webshop NL).

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