Hearing “You have great skin” from a stranger is the equivalent of finding Park Place in McDonald’s Monopoly for me. Like the annual French fries parlay, I know that it’s a possibility, but it still catches me completely by surprise and brings me an immense amount of joy when it does happen. To be honest, my skincare routine is borderline obsessive. Recently, though, I’ve been receiving skin-related compliments more often than ever before, so I did a blind study to see what it could be. My findings were definite: more compliments came on days that I was wearing an ampoule.
I came to find out that many people don't use skin ampoules because they don't know what they are. Basically, ampoules are little glass vials of super-charged serums divvied out into daily doses. Typically, they are meant for a two-week or sometimes month-long intensive program to rebalance or recharge tired skin—kind of like a trip to an ashram for your face. If you’ve been working non-stop, have had no time for self-care, or need to hit a quick restart button, an ampoule set may be your answer. We consulted with two skincare pros, celebrity esthetician Natalie Aguilar and board-certified dermatologist Zain Husain, to get the low-down on how exactly ampoules work and how best to use them.
Meet the Expert
Opening an ampoule can sometimes feel like an impossible task (more on that later). Ampoules’ otherwise-foolproof portion control keeps people from wasting potent ingredients or getting skin irritation and chemical burns by using too much product (raise your hand if you’ve been guilty of this, too). When examining ingredients on these, typically you’ll find extremely high concentrations (90 to 100%) of botanical extracts or other actives.
Ahead, check out the best ampoule programs to get a total skin re-set.
Ground Plan 1 Week Miracle Ampoule Program
In Korea, ampoules are a staple for people of all ages. "Ampoules are used to target specific skin concerns, such as dull, acne-prone, or aging skin," says Husain. "You would typically use them as an addition to your skincare routine when you want to pack an extra punch." If you’re following all the steps of a traditional Korean skincare routine, ampoules go on after cleansing, toning, and essence.
Touted as being one of the best Korean ampoules, the Ground Plan brand is known for its clean beauty and earthly derivatives, and these formulas are no less than excellent. You start the week’s program off with the one rice ampoule made for evening out your skin tone and fading dark spots. Then, you transition to the six tomato extract ampoules that hydrate the skin and target signs of aging. It’s the first time I put tomato on my face (intentionally) and I loved it. Also, the price is great considering it’s a miracle restart in just one week.
Royal Fern Phytoactive Anti-Oxidative Ampoules
Skin that's damaged from environmental stressors (think: pollution, free radicals, and the like) will benefit from antioxidant-infused products, like these restorative ampoules. Like a serum, they can brighten and firm up the skin, but because ampoules are so potent, they're fresher. "One benefit of using an ampoule is that you get to open a fresh, active, and highly-concentrated ingredient that has been precisely measured (whereas a serum bottle can sit on a shelf for months)," says Aguilar. "Some serums are also dispensed with a dropper, which means every time you push that dropper back in, air enters your bottle and can oxidize your product concentration."
This anti-oxidative formula, which files Japanese green tea and hyaluronic acid among its ingredient list, promises to protect skin from environmental aggressors and urban pollution. Considering I split my time between Los Angeles and New York, I'm prone to feeling like walking-talking city smog. While I couldn’t see the effects of these ampoules on pollution-related damage, I could definitely see a difference in the glow factor of my skin.
Susanne Kauffmann Pollution Skin Defence System
Okay—first, let’s talk about opening a glass ampoule. I have literally cut my finger open and almost needed stitches because I didn’t read the directions, so please heed this warning. Husain recommends first tapping the top part of the ampoule to make sure there is no liquid settled there. "There should be a dot towards the neck of the ampoule, marking where to apply pressure when opening the product," notes Husain. "Make sure to use both hands. You don't want to necessarily push or pull the ampoule, just apply enough pressure for the neck to snap. Some ampoules come with dispenser caps to assist with opening the ampoules." Also, be sure to wrap a towel (I use a face washcloth) around the ampoule to break it open.
Once the ampoule’s open, it’s time to enjoy. This particular one is a 15-day program with three sets of vials: vitamin C, ectoin, and coenzyme Q10. The first five days of the skin renewal process begin with vitamin C. Next is ectoin, which is a serum that protects the skin from UVA (the skin-aging UV rays) while counteracting the effects of accelerated skin aging from the sun (yes, please). Lastly, coenzyme Q10 (or just Q10 for short) is a naturally-occurring molecule in our DNA that protects collagen and skin elasticity enzymes. This step in the ampoule regimen was my favorite. It restores balance to the skin and makes it feel so pump, you’ll swear your cheek is an uncooked Pillsbury biscuit.
Dr. Grandel Hyaluron Ampoule
The hero ingredient here is hyaluronic acid, making its "wrinkle-filling" description pretty spot-on, given that injectable dermal fillers are made from hyaluronic acid. "A hyaluronic acid ampoule will serve your skin some extra needed moisture and hydration," says Husain. Depending on how dry your skin is (or how indulgent you’ve recently been), this can be a one- to four-week program. Personally, I love my skin to look and feel hydrated, so I went through this system in a week (I know, I’m excessive and have only two speeds: fast and faster), but it could easily last someone a month for a definitive hydration reset.
Husain notes that the active ingredient in the ampoule (in this case, hyaluronic acid) should be high up on the ingredients list. "You want to choose a product that has a high percentage of a given active ingredient—after all, the entire purpose is for higher concentrated treatment," he says. "The active ingredient should be one of the first few listed, as that means a higher amount is added in the product."
A little-known French secret, this homeopathic pharmacy find is a must. Every French person I know who has perfect skin uses these trace mineral-balancing ampoules. Because it's homeopathic, you can also drink the magnesium supplement, but most people (myself included) apply it topically at night time after cleansing and toning.
"Magnesium is a mineral that is crucial to the way our body functions, and can help soften dry skin patches and relieve inflammation," says Aguilar. "A topical magnesium treatment, whether it’s a cream or oil, usually includes ceramides, which are fat molecules that lock moisture into the skin and create a barrier that prevents water loss." Together, the duo have been said to help those who struggle with the itchiness, dryness, and irritation associated with eczema. Husain adds that eczema flare-ups can occur when a person is stressed, and that there are correlations between increased stress and lower magnesium levels. "Therefore, the application of topical magnesium in addition to medicated treatment may be beneficial to fight eczema," he says. (As a side note: Both Aguilar and Husain maintain that managing eczema could take a lifestyle change, and you should discuss eczema treatments with your dermatologist.)
Isdinceutics Flavo-C Ultraglican 30 Ampoules
Sporting dull skin? Husain recommends these skin ampoules for their brightening properties. "One of the main ingredients of this ampoule is vitamin C, so it provides a brightening effect on the skin," he says. "They also contain hyaluronic acid to provide moisturizing properties and proteoglycans to enhance structural support to the skin." As this does have fragrance, those with sensitive, acne-prone skin should proceed with caution (conduct a patch test before applying all over the skin). A skin-boosting ampoule like this is great for special events—it provides the skin with vital nutrients it may be lacking.
If your skin is prone to environmental damage, pair your vitamin C products with an SPF. The combination of the antioxidant with sun protection helps fend off free radicals more effectively.
Babor Multi Vitamin Ampoule Serum Concentrates
Aguilar lauds Babor as the king of ampoules, and for good reason. "You can find an ampoule kit for almost any skin concern," she says. "One of my favorites from the line is the multi vitamin." Intended for dry skin types, this nutrient-dense ampoule contains a blend of vitamins A,E and pro vitamin B5. The goal? To restore the skin's moisture barrier and strengthen it against future dehydration.
For those with sensitive skin, Husain recommends overdoing ampoules, serums, and essences together to avoid running the risk of skin irritation. "Using too many products can defeat the purpose you are trying to achieve," he notes. Aguilar agrees, adding: "Many believe that just because an ampoule is highly concentrated, it must be better to use daily than a serum. But adding too many active ingredients will do the opposite and can actually irritate our skin."