Anyone familiar with the 10-step Korean skincare routine knows that toner and essence make up two of the key steps—four and five, respectively. But even skincare aficionados can find themselves a bit confused about the difference between the two products. They look, feel, and are packaged similarly, and some products even combine the two to consolidate them into one step. So for anyone unsure about toner and essence—what they are, what they do, and when to use them—we break down the subtle but important differences here.
Most Americans are familiar with toning. Used to remove residue from your cleansers as well as any pollutants from the day, toners are often considered an essential step in one's skincare routine. In Korean skincare, toners prep—or "refresh"—the skin for the following step, the essence. Korean toners are typically less harsh than their American counterparts so are more gentle on the skin and hence thought of as a refresher.
The essence might be the least understood part of the Korean skincare routine. Though the formulation of an essence seems quite similar to that of a toner, their use and effects are very different. Many Korean women consider the essence to be the most important step of the skincare routine because it soothes skin at the cellular level, accelerating natural turnover and encouraging a smoother, healthier complexion.
Now that you know the difference, you can better plan out your skincare routine—even if it isn't 10 steps.