What’s the real difference between serums, essences and ampoules?

What’s the real difference between serums, essences and ampoules?  



Wondering what on earth an essence is, have yet to swot up on serums or can’t get your head around ampoules? From what they are to what they do, here’s the TONIC15 guide to all three…

In the wonderful world of skincare, particularly K-skincare, there are so many buzzwords batted around that it can be hard to keep up with them all, let alone truly understand what they do. While you might have heard of essences, ampoules and serums – after all layering is key to K-beauty – you might think that because of their qualities (lightweight and packed with actives) they’re all made equal. The reality, however, is that these three and more like long-lost cousins than sisters, and so a little less related than you might initially think. So, to help you decode each treatment and find the right formula for you, we’ve got the lowdown on each layman’s terms.


Arguably the most widely known of all treatments (most skincare brands will have a serum in their line-up), serums are concentrated, active-packed formulas that deliver results in just a few drops.

Generally speaking, serums contain a single active or a few key actives designed to target a specific skincare concern, say niacinamide for pigmentation or hyaluronic acid for hydration, and usually have a much higher concentration of actives than a moisturising cream.  

Serums have a watery lotion, almost-oil like texture and often come in bottles with a pipette to dispense the product in the right volumes. They sink into skin quickly and can be layered or dotted onto particular areas of concern – for example a retinol serum could be used to target fine lines or a Vitamin C Serum applied directly to areas of pigmentation.


The TONIC15 Serum Edit 

To tackle pigmentation

Formulated with 21.5% pure Vitamin C (also known as Ascorbic Acid) as well as Sea Buckthorn to regenerate sin, this active-packed formula targets scars and areas of pigmentation to brighten skin and even-out the skin tone.


Rewind the signs of time

Acting like an insurance policy for skin, this Youth Activating Drop is teeming with elastic-boosting ingredients such as Dual Peptides and EGF to target fine lines and wrinkles.



Essences, by contrast, are traditionally more lightweight and less concentrated than serums. They were traditionally introduced to the skincare world as an extra step designed to be used after toner, to add an extra layer of hydration to skin before serum was applied. 

However, as K-beauty has fast become adopted by the western world and beauty boundaries are ever blurring, this definition is morphing a little. Now, serums can be incredibly lightweight and essences richer in texture, so both now deliver similar results.


The TONIC15 Essence Edit 

The blemish buster

This essence is as hard working as any serum. Formulated with a quadrant of actives hydrating Black Tea Ferment works with inflammation fighting Willow Bark Extract, nourishing Propolis and a three-ingredient anti-acne complex. Working to perfect skin over time, it’s a sort of superhero for skin.


The marvellous moisturiser

When skin is dry or dehydrated, this essence steps into gear. Formulated with a high-concentration of antioxidant-rich Chaga mushrooms it helps to condition and effectively boost moisture levels in skin while cooling and calming at the same time.

Mugwort extract has long been famed for its natural detoxifying properties and this essence puts them to good use by helping to clear, calm, and reboot skin. Formulated with 100% Mugwort extract, it acts similarly to Tea Tree Oil to give fast results.



While ampoules are very much in the same family as both serums and essences, they operate as turbocharged treatments with higher concentrations of actives that can be applied sparingly to sin. We like to think of them as the answer to a skincare SOS whether that’s calming irritation or instantly upping moisture, they act quickly and efficiently.


The TONIC15 Ampoule Edit

The anti-acne ampoule

This ampoule is something of a suits-all working its magic on oily, dry, and acne-prone skin. Formulated with antioxidants including Polyphenol and Flavonoid it strengthens the skin's barrier and reduces pigmentation. Propolis and Panthenol also reduce inflammation, redness, and hydrate skin.


The rehydration treatment

Formulated with only 6 key ingredients, this ampoule is like a cold glass of water for thirsty skin. Coptis Japonica Root Extract is a powerful antioxidant that helps even out the skin’s complexion while deeply hydrating the skin.


The skin-barrier booster

Even the hardiest of skin can end up sensitised and that’s when this ampoule works its magic. Stressbusting, blemish-fighting, and inflammation-soothing it steps up to help soothe skin thanks to Brazilian Green Propolis that strengthens the skin’s natural skin barrier thanks to being rich in flavonoids and antioxidants. 


The last word from TONIC15

While serums, ampoules and essences can all deliver benefits to skin, the key is to really take the time to work out what your complexion is crying out for. Rather than being attached to the name of the product and thinking a serum is superior, take a look at your skin. Are you concerned about acne? Or is ageing? Look for actives that will target these particular concerns.

If you want to target more than one condition – say acne and fine lines – it’s absolutely fine to layer any of these products. The golden rule, however, is to apply your skincare from the wateriest formulas first up to the thickest. Usually, that’s the essence, then ampoule, then serum but it can change between brands and formulation so don’t be wedded to that order.

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Still not sure what the best pick would be? We’re always on-hand and very happy to help, email pamper@tonic15.com and tell us exactly what you’re trying to treat.

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