Serum 101: Serums, Ampoules and Essences Oh My!

Serum, ampoules, essences. What’s the difference? There The die-hard 12-steppers will be able to distinguish between all of them, but we’ll give you the rundown. At TONIC15, we view products in this category as interchangeable. Their main function is to deliver a concentration of active ingredients to nourish and supercharge your skin. They are applied to the skin after you cleanse and apply toner, yet underneath night creams.

Serums contain a few active ingredients to address a specific issue. It can be hydrating, fine lines or dark spots. Its is typically clear, and applied out of a pump or with a dropper. It is thicker than water, and you only need to use a small amount.

As a rule of thumb, essences are thinner and ampoules are thicker versions of serums. Essences are focused on hydrating the skin and may feature some other nutritional qualities. Ampoules are concentrated versions of serums, typically with a higher number of active ingredients. You typically only use ampoule for a limited time, to give a boost to your skin, whereas serums are designed to be a part of your regular routine. Serums can be used in the morning and evening.

What about emulsions? Emulsions are a water-based formulas that hydrate the skin. Their main purpose is to lock in moisture in the skin, and they typically are limited in other active ingredients so they do not target more specific skin concerns.

So do I really need to use serum? Which one should I get?

That depends of course! Everyone’s skin is different. We like general-use serums that can be used year-round. Think of it like a daily vitamin for your skin. Just like vitamins, serums maintain the general health of your skin. Taking these preventative measures as part of your regular skincare routine keeps your skin nourished, and slows down the effects of aging and pollution.

Huxley Oil-Like Essence 30ml

Our go-to is Huxley Oil Essence. It is a hybrid essence and oil formula with the hydrating properties of an oil and the lightweight properties of an essence. It absorbs quickly into the skin and does not have the sticky feeling that some oils leave. It contains nutrient-rich ingredients such as prickly pear seed oil and acai berry extract. We use this one year-round as it is hydrating enough to survive the winter months but light enough not to feel heavy during the summer.

Dear Klairs Freshly Juiced Vitamin Drop 35ml

You can also use serums to target specific problems. Klairs Freshly Juiced Vitamin Drop is concentrated with 5% Vitamin C (L-Ascorbic Acid) reduces pigmentation and refines dull skin tone, which is beneficial to treat acne scars or dark spots.

Some like to apply several different serums, essences and ampoules to separate parts of their face to address different skin concerns. We believe in simplicity, and using just one of these products is sufficient for your regular routine. Also, be aware of how products interact with each other. Serums with a high concentration of Vitamin C do not react well with products that contain niacinamide (Vitamin B3) or retinol (Vitamin A). They end up making each product less effective or cause a reaction. If you love the buffet of products, we recommend applying thinner formulas to the face first for the best absorption results.


Still confused? Don’t know where to start? TONIC15 is here to help! Connect with us on social media or drop us a note at and we’ll help you find the perfect serum to address your unique skin needs and concerns.

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