Toner vs. Essence

Bottle of skincare product by cotton pads on pink background.

The relaxation provided by an extensive skincare routine coupled with the lust for glass skin (thanks, K-beauty!) has placed a spotlight on toners and essence. While tonics and astringents have been present in Western beauty for over a century, actual toners and their misunderstood counterpart are fairly new to the scene. With all of the intrigue and beautiful results, I wanted to jump into these routines immediately; but in the land of toners and essence, I was lost. So, what are toners? What is essence? Why aren’t they the same, and what do they do?

A toner is something of a reset button for the skin. Focusing on balancing the skin’s pH after cleansing, it refreshes the skin and can help regulate pH and maintain the skin’s barrier. Toner is not a necessary step, but can be extremely beneficial–whether you’re striving for glass skin or just need a boost. Toners can be hydrating, exfoliating, or both while still maintaining pH balance.

Indie Lee CoQ-10 Toner
Photo by Indie Lee

For dry to normal skin, of course, a hydrating formula is the best choice. Cult classic Indie Lee CoQ-10 Toner is alcohol-free and packed with antioxidants and hydrating ingredients to refresh and balance the skin while repairing and nourishing the moisture barrier. SkinCeuticals and Paula’s Choice offer antioxidant-packed options as well. Many other hydrating toners are marketed as facial sprays–this is very convenient for sensitive skin and great for refreshers throughout the day. To get the maximum possible benefit from your toner it is best applied to the skin with pressure (hands, cotton pad)–but that will be your preference!

Pixi Glow Tonic
Photo by Pixi Beauty

For normal, combo, or oily skin an exfoliating toner like Pixi Glow Tonic will do the trick. Actually–Pixi’s formula is exfoliating as well as hydrating so it’s great for any skin type. Packed with glycolic acid and other molecules of magic, Glow Tonic will provide you with a satisfying tingle and the glow of your lifetime!

Woman applying applying skincare product to her face with cotton pad in the bathroom.
Photo by G-Stock Studio on Shutterstock

Toners will come immediately after cleansing, balancing and prepping the skin for what’s next–which brings us to essence. Commonly misunderstood or mistaken for “fancy toner,” essence and toner have similarities but are separate. Though it typically will not disrupt the pH balance of the skin, an essence is not used to correct it–it’s used strictly to prep the skin for serum and/or moisturizer and SPF, because skin will be more absorbent when it is damp. An essence preps the skin by providing moisture and an extremely mild exfoliant to allow the skin to soak up the products that follow. Caudalie makes a beautiful Brightening Essence, comparable yet cheaper than the most beloved SK-II.

Adding these enhancers to your skincare routine can help boost and balance your skin, making it the healthiest it can be. Navigating the land of toner and essence can be scary, but once the confusion and misconceptions are cleared up, it’s your world to explore. Enjoy and glow on!

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