Essences, Serums and Ampoules: What’s the Difference?

What is the difference between essences, serums and ampoules? I am so glad you asked! With the recent emphasis on skin care growing by the day, you may be sitting on some great products with no idea how or when to use them.

Essences, serums and ampoules can work together in the same skin care routine. Make sure when putting together a skincare routine that you don’t mix ingredients together that can interact with each other, such as retinol and benzoyl peroxide. Mixing these two ingredients can cause sensitivity and dryness, which is not the purpose of a skincare routine.

The most confusion seems to be between essences, serums and ampoules. This confusion may stem from those three products looking, to the naked eye, quite similar. They are similar in some aspects, but very different in others. Here we go!


selective focus photo of bottle with cork lid

The first product to follow a toner in a routine is an essence. An essence is basically a thin, watery serum. You may ask yourself, why you need something so watery? How can something like that provide the ingredients your skin needs? The answer is hydration. Lots of thin, hydrating layers are the key to glowing skin. Each layer can have its own set of yummy skin care ingredients. An essence is the beginning of that process. Some people believe that earlier layers of hydration can help your skin better absorb the later actives, serums and creams!


two clear glass bottles with liquids

Serums are the worker bees of the skin care world. Their main purpose is to deliver active skincare ingredients deep into the layers of our skin, where they need to be. The molecules in serums are smaller and can penetrate our skin better than the molecules in creams. This allows serums to deliver ingredients deeper into our skin. Serums deliver important ingredients to our skin that help us fight aging, hyper pigmentation and acne, among other issues. Serums will tend to be on the thicker side when compared to essences, but can be similar in texture and feeling to ampoules.


two yellow sunflowers with clear glass bottle with cork lid

If a serum is a worker bee, than ampoules are their hyperactive cousin. Ampoules are in the same family as serums, but have a super dose of active skin care goodies in them. The difference between serums and ampoules is that ampoules are not meant to be used all they time. They are meant to treat a specific issue or concern in the short-term. For example, if an individual has an outbreak of acne, they would pick an ampoule that is made to specifically target acne. Serums can treat a general issue (anti aging) and ampoules can treat a specific issue (acne).

Want to know what order to put your skin care items in? There are a lot of information and info graphics out there you can refer to, but the general rule is thin to thick. Use the thinnest products first (wash, toner, essence) followed by thicker items (serums, gels, oils, creams).