Toner Versus Essence: Here's The (Slight) Difference Between The Two

mbg Associate Editor By Jamie Schneider
mbg Associate Editor
Jamie Schneider is the Associate Editor at mindbodygreen, covering beauty and health. She has a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan, and her work has appeared in Coveteur, The Chill Times, and Wyld Skincare.
Beauty & Fragrance Products

Toner is already quite the contested category (some experts swear by it; others deem it wholly unnecessary), but within the great post-cleansing debate contains another head-to-head: toners versus essences. You might chalk it up to marketing ploys, "essence" being a slightly elevated term to describe a watery toner, but the two actually have some (albeit, slight) differences to note. 

So let's dive into the two solutions, shall we? Here's how you should incorporate each into your skin care routine: 


With toners, purifying and pH balancing are the main events. Your skin's pH level can become disturbed after cleansing (especially if your cleanser is more on the alkaline side), so a slightly acidic toner can spring your skin back to its proper baseline.

In terms of purifying, think of toners as an extra pick-me-up for dirt, oil, and bacteria post-cleanse. "Toners can remove any last traces of dirt, makeup, or impurities stuck in our pores after washing our face," holistic board-certified dermatologist Mamina Turegano, M.D., has told mbg. While some old-school toners fall on the more astringent side, many toners of today are nondrying, water-based formulas that gently lift residue and leave a clean canvas. (Plus, they're often pumped with humectants and hydrating actives like hyaluronic acid, glycerin, and ceramides.) 



On the other side of that same coin, we have our essences. These K-beauty skin care staples, also liquid-based formulas, tend to focus on one major beat: hydration, hydration, hydration. Rather than wiping away residue, essences are meant to infuse the skin with moisture (which is why many experts recommend ditching the cotton round and applying with your palms, just to help the formula really sink in). After your skin is visibly plump with hydration, you may even find your serums and active ingredients can better penetrate—another reason the mighty essence has earned its place among K-beauty lineups.

Which might have you thinking: Doesn't a hydrating toner do the same thing? And you're definitely right—plenty of hydrating toners have entered the market of late that essentially have the same benefits as an essence (skin-plumping moisture, product absorption, and the like). That said, a super-hydrating toner and an essence side-by-side might not have too many differences, so feel free to use those interchangeably. You can even layer an essence over your toner for an extra boost of hydration, as many K-beauty fans will often recommend (or try the seven skin method).

The takeaway. 

In terms of which one to use, toner or essence, it's ultimately up to you: For purifying and balancing, a simple swipe of toner may be just what you need. But if you're on the hunt for some much-needed moisture, a hydrating toner or essence will do—feel free to use your own judgment, here. You can even layer both, if that's your jam, for even more of a hydration boost (a little extra love never hurts, it turns out).

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