Ever wonder what the difference between a toner, essence and astringent was, or whether you could combine one or the other? We have answers. While they share some similarities, there are definitely some differences worth pointing out. Read on to discover the benefits of using a toner, essence and astringent and how to best incorporate them into your skin care routine.
Skin care is constantly changing and evolving. So naturally, it’s hard to keep up with the latest trends — especially in the world of K-beauty. In fact, I’ll admit that for the longest I didn’t have the slightest idea of how to use an essence or astringent. If I’m being really frank, I wasn’t even clear on how they even differed… toner, essence, astringent — aren’t they all the same thing? Not exactly. While they do share some similarities, there are definitely some differences worth pointing out.
While toners, essences, and astringents are worth using as a follow-up to your cleanser, you don’t actually have to incorporate ALL three of them into your skin care routine. The bigger question is figuring out which product is actually best for your skin.
What is a toner?
For many of us, toners take us back to our pre-teen days, when they were alcohol-heavy and would dry up acne, often leaving skin flaky and irritated. It wasn’t until only a few years ago that I started reincorporating a toner — a gentle one, because I have super sensitive skin — into my routine.
But the reality is, toners have come a long way since our junior high school days. They started making a huge comeback five years ago when K-beauty really started to become popular in the U.S. The new and improved versions are alcohol-free, gentle, and do much more than just cleanse your skin.
Instead of drying out skin, the new wave of toners focus on balancing skin’s pH level, while removing impurities and brightening skin. Most of them are packed with antioxidants and hyaluronic acid, which also help with fighting and reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. It also works to penetrate skin, preparing it for the next product you’re going to layer on, which in most cases will be your facial moisturizer. The focus of toners is to nourish skin, not strip it.
While they are great for oily and acne-prone skin types, dryer complexions and even sensitive skin types benefit from toners too. In fact, the Dr. Oracle A-Thera Toner actually helps calm my rosacea. It’s packed with healing ingredients like bamboo extract that work to bring down inflammation and soothe skin. I apply it immediately after double-cleansing, then follow with rosehip oil, and then apply the Dr. Oracle A-Thera Emulsion, a lightweight moisturizer that provides the right amount of hydration to my sensitive skin, leaving natural oils balanced and prevents pores from clogging. I finish off with an SPF 35, like the Suntique I’m Safe for Sensitive Skin.
What is an essence?
It’s easy to assume toners and essences are the same thing, but there are definite distinctions. For starters, an essence is much gentler than a toner — which makes it an even better option for sensitive skin types. It’s also more hydrating, making it a great pick for folks with dry complexions. The focus is less on cleansing and balancing and more on hydration and brightening. Layering an essence underneath a moisturizer helps to lock in moisture (emollients in essences help prevent transepidermal water loss), keeping skin hydrated and supple for longer.
What many beauty enthusiasts don’t realize is that essences are considered the backbones of K-beauty routines. In the K-beauty world, they are an essential step. In a skin care routine, an essence falls between the toner and serum (or facial oil, depending on your preference). You can use both a toner and an essence in your routine, or depending on what your skin calls for, you can choose to use one or the other.
I personally haven’t used an essence in a few months but I’m a big fan of the Dewytree Ultra Vitalizing Snail Essence Water. If you can get past the idea of putting snail secretion on your face, I guarantee you’ll be a fan of it’s luxurious hydration. It’s quite literally vitamins for your face, as it works to nourish, replenish, repair, revitalize, and deeply hydrate skin without breaking it out. This is a great option for sensitive or acne-prone skin types.
What is an astringent?
Astringents are closer to the old-school toners many of us grew up on. While there are a few that are still alcohol-based, most of them these days are made with witch hazel, which does wonders in removing excess oil. If you have oily and acne-prone skin, you can replace your toner with an astringent, but I recommend doing a patch test first since astringents can be a lot harsher and more drying than K-beauty toners or essences you may be used to. You can use both an astringent and essence in your routine, but make sure to use a hydrating and gentle essence.
I personally can’t use astringents because of my sensitive and rosacea-prone skin; they dry me out too much. If you don’t struggle with sensitive skin and are looking for a solution to combat very oily skin, look into a product like The Plant Base Pore N Turn-Over 28 ABA Toner. It’s essentially a toner with astringent properties that works to help reduce the appearance of pores while also removing excess sebum.
All in all, while some folks can benefit from using a toner, an essence and an astringent, it’s not necessary to be regularly using all three. Choosing one or two and incorporating them into your skin care routine ultimately depends on your skin type and skin goals, but finding the right match can do some serious skin care wonders!