Your Cart is Empty

Serum vs Ampoule vs Essence: What's the Difference?

Confused? Want to know which one(s) is right for you? We'll tell you the difference between ampoules, serums and essences in this 5 minute read. The more you know, the better skincare choices you can make 


What is SERUM

What is a serum? Basically, it's a fairly strong potion with active ingredients, and with a specific function (anything from exfoliating, to barrier-rebuilding, to anti-aging). They are also more viscous than a toner, but not as thick as a moisturiser. They can be water-based or oil-based. Serums can be highly effective in helping you achieve a particular skincare goal, but may be too strong for some (which is where an essence can come in handy).

Ampoule vs Serum: In short, an ampoule is very similar to a serum, but is even MORE concentrated in active ingredients, and contains fewer 'filler' or buffer ingredients.



What is an ampoule? It's basically a very strong, concentrated serum. To be honest, beauty companies are starting to use the terms interchangeably, blurring the distinction between the two. Personally, we wouldn't place too much importance on the difference between ampoules vs serum. These days, they're basically the same thing, so focus on these 3 things instead: 1) the ingredients, 2) the percentage of active ingredients and 3) whether they will suit your skin. If you find an ampoule or a serum too strong, or if your skin is sensitive, opt for an essence! 



An essence delivers the function of a serum or ampoule, in the format of a toner. They're a favourite in the K-Beauty world! An essence tends to contain more buffer ingredients, making it more watery, hydrating and gentler on dry and sensitive skin. Most essences have a specific function on top of feeling soothing and hydrating - there are anti-acne essences, ones for hyperpigmentation and others for redness. Essences make it easy to layer skincare, and allow people with skin on the sensitzed or dehydrated side to still achieve their other skincare goals.


Concentration  Texture  Function
Ampoule 💪 💪 💪   Thick / Viscous  Various
Serum 💪 💪   Viscous / Oily  Various
Essence 💪   Thinner / Slightly Viscous / Hydrating  Usually hydrating and complexion-evening


And there you have it! Want some more details and examples of popular serums, ampoules and essences? Read on.


Let's explore an example. The products below all target hyperpigmentation, but in different ways for different skin types.

  1. An example of what is a serum for the face: Dear, Klairs - Freshly Juiced Vitamin Charging Serum. It contains a 10% concentration of a stable vitamin C derivative (3-O-ethyl ascorbic acid), which is gentler than pure ascorbic acid (but still effective). You'll notice the first ingredient is water, but the next 5 out of 7 ingredients are essential or active elements to the formula. And like a true serum, it should deliver results fairly quickly (after a week or two of consistent use).
  2. What is a ampoule: Dr. Ceuracle - Pure VC Mellight Ampoule. This ampoule contains 10% pure vitamin C powder, which is highly effective but harsher than other forms of vitamin C. The ingredients state sea buckthorn extract as the primary ingredient, with water all the way down at 16th on the list. Hence, it's fairly concentrated and potent. It may not suit sensitive skin, but it aims to make a difference to your skin in a short amount of time.
  3. What is an essence: Neogen - Dermalogy Real Ferment Micro Essence. This essence aims to brighten dull skin, but in a gentler, more hydrating way. Instead of using vitamin C, which can potentially irritate, it uses fermented ingredients, rice extracts, birch juice and niacinamide to do the job. The texture is viscous, but noticeably more watery than a typical serum or ampoule. It's perfect for sensitive skin, and indeed is one of the more popular essences in the K-Beauty pantheon! 



Which is better: Ampoule, Essence or Serum? The answer depends on the respective products ingredients, texture (do you want something oily? Something lightweight? Something with slip?) and goals, as well as your skin type. If you have sensitive or reactive skin, start with an essence. You can also use an essence to dilute a serum that you've already purchased, but is a bit too strong for you. For instance, if you have a strong retinol serum that's languishing in your bathroom cabinet, try buying a basic hyaluronic acid toner like this one, and adding a couple of drops of serum to it before application. It can help your skin get used to the retinol, while delivering some extra hydration and anti-aging benefit sat the same time! 

Can I use an ampoule, serum and essence together? What should I start with? You can of course use an ampoule, serum and essence together - in fact, that's part of the 10-step K-Beauty routine! Use it in order of thickness. The thinnest texture should be applied first (i.e. the essence), generally followed by the serum and then the ampoule. Layering skincare can be a great way to target several skin concerns at once, protect your moisture barrier and deliver extra hydration. It can also help maximize absorption. Start with a serum first, unless your skin is dry or sensitive: then start with a serum. Use an ampoule to 'boost' your skincare regime, if your skin allows it.

Should I use a cotton pad to apply a serum or ampoule? While a cotton pad might be useful in applying a watery essence, it is generally unnecessary for a more concentrated formula like a serum or ampoule. Just use clean fingers to pat on your skin after cleansing and toning. 

What is the best serum for dark spots? When it comes to dark spots, it's hard to get past a good vitamin C serum in the day time - because it also protects against free radical damage. At night, you can try an acid exfoliant like an AHA - but just make sure to follow with a facial oil or moisturising serum post-exfoliation to protect your skin barrier.


Got any other questions on skincare products? Or simply want a recommendation, like the best serum for fine lines and wrinkles? Just drop us a line in the comments or send us an email at hello@kanvasbeauty.com.au.