the differences between essence, serum, lotion, ampoule, emulsion, gel, toner, booster, cream and floral water

10 years ago, skincare products were much simpler. I only have cleanser, toner and also moisturizer which people called cream. The extra products that I have would be sunblock I guess. Fast forward ten years and we have so many products out there in the market until I can’t even differentiate what is essence, serum , lotion, cream and even booster! One day I was looking at my aunt skincare products and asked her what is the differences between essence and cream but I didn't get the exact answer that I want! Some would just tell me to put it after toner or something. I got confused with so many things to put and I usually use mixture of brands and products.  I was so lost with all these skincare products terms.

So, today I am just going to share the meaning of those products in layman term.  Hopefully, it will be of help to you =).  Here is another newer pictorial form for better understanding.

Okay, let’s start with the most difficult one

Okay, this is as the name suggested they are actually toner. While products in western countries are known as toner,

Updated on 3/10/2014:  Now there is even western toner written as lotion so do be careful and check the description before using them.

A) Korean name their toner as Mist/toner/ Skin Refiner/ Skin balancer/ Skin hydrator/lotion/skin/water .

For examples,
Pyunkang yul essence toner
Klairs Supple Preparation Facial Unscented TonerAlthea Bare Essentials Primer Water
Swanicoco A.C control care skin toner
By Wishtrend Mandelic Acid 5% Skin Prep Water
THEFACESHOP Jeju Volcanic Lava Pore Toner
COSRX AHA / BHA Clarifying Treatment Toner
Klairs supple preparation facial toner
Primera Organience Water
COSRX Centella Water Alcohol Free Toner
Laneige Skin Refiner

B) Japanese on the other hand name their toner lotion or softener.
For examples,
Kose Sekkisei lotion
Kiku masamune Japanese Sake Brewing Skin care Lotion(high moist) 
Kiku masamune Japanese Sake Brewing Skin care Lotion 
Shiseido softener

C)Taiwanese just name their toner as toner to lessen the confusion but their products work like Japanese and Korean lotion.

For examples,
Shills Miracle Lift 3d Firming Gel Toner
White Formula Super Moist Light Toner with Hyaluronic Acid

D) Western toner is so much easier to understand. It will always end with the word toner.
 For examples
 Biotherm micro exfoliating purifying toner.
 Dr.Lewinn' Purifying Toner

E) Mist are hydrating toner water that contains cooling properties and hydration.  How fine the mist comes out depend on the nozzle.  It is mostly in bottle.  Koreans or Asian usually carry this to just spray on the face when it is hot or they feel dry without touching face.  It is most use in summer.  It is best to use hydrating mist instead of just plain water.

For examples,
Melvita Organic Beauty Mist
Always21 Soothing&Refresh Aloe Vera 95% Mist
First Cosmetic Mulbit Medist (vitamin Mist)
The Farm Herb Rejuvenating Facial Toning Mist

Basically, the texture in this categories are watery just like water.  Those hydrating ones can be just sprayed on the face. Most Japanese lotion can be use on compressed mask sheets and used as sheet masks.

Western toners are usually those clarifying one where you will use the cotton pad to swipe across the face.  It can't be use as mask !

Western and Asian toner are not the same although it is usually use after cleaning (There is some certain products that the toner or lotion are used as 3rd products because of adding booster) .

There is a difference between how western and Asian toner are used.  Do not assume that Asian lotion and Western toner are the same.


A) Ampoule contains high concentration of ingredients target for specific purpose. They are more expensive than serum. This is because ampoule contains the lightest texture, penetrate into the skin faster and provide the fastest results within a short time. Normally, hydrating or makeup ampoules are use by the makeup artist for a bridal wedding to make the makeup last long. There are also many types of ampoules and they are generally in form of vial to avoid the highly reactive ingredients get oxidized by the air.

For examples:
SOME BY MI AHA BHA PHA 30 Days Miracle SerumSkin1004 Madagascar centella asiatica 100 ampoule
Max Clinic Deep and Deeper Meso Change ampoule
La belle acnex ampoule

B) Serum contain higher concentration of ingredients than essence.  It also target specific skin concern. Therefore they are more expensive than essence. Serums also contain thicker texture than essence. There are many types of serum ranging from anti-aging capsules serum, pore tightening serum and brightening serum.  There are oil based and water based serum.

Antipodes Worship Superfruit Antioxidant Serum
C20(OST) Pure vitamin 21.5 advanced serum
clarins multi active skin renewal serum
Klairs rich moisture soothing serum 
Neulii Teatree BHA blemish control serum

- Oil based serum are in oil form for stabilizing properties.  It usually contains very UV ingredients such as Vitamin C or retinol.

Example of oil based serum:
Klairs Freshly Juiced Vitamin Drop
Seven wonders moroccan argan oil serum

-  There are also serum that is in form of BHA, AHA which is supposed to be treated as 'actives' since they have low pH.
Neulii teatree BHA blemish control serum
Swiss Line Cell Shock Age Intelligence Perfect Skin

C) Essence contains concentrate of ingredients for specific purposes. It is the least concentrate among ampoule and serum. Essence are generally watery and light so don't mistake it with toner. Some are called treatment water but it is actually essence.

whitening essence to brighten the face, pore control essence to control the pore and skin repairing essence.

For examples,
Manyo Factory Galactomyces Niacin
Melvita brightening essence
Hansaeng Cosmetics RIN Bi-gyeol Soo Essence
Cremorlab Mineral Treatment Essence ,
Neesya illuminating essence SKII facial treatment essence.

-oil based essence such as Shills Mandelic Acid essence .  It contains mandelic acid which is a form of AHA.

- There is All in one Essence from the trending 2018 skincare diet (using only 3-5 products for skincare routine).  It is an essence that covers the step of toner, fermented products, essence and moisturiser.
For example: Hyggee All In One Essence

The level of concentrate ingredients from the highest one would be ampoule > serum> essence .
The level of texture from the lightest one would be essence > ampoule  > serum

You could check this post Here to know if you need essence or serum.



A)Korean lotion is actually their light moisturizer. Example COSRX Oil Free Ultra Moisturizing Lotion (with Birch Sap)

B)Japanese lotion means it is toner. Example of Japanese lotion would be the Kose Sekkisei Lotion , Kikumasamune sake high moist lotionKiku masamune Japanese Sake Brewing Skin care Lotion

C)Emulsion is a light moisturizer. Mostly people with combination skin or oily skin would choose emulsion because of the lighter texture but still provide the moisture needed. Normally it is water based.

For examples,
Swanicoco A.C emulsion
Kose Sekkisei emulsion
Avène cleanance expert emulsion
Kikumasamune Sake emulsion
Primera Organience Emulsion  
L'occitane Shea Face Soothing Fluid
Snow Fairy Hydro White Emulsion

D) Cream is thicker since it contains more oil inside.  Cream provides more oil for those with dry skin or for usage during winter.  However, snail cream are usually very light.  There are many type of creams for examples whitening, anti-aging, hydrating and for acne. In 2019, there is a new Vegan Korean brand cream.

For examples,
The Vegan Glow Good Night Cream (vegan)ABIB Hydration Creme Water Tube
Kicho Sheep Oil cream
Althea Bare Essentials Fixer Cream
Egyptian magic cream,
skin shop premium secret snail vital mucin cream,
Mary Cohr light moisturising cream
The Yeon Yowoo Brightening Cream

Massage cream- it is cream that people use for massage on the face. Basically, you apply the massage a little on the face, then massage the face until it become transparent. then rinse the face away with it.  It is better for dry skin during winter.

Lafine Massage cream

Gel moisturizers usually contain humectants like silicone or gylerin for oily skin. Gel is also lighter than cream and emulsion. Some like it for the fresh texture.  If you don't mind spending the money, you can use eye gel as face moisturiser.

Pyunkang yul Balancing gel
Alive:Lab Multi Ice Cream
COSRX Oil Free Ultra Moisturizing Lotion (with Birch Sap)
Mizon Dist clean up Protect Cream
Neutrogena Hydra Boost water gel 
Phb Skin Restore Gel Aloe Vera
Swiss Line By Dermalab Aqua Vitale De Puffing Eye Gel .



Booster is something that is put before the serum/essence to boost the efficiency of the essence/serum.  The texture is generally very light and you will notice that the skincare penetrate into the skin much faster than if you are not using booster. The sequence to use booster for Korean and Western is also different depending on your toner (korean or western toner)

Examples of booster would be Dr. Jart V7 Booster and Dermalogica booster.

Most people would find this confusing whether it is a toner, a booster or a moisturiser.  For me, it is just like the name suggested- water infused with flowers.  One can use this as toner, mist or even moisturiser.  It is really just like water, it can calm the skin and moisturise the skin as it contain glycerine.  However, it is not enough to moisturiser the skin during winter.

Melvita Narcissus extraordinary water,
Melvita Extraordinary water 
Heaven on Earth Lavendar Floral water.

Okay, In September 2014 there is already the skin finisher which means to be a skincare products which makes the skin looks glow to the point of flawless. It's called a skin finisher because it goes on last (over toner, serums/essence/ and moisturisers) and before your cc cream or foundation. It is used during the day.  It can comes in form or spray or bottle. There are hair finisher but this finisher is for skin and it is already a rave in Korea.  Skin finisher is NOT A PRIMER NOR it is a MAKEUP because the skin finisher seal all the good things about your skincare products into your skin making it super flawless.  According to them, skin finisher is the key to have amazingly dewy skin flawless skin.  Examples of skin finisher would be Sulwhasoo Luminate Essential Finisher, Su:m miracle finisher and many more.

Peeling gel is actually exfoliator for sensitive skin which is much more gentle than scrubs.  Generally, Korean prefer peeling gel because it helps to exfoliate the skin without the harshness and peeling gel can immediately brighten the skin. Normally, it is use before using a sheet mask for best effect.
Pyunkang yul peeling gel
UGB peeling gel
Cure Natural Aqua Gel

Brands are coming with powder products because of the airport liquid restrictions so there are many products in powder form.  Some are spot treatment and some are cleansers at the moment.

Alivelab Centella Dressing Powder (spot calming treatment)
Ishtar Cleansing Clay powder (gentle cleanser)
By Wishtrend Green Tea&Enzyme Powder Wash (exfoliating cleanser)

That are what I know about the current type of skincare products in the market.  The list is sure going to be long and I will update this from time to time.  There are many texture such as jelly, pudding and more texture coming out in the market every second so I know it is going to be more and more confusing next time.  Even the vocabulary list for skincare products are just going longer.  Do forgive me or correct me if I made any mistake in writing this as I wrote it base on my common experience in skincare .

I hope that it will help you in making choices for your skincare products.

Here are some other links that you might find useful.
Sequence of all the products usage
Differences about all sort of face masks
How to effectively use essence, serum and ampoule
Differences about all the skincare cleansers

Updated on 11/8/2018

The opinions expressed here are my own and honest as always.

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