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At first glance, toner and essence can seem like the same product, especially since they are both used right after you’re done cleansing your skin.

While there are similarities between the two (more on that later!), it’s important to remember that both toner and essence have completely different purposes.

Ahead, we asked two board-certified dermatologists to explain the benefits, considerations, and best application practices for both products.

What is toner?

Let’s be real: you probably have seen toner recommended by influencers, blogs, and Reddit threads countless times, but still have no idea what it does. So, should you need a basic explainer, board-certified dermatologist Dr. Stacy Chimenot, MD, says toner is basically a wash formulated to clean the skin and on the face and neck areas.

Cleanses any remaining residue
Typically applied with a cotton ball, toner contains beneficial acids, glycerin, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatories, which can be particularly helpful in eradicating residue, makeup, and dead skin cells from the skin, she explains.

Helps balance the skin’s pH levels
Additionally, board-certified dermatologist Dr. Adam Mamelak, MD adds that toner can also be quite beneficial after using an abrasive scrub, or to those living in an area that has hard water, as hard water is known to alter the pH on your skin.

Good for acne-prone skin
While toner is not an essential part of a skin care routine, Dr. Chimento suggests that it’s beneficial for those who have acne-prone skin and clogged pores.

What is essence?

Essences also may have popped up in your pursuits of perfect skin. According to Dr. Chimento, unlike toner, essence is a formula that is concentrated to target fine lines, wrinkles, and uneven and dull skin.

Has a higher concentration of ingredients
“Essences can contain a variety of ingredients depending on the product,” she explains. “They hydrate and balance the skin, while also using highly concentrated levels of active ingredients. This allows deeper penetration into the skin barrier.”

Adds an extra layer of hydration
Similarly, Dr. Mamelak says that essences also soothe the skin, and aid in turnover, which ultimately contributes to a healthier complexion. And because of its watery-texture, and rich moisture content, he suggests, “Essences work great on dry and flaky skin types. Since they contain humectants and moisturizing agents (glycerin and/or hyaluronic acid), they provide moisture to the skin, making it more apt to absorb other skincare ingredients.”

Apply it like a serum
Also, Dr. Chimento advises that application is key when it comes to essences. Be sure to toss aside the cotton pads, and apply the essencde directly onto your face like a serum. “Spray about four to five squirts of essence into the palms of your hands, and then, press the product onto your face. Do not drag or rub the product across your face,” shares Dr. Chimento.

So what’s the main takeaway?

Dr. Chimento says that instead of comparing the two, it’s better to recognize that they are two different types of products that serve very different purposes.

Toner is best used after cleansing to remove any lingering residue from your skin, and to hydrate and prep the surface of the skin, she explains. Essence follows this step, and soothes the skin at the cellular level, accelerating natural turnover, and encouraging a smoother, healthier complexion as a result.

And, yes, you can definitely use these two products together. “Toner should be used first,” Dr. Chimento explains. “Think of toner as the product that will get your face its cleanest, that fights against pollutants and refreshes the skin. The essence will then smooth the skin, accelerate skin turnover, and enhance the effects of the products you apply afterward.”

As always, consult your dermatologist with any additional questions about your skin care regimen.

xx, The FabFitFun Team