My Acid Toner / Essence Sequence Dilemma

What goes on first? An acid toner or an essence? For the longest time, the torment was real. Clearly, I suck at layering products but I am not willing to eliminate either liquid step from my skincare routine. I’ll admit to having been confused for years. The rule of thumb is to apply formulas gradually from the thinner to the thickest. Always begin with water like textures, graduate to more viscous liquids, and continue with lotions. Seal with oils.

But what about acid toners and essences? If an essence preps the skin, balances its pH and amplifies everything else, what follows? And what goes on first? Do we cleanse, exfoliate (insert acid toner of choice) and then pat the precious essence drops in before we moisturize? Am I the only one in the dark regarding the correct sequence? My excuse: I’m Polish, so it all takes me a while. Your move.

The dilemma…

Acknowledging that I am surrounded by an abundance of product, I do strive to be a minimalist. Yet for the longest time, it was Sophie’s Choice meets Russian roulette whenever I opted to use an acid toner and an essence in the same line up.

It turns out there is only one way to make it work correctly. Drumroll, please… *exfoliation* (read: acid toning) is part of cleansing in the often elaborate multi step K-beauty routine, so your essence follows any acid toner. Source: my new BFF and Sulwhasoo expert who debunked every theory at the AMOREPACIFIC first ever Global Beauty Pop-Up in NYC last month.

In my defense…

My former definition of common knowledge was that acid toners, which contain a cornucopia of acids, resurface the skin. This helps address enlarged pores, hyperpigmentation, uneven tone, and texture. Traditional essences typically contain a yeast ferment to brighten, smooth, and regenerate the skin. On the one hand, exfoliating before treating makes sense. However, would you ever think that an essence would optimize the important step that follows or that a toner applied after an essence would be more beneficial?

So, this is how I roll these days: cleanse, acid tone, essence, serum, moisturizer, sunscreen during the day. Or, a facial oil at night. A sheet mask is sandwiched between a serum and a moisturizer unless I opt for the morning, in which case the mask replaces the serum. (Even my combination skin can only take so many layers.)

Can anyone please confirm I wasn’t the only one dealing with this conundrum?

Below are some of my favorites from each category:

Acid Toners:


Cotton Pads of choice:



1 Comment

  1. June 5, 2018 / 2:46 pm

    Until just about now, I didn’t even know there is such a thing as “Essense”… I gotta look into this matter.

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