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Have you ever wondered what’s the difference between toner and a lotion? How about a BB cream and a CC cream? We understand how confusing these terms may be. (Finally!) Here’s an article that clears these up once and for all. Read on to find out the differences between some beauty products that sound like they may be synonymous. (Hint: They usually aren’t.)

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What is the difference between…

1. … a toner and a lotion?

There are a few types of toners designed for different skin types, and in most Japanese skincare, lotion is the same as the smoothing toner. Its function is balance your skin’s pH and to prep it so that it can better absorb other skincare products. You usually use it by drenching a cotton pad with it and apply it onto skin.

Now, the confusing part: lotion can also refer to a light moisturiser, and this is typically so in Korean skincare. If you’re confused or unsure, it’s best to ask the salesperson or check out the description of the product, to check which part of the skincare regime should it be used.

2. … serums, essences, and ampoules?

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Both serums and essences contain active ingredients to address specific skincare issues (e.g. whitening, hydration, acne care). These actives are highly concentrated compared to other skincare products like your toner or moisturiser. Serums generally have a thicker texture and are more highly concentrated than essences; essences usually have a water-like texture. In other words, the function of serums and essences are usually the same – the power-charge your skincare routine – and the differences are solely in their textures.

Ampoules are, on the other hand, supercharged serums. They contain a maximum dose of ingredients and therefore serve to boost your skin care routine. It also has the benefit of “freshness” because you only break an ampoule at the point of usage. Ampoules also typically penetrate into your skin faster and provide the fastest results within a short time period.

3. … BB cream and CC cream (or DD even)?


BB = Blemish Balm (Blemish referring to skin imperfections, not just blemishes per se). This is a German technology that gained popularity in Korea. Its multi-purpose nature makes it a strong recommendation by doctors to their patients after surgical procedures on the face. The main selling point of BB cream is how that it provides coverage, and on top of it, a multitude of skincare benefits, usually including sun protection, anti-ageing, and hydration. This product is designed as a one-size-fits-all solution; you can basically replace your entire skincare routine with this one product. But over the years, BB cream technology has improved and now it is typically marketed as a hydrating foundation with good sun protection benefit, and sometimes it comes in more than one shade.

CC = Colour Correct. It is quite similar to the BB cream, but focuses on colour correction. It is good if your skin is dull, sallow, prone to redness, or if you have pigmentation issues. Its texture is typically lighter than a BB cream, because it’s supposed to help correct your skin tone, and not offer full coverage. This product typically comes in different shades that are formulated to counteract undesirable skin tones.

DD = Dynamic Do-all/Daily Defence (depending on the brand). Its strongest selling point is its anti-aging benefits and its reduction of the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines. However these DDs are not quite up in the market yet.

4. … loose, pressed powder and two-way cake?

Face powders act as “seals’ to your base makeup like liquid foundation and BB cream by absorbing oil/sweat, and also offer a “layering” effect, preventing a shiny look on your face. They may come in loose or pressed forms. This means that functionally, loose and pressed powders don’t have any difference.

Loose powder come in a loose form and usually come in a sifting pot. They are often mistaken to provide a more lightweight coverage than pressed powder. But do not be deceived by its fluffy consistency! In actual fact, the finer particles of loose powder can fill the fine lines in your face and therefore create a more even complexion and natural finished look!

Pressed powder usually comes in a compact with a built-in mirror. The packaging of pressed powder makes it more portable and travel-friendly, hence are great for touch-ups. However, bonding ingredients like silicones and waxes are used to make the powder into solid form; check if you’re sensitive to these! Also, as particles in pressed powder are larger than in loose powder, too much of it can result in a cakey appearance, so you have to control the amount carefully.

Two-way cakes are similar to pressed powders and come in a compact. The key difference between two-way cakes and the other types of powders is that they can be used both wet and dry. Use a damp sponge to use it in its “wet” state so that it can perform as a foundation that gives you coverage, just like a liquid foundation or BB cream. When used with a powder brush or a dry sponge, it can function as a pressed powder for setting makeup, or touching up.