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Is It Time to Add Ampoules to Your Skincare Routine?
I have a confession to make, beauties…
I’m a little obsessed with ampoules.
How could I not be??
These sometimes-tiny but mighty doses of potent ingredients are making skincare super fun!
And they’re everywhere. There truly is an ampoule for everything.
Just like rubber masks and BB cream, the big interest in these small products first caught fire in the world of K-beauty.
No surprise! And now they’ve taken the skincare world by storm.
In case you’re not already as obsessed as I am, in this post I’ll answer all your ampoule (pronounced am-pule) questions.
Like – what are they!?
What’s this craze all about?
Do you really need to add one more product to your routine?
And how should you use these little cuties?
I’ll also dig into the science behind them to see if and why they’re effective, so let’s go!
Ampoules are basically a potent concentration of a select ingredient meant to achieve a specific function.
Because of their powerful delivery abilities, they often come in tiny glass vials for foolproof portion control.
This doesn’t necessarily mean they’re classified as a drug, or that they can be considered dangerous to your skin.
It just means your skin can only make use of so much of a single nutrient at one time and keeps you from wasting a powerful product by using too much.
When you look at the ingredients list of one of these products (and you should), you'll often see a high concentration - 90% or 100% in some cases - of a botanical extract or another power ingredient.
As you see, it can get a little weird…can you really apply DNA or oxygen directly to your face? More on this later.
The best ampoules leave out all the sideline ingredients (like fillers, emulsifiers, or emollients) and stick to the star of the show.
They’re often made to achieve one particular effect (at least they started out that way), so part of the fun is mixing and matching them to target your exact skin care needs.
Of course, in our multi-tasking world, we now have plenty of ampoule options that target several issues at once.
But in my opinion, a true ampoule highlights a single ingredient.
If you’re thinking, “Hmm...doesn’t this sound a lot like serums?”
Yes, they do!
It’s true. Ampoules bring the same “treatment” aspect, and basically play that same role in your skincare routine, with a few subtle differences.
You can think of ampoules as an “amped” up version of a serum. Pun intended.
They’re meant to treat a specific issue and to give your skin a boost in one area while packing a powerful punch.
One reason I say they’re fun is that they can really get you thinking about what specific difference you want to make with your skin and tackle it mini-boot camp style with the right ampoule.
You can also try a single ingredient in its most powerful form to run a little experiment and test out its true effect on your skin.
And I’m an esthetician…that’s my idea of fun!
How Should You Use Ampoules?
Many of you are probably wondering right now where you would fit ampoules into your skincare routine.
And how to make the best use of them.
You’ve come to the right place.
I’ve put a lot of thought into those questions, studying the ingredients and effects as they’ve appeared on the market, and here’s what I’ve determined:
You have a couple great options.
- Incorporate them into your makeup or skincare routine as a booster every few days, or…
- Choose an issue you want to tackle and use them to put your skin through a one-or-two-week boot camp.
Important: If you choose the first option, you don’t need to use an ampoule daily.
A couple times a week would be enough.
Often this type of product will come either in a one-dose vial or with a syringe (don’t worry, no needle involved) to measure out the exact dose, so you won’t overdo it in one application.
With option number one, you can apply a lightweight ampoule under your makeup to brighten your look.
Experiment with ingredients to find one that achieves the look your after.
Or you can add an ampoule into your routine as a “treatment” step – after cleansing but before moisturizing – where it will address a particular issue but also help boost the effects of your other products.
How does this work?
Most ampoules with a concentrated form of one ingredient will have a skin-softening effect.
That serves as a nice prep layer for your skin to better absorb the ingredients that you apply next.
The step after an ampoule could be a serum or essence, or your moisturizer.
They’re usually very lightweight and designed for layering.
Are you thinking this sounds like overkill? And that they should just replace your serum?
In most cases, they can. They do fulfill the same role.
But in some cases, depending on your own style and preference, you can use the ampoule first to boost the serum – like a double boost!
Also, keep in mind that you can spot treat, just applying the product to the area you want to affect – as would be the case with hyperpigmentation.
As you can see, the market is giving us a very individualized approach to skincare right now.
Which is one of the things that makes ampoules so much fun!
If you’re into simplicity, they understandably won’t be your thing.
That makes perfect sense.
On the other hand, if you’re into trying out new things and powerful ingredients, you’ll love them.
What Are the Benefits of Ampoules?
The benefits you’ll get from an ampoule will depend on the ingredients you choose.
The variety is huge.
But as a category of skincare products, there are some generalities I can make here…
You will most often find that the ingredients in specific ampoules are designed to tackle one of these big three:
In a word, what you’re really doing when you add an ampoule is customizing your routine.
It’s sort of like pulling out the one ingredient you really want from a product and isolating it to do its intended job.
A hyaluronic acid ampoule, for instance, will do some serious hydrating.
A collagen ampoule is going to get down to the serious business of repairing and replenishing your skin.
A vitamin C ampoule will do serious damage to those free radicals floating around and go to work defending your skin against them.
Overall, expect them to put out a concentrated effort during a specific window of time.
To see the effects, you’ll need to give the process time, too.
A couple of weeks if you’re using them boot camp-style, or four weeks or more if you’re incorporating them once or twice a week into your normal routine.
Are There Any Drawbacks?
The main drawback to using ampoules is the lack of uniformity on the market.
Remember, there really aren’t any qualifications that have to be met to call any product an ampoule or a serum.
And some companies will apply the terms very loosely.
Your approach should be to shop for specific ingredients and to thoroughly check out those ingredients in the descriptions or on the labeling.
My pet peeve is an ampoule with a long list of ingredients.
That’s not a true ampoule in my opinion, because it’s not isolating an ingredient and concentrating its effects.
Look for over 40-50% of a single ingredient, and look for natural ingredients with known and proven effects.
Peptides, fruit acids, collagen, and antioxidants are a few good examples.
What about when you see claims like DNA, it’s actually DNA-sodium salts, and the science behind that is in the works.
Can an ampoule deliver oxygen to the skin all by itself?
I have my doubts about that one.
With that in mind, here’s the strategy I recommend:
- Study the ingredients.
- Look at the percentages.
- Decide whether the claim is reasonable or not.
- Do not expect any magic-pill type effects.
- Experiment with designing your own customized routine or “treatment.”
- Have fun!
The other main drawback is confusion.
Serums, ampoules, and essences all seem wildly similar.
Some of my clients feel frustrated with deciphering the different uses of so many products on the market for so many skin issues.
I understand the desire for clarity, I do, and there is definitely some overlap among all three of those product types.
A lot depends on the company.
So here are my basic definitions of the three:
A serum is a highly concentrated formula designed to have a specific effect on your skin with scientifically proven ingredients.
An essence is a lighter-weight version of a serum with a corresponding lighter touch.
An ampoule is a serum multiplied by 10 (or 2, or 5, or 20, etc., depending on the percentage of the main ingredient).
All three play the “super-concentrated” role in your skincare routine.
All three can also act as a booster, magnifying the effects of other products – helping moisturizers moisturize better, for instance.
Warning: You can see any one of those terms on a label making “healing” claims, only to find out on further inspection that the product actually contains drying alcohol or damaging plastics.
That’s the reality.
So much depends on using trustworthy companies and getting trustworthy information.
Your Ampoule Options
If you decide to give ampoules a try, you’ll have some pretty incredible options to choose from.
Honestly, it can get overwhelming.
Remember to start with the effect your after, and then zero in on the right ingredient for that job.
I’ll explore just a few ampoule varieties here that may need clarifying:
Fermented Botanical Ampoules – Fermented botanicals are well-loved in Korea.
These substances contain microorganisms that release enzymes.
Enzymes excel at breaking down materials and compounds into much smaller particles.
The idea is that the enzyme action will help the product better sink deeply into the skin and act more effectively by taking over the work that usually has to be done at the cellular level.
Ceramide Ampoules – Ceramides act as a sort of glue in the top layer of your skin, holding the cells together to help shore up the skin’s protective layer.
That way they help hold in moisture to keep skin from getting overly dry, protect from wind and elements, and keep toxins from the environment out.
Caviar Ampoules – The basic idea behind caviar for the skin lies in the fact that caviar, as tiny fish eggs, is, biologically speaking, developmental material.
The components found in eggs, of course, are the basic building blocks of life.
As such, the hope is that those compounds will have rejuvenating effects on skin, boost collagen production, and help reverse the effects of aging.
This all sounds very logical, and many people swear by it.
Unfortunately, we don’t have any solid scientific research to back up these theories yet.
As the skincare industry continues to grow at a record pace, though, I believe the days when we’ll have more research are coming. Stay tuned!
Caviar is also very high in fatty acids, which most skin craves.
Ampoules are a matter of personal style and preference, for sure.
The hard-core skincare enthusiasts will love them.
The woman who doesn’t need more details to figure out and is looking to pair thing down may not.
You do you, beauties, and pick and choose what feels the best.
When it comes to the ability to mix-and-match and become an at-home skincare scientist of sorts formulating your own routine, ampoules fit the bill perfectly.
They’re lightweight and lend themselves to layering routines.
They provide that extra amp for the rest of your products and can be terrific for targeting specific issues!
Love them or hate them? Let me know in the comments and if you’re excited to try them, and tell me the one issue you plan to target! Have fun!