Just as we got a grip of what skincare essences, cushion compacts and CC creams are, we’re hit with another new type of beauty product – the ampoule.

The ampoule, or ampule – whichever you prefer, they’re the same – has been quite a thing in Korea for awhile now. These potent, viscous fluids, sometimes packed in vials or dropper-type bottles, are said to produce almost instant results on the skin.

But what are they, really? How are we supposed to use them? Which is the best one for our skin? Here’s what we learned:

How it’s different from a serum?
Many seem to think that an ampoule and a serum are the same thing. After all, both of them contain a highly concentrated amount of active ingredients, small enough to penetrate deeply into the skin, targeting specific skincare problems. But they’re not quite the same, says Dr Lee Dong Won, founder of CNP Laboratory.

“The difference is the amount of active ingredient and the [molecule] size of the active ingredient. An ampoule contains more condensed active ingredient, and its size is smaller than that of a serum,” he said.

In short, ampoules are more potent than serums.

How long can an ampoule last?
“Ampoules are filled with highly active ingredients like pure vitamins, enzymes in various combinations, and most of the time do not contain preservatives or chemicals due to [its] air-tight packaging,” says The Face Shop trainer Cariscia Teo. The Face Shop is the parent company for Korean skincare and makeup brand VDL. 

Always check the label for a symbol resembling an opened tub, the number on it tells you how long your ampoule will last – in months – once you’ve opened it.

She adds: “Due to the absence of preservatives or chemicals, its lifespan is usually quite short once it’s opened.”

Both VDL and CNP Laboratory’s ampoules last for a year after opening.

What should you do before using an ampoule?
Dr Lee advises exfoliating before using an ampoule to maximise its benefits. Dead skin cells sitting on the surface of your skin can hinder absorption.

Of course, do it in moderation – you don’t want to end up over exfoliating your skin and causing more problems instead.

Which step of your skincare routine should an ampoule be used?
“Ampoules are formulated to deliver an optimum dose of ingredients to the skin, but are not used in place of a serum or essence,” says Cariscia.

Use it in this order: Toner, ampoule, serum and finally, moisturiser. It should come in between your toner and serum. You can skip the serum, too, if you feel that it’s too much for your skin.

And while many of us are inclined to using the ampoule on its own in Singapore’s weather, it is advisable to layer a light moisturiser over.

“It will create a moisture protection barrier, preventing the active ingredients of the ampoule from evaporating,” says Dr Lee.

On days when your skin needs extra help, you can first apply an ampoule, then follow up with a mask to help aid its absorption into the skin, he added.

Do you really need to use an ampoule?
If you have a specific skincare problem to solve, yes, says Dr Lee; the use of both a serum and an ampoule will be ideal.

He however warns of the risk of heightened skin sensitivity when you first start out using an ampoule, due to its highly concentrated nature. Go slow; Dr Lee advises applying it on top of your moisturiser if it’s your first time using an ampoule.

How long do you have to use it for?
Cariscia says an easy way to think of an ampoule is like a special nourishment or treatment course for the skin – something you use for a finite period of time.

As for the frequency, Dr Lee says that it largely depends on your skin condition.

“The frequency and the use of an ampoule depends more on how badly you want to solve a certain skin problem,” says Dr Lee. But always bear in mind the possibility of an increase in skin sensitivity, as mentioned above – again, start slow.

Do women of a certain age group need to use an ampoule?
Not necessarily. But if you want to use an ampoule, there are certain types of ampoules that are more suited for certain age groups.

Dr Lee gives two examples using CNP Laboratory’s Mugener Ampule – for sensitive, acne-prone, or irritated skin – and the Propolis Energy Ampule – rich in antioxidants and mainly for anti-ageing purposes.

“A 21-year-old customer with acne might need the Mugener Ampule more than a customer in their 40s to soothe irritated skin. On the other hand, customers in their 40s will need the Propolis Energy Ampule more than teenagers for anti-ageing and antioxidant effects,” he says.

And there you have it – the actual role an ampoule plays in your skincare routine and how it measures up to your other existing steps.