By now, you’re probably pretty familiar with the 10-step Korean skin care routine (and the new 10-step too). Today we’re zooming in on one step, specifically, because it tends to confuse a lot of people. You guessed it! We’re talking about essences.
I remember the first time I came across an “essence.” I was living in Seoul, before the influx of Korean skincare hit the Western World (nobody outside of Asia even knew what a BB cream was, if that gives you an idea), and I had no idea what it was I was even looking at. Oh my, how things have changed!
What Exactly Is an Essence?
Essences are a watery lotion (or very thin gel) packed with concentrated moisturizing, anti-aging, and complexion-evening ingredients. Though frequently confused with toners, ampoules, boosters and serums, they’re none of the above. Instead, essences are their own category, and are used in addition to the aforementioned products as part of a comprehensive skincare regimen.
Viscosity-wise, they’re thicker than toners and thinner than most serums. They do, however, often feel similar in slip to ampoules and boosters. The difference between ampoules/boosters and serums is in the concentration of ingredients. Boosters and ampoules are super-duper concentrated, and are often sold in smaller sizes (hence the name “ampoule”) or are meant to be used very sparingly (for example, you add a couple drops of a booster to your lotion or serum to, well, boost its effects).
What’s the Purpose of an Essence?
Think of essences as a pre-moisturizing moisturizer. They prep and enable your skin to soak up even more moisture!
Let me paint a picture for you: Imagine you’re holding a dry sponge in one hand. In the other, you’re holding a dampened sponge. Run water over the dry sponge, and what happens? A lot of the water slips over the surface and down the drain. The dampened sponge, however, soaks up and holds more water, and more quickly. The dampened sponge represents skin that’s been prepped with an essence.
How and When Do You Apply Essence?
After you’ve cleansed your face, exfoliated, and toned, you can apply your essence. It should be gently patted onto the skin—not rubbed or massaged. Allow enough time for your skin to soak up the essence, and then move on to your serum, booster/ampoule, and other moisturizers. See our guide for The Korean Skincare Routine here.
Who Benefits Most from Essences?
If you have dry skin, mature skin, or uneven skin, essences are the perfect addition to your skincare routine. Contrarily, they’re not always ideal for people with oily or acne-prone skin. We like Missha Time Revoution First Treatment Essence, which contains 80% fermented yeast concentrate, niacinamide, and vitamin B3. Another new favorite is Enature Birch Juice Hydro Essence. This contains 78% birch tree sap, chamomile and plantain seed extracts, which help soothe, hydrate and improve your skin texture.