Demystifying Essences, a Korean Skincare Essential

Photo: ©Emotion Matters / Stocksy

The rise of K-beauty has introduced permanent upgrades to our skincare routines. Where would we be without say, double cleansing, sheet masks, or snail mucin? But there’s one essential (ahem) part of the Korean 10-step skincare routine that can still be mystifying: essences. To the uninitiated, essences seem like nothing more than over-hyped toners. We’re here to tell you that essences are so much more.

What is an essence?

Essences are lightweight treatments with a watery consistency—and it’s understandable why they’re often lumped into the same category as toners. Essences have water-based formulas that come packed with high concentrations of skin-restoring ingredients like glycerin, hyaluronic acid, birch juice, and rice water. Many essences also boast fermented ingredients (like saccharomyces ferment filtrate, galactomyces ferment filtrate, bifida ferment lysate, and fermented rice—aka sake).

What does an essence do?

A well-formulated essence nourishes the skin after cleansing and helps restore it to its optimal state before the next steps in your routine. In essence (we’ll see ourselves out...) they help prep skin to absorb serums, oils, and moisturizers while also hydrating, replenishing, and boosting cellular turnover.

How do you apply an essence?

Due to their watery texture it’s best to sprinkle a few drops of essence into your palms and gently press or pat it into your skin. In the multistep Korean routine, essences are usually applied after toners and before serums and ampoules. Some K-beauty devotees swear by the 7-skin method, a technique in which you apply essences in seven consecutive layers for a plump, dewy, chok chok (or “glass skin”) effect.

Who should use an essence?

Anyone can reap the benefits of adding an essence to their routine. Essences contain ingredients that help boost cellular turnover and strengthen the skin’s protective barrier, so they work well for all skin types. If you want to boost the results of your serums and treatments, an essence may be right for you. People struggling with both dry skin or acne may find essences beneficial, since they add lightweight moisture without heavy, possibly pore-clogging ingredients. Essences are also great to have on hand during periods of dehydration (hi, winter, and hi, day at the beach with just one water bottle) when your skin could use an extra layer of moisture.

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