what is a facial essence

What’s an essence?!

Is it a toner, only thicker?

A serum, only less moisturising?

A hybrid in between the two?

Most importantly, do you need one in your skincare routine?

Let’s find out:

What’s An Essence?

An essence is a hybrid between a toner and a serum. It’s not as heavy and concentrated as a serum, yet it packs more of a hydrating punch than a toner.

Essences have lightweight, often runny textures, that make it easy to pack on the hydration without weighting skin down under layers of grease.

This is why they’re so popular in Korea. When the weather’s that humid, your skin needs all the hydration it can get. An extra hydrating step or two in your routine makes sense.

But what if you live in a different climate? Do you still need an essence?

Related: 4 Things I’ve Learned From Korean Skincare

Struggling to put together a skincare routine that banishes dryness and makes your skin supple and dewy? Download your FREE “Best Skincare Routine For Dry Skin” to get started (it features product recommendations + right application order):

How Do Essences Work?

Essences are loaded with humectants, a family of ingredients that attracts and binds water to the skin.

Hyaluronic Acid is the most famous member of this family. Studies show it attracts and binds to the skin up to 1000 times its weight in water! It works well in high and low humidity conditions, too.

Other humectants you’ll often find in essences are Glycerin, Panthenol, Urea, and Biosaccharide Gum-1. They all do the same hydrating job as Hyaluronic Acid.

Here’s why this matters…

Hydration is the foundation of healthy skin. When your skin lacks moisture, it wrinkles like an old prune. It feels tight and uncomfortable during the day. It completely loses its radiance.

Add the moisture back in and your skin transforms. The extra moisture plumps up your skin so fine lines and wrinkles look smaller; it makes it softer to the touch; and gives it that beautiful as-if-lit-from-within glow.

P.S. Some essences also contain antioxidants and brightening ingredients to fight premature aging. But their main job is hydration.

Related: If Your Skin Is Perfectly Hydrated, Do You Need To Worry About Anti-Aging, Too?

Essence Benefits: What Does It Do For Skin?

You know now that essences hydrate skin. But why should you go with an essence instead of a toner or serum?

  • Easy layering: If you have dry or dehydrated skin that needs the extra moisture during the day, an essence is an easy way to sneak it in without turning your face into a greasy mess.
  • Extra hydration: The more moisture your skin has, the softer and plumper it becomes.
  • Penetration enhancer: When your skin is moist, active ingredients penetrate your skin more easily. Plus, essences don’t usually contain occlusives that would stand in their way and prevent full absorption.

Related: Dry VS Dehydrated Skin: What’s The Difference And How To Treat Them?

Who Needs An Essence?

It’s true that hydration is the foundation of healthy skin. You can use all the best anti-aging actives in the world, but if your skin isn’t properly hydrated, it’ll always look rough and lacklustre.

That doesn’t mean you have to go mad with hydrating products and add an extra layer or two just cos. I’m a big believer in using only what your skin needs when it needs it.

If you’re already using a good moisturiser and Hyaluronic Acid serum AND your skin still feels tight and dehydrated, go ahead and add an essence to your routine. Everyone else, you don’t need it.

FYI, everyone can suffer from dehydration, including oily skin. Luckily, essences are suitable for ALL skin types.

Related: How To Identify Your Skin Type (Plus, FREE Test)

Estee Lauder micro essence activating treatment lotion

How Do You Use An Essence?

You apply an essence after cleanser (and toner), but before serum and moisturiser. I like to use a cotton pad, but if the texture isn’t too runny, you can use your bare hands.

What Are The Best Essences To Invest In?

The Bottom Line

Essences are a hybrid between a toner and a serum. Incredibly hydrating, their lightweight textures allow you to pack on several layers of hydration without the greasiness. They’re suitable for all skin types, but use them only if you need the extra hydration.