10 Best Editor-Approved Skin Essences to Keep You Hydrated This Winter

Audrey Noble

The secret to that elusive dewy skin that we've been obsessing over for years now isn't some magic pill we have to take or necessarily being born with blessed skin. It's about the essence we use. This miracle beauty water is a key component to a Korean skincare regimen, and we're just finally catching on to its benefits. Not only does it help you get that extra glow in your skin, it serves as a great source of moisture for when it's really dry out. But exactly what is an essence? Why do we need it? And how do we even use it? We asked Charlotte Cho of Soko Glam and Christine Chang and Sarah Lee of Glow Recipe to break it all down for us.

See what they have to say below.

What Is An Essence? 

"Essences are highly concentrated formulas that specifically target wrinkles, fine lines, and dull and uneven skin tones," says Cho. "Korean essences are usually lightweight and watery."

"These fast-absorbing treatments are often infused with condensed hydrating and anti-aging ingredients, and with continued use, they leave the skin soft, supple, and glowing," say Chang and Lee. The two also tell us to think of essences like the modern-day version of a serum. But they also warn us not to confuse these with toner, which also has the same watery consistency.

"Toners are traditionally more thought of as an astringent, pH balancing, clarifying step—almost as a second step after cleansing," they say. "Toners are often dispensed onto a cotton pad, which helps to wipe away any residue after cleansing. Essences are liquid treatments that efficiently infuse the skin with hydration and/or anti-aging actives and have a lightweight texture that is great for layering."

What Makes An Essence Effective?

"What makes an essence great depends very much on skin type and your own personal skin goals and needs," say Chang and Lee. They suggest finding an ingredient or benefit you want to work on and find a complementary formula to address that. "For example, if you have active blemishes and irritation, looking for a soothing essence or one with tea tree would likely be a great fit," they say.

"If you have dry skin, you should look for essences that have ingredients like sodium hyaluronate and propolis. And if you have oily and acne-prone skin, you should look for a water-based essence," says Cho. When putting essence on, Chang and Lee suggest using an essence before your serum and moisturizer. ("Typically, a good rule of thumb is to apply your treatments from thinnest to thickest," they say). To apply essence, they say to gently pat it into your skin.

Why Should You Use One?

"Its skin-benefitting ingredients are focused on hydration and brightening, so most work to optimize your skin's natural cell turnover rate (think skin regeneration) and contain skin-brightening (not bleaching) ingredients as well. With regular use you will notice that your skin is deeply hydrated and brighter," says Cho.

"[It is] a great way to give skin long-lasting yet lightweight hydration, which is easy to overlook during a skincare routine," says Chang and Lee. "Lightweight hydrators are able to penetrate the skin more deeply than a moisturizer, so they do a wonderful job soothing and hydrating the skin and keeping the skin barrier intact. Similar to how a wet sponge is able to absorb more than a dry, hard sponge, skin is able to best absorb skincare when it's supple and plumped with hydration."

It's also a great alternative to a moisturizer. "Using a targeted essence with active ingredients tailored to your skin needs can deeply hydrate and nourish the skin without heaviness," they say. "We've gotten amazing feedback from our customers that applying an essence this way keeps the skin hydrated without having to rely on heavy, thick treatments afterward."

Now that we've given you a lengthy 101 lesson in all things essence, we, along with Chang, Cho, and Lee have rounded the best skin essences. Click through to see what we picked.

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