It's safe to say that the most cutting-edge skincare often originates from Korea. From sheet masks to snail gel, if something is big in Korean skincare, it's likely to become a buzz over in the West, too. So it might come as no surprise that we have Korea to thank for the surge of skin essences cropping up in our bathroom cabinets.
But what is a skin essence, and do we need to be using one? It's something I've asked myself a lot, too, because even though I'm always partial to add yet another step to my Sunday Nightlies routine, there's no point in investing in a skin essence (and trust me—some are an investment) unless you really understand what it can bring to the table.
So I spoke with Megan Felton, co-founder of expert-led skincare consultancy firm Lion/ne (and my go-to skincare guru), to find out what a skin essence really is. "Skin essences are a hard one to define because each brand will have a different meaning for what an 'essence' is," Felton says. "For some, it may be more of a toner or a facial mist, while others might use this word for a light serum."
Marketing jargon aside, what is the point of a skin essence? "An essence often has similar benefits to a serum, meaning it will have a lower molecular weight than a moisturizer and will, therefore (when formulated correctly) penetrate the skin more deeply," Felton explains.
How Do You Apply a Skin Essence?
Essences should be treated like serums when applied. Water-based (thinner) essences should go on first, working up to your thicker product like moisturizer and SPF. "The trend for skin essences became more popular with the rise of K-beauty skin regimes, that often have several steps. While the addition of a skin essence (for me personally) isn't an essential step in a skincare regime, it certainly can be an added bonus. Many skin essences can help to add in an extra layer of hydration for dehydrated skins and are great for priming the face for makeup," says Felton.
Which Is the Best Skin Essence?
There are so many skin essences around, and it really depends on the ingredients as to which is right for you. There are hydrating skin essences that are perfect for dehydrated skin types (which, let's be honest, is pretty much everyone this time of year), and then there are brightening essences that can pep up tired, dull skin. So whether you want to splash out (hello, La Mer) or try one that's more affordable (Algenist, we love you), we've rounded up some of our all-time favorite skin essences that are perfect for pimping up your Nightlies routine.
This multi-action face vinegar can be used after cleansing to tone and purify your face, but it also soothes irritated skin and lowers redness, so it's great to use before makeup.
A great "small but mighty" addition to your skincare regime, this hydrating essence uses Algenist's famous alguronic acid to deeply tone and purify the skin. It also contains chamomile, witch hazel, and aloe to even out skin texture and stimulate a natural glow.
This fancy facial mist contains quartz crystal-charged water to energize your skin along with magnesium salts to detoxify. This is a gorgeous one to keep on your desk. It smells incredible and leaves your skin feeling awakened and refreshed.
Formulated specially to help protect the skin from the stresses of urban life, this K-beauty–inspired essence neutralizes pollution particles and zaps free radicals before they cause any harm.
The simplicity of French skincare might go against everything Korean skincare stands for, but they can agree on one thing: A skincare essence is a must-have step. Caudalie's Vinoperfect Concentrated Brightening Essence contains glycolic acid to help eliminate dead skin cells. The brand's signature grape water helps to hydrate, soothe, and moisturize skin from within.
Combining hyaluronic acid with vitamin C and detoxifying pink clay, this hardworking mist is packed with 100% natural ingredients to calm, soothe, hydrate, and brighten skin.
This essence contains 5000 micro-droplets of camellia that are encapsulated into a watery liquid to protect the active ingredient. Once applied to the skin, the droplets burst open, allowing them to penetrate the skin in their purest form. Expect brighter, more energized, and refreshed skin after just one use.
Created specifically for an Asian market and brought over to the UK thanks to its popularity, this essence-in-lotion is best delivered to the skin by patting on after cleansing. It penetrates deeply to restore hydration to tired and dull skin.
Loved by YouTubers for its Insta-worthy pink formula, Unicorn Essence helps to protect the skin from free radical damage. The serum-like texture is perfect for prepping skin for what's next to come—whether that's moisturizer or makeup.
Utilizing organic prickly pear seed oil and niacinamide, this brightening essence is perfect for awakening tired skin, refining dull skin tones, and reducing hyperpigmentation. It also injects skin with an intensely hydrating and nourishing resilience against pollution and environmental aggressors. Clever!
This unique essence contains pH-balancing ingredients which help to keep moisture locked into the skin for longer. With a blend of fruit enzymes and turmeric, it protects, exfoliates, brightens, and hydrates in one simple step.
Enriched with La Mer's miracle broth, this intense hydration serum-like essence brightens and protects damaged and dry complexions. It also helps to diminish the appearance of lines and wrinkles leaving skin smoother, softer, and more radiant.
With specially selected amino acids that help to improve your skin's ability to hold onto moisture plus rhamnose polysaccharide (an ingredient that helps to stop harmful bacteria from accumulating on the skin), this essence is the perfect K-beauty step to be used after cleansing and before serum.
Slightly lighter than a serum, this Rose Caviar Essence encapsulates suspended natural oils of jojoba, sunflower, and olive to hydrate and restore brightness to the skin.
This facial mist contains one percent vitamin B to refresh dry and tight skin even over makeup. Use after cleansing, as a setting spray or on the go for an instant shot of hydration.
This two-in-one toner and essence contains concentrated fruit extracts to hydrate and nourish skin. Kiwi and white grape help to block free radicals, whilst lavender and rosemary soothe stressed skin. Keep in the fridge for a cooling hit of hydration in the morning.
This gel-like essence transforms into a watery texture as soon as it comes into contact with your skin. Packed full of hyaluronic acid and rose water, your skin instantly drinks it up, leaving no sticky residue. Follow with thicker serums and/or moisturizers.