What Is a Face Essence?

A face essence is an essential step in the Korean skincare routine and a beauty product you need to know about.

There are always new skincare products coming out, but it isn’t too often that you come across a beauty product and wonder, “What is that exactly?” A face essence is a term you might have come across before, but you probably weren’t entirely sure what it is. Hint: It is not a perfume for your face. An essence is an essential part of the Korean skincare regimen. And you should know by now that anything that is part of the Korean skincare regimen is worth a spot in your beauty arsenal.

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Essences are liquids and usually come in spray bottles. They are part of the cleansing process, with the main goal being to hydrate your complexion. Essences are related to toners and face mists. Alicia Yoon, the founder of Asian beauty site Peach & Lily, says that it is difficult to generalize the exact differences between them. One key distinction is that essences have been a staple in Asian beauty routines for a long time, whereas this is a newer product category for Western brands.

Furthermore, there are so many different formulations. Alicia explains, “I would say that the biggest difference is the sheer amount of choice and all the different and nuanced types of essences created by Asian brands versus Western brands.” Some act as toners, some are similar to serums, and others even exfoliate. The range of ingredients used is another difference. She cites the innovative Korean brand May Coop who use maple tree sap instead of water as the base in their essence because the molecules of maple tree sap are smaller than water and much more easily absorbed by the skin.

If you’re wondering if you should be using a face essence, the answer is yes. Everyone should have one in their skincare arsenal, and one quick look at Korean stars’ flawless skin is proof of that. The range of essences available means that there is a product to address your skin type and specific concerns. In addition to hydrating your face, Alicia states that essences “allow for a better canvas to absorb serums, ampoules (another Asian beauty essential), and face oils, as well as creating a healthier skin environment through hydration.” In other words, if you want your other skincare products to have maximum impact, an essence will help them out.

An essence should be applied following your toner and before serums, face oils, or ampoules. To get the most out of your skincare routine, Alicia recommends using one morning and evening.

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Essences may be a relatively new thing for Western beauty brands, but it is easy to find one. They’re available at Peach & LilySokoglam, and Urban Outfitters. If you’re unsure about what essence is best for you, take a look at Alicia’s recommendations:

If you have dry skin…

“For someone with dry skin looking to deliver intensive hydration and nourishment, I would recommend the Aqua Essence Water Fluid ($40, Cremorlab).” It can be used as a “booster serum” and followed up with your regular serums.

If you have combination skin…

“For someone with combination skin looking to provide balance and healthy hydration, I would recommend the May Coop Raw Sauce ($43, May Coop).” It is made with 93% maple tree sap, and it is a gentle toner, emulsion, and essence in one bottle.

If you want to even out your skin without over-drying it…

“For someone looking to even out skin tone in a non-drying way, I would recommend the Mela Defense White Capsule Essence ($34, Mizon).” It helps with dark spots and discoloration caused by acne.

If you have oily skin…

“For someone with oily skin, looking to balance hydration and minimize pores, I would recommend the Mineral Treatment Essence ($42, Cremorlab).” It is a best-selling product that is paraben-free, artificial color-free, fragrance-free, and denatured alcohol-free.

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