Ariane Collins
Ariane Collins
January 19, 2017 12:41 pm

Now that we’re a few years deep into the Korean beauty craze, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of essences. This product genre is often touted as the secret to the mythical dewy skin all K-beauty lovers long for. Side note: the idea that all Korean women have skin as dewy as the morning dew itself is just as real as the idea that all French women only use micellar water to cleanse their face. But whether that is fact or myth, adding an essence into your daily regimen really can work wonders for your skin. Since I started using one a year ago, I noticed a marked improvement in my skin’s moisture level and clarity, and I certainly won’t be giving up this staple product anytime soon.

This past year, with the influx of Asian beauty staples, essences have been popping up in tons of US stores. And many Western brands, including Estée Lauder and Clinique, have started to bring their own formulas to market. But with this new type of product came a whole new set of skincare confusions.

A common misconception about essences is that they’re simply Asian toners.

While Asian toners are quite different from Western toners, in that they tend to focus on hydration, essences are actually designed to be applied after your toner, but before serum and moisturizer. Essences contain a higher concentration of skin-benefitting ingredients than toners, and vary in texture from watery to as viscous as a serum. Their primary functions in your skincare routine are to stop moisture from evaporating from the skin after cleansing, which is when your skin is in its most fragile state, and to prep the skin to best absorb the following steps of your skincare routine.

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Part of what sets essences apart from the crowd is that they often contain high percentages of fermented ingredients. The fermentation process produces many nutrients and gentle exfoliating acids, which are mild enough to be used morning and night, and help to increase cell turnover, leading to more even toned skin over time.

To get the most out of your essence, it’s important that you know how to use it properly.


After cleansing and toning, let your face dry for a couple of moments so that you don’t dilute the product. Place a few drops of essence in the palm of your hands, pat your hands together to warm the product, and lightly press it into your face and neck until fully absorbed. Pause to allow yourself to feel fancy for just a second. Follow with the remaining steps of your routine, whether that is one step, or eight!

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For an added boost of hydration, you can make a DIY sheet mask using just your essence and a few cotton pads.


If you use double-layer cotton pads, begin by tearing them in half, as using just one layer will allow the pad adhere more easily to your skin. Soak the pads in your favorite essence, and apply them to any dry areas of your face after cleansing and toning. Remove the pads after 5 to 10 minutes.

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If you’re feeling inspired to add this liquid hero into your skincare routine, here are my top 10 picks for essences that are easily accessible in the US!

1SK-II Facial Treatment Essence, $179

This is the mother of all essences. It is comprised of just seven ingredients, and contains 90 percent fermented yeast. This water formula absorbs fully and leaves your skin with a healthy glow.

2MISSHA Time Revolution The First Treatment Essence, $29.65

This essence is the most popular dupe for the SK-II essence out there, if you’re not looking to break the bank. While less concentrated than the SK-II essence, it still contains 80 percent fermented yeast, and the watery texture is almost identical.

3IOPE Bio Essence Intense, $46.99

Iope, the brand behind the cushion foundation responsible for literally starting the cushion craze, is hell bent on creating products to get your skin to its maximum dewy level, and this essence is no exception.

4COSRX Galactomyces 95 Whitening Power Essence, $15.59

Please forget this essence’s unfortunate name for a moment, because this product is incredible. Although it says “whitening” this is not its purpose at all, and this product contains no bleaching agents. In Asian skincare products, the term “whitening” actually means “tone evening,” as in it helps to fade hyperpigmentation and acne scarring.

5ESTÉE LAUDER Micro Essence Skin Activating Treatment Lotion, $96

One of the first essences produced by a Western brand! The star and second ingredient in this product is Bifida Ferment Lysate, a highly sought after probiotic that you can apply to your face.

6BELIF Hungarian Water Essence, $42

This essence is known for its antioxidant-rich blend of herbs, many of which have soothing and hydrating properties.

7SU:M 37 Secret Programming Essence, $67.89

Su:m 37 is known for their use of fermented ingredients, so it’s no surprise that their essence is chock-full of them. If you’re looking to add a wide range of natural ingredients to your skincare routine, the long list of ingredients was carefully curated and unlike most products containing many natural ingredients, this essence will likely not irritate sensitive skin.

8BLITHE Vital Treatment Essence, $42

This medium-weight essence is formulated with 46 percent root extracts, the most concentrated of which is red ginseng, an ingredient believed to make your skin look glow-y and awake. The remaining root extracts include a blend of plants present in Asian traditional medicine.

9MIZON Water Volume EX First Essence, $15.97

A great budget-friendly option. This hydrating essence contains niacinamide and adenosine, which both work to brighten the skin over time, as well lactic acid, a gentle exfoliant that hydrates and plumps the skin.

10TATCHA The Essence Plumping Skin Softener, $95

Although it just launched this January, this essence’s incredible blend of fermented green tea, rice, and algae have already earned it some serious attention.

Did I convince you to try out an essence? Promise, your skin will thank you.

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