You’ve probably been applying essence wrong your whole life—here’s why that matters

When it comes to skincare, it’s often debated how and when to apply each product. While sunscreen and vitamin C are typically reserved for AM applications, retinol and exfoliating acids usually make their way into nighttime regimens. But where does that leave essences—and, better yet, how on earth are they actually supposed to be applied? To find out the answer once and for all, we chatted with  Tatcha founder Vicky Tsai and NYC-based dermatologist Dendy Engelman, M.D. Ahead, they dish on how you’ve probably been applying essence wrong your whole life, and why it’s time to amend your ways.

What is an essence?

Before getting into how to apply an essence, let’s discuss what it is in the first place. “The purpose of an essence is to flood the skin with hydration and to create aquaporin channels so that any treatment that you use afterward, including serums and creams, will be able to penetrate the skin more deeply,” Tsai says. In other words, they’re designed to make every single product you apply afterward that much more effective. Pretty cool, right?

How to apply an essence.

Now that we know the why, let’s get to the how. While most people think that you should soak a cotton pad with essence and rub it onto the skin like a toner, Tsai says otherwise. “The water-like texture of an essence means it doesn’t have as much slip as a serum or cream that contains oils and other emollients,” she explains. “Pressing the fast-absorbing formula into the skin prevents unnecessary pulling or dragging, which can potentially cause irritation.”

While you might be inclined to still soak a cotton pad and simply press it into your skin, again, Tsai says there’s a better method. “If you use a cotton pad, the majority of your essence will end up absorbing into the pad and not your skin,” she warns, noting that while very soft cotton pads can be great to use with toners, which are meant to take excess makeup from the skin, they’re not beneficial with essences.

What to do after applying essence.

Some people will tell you to apply your heaviest, most hydrating cream following essence, but Engelman has other thoughts. “It is more beneficial to apply different layers of products to provide multiple barriers,” she explains, noting that essence should be the first step in your skincare routine, followed by serums, creams, and sunscreen. “They are highly concentrated and designed to penetrate deep into the skin. After cleansing, spray directly onto the skin and pat in or pour into hands and spread evenly across the face, neck, and chest.” Follow up with your favorite products and be on your merry way—dewy, moisturized skin and all.

Below, discover six essences that are worth adding to your routine:

1Fresh Black Tea Kombucha Antioxidant Essence


Shop it Available at Sephora

Made with kombucha, mandarin peel extract, and kigelia African fruit extract, this essence smoothes, brightens, and hydrates skin in a cinch.

2Tata Harper Hydrating Hyaluronic Acid Floral Essence


Shop it Available at Sephora

This hyaluronic acid-based essence features a floral blend that hydrates and soothes dry and combination skin.

3Lumene Nordic-C Glow Boost Essence Serum


Shop it Available at Target

This affordable and clean drugstore option is powered with vitamin C and hyaluronic acid to help your skin become healthier and more radiant.

4Tatcha The Essence Plumping Skin Softener


Shop it Available at Sephora

Made with Japanese anti-aging superfoods, including green tea and algae, this essence, which has earned over 60,000 loves on Sephora, is designed to nourish, plump, and hydrate all skin types with just a few drops.

5SK-II Facial Treatment Essence


$185 ($214 value)
Shop it Available at Sephora

This fan-favorite essence is made with fermented yeast and over 50 nutrients to cater to your complexion and ensure it feels as dewy as it looks.

6AmorePacific Vintage Single Extract Essence


Shop it Available at Sephora

This anti-aging essence works to not only hydrate skin but also visibly reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

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