If you’ve been following the latest Korean beauty and skincare trends, you’ll no doubt have heard the word Skin Essence crop up on more than a few occasions. This skincare term has its origins in Asia. A facial essence has many names and may be called a facial mist, thermal spa water, thermal spring water, or a toner.
This article will discuss essences in skin care and what they do and how to find the best essence for your skin type.
What Is An Essence For Skin?
Touted as an essential step in the K-Beauty skincare routine, Korean Essence is similar to a toner and is used as a primer before applying a serum or moisturizer. Skin essences are much-loved among K-Beauty enthusiasts who say they are hydrating and allow your skin to better absorb key ingredients in the next product you use. In our opinion, essences are toners that are applied by misting the face or with a cotton pad. We use the words toner and essence interchangeably.
Here are some dermatologist-recommended essences that we love:
- EltaMD Skin Recovery Essence Toner- has hydrating glycerin, biosaccharides, and the amino acid arginine that is a component of natural moisturizing factor. These help give skin a glass skin look.
- Murad Hydro-Dynamic Quenching Essence-
- Skinceuticals phytocorrective mist has glycerin and hyaluronic acid to hydrate skin and give it a glow, and antioxidants.
- Bioderma Hydrabio Essence Lotion- has niacinamide to soothe skin, sodium PCA and mannitol to plump skin, and the antioxidant Vitamin E.
Is an Essence Necessary For Flawless Skin?
An essence is not right for every Baumann Skin Type. In fact, our personalized skin care routines tend to use serums more often than a toner or facial essence. To have flawless skin you need to use the best skin care products for your skin type. An essence may be essential for your skin type- or it may not be necessary. Read below to find out which essence to use for your skin type. But- your best bet is to take the skin type quiz to find out your skin type and get a personalized skin care regimen that will tell you if an essence is right for your skin type.
What’s The Difference Between An Essence And A Serum?
Essences and serums are both pivotal steps in a comprehensive skincare routine, designed to be applied after eye creams as the third step in your regimen. Though they are both formulated with hydrophilic (water-attracting) ingredients that allow them to deeply hydrate the skin, there are distinct differences in their composition and texture. Essences, which often feel akin to a toner, are generally more lightweight and have a higher content of water and alcohol. This thinner, more fluid consistency allows them to evaporate or absorb, making essences excellent for providing a base layer and preparing the skin for subsequent products without making the skin feel sticky. They also can help hydration skin to improve absorption of ingredients that follow.
On the other hand, serums are typically more viscous, resembling a gel-like consistency. They are usually more concentrated than essences and are designed to deliver a potent dose of active ingredients directly into the skin. Serums are formulated to address specific skin concerns, such as fine lines, dark spots, or loss of elasticity. Despite the differences in formulation and texture, both essences and serums work best when they penetrate deeply into the skin, ensuring that the active ingredients they carry are effectively delivered to the targeted layers of the skin.
Essence vs an Oil
An essence has water soluble ingredients. These do not mix well with oils unless an emulsifier is used. If you have dry skin use an oil, if you have oily skin, use an essence.
Note- an essential oil and an essence are two completely different things.
How To Use An Essence
A skin essence usually comes in a spray bottle and is often referred to as a ‘mist’, such as Element 47 Skin Fortifying Mist, or it is sometimes applied using a cotton ball, though some dermatologists recommend gently pressing into your skin using your fingertips.
Essence or Serum First?
You can use an essence and a serum together if they have compatible ingredients. If you use both a serum and an essence, the essence should be applied first, then the serum.
Essence or Moisturizer First?
If you use a moisturizer and an essence together, the essence is first and the face cream will go last. However, make sure your moisturizer goes well with ingredients in the essence because moisturizers can inactivate ingredients when you layer them.
This is why every product in your skin routine and which step you use them in matters.
What Skin Essence Should You Use For Your Skin Type?
The Best Moisturizing Essence For Dry Skin
Dry skin types should opt for an essence that will hydrate skin after cleansing, without injuring the skin barrier and drying the skin out further. Do not use skin essences with alcohols. (Fatty acid alcohols are ok). Denatured alcohols in toners and essences lead to dryness of the skin if they are found in a large concentration in products. Many facial essences have too much alcohol for dry skin types.
Pyrrolidone carboxylic acid (PCA) helps to increase the moisture content of the skin for lightweight hydration. It is a component of natural moisturizing factor and wonderful for dry skin types when used under a moisturizer.
Ingredients in the best essence products for dry skin are:
- Aloe Vera
- Calendula (Marigold)
- Cucumber Extract
- Green Tea
- Hyaluronic acid
- Panthenol (Provitamin B5)
- Pyrrolidone carboxylic acid (PCA)
- Sodium PCA
If you want to keep your skin care routine simple and affordable, skip the essence and focus on a good cleanser and moisturizer for your dry skin instead. These are more important for dry skin types than essences.
The Best Skin Essence for Oily Skin
If you have oily skin look for essences with witch hazel, alcohol, and silver. The antiseptic properties of witch hazel reduce pores, alcohol and silver kill skin bacteria.
The Best Essence For Sensitive Skin
Look for ingredients like aloe vera that soothes inflammation.
Good soothing ingredients to look for in facial essences are:
The Best Essence For Combination Skin
The Best Essence for Acne Skin
If you have acne, look for a skin essence mist that contains silver to kill skin bacteria and keep skin fresh. Avoid any essences with comedogenic ingredients like coconut oil.
Aloe is also good for its anti-inflammatory properties and vitamin E to moisturize the skin and protect it from free radicals.
Acne treatment essence in a facial mist is popular since its spray application means it can be used in hard-to-reach places, such as on the back or buttocks.
Ingredients to look for in essences to treat acne:
- salicylic acid
Exfoliating toners can also help prevent clogged pores.
Essence for Aging Wrinkle-prone skin
Anti-aging essences should contain antioxidants. You cannot have too many antioxidants on your skin. Water soluble antioxidants like green tea and Vitamin C can be found in essences to treat wrinkles.
Hypoallergenic Facial Essences For Allergic Sensitive Skin Types
Essence Water For the Face
An essence water is also called a thermal spring water, thermal spa water or a facial mist. (Micellar waters are not essences, they are cleansers.)
There are many types of water that may be in an essence water. The type of water determines the benefits that the essence will have.
Organic, natural and clean facial essences
There are many plant derives essences that are organic, natural and clean. First find out your skin type and then look for organic ingredients to treat the underlying skin concerns that your skin type has.
Hopefully this will help you to take your skincare routine to the next level, and if someone asks you “What is an essence in skincare?” you can tell them: “A trendy word for a fresh toner that is misted on the face.”
But before you shop for an essence, make sure you need one in your skin care routine. Take the quiz and we will tell you what products are best for your Baumann Skin Type.
Dr. Leslie Baumann MD, FAAD
Best References and Scientific Publications on Skin Essence:
- Baumann L. Antiaging Ingredients in Ch. 37 of Baumann's Cosmetic Dermatology Ed 3. (McGraw Hill 2022)
- Baumann, L. Cosmeceuticals and Cosmetic Ingredients (McGraw Hill 2015)
- Masuda, Y., Kunizawa, N., & Takahashi, M. (2005). Methodology for evaluation of skin transparency and the efficacy of an essence that can improve skin transparency. Journal of Society of Cosmetic Chemists of Japan, 39(3), 201-208.
- Lee, M., Kim, H. S., Cho, A., Jeon, S. H., Lee, N. K., Ahn, K. J., & An, I. S. (2014). The effects of essence-formed cosmetic ingredients containing the galactomyces ferment filtrate on skin improvements in keratinization, pores, sebum excretion, brightness and acne. Kor J Aesthet Cosmetol, 12(1), 77-84.
- Shimizu, H., Uetsuki, K., Tsumura, N., Miyake, Y., & Ojima, N. (2001, June). Analyzing the effect of cosmetic essence by independent component analysis for skin color images. In Proceedings of the third international conference on multispectral color science (pp. 65-68).
- Li, Q., Liu, L., Jiang, S., Xu, Z., Lin, S., Tong, Y., & Wang, P. (2022). Optimization of the saffron compound essence formula and its effect on preventing skin photoaging. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, 21(3), 1251-1262.
- Ye, Y., Li, Y., Xu, C., & Wei, X. (2023). Improvement of mild photoaged facial skin in middle‐aged Chinese females by a supramolecular retinol plus acetyl hexapeptide‐1 containing essence. Skin Health and Disease, e239.