If you’re a fan of K-beauty trends, you might already be familiar with a popular skin care product called essence. This nourishing liquid is an important part of a daily routine for millions around the world.

Formulated using hydrating ingredients and nourishing nutrients, essence is the perfect product for restoring hydration and balance to your skin.

In this article, we’ll explore what essence is, how it benefits the skin, and why you might find it to be an essential part of your skin care routine.

Essence is a water-based skin care product that contains a high content of active ingredients to hydrate, protect, and boost the overall health of skin.

When essence is applied to clean skin after using a cleanser and toner, it helps restore hydration to the skin cells. When it’s applied before serums and moisturizers, it helps the skin better absorb these products.

Essence was first introduced into the skin care market in 1897 by Shiseido, an internationally renowned skin care line. This hydrating essence, called Eudermine, was the company’s first product to ever launch.

Since then, skin care companies worldwide have expanded their offerings to include this essential hydrating liquid. Many companies formulate their own versions of essence to target specific concerns, such as acne, aging, or dry skin.

Ingredients commonly found in essence skin care products

Here are some of the more common ingredients found in essence skin care products:

  • water, which serves as a base for the essence and hydrates the skin
  • glycerin or glycol, which are moisturizing agents that help trap moisture into the skin
  • hyaluronic acid, which helps further moisturize and plump up the skin
  • botanical plant extracts, which can provide antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits
  • yeast fermentation by-products, which host a wide range of benefits, such as UV protection
  • vitamins, minerals, and lipids, which all contribute to the strength and nourishment of skin cells

One of the primary roles of essence for skin care is to allow the skin better absorption of additional products, such as your favorite serum or moisturizer.

Essence can be used to improve the performance of these other products by prepping the skin to absorb them more easily.

In addition to providing moisture, most essence products contain a high content of active ingredients that can help:

  • rehydrate the skin cells
  • protect the skin barrier
  • boost the health of the skin
  • rebalance the pH of the skin
  • soften and smooth the epidermis

In one smaller study from 2020, researchers investigated the impact of a 12-week regiment of essence and serum on skin health. Study participants were given a twice-daily application of L’Unique Miracular Facial Serum and L’Unique Skin Essence.

At the end of the study, the researchers found improvements in not only skin hydration, but also water loss, firmness, elasticity, and lift.

Depending on the other active ingredients in the essence, there may be additional benefits as well, such as anti-aging or anti-acne properties. For example, a 2015 study found that most plant-based skin care creams have a high content of antioxidants.

These antioxidants were found to exhibit both anti-aging benefits and UV protection. These benefits are likely to be found in most plant-based essence formulations as well.

Some toners and serums contain products that many people find harsh, such as retinols or salicylic acid.

Essence, on the other hand, generally contains natural ingredients that very rarely cause adverse effects on the skin. For this reason, essence is regarded as one of the safest skin care products for all skin types.

However, it’s always important to keep a list of skin care ingredients that your skin is sensitive to.

Before you purchase your first bottle of essence, compare your list to the ingredients. If there’s anything in the essence that could irritate your skin, look for another essence.

When you purchase your first bottle of essence, you might find yourself asking: Isn’t this just a toner? However, while an essence can resemble the look of a toner, they perform two separate functions in skin care.

A toner, unlike an essence, is generally an alcohol-based skin care product. The primary purpose of using a toner after a cleanser is to provide the skin with a deeper cleanse.

A good toner also helps to tighten pores and balance skin tone, creating a smoother complexion. In addition, toners work best for people with oily, acne-prone skin, while essences are appropriate and beneficial for all skin types.

The bottom line: Using an essence after a toner can help rehydrate and rebalance the moisture in the skin.

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Ultimately, while both essences and serums contain high levels of active ingredients, they have different roles in a full skin care routine.

A serum is generally much thicker and more viscous than an essence, meaning that it works to penetrate even deeper into the skin.

The primary role of serum is not hydration, but instead to help target specific issues, such as discoloration or aging. In addition, a serum needs to be followed with a moisturizer to fully lock it into the skin.

The bottom line: Using an essence before applying a serum can help the skin more easily and deeply absorb that serum.

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Essence should be applied to the skin after cleansing and toning, but before applying serum or moisturizer.

If you want to incorporate essence into your skin care routine for the first time, give this simple routine a try:

  • Step 1: Cleanse your skin thoroughly with a gentle cleanser.
  • Step 2: Apply your toner using a cotton pad or the tips of your fingers.
  • Step 3: Distribute 4 to 5 squirts of essence into your hands and pat the product gently into your skin. Don’t rub or drag the product across the skin. Gentle pats should do the trick.
  • Step 4: If you use a serum, apply this before your moisturizer for the best results.

When you apply your products in this order, from light (toner) to heavy (moisturizer), it allows the skin to absorb each product separately. Adding essence into your skin care routine can help boost this absorption even more.

At this point, you’re probably curious to try essence. Below, we’ve compiled a variety of popular essence products that we think are a good place to start.

1. Shiseido Eudermine Revitalizing Essence

As the original Japanese essence, Shiseido Eudermine has been on the market for over 100 years. With a soft floral fragrance, this water-based “lotion” promises to keep your skin hydrated and protected all year long.

2. SK-II Facial Treatment Essence

SK-II is another Japanese cosmetic brand with a popular essence product, the Facial Treatment Essence. Their patented PITERA ingredient, which comes from fermented yeast, is combined with a minimal ingredient list to keep your skin looking crystal clear.

3. Hanskin Hyaluron Skin Essence

Korean skin care line Hanskin is responsible for producing the first ever BB cream, which quickly became a staple in the K-beauty scene. This essence contains plumping hyaluronic acid and plant extract while eliminating harsh dyes and alcohols.

4. Innisfree Firming Energy Essence

Innisfree essence contains high concentrations of the extracts and oils from 300-day fermented soybeans. This formula is not only naturally high in antioxidants from the fermented soybeans, but also contains skin-soothing extracts from oats.

5. Shani Darden Sake Toning Essence

This sake-based essence from Shani Darden is an essence alternative that combines a toner and essence in one. Sake water, plant extracts, and niacinamide all work together to soften, brighten, and balance the skin.

Beauty trends from Korea and Japan have always played a huge role in the worldwide popularity of certain skin care products. Introduced into the skin care market over 100 years ago, essence is one of the best products for boosting the health of your skin.

An essence should always be used after cleansing and toning, and works best when applied before additional products, such as moisturizer.

When used as a part of a regular skin care routine, an essence can help you maintain soft, hydrated, and protected skin.