Is an essence the skincare step you’ve been missing all along?

Just when you thought you’ve gotten your skincare all figured out—featuring a legitimate cleanse-tone-moisturise regimen and a weekly face mask—a deep dive into K-beauty routines will make you feel like yours is still completely lacking. While some steps are common with Western ones (like moisturiser and face wash), we won’t be surprised if some others have you scratching your head in confusion. Essences, for example, are referred to as miracle water or beauty water in Korea, and are the centre of many K-beauty routines. In fact, they are sometimes considered even more important than a moisturiser. But what exactly is an essence? And what does it really bring to the table? We spoke to leading dermatologist Dr Geetika Mittal Gupta to find out.

What is an essence and why should you add it to your skincare routine?

“Skin essences can be slightly confusing to a consumer, because in Japan for example, they are called lotions and serums,” says Dr Gupta. Marketing jargon aside, the product is similar to a serum—it is also packed with active nutrients, antioxidants and vitamins. “Essence is an additional step for skincare. It’s after toner and before serum, and is a little heavier than the former, but lighter than the latter,” explains Dr Gupta.


Being lightweight, an essence penetrates deeper into the skin to deliver an additional layer of hydration, which instantly rejuvenates and brightens up a dull and dry complexion. Adding moisture to the skin at an early stage has long term benefits, since adequate hydration strengthens the lipid barrier and helps skin stay healthy and plump for longer. Along with this, essences also balance skin after cleansing and refine its texture, much like a primer.


How should essence be used?

Unlike a toner that you can dab on a cotton pad and swipe all over your face, this watery emulsion has a special application technique. Encouraging the addition of essence to your skincare routine, Dr Gupta decodes a how-to-use guide. “An essence is applied to a clean face, prepping the skin to effectively absorb subsequent products like serum and moisturiser. Use a palm full and gently tap and press on the skin, starting at your chin and moving upward,” she says.

A good essence will balance pH levels once you’ve stripped the skin of oils after cleansing. This is especially relevant if you are trying to remove the last traces of oil-based waterproof makeup. “Though essence is good for all skin types, it’s particularly beneficial for dry or dehydrated skin for its nourishing and hydrating abilities,” says Dr Gupta. For those with oily or combination skin, a hydrating essence fortified with salicylic or lactic acid could balance sebum production without being too heavy on the skin.


How does an essence work?

An essence helps the skin to absorb and retain moisture better. “Think of your skin like a sponge—once cleansed and dried, a dry sponge cannot as easily absorb moisture compared to a slightly damp one. An essence properly primes your skin to best absorb all those fancy serums and creams,” Dr Gupta concludes.

This article first appeared in Vogue


  • Aparrna Gupta

    Transitioning from crafting stories for The Asian Age and Bombay Times to setting beauty trends in Verve, Aparrna Gupta’s journey has always revolved around resonant storytelling. Her prowess in content creation is unparalleled, with articles featured in renowned publications like Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, L’Officiel India, Lifestyle Asia, Elle, and Femina. She also excels in content ideation, trend identification, mood board creation, and product styling. Her expertise has proven invaluable to homegrown brands, enabling them to authentically connect with their audience.

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