Korean skincare can be an exciting, but also an intimidating world. Nine-step routines, ampoules, and sleeping masks—where do you begin?!
Well, here, with one specific product that is incredible for all skin types: essence.
An essence is at the heart of every Korean skincare routine. The clear liquid is similar in texture and viscosity to toners, but with one huge difference: Essences are solely meant for maximum hydration. And proper hydration is what gives that glowing-from-within look we’ve all been vying for. Beyond just hydration, essences are amazing for nourishing skin with minerals and antioxidants, leaving you positively radiating.
In a full Korean regime, you’d use an essence after a toner. So feel free to sub it in there morning and night. It’s perfect after a toner has balanced the skin. Don’t use a toner? Use your essence right after washing then, before moisturizing.
You’ll pour it into your palms, rub your hands together, then pat it onto your face until absorbed (should take just a few seconds). The essence will feel watery yet slightly viscous, absorb quickly, and will make skin feel supple and soft immediately after application. Essence can also help moisturizers absorb and penetrate better, as well, so you’re getting the most out of your products.
Also, all essences are not equal—there are simplified formulas that are really meant to deeply penetrate the skin, and then there are specialized versions that do a few added bonuses. Here, we narrowed down a few of our very favorites, so you can dip your toe into the K-Beauty pool.
The Up-and-Coming Favorite
May Coop Raw Sauce, $43
This formula’s base (93 percent of it!) is maple tree sap, which has molecules much smaller than our pores, meaning it’s absorbed deeply into our skin. Great! But then they added hyaluronic acid, olive, grape, rice, and soybean extracts to superboost the formula so it hydrates, soothes, and nourishes on the next level. Expect skin to be hydrated, but also dewy and glowing.
Hanskin Hyaluron Skin Essence, $46
This formula is special because it contains high levels of hyaluronic acid, which can hold 1,000 times more moisture in your skin than water, and sodium hyaluronate, which molecularly penetrates deeper into skin. So your skin will be majorly plumped with hydration, and v dewy. It’s perfect for those wanting to test the essence water, especially because of its simple, non-irritating formula (partly because of it’s fragrance-free).
The One That Won’t Let You Age
The Lotus Essence with Lotus Leaf, $64
What makes this one stand out is the white lotus leaf flower. Why do you want something titled ‘white lotus leaf extract’ in your essence? Because the base of this product is actually that rich extract, not water. And what makes that great is the extract is known for its uniquely high amount of antioxidants, which neutralize free radicals that damage and age our cells. It also is formulated to sink quickly and efficiently into skin, rather than just sitting on the surface.
Also, it’s one of a kind—literally. The Lotus is the only brand in the entire world that has the rights to use the potent white lotus flower.
The Prom Queen
SK-II Facial Treatment Essence, $99
Perhaps the most beloved essence in all of skincare, the SK-II has the cultest of cult status. For good reason: It’s perfect beyond comparison. The formula has remained unchanged for more than 35 years. It is made of more than 90 percent Pitera. Pitera is from strictly controlled Japanese sake, extracted during the fermentation process, and crazy rich in vitamins, amino acids, and minerals. What makes Pitera, and SK-II, so extraordinary, is its close resemblance to the skin’s natural moisturizing factors, leaving skin balanced, soft, and incredibly radiant.
Keep on skincare’ing:
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