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Spruce up your skincare routine with essences

These products are popular in K-beauty—and they may offer some great benefits.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jul 6, 2023 • 8 min read
Medically reviewed by Donna McIntyre, NP-BC
Essence Bottle
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jul 6, 2023 • 8 min read
Medically reviewed by Donna McIntyre, NP-BC
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

If you’ve ever heard of the 10-step skincare routine, you might have encountered a type of product called an essence. These are particularly popular in Korean skincare—but what exactly do they do?

There are many types of essences with varying formulas, and the exact skin benefits that you may gain from this water-based skin enhancer depend on their ingredients. Here, our experts will break down what essences are and how you may use them to help reach your skin goals.

What are essences?

Essences are a relatively new skincare product category that has gained popularity in recent years. These water-based products are lightweight and contain high concentrations of active ingredients, such as antioxidants and hyaluronic acid

Their main purpose is to help hydrate your skin, improve the absorption of your other skincare products, and may be used to target specific skin concerns, such as acne, aging, or dry skin. 

The benefits of essences in skincare

The specific benefits of using an essence vary depending on its ingredients, but typically, these products offer a diverse range of potential advantages, which are as follows. 

Boosts skin hydration

Essences can help enhance skin hydration. In a 12-week study, researchers examined the impact of an essence and serum regimen on skin health. Participants applied the products twice daily and saw improvements in skin hydration, firmness, and elasticity.¹ 

This study highlights the effectiveness of using essences as part of a daily skincare routine to provide a potent dose of nourishing ingredients, leading to improved overall skin appearance.

Improved absorption of other skincare products

Essences can also help improve your skin's absorption. One study found that skin with a higher water content can absorb skincare products more quickly and evenly.² Since essences hydrate your skin, they may help your skin to be better able to absorb other skincare products. 

Common ingredients in essences and their benefits

Our expert team has outlined the common ingredients found in these lightweight products, and how they can benefit your skin, which are as follows. 

Vitamin C for brightening and evening out of skin tone

Essences often contain botanical extracts and ingredients like vitamin C. Vitamin C is known to inhibit melanin synthesis, which helps fade dark spots (hyperpigmentation).³ Using essences with vitamin C can brighten your skin and give you a lovely glow.

Glycerin and hyaluronic acid to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles

Many essences also contain glycerin and hyaluronic acid. Research shows that using glycerin on your skin can keep it hydrated. Hyaluronic acid is also known for its ability to hydrate skin and improve its elasticity.⁴

Aloe vera to soothe and calm sensitive skin

Aloe vera is another ingredient that is often found in essences. Research shows aloe vera is very soothing and has anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and wound-healing properties.⁵ So if you have sensitive skin, you may want to consider essences that contain aloe vera.

How can I use essence in my daily skincare routine? 

When selecting an essence for your skin, it's important to first consider your skin type and skin goals. If you have dry skin, consider an essence with hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid or glycerin. If you have sensitive skin, look for an essence with calming ingredients like aloe vera. By carefully selecting an essence that’s tailored to your skin type and goals, you can achieve the best possible results for your skin.

How to use essences, step by step

simple three-step skincare routine is a great way to keep your skin in the best shape, but you can easily incorporate an essence into those steps if you choose:

First, ensure that your face is clean by using a gentle cleanser to remove dirt, oil, and other impurities. 

Second, dispense the essence onto your palms or a cotton pad and gently pat the essence onto your skin, allowing it to fully absorb before applying any other skincare products. 

Lastly, follow up with your usual skincare routine, applying treatments and moisturizer

It’s usually a good idea to use your essence twice a day, in the morning and at night. When used correctly, it can help provide essential hydration and nourishment to your skin so you achieve a radiant, glowing complexion.

3 best-selling essence products you might want to try

There are many great essences out there. Here are three popular choices to consider:

SK-II Facial Treatment Essence: 

The SK-II Facial Treatment Essence is a powerful, lightweight essence that can help replenish your skin's moisture barrier. With regular use, this essence may help to hydrate and nourish the skin, leaving it looking radiant, smooth, and glowing.

Missha Time Revolution The First Treatment Essence:

Missha's Time Revolution First Essence is a highly concentrated essence that helps to hydrate, brighten, and improve skin texture. To help nourish the skin, it contains fermented yeast extract, which is rich in vitamins, amino acids, and minerals. With regular use, this essence may help to achieve a more radiant and youthful complexion.

Cosrx Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence

Cosrx's Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence is a lightweight essence that contains 96% snail secretion filtrate to deeply hydrate and nourish the skin. It helps to improve skin texture, fade dark spots, and promote a smoother, more youthful complexion—suitable for all skin types.

Are you supposed to layer essences on your skin? 

Generally, layering your skincare products can be beneficial.⁶ Layering essences on your skin can also be beneficial since their lightweight and watery consistency makes them suitable for layering and allows for a more gradual absorption into your skin. 

Once the first layer of essence is absorbed, you can repeat the process with another layer if desired. It's important to note that the number of layers applied will depend on your individual preferences, skin type, and the specific essence being used. It's recommended to start with a single layer and adjust according to your skin's needs and tolerance.

Remember to follow up with serums, moisturizers, and other skincare products in your routine to seal in the benefits of the essences and provide further hydration and nourishment to your skin.

Perform a patch test before adding in an essence if you have any concerns for a potential adverse reaction. And if you have any questions or concerns, always consult with a dermatology provider.

Things to avoid when using essence in skincare 

To ensure optimal results when using essence in your skincare routine, it’s important to avoid certain practices. First, refrain from applying an excessive amount of essence at once as it may cause product buildup or skin irritation.

It’s also important to avoid using essence on broken or irritated skin, as this can further exacerbate inflammation. When applying essence, avoid the delicate eye area, as this may cause stinging or irritation. 

Finally, be cautious when selecting an essence with high levels of alcohol, as this can be drying to your skin.⁷ 

Find a skincare routine with Curology 

Are you looking for a personalized prescription formula for your specific skin concerns? Curology is a dermatologist-founded online service that offers a range of dermatologist-designed skincare products. From cleansers and moisturizers to targeted treatments, each product is formulated with clinically proven ingredients to deliver visible results. 

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

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Curology’s licensed dermatology providers are also available to answer any of your skincare questions and help you to find the most effective treatments for your skin. Sign up for a 30-day trial* today! 


Is essence necessary for skin care?

Essences have been shown to provide significant benefits to the skin, including enhanced hydration and improved absorption of other skincare products. However, while essences can be a valuable addition to your skincare routine, it’s important to prioritize the use of other skincare products like moisturizers and sunscreens for optimal skin health and protection.

What is the difference between essence and serum?

Essences are typically lightweight and less concentrated than serums, providing an additional layer of hydration after toner and before the serum is applied. This can help to further enhance your skin's moisture levels.

Is essence the same as a toner?

Toners are typically used after cleansing to eliminate any lingering dirt or makeup. On the other hand, essence is applied after toner to provide an additional layer of hydration and deliver potent active ingredients to the skin. 

Unlike toners, essences typically have a thicker consistency that allows for deeper absorption into the skin. By incorporating both toner and essence into your skincare routine, you can help to create a comprehensive and effective regimen that provides optimal hydration and nourishment for a healthy, radiant complexion—but neither are absolutely necessary for a solid skincare routine!

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don’t have to:

  1. Sadowski, G. and Sadowski, J. Safety and Efficacy of a Novel Antiaging Skin Care Regimen Containing Neutraceuticals and Growth Factors on the Facial Skin of Women: A 12-Week Open-label Study. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. (June 2020).

  2. Arimoto, H., et al. Analysis of absorption and spreading of moisturizer on the microscopic region of the skin surface with near-infrared imaging. Skin Res Technol. (November 2016).

  3. Sanadi, R.M. and Deshmukh, R.S. The effect of Vitamin C on melanin pigmentation - A systematic review. J Oral Maxillofac Pathol. (May-August 2020).

  4. Jegasothy, S.M., et al. Efficacy of a New Topical Nano-hyaluronic Acid in Humans. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. (March 2014).

  5. Sánchez, M., et al. Pharmacological Update Properties of Aloe Vera and its Major Active Constituents. Molecules. (2020, March 13).

  6. Messaraa, C., et al. Clinical evidences of benefits from an advanced skin care routine in comparison with a simple routine. J Cosmet Dermatol. (August 2020).

  7. Cartner, T., et al. Effect of different alcohols on stratum corneum kallikrein 5 and phospholipase A2 together with epidermal keratinocytes and skin irritation. International Journal of Cosmetic Science. (2016, August 31).

Donna McIntyre is a board-certified nurse practitioner at Curology. She obtained her Master of Science in Nursing at MGH Institute of Health Professions in Boston, MA.

*Cancel anytime. Subject to consultation. Results may vary.

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Our policy on product links:Empowering you with knowledge is our top priority. Our reviews of other brands’ products in this post are not paid endorsements—but they do meet our medically fact-checked standards for ingredients (at the time of publication).
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Donna McIntyre, NP-BC

Donna McIntyre, NP-BC

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