If your aim each day is to drench your skin with hydration, there is a product that can help you out. No longer solely known to the “skintelligent” (those who know their way around a multi-step skincare routine), the essence is fast becoming a formula that many of us rely on for a healthy, luminous complexion. However, it’s frequently misunderstood. Hailing from Korea, as many useful skin trends do, the liquid is often confused with a toner, but is actually an entirely separate product designed to be used after cleansing and toning, and before serum.
“An essence is predominantly used to assist all the other products in your routine,” says Julia Marinkovich, UK representative for the Korean brand COSRX, who describes them as a skincare staple. “They are multi-functional miracle workers that hydrate and rebalance the skin, housing many active ingredients that work to penetrate the skin much deeper, further enhancing subsequent skincare products and boosting the effectiveness of your whole beauty regime.” Marcia Kilgore of Beauty Pie is a fan too: she told Vogue recently that an essence is “the perfect power-magnet prep to heighten the performance of whatever you apply next”, highlighting its ability to nourish, smooth and pH balance the skin, softening the epidermal layers to allow faster penetration of actives – Beauty Pie’s Japanfusion Hydra Prep Essence Lotion is an unsung hero in the brand’s offering.
While essences are nothing new and have long been available via more niche brands, over the past year the beauty mainstream has cottoned on to their efficacy, thrusting them into the spotlight and making them more accessible to consumers. Take Elizabeth Arden’s Ceramide Micro Capsule Skin Replenishing Essence, which is packed with antioxidants to protect skin from external aggressors, and offers minerals to boost skin’s hydration levels, as well as lipids to bolster the skin barrier. It’s a multitasking product that really does work, particularly for older skins: “Ceramide levels drop precipitously as we age, and this formula contains skin identical ceramides that support the skin barrier and help improve texture,” says Dr Dendy Engelman, the brand’s consulting dermatologist.
La Mer is another well known brand that has recently added a Treatment Lotion to its much-loved skincare line. Utilising the miracle broth technology found in all its products, combined with softening waters, a revitalising ferment and a number of sea minerals, it’s designed to deeply hydrate the skin. Then there is Clarins’ barrier-bolstering Nutri-Lumière Renewing Treatment Essence, and Caudalie’s brightening and smoothing Vinoperfect Concentrated Brightening Essence.
Meanwhile, when Vintner’s Daughter – a brand that shot to fame by offering a single product – introduced a second, founder April Gargulio didn’t unveil a cleanser or a moisturiser, but an essence. “The Active Treatment Essence was created to be the perfect hydrating complement to [the original product] Active Botanical Serum’s multi-correctional moisture,” Gargulio tells Vogue. “In one perfectly calibrated formula Active Treatment Essence delivers many products in one – deep hydration, collagen-building vitamin C, two sizes of plumping hyaluronic acid, brightening plant stem cells, revitalising microalgae and B vitamins, pre and probiotics, 60 plus nourishing nutrients and micro-exfoliators for cellular regeneration.” An exhaustive list of skincare benefits, and yet more reasons to consider incorporating one of these multi-taskers into your routine.
Other notable essences to try are Skin Regimen’s Microalgae Essence, a near all-natural product which helps recharge and hydrate the skin thanks to energising unicellular microalgae; COSRX’s Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence, which is loved by Emily Ratajkowski and, yes, really does contain snail secretion filtrate to repair damaged skin; and SKII’s Facial Treatment Essence, which is forever sold out, and for good reason. It’s achieved cult status thanks to its ability to lift, firm, hydrate, smooth, and generally make skin glowy as can be.
Unlike a toner or micellar water, your essence should be applied like a serum: “Instead of using a cotton wool pad, apply four to five pumps of essence into the palms of your hands and then press the product into your skin, avoiding dragging it,” says Marinkovich. Use it morning and night, post-toner and pre-serum, and enjoy. For the sake of an additional 20 seconds, it’s a no brainer – isn’t it?