What Actually Is An Essence – And Why Does Your Skin Need One?

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?

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The 10 Best Micellar Waters, According to Thousands of Reviews

Originally a French skincare staple, micellar water is a multitasking product loved for its ability to cleanse skin and remove makeup, all in one step. It’s a great alternative to makeup wipes and face washes, especially for busy people, because it’s gentle yet effective. 

As dermatologist Dr. Fayne Frey previously told InStyle, micellar water works by using micelles (a.k.a. tiny molecules that remove dirt, makeup, and other impurities) to cleanse your skin, and it doesn’t contain soap or other ingredients that might cause irritation. And it’s super easy to use, so there’s no reason to skip it at night. All you have to do is soak a cotton pad with micellar water and gently wipe your face to remove the day’s grime—no rinsing required.

These are the 10 best micellar waters to buy in 2020:

Best Overall: Bioderma Sensibio H2O Micellar Water 

With an average 4.6-star rating across over 6,800 reviews, Bioderma’s micellar water is the most popular one on Amazon. It’s great for all skin types, and it’s even gentle enough for sensitive skin. Plenty of customers call it their “holy grail” skincare product because of how well it works. “I fell in love the first time I used it,” wrote one shopper. “Removes my face makeup easily and gently and does not irritate my very sensitive skin. It also does not leave a greasy residue.” It’s available in a few different bottle sizes (even a small one for travel!), and you can also opt for a bottle with a pump instead of the traditional cap. 

Best Value: Garnier SkinActive Micellar Cleansing Water

At just $7 for a generously sized bottle, this micellar water from Garnier will get you the most bang for your buck. It works super well on different skin types, and thousands of Amazon shoppers agree. Reviewers say they rely on this affordable option to take off their makeup at the end of each day, and there’s even a version designed for waterproof makeup. “After I washed my face with this cleanser, I actually felt like I could ‘feel’ my face,” one person wrote. “Like this entire time there has been a small layer of yuck keeping me from that fresh, clean feeling.” 

Best for Waterproof Makeup: L’Oreal Paris Micellar Cleansing Water

If you’re looking for a micellar water to remove heavy or waterproof makeup, then consider this option from L’Oreal. Even though it’s tough enough to remove the most stubborn long-wear makeup, it’s still dermatologist- and ophthalmologist-tested for safety. One customer raved about how well it removed their “full glam” makeup look: “The thing that literally made me say ‘wow’ out loud was my lipstick removal,” they wrote. “I have been wearing the same stuff for years and it stays all day/night with zero transfer, but it can be a pain to get every last trace of it removed. In just three swipes, my lipstick was gone! And no heavy rubbing or scrubbing!”

Best Drugstore Option: Simple Micellar Cleansing Water

This micellar water from drugstore brand Simple is another budget-friendly option, especially for anyone trying micellar water for the first time, since it comes in a small 6.7-ounce bottle. Shoppers especially love that the formula uses simple ingredients (including vitamins B3 and C) to remove impurities from the skin without causing irritation. “It’s gentle on the eyes and I don’t feel like I need to wash my face after removing my makeup,” said one customer.

Best High-End Option: Lancôme Eau Fraîche Douceur Micellar Cleansing Water

Based on all of the Sephora shoppers who’ve given it five-star reviews, this micellar water from Lancôme is worth the splurge. Not only do customers say it removes their makeup well, but they love how it makes their skin feel after applying it. “This is one of my most favorite ‘buy it again’ products,” wrote one person. “It’s incredibly gentle, smells delicately amazing, and is such a huge time saver because it works on eye makeup too.” 

Best for Oily Skin: La Roche-Posay Effaclar Micellar Cleansing Water

Specially formulated for people with oily skin, La Roche-Posay’s micellar water won’t leave your face looking greasy after each application. It uses the brand’s signature Thermal Spring Water, an antioxidant-rich solution that soothes skin while removing dirt and makeup. Another notable ingredient is zinc, which can help fight oil and acne without clogging your pores. “I’m absolutely horrible about washing my face before I go to bed, so I’m always looking for products that are quick and easy,” said one customer. “This got off all my makeup and did not sting my eyes or leave my skin feeling irritated, as most toners do. And even though I didn’t rinse it off, my skin actually felt clean.”

Best for Sensitive Skin: Caudalie Micellar Cleansing Water

Although micellar waters are generally safe for sensitive skin, Caudalie’s version contains two calming ingredients that make it stand out from the rest: organic chamomile and grape water. The chamomile extract moisturizes sensitive skin, while the organic grape water (found in many of the brand’s best-selling products) reduces redness and soothes skin. And since the rest of this micellar water’s ingredients are considered clean and safe, it’s even earned the “Clean at Sephora” seal. “[It] feels very gentle and refreshing and will last much longer than those 25 packs of harsh makeup remover wipes,” wrote one customer. “I am extremely acne-prone and have not noticed a problem there either.”

Best for Dry Skin: Garnier SkinActive All-in-1 Hydrating Micellar Cleansing Water 

If over-washing your dry skin leaves your face feeling tight or irritated, using a hydrating micellar water can help prevent that. This one from Garnier is similar to the one featured above, except it uses rose water and glycerin to moisturize skin. Shoppers say it leaves their face “fresh and clean.” One person wrote: “I have very dry, acne-prone skin and this cleanses without being too harsh or drying…I use this with an exfoliating cotton pad and it works wonders for my skin.”     

Best Anti-Aging Option: IT Cosmetics Miracle Water Micellar Cleanser

This powerful option from IT Cosmetics is packed with skincare ingredients that make it an anti-aging treatment and makeup remover all in one. The multitasking micellar water contains collagen and peptides, which will smooth and firm your skin while reducing the appearance of wrinkles. “It leaves my skin soft with a noticeable glow and doesn’t dry out or aggravate my sensitive skin,” wrote one customer. “I’ve found that it really helps keep my skin balanced even in the dry Canadian winter.”  

Best Wipes: Burt’s Bees Micellar Cleansing Towelettes

Even though they’re not in liquid form like the others on this list, these Burt’s Bees wipes use micellar water to cleanse your skin without the need for cotton pads. Each resealable pack comes with 30 wipes so you can feel fresh and clean, even while on the go. In addition to the micellar technology that removes makeup and impurities, they also contain rose water, which is a calming, anti-inflammatory ingredient that shoppers say makes the wipes smell amazing. “Loved how they got off all my makeup and made my skin feel so refreshed after,” one person wrote. 

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