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?

VOGUE article

Does A Face Oil Really Work?

Well … oil-based cleansers are good to remove makeup, rosehip oil is used on the face and neck to give better slip for massage tools, or simply applied to the a very dehydrated face to give a more hydrated appearance (note this statement).

However, and it can vary from person to person, chemical formulation and dermatologist statements regarding facial oils prove that this step is not as crucial and beneficial to the skin as people have been led to believe via marketing.

Whether you have oily or dry skin, topical oils alone cannot give you a level of moisture that’s required for healthy skin. If you apply it on oily skin – you’re creating even more problems right there, or if you apply it on dry skin – it’ll only give the appearance of hydration, not the actual skincare benefits you’re looking for.

What does the oil do, then?

“Most oils that are applied to the skin end up forming more of a protective barrier on its surface, rather than actually penetrating the skin,” Dr. Hollmig states. So, although oils are moisturizing and may indirectly increase the amount of hydration in the skin, they are not technically hydrating (SELF Magazine).

The crucial factor here is the size of the fatty acid molecules that make up the oil. If they’re too big to get through the skin barrier, they sit on top and act as occlusives. If they’re small enough to get through, they may be able to penetrate to deeper layers and strengthen the stratum corneum. For instance, research suggests that jojoba oil and argan oil can actually help repair the skin barrier.

Plus, some oils come with other benefits, such as antioxidants or anti-inflammatory properties, that might make them beneficial for certain skin concerns. Whether or not an oil is the best choice for that issue is another question (TODAY).

Save oil for the final step of your skin-care routine. If you apply an oil first, any moisturizer that follows won’t be able to fully penetrate the oil barrier; it’s like applying lotion over a wet suit. Remember, oils are only the gatekeepers, not producers, of hydration, so load up on humectants first, and then pile on the oil afterward to keep moisture from escaping (The Cut).

Oils CAN clog your pores! But not all oils. Mineral oil is a chronic offender, as well as olive oil, oil du jour, and coconut, easily clog pores, too. So which oils don’t cause breakouts? The answer depends on you. Though there are oils that are less likely to irritate, like marula and argan, your unique genetic skin makeup will determine your oil tolerance. It’s annoying to admit, but trial and error is your best bet at determining what will work for you.

If you want to incorporate using a facial oil, consider your skin type and needs, conduct sufficient research, seek advice from a dermatologist and definitely do a test-run to see if your skin can handle a specific formulation of your chosen oil.

References
Video referenced
SELF article
TODAY article
PaulasChoice article
The Cut article