Essences Are The Latest Skincare Trend Giving Ultra Hydration - How To Fit Them Into Your Routine

Creams, oils, lotions, serums, skin milk ... the world of hydrating product options seems to be ever-expanding. One option that tends to be discussed a bit less frequently than the others is essences. An essence is an essential step in Korean skincare routines but hasn't fully broken out onto the mainstream skincare scene. If you like to keep it simple with a basic cleanse, tone, and moisturize routine, you might be wondering what a skin essence even is.


Essences are basically lightweight water-based serums. Due to their thin nature and lack of heavy oils and emollients, they are quickly absorbed deep into the skin upon application. This results in the product's active ingredients passing through the skin barrier without damaging or weakening it. If you're considering adding another step to your skincare routine but you're afraid of complicated or high-maintenance products, there's a good chance that an essence is exactly what you need in your life. 

Essence vs. moisturizer

An essence is an excellent option for giving your skin a satisfying shot of hydration. However, in order to keep that hydration — along with any active ingredients for firming, brightening, or anti-aging — from being lost throughout the day, you'll need to seal your essence in with a moisturizer. This is because hydrating and moisturizing are actually not synonymous. Moisturizers in cream or lotion form typically contain emollients and heavy oils. These ingredients can soften the surface of your skin, but they are too heavy to be truly absorbed.


The best way to keep your skin hydrated is to combine a lightweight hydrating product with a heavier moisturizer. For example, you could apply an essence or a serum (or both) and then allow the product(s) to absorb before applying a moisturizing lotion. The moisturizer will lubricate the skin's surface and enhance its barrier to help hold in the hydration your lighter products have provided. 

Essence vs. skin milk

Essences and skin milk are both defined as lightweight water-based serums. If you're familiar with skin milk, you might be wondering what the difference is — the truth is that the two products are indeed very similar. The main differences lie in the appearance of the products and their intended purposes. Nearly all skin milk products exist with the goal of hydration, sometimes in combination with gentle exfoliation via active ingredients like lactic acid. They also tend to look white, thin, and slightly creamy, just like actual milk.


Products considered essences, on the other hand, are typically clear and thin in appearance and look very similar to plain water. However, the purpose of an essence can vary more than that of skin milk. While skin milk aims to hydrate and perhaps exfoliate, an essence may contain ingredients — often botanical in nature — for additional toning, firming, brightening, or anti-aging properties. This means you'll need to pay more attention when selecting an essence to ensure that you choose one that contains active ingredients relevant to your skin. 

Essence vs. serum

An essence and a serum are two very similar products. Both are thinner than a lotion or an oil, but an essence is even thinner than a serum. There are differences when it comes to the intended purpose of essences and serums as well. While an essence may contain active ingredients that go beyond the purpose of hydration, those ingredients will typically be more natural versions of the ones you'll find in serums.


If you're looking for anti-aging products, for instance, you may find an essence that contains niacinamide — also known as vitamin B3 — for softening fine lines. In an anti-aging serum, in comparison, you're more likely to find heavy-hitting ingredients like retinol at higher concentrations. Luckily, the two can work together — a serum that is heavier than the essence you've chosen can help your skin retain and absorb more of the essence's ingredients if you apply it after the essence. 

How to add an essence to your skincare routine

Adding an essence to your skincare routine is quite simple. Since an essence is the thinnest product in any routine, it should be the first product you apply after cleansing and toning your skin. There is one exception: if you have selected an essence that doubles as a toner, then you should skip toning and apply your essence right after cleansing. Once your essence has been completely absorbed into your skin, move onto your next thinnest product.


Typically, your second-thinnest product will be a serum, if you choose to use one. If you use multiple serums, apply them in the order of thinnest to thickest, allowing each to absorb individually. Then, seal them all in by applying a moisturizer. As your last step, apply a mineral sunscreen to protect your skin from damaging ultraviolet rays. If you perform a second routine at night, use the same method of applying products from thinnest to thickest for the most plump, hydrated skin.