Why You Should Include An Essence In Your Skin Care Routine

Sable Yong
Getty/Ruslan Dashinsky

Getty/Ruslan Dashinsky

If 2014 was the year of the no-makeup look, 2015 is looking to serve up the tools and resources you need to achieve the clear and glowing skin of your runway fantasies. Now, how to get it? It’s not as easy as cutting one thing out of your diet (though a healthy diet certainly helps). One simple beauty product you can add to your skin care routine however can do wonders for your complexion. That item would be an essence. What is an essence exactly and what does it do? Think of it like a toner that instead of removing the impurities your cleanser may leave behind, it imparts a ton of nutrients, vitamins, antioxidants and minerals into your skin to help it better absorb your serum and moisturizer. This is definitely a “more is more” concept.

Essences can be found in lots of Korean beauty skin care routines, notorious for their 10-12 step regimen. Hey, if you want great skin, you’ve got to commit. Once you see the results though, you’ll be glad you bothered. Those with sensitive skin can rejoice, having generally shun most toners for being too harshly drying or astringent. The great thing about essences is that they are largely compatible for every skin type, whether you’re targeting rough texture, dryness, dullness, or are prone to oily skin.

What are they? Essences’ function lies somewhere between a serum and a face cream, having a clear liquid texture. Don’t be deceived by the watery appearance –essences are packed with nutrients and moisture for your skin to slurp up. Depending on the formula, essences have highly concentrated antioxidants, vitamins, organic acids, and sometimes fermented probiotics, all for the purpose of enhancing your skin from the inside out.

MORE: The Truth About Toner

How Do They Work? Since Essences are in liquid form, nutrients can absorb more rapidly into your skin without the impediment of “texturizing” filler ingredients to give it that lotion-y feeling that stays on your face (and ultimately acts as a barrier for the active ingredients to get into your skin). Lots of essences contain organic acids that very gently exfoliate your skin, promoting cell renewal for brightening and evening skin tone. SK II’s Facial Treatment Essence has become a cult skincare product because of such results. It helps your skin create hyaluronic acid on its own so your skin is basically moisturizing itself–a well-oiled machine, so to speak. It contains Pitera, a vitamin/antioxidant-rich strain of yeast yielded from the fermentation process of sake brewing, that is a serious heavy-hitter in the skin-improvement department. Benton’s Snail Bee High Content Essence contains snail secretion filtrate (aka snail mucin) and melittin, a peptide found in bee venom that tricks your body into thinking you’ve been stung, so it produces more collagen. Before you get grossed out by snail mucin, this stuff is trending in skin care for a reason. It contains antioxidants, proteins, elastin, glycolic acids, and it has antimicrobial properties– all good things for fading acne scars and healing wounds (ahem, perhaps from picking at your skin?). After all, snails drag their soft bellies around all day on the hard ground, so they need to constantly heal themselves.

Who Are They For? Pretty much anyone. You may not be focusing on anti-aging just yet but if you haven’t heard enough about the benefits of drinking water for clear healthy skin, think of essences as a direct source of hydration. Healthy skin has a cell renewal rate of about 28 days. Essences aid in that turnover and even help to speed it up, while delivering antioxidants, vitamins, organic acids and moisturizing peptides. Shiseido’s Eudermine Revitalizing Essence is a “softening lotion” (lots of Asian skin care brands refer to essences as softeners or lotion. Confusing, we know!) and all-around elixir that balances the moisture levels in your skin despite any climate. Great for all year-round use. If you’re in the market for something moisturizing, brightening and toning, Missha’s Time Revolution First Treatment Essence is the wunderkind of essences that lies in the slightly more affordable range. It contains 80% fermented yeast extract, its active ingredient in giving you a glowy complexion.

MORE: Why You Should Try a Skin Cleansing Balm

How Do You Use them? Since they are a liquid, you’ll be tempted to sweep it over your face with a cotton ball like a toner, but doing so would waste more product than your skin can benefit from (and lots of these are not what you’d call cheap, so you definitely don’t want to throw any down the drain). Instead of smearing it around on your face, you pour a little splash onto your hands and delicately pat/press it into your cheeks, forehead and chin. It’s a little bit like the spa version of that Home Alone scene without the screaming. Pressing it into your skin allows your skin to absorb it quickly and then you follow with a serum and/or moisturizer, sealing in the goodness. The patting/pressing motion on your skin promotes circulation in your face so don’t be surprised if you emerge from the bathroom rosy-cheeked and glowing sooner rather than later.

MORE: The Best Moisturizing Face Sprays for Hydrated Skin