We’ll level with you: Although we’ve practically committed our lives to all things beauty (OK, not really, but bear with us), sometimes products appear on our desks that truly confuse the shit out of us. As much as we pride ourselves on knowing the A-Zs of makeup, hair, and skin care, the industry is overflowing with so many new and exciting products that we can hardly keep up.
So, if 2016’s obsession with the uber-cool, Korean-skin care regimen left you scratching your head wondering what the hell an essence is, you weren’t alone, folks—which is why we chatted with a true K-beauty expert to find out everything you need to know. “Essences are the heart of Korean skin-care routines,” explains Charlotte Cho, the co-founder of K-beauty retailer Soko Glam. “They’re highly concentrated formulas that specifically target wrinkles, fine lines, and dull and uneven skin tones.”
Not to be confused with serums, which are thicker in consistency and texture, essences are lightweight, watery, fast-acting, and quick-absorbing. “Essences are meant to hydrate and brighten the skin, which means most work to optimize your skin’s natural cell turnover rate and contain skin brightening (not bleaching) ingredients,” says Cho.
And because they’re infused with lightweight, water-based formulas, essences are suitable for literally any skin type—no need to worry about clogged pores or irritation. “Essences are even highly recommended for dry, uneven skin types, because their concentrated ingredients work to intensely moisturize,” says Cho.
“Essences are the heart of Korean skin-care routines.”
As far as fitting an essence into your skin-care routine goes, Cho notes they should be applied directly after cleansing and toning the skin. “Don’t rub or massage it into your skin. The key is to lightly pat the essence to minimize friction and help aid absorption,” she suggests. To follow a true K-beauty routine, essences are followed by a serum, and then a moisturizer (which locks in your essence’s hydration).
In short: Essences are a quick, easy, and safe way to dramatically up your skin-care game. “If you use an essence regularly, you’ll notice that your skin is smoother and brighter,” Cho says.
And since we’ve officially given you zero reason to miss out on the benefits of essences, we selected seven of our favorite products, including a zit-fighting, snail-mucin formula. Check out our picks below and then grab the essence that sounds right for you and your skin type.