Interested in the 10-step Korean beauty routine, but not sure where to begin when it comes to Korean essence? It’s understandable – the market is flooded with them. And if you’re not familiar with K-beauty, you may be wondering what an essence even is, and what it does. How can you know if you need one if you don’t even know what it does?
What is a Korean essence?
Several Asian skincare routines use thin layers of moisturizing products so the skin has time to absorb them without clogging pores, as some denser moisturizers do. An essence is one of these and is usually made up of a combination of power-packed ingredients like snail, collagen, and niacinamide. Not only does it moisturize the skin, but it better prepares it to absorb the following product layers. Like many of the other steps in the routine, it’s popular in South Korea to use botanical ingredients in its skincare products as well.
The texture of an essence can vary depending on the brand. For summer, toners with a water-like consistency are desirable as heavier layers may feel sticky due to humidity. You can use a cotton pad to swipe it on or pat it in with clean hands. A prime example of this kind of essence is the Tia’m Snail & Azulene Essence.
For colder months, many people switch to a denser essence with the consistency of a gel. These take longer to absorb into the skin but provide a deeper dose of moisture, which is essential when the air is cold and dry. Swanicoco’s Honey Dewy Calming Propolis Essence is a perfect example (and also comes in handy to calm irritated skin!).
An essence is typically the third or fourth step in a 10-step routine depending on which steps you are doing on that day. It is used after your toner step, or after your actives (AHAs and BHAs) if you are doing one.
How do I choose a Korean essence?
Just like all other skincare, essences are best chosen based on your skin type. We’d advise that you ignore whatever’s currently popular (hard, we know) and make a point of reading reviews of the products you’re considering. Luckily, the Korean beauty blogger world is prolific, so you shouldn’t have any trouble finding someone who has tried the product you are considering firsthand. Or, if that sounds like a lot of work, just pick from our suggestions below.
For normal/dry skin:
Affectionately nicknamed FTE for short, Missha’s famous essence was one of the biggest stars in Korean beauty when it first debuted. Widely considered to be an affordable dupe of the insanely expensive SK-II Facial Treatment Essence, it’s a terrific workhorse in both summer and fall skincare routines. Missha has two versions: the Intensive Moist, which is for normal to dry skin, and the Intensive, which is aimed at dry/aging skin. Despite it’s watery consistency, it’s a great way to pack in moisture in the earlier steps of a routine.
If the FTE just isn’t providing enough moisture for you, consider an essence with honey (or propolis, as it’s often called in K-beauty circles). Swanicoco’s Honey Dewy Calming Propolis Essence has a richer consistency and is ideal to use after a day in the sun thanks to its calming properties. It also contains chamomile flower water, which feels positively dreamy as you pat this product in.
For oily skin:
If you’re used to fighting acne, Cremorlab’s Essence Tonic is a good pick for you. Niacinamide will brighten overall skin tone while rosewater soothes troubled areas. The product also contains glycerin and adenosine for hydrating and refining the skin’s texture. Cremorlab also uses a thermal water unique to its products that’s rich in rare minerals. With a mild scent and a watery texture, daily use of this should keep those angry pimples at bay.
If you believe in the power of snail as a skincare product, then boy, are you going to love this one. It’s made up of a whopping 87% snail secretion filtrate, so you’re simply dousing your face in all it’s slimy goodness. The Azulene is an organic compound with soothing properties, so its excellent for irritated skin.
For sensitive skin:
Mizon is a well-known name in Korean beauty not only because of its quality products, but also because of the extensive research it pours into making them. The Water Volume EX First Essence is a perfect example as it uses Mizon’s Patented Hydra ToX technology. This works to not only hydrate skin, but also stimulate it to produce more natural hydration on its own. In addition, it also refines skin texture and brightens tone.
If your skin is sensitive, soothing elements are always welcome. This Nature Republic essence is packed with aloe vera, leaving the skin cool and calm. It also contains polysaccharides, which encourage skin cell regeneration, and antioxidant polyphenol, which calms the skin after sun exposure. This is also excellent for those in search of a vegan product, as it’s free of parabens, talc, mineral oils, artificial dyes, and animal ingredients.
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