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  • This Simple Skin Care Step Will Make Your Creams Work 10x Better!

    This staple in Korean and Japanese beauty routines makes sure you get your skin care money's worth.
    by Dedet Reyes Panabi .
This Simple Skin Care Step Will Make Your Creams Work 10x Better!
  • Moms are busy — we get that. Skin care’s last on our priority list, and an extra product like “essence” seems like an unnecessary step and expense. But it’s called “essence” for a reason. It’s a staple in Korean and Japanese beauty routines (though its sometimes called toner, beauty water, or lotions) and now has the Western world in the tizzy. They’re like, “OMG, you’ve been keeping this a secret for decades and we now realize we’re doing skin care all wrong.”

    What’s an essence anyway?

    The clearest way to explain that is to go into what your skin care products do.

    Cleansers remove dirt and dead skin cells (like its hardworking cousin, exfoliants or scrubs, which you should only use about twice a week). But they also strip the skin of natural oils and mess up the skin chemistry.

    Toners remove traces of cleanser and restore PH balance. Avoid toners that contain alcohol, which dry out the skin even more.

    Serums are specialists that deliver specific benefits like anti-aging, skin-brightening, or lightening of dark spots. No serum can do everything, so if you’ve got lots of skin issues consider alternating two serums.

    Creams moisturize and go into the deeper skin layers to reverse UVA damage and speed up cell-renewal. 

    Essence rehydrates and preps your skin for your serums and creams. Why is that important? Think of how hard it would be to wash dry dishes with a dry sponge. Your dishwashing liquid will just sit on it, and then slide off the plate. Dry, dehydrated skin works the same way. It can’t absorb the serums and creams, which have bigger molecules that can’t penetrate the skin barrier. Yes, your expensive creams are basically just evaporating into thin air or smearing your makeup.

    So think of essences as the missing link that fixes the problems left by cleansers and toners and then helps your skin absorb serums and creams. Can you skip it? Yeeees, but it limits the effectivity of the rest of your skincare regimen.

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    How do I use an essence?

    Apply on the skin after cleanser and toner. Essences are watery, so you waste a lot if you pour it into a cotton pad. It’s better to put a few drops on your palm and pat into the skin, or pour into a water bottle and spritz it. It actually takes just a few seconds, and a lot of beauty experts like to apply this in thin layers — about two or more times, patting it into the skin until it feels plump and soft.

    Then, apply your serum and cream. Personally, in the mornings when I need to do errands or bring kids to school (i.e., when I’m crazy-busy and half-asleep), I go straight from essence to a tinted sunblock, which I apply with a damp sponge. Any makeup base is easier to apply on slightly damp skin anyway — you get a sheer, more even application, and it doesn’t slide around the way it would on top of a serum or cream. (If you have the time to use day creams, let it absorb while you dress up or do your hair, and then blot off the excess with one ply tissue.)

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    How can I get the most out of essence?

    If you’re still wondering if essence is worth the extra buck, then consider all the other things you can use it for!

    Cooling facial spritz

    Pour some into a small spray bottle and refrigerate. Use it for a mid-day pickup when you’re feeling sleepy or your skin is extra dry.

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    Makeup mist

    Spritz lightly over your face after makeup to set the powders and make it last longer. It also gives a fresh, more natural finish.

    7-skin method

    This K-beauty trend went viral because it led to dewy, glowing skin! Apply seven layers of a watery, non-sticky essence (patting it in lightly after each application). It’s perfect for dry skin or when you need extra hydration because you haven’t had any sleep or your skin’s wonky from hormonal changes or last night’s drinks with the girls.

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    What essences can I try?

    There is a lot out there for every budget, skin type and skin concern! But here’s a few that’s been getting a lot of love in beauty forums and reviews:

    Missha Time Revolution


    It’s considered a more affordable alternative to SK-II Facial Treatment (which costs about three times more). It contains galactomyces, which improves your skin barrier function so you’re less prone to sun damage and wrinkles, and can help brighten the skin.


    Available at BeautyMNL

    Dear Klairs Unscented Toner


    Beauty vloggers say this is one of the best to use for the 7-skin method. Aside from hyaluronic acid for extra hydration, its soothing plant extracts can calm down irritation — really good for sensitive and acne-prone skin!

    Available at BeautyMNL

    CosRX Advanced Snail Mucin Power Essence



    It repairs dull, damaged skin. Use if you’ve got dry patches and the first signs of lines and wrinkles.

    Available at Skincare Curator

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    Essences are not cheap, but a little goes a long way. Different products have different consistencies — some are really watery and good for layering and facial mists; others are closer to a serum and are best patted on.

    Caveat: don’t use essential oils or plant extracts to create your own essences. Not all extracts are cosmetic-grade, or have been formulated to have the molecular consistency to penetrate the skin. Plus, concentrations are really important when it comes to plant extracts: too much of a good thing can cause irritation and dryness.

    Remember, the skin on your face is a lot more sensitive than the skin on the rest of your body. You could end up with a breakout, and spend a lot more on products or dermatologist visits just to fix the problem.

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