One of the least understood beauty trends from Asia is the use of facial essences. The product’s very name causes us to screw up our faces and scratch our heads, wondering what exactly an essence is.
According to Yoon-Soo Cindy Bae, an associate at the Laser & Skin Surgery Center of New York, essences are liquid beauty products used to hydrate your skin after you’ve cleansed and toned, and they help your skin absorb subsequent products you’ll be applying, like serums and moisturizers. They typically contain active ingredients like antioxidants, vitamins and herbal extracts.
Though essences are starting to become more popular in the United States, they’re commonly used in beauty routines throughout Asia. Vice President of Skin Biology and Bioactives at Estee Lauder Nadine Pernodet told Into The Gloss, “Asian women tend to have a thinner moisture barrier than Caucasian women and are therefore more prone to moisture loss. Essence helps create a stronger, more resistant skin foundation for longterm improvement to the look of skin.”
No matter your ethnicity or skin type, after the age of 15 your lipids (the layers of skin that hold moisture) start to get a bit lower as you age, according to Ellen Marmur, a consulting dermatologist for Dove. “Thinking about how your environment is making your skin feel, adjusting your routine and replenishing that protective barrier of moisture is the way to go,” she says.
Often confused with serums and toners, Bae defines the differences very clearly. She says, “Traditional ‘American’ toners help restore pH balance and remove any excess oil, makeup and debris after cleansing (when applied with cotton balls). Traditional ‘Korean’ toners aid with hydration and prep the skin for layering additional products like an essence (that’s applied with the hands). Serums are thicker and tend to be more concentrated with ingredients that will aid in skin brightening, anti-aging or both.”
An easy way Sarah Lee and Christine Chang, the co-founders of Korean beauty e-tailer Glow Recipe, are able to spot a true essence versus a treatment toner is by the packaging, texture and size. “Essences are fluid, but still thick enough to require being in a pump or dropper bottle,” says Chang. “A toner will almost always be over 75ml and close to a liquid, enough to require a bottle with a narrow opening.”
The duo likes to refer to essences as the “modern version” of a serum because they have lightweight and often watery textures that absorb in a flash.
Products should provide clear instructions on the packaging label for how to apply an essence, and those details may vary. Bae likes to gently pat on the product, but always advocates being gentle with your skin.
However, just because an essence is formulated by a cosmetics company doesn’t automatically make it right for your skincare needs. Bae advises identifying your specific concerns and trying a few different products for that indication. “It is important to like the smell, texture and feel of the product, because if you don’t, you won’t use the product,” she says.
Remember that essences are cosmeceuticals, not prescriptions. Bae explains, “Although many products are clinically tested, in a perfect world, all cosmeceuticals, like prescription medications, would undergo clinical testing to demonstrate their efficacy, thereby substantiating their marketing claims.”
While Lee says there are no “set stone steps” in skincare, you should definitely pay close attention to how your skin feels and what appears to be working. Getting a professional evaluation by a dermatologist doesn’t hurt, either.
Thinking of incorporating essences into your skincare regimen? Shop the picks below.
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