Between the intriguing packaging and unique textures, there’s a lot of mystique surrounding Korean beauty products. Not to mention, there are copious additional steps you might not be used to hearing about — but there’s one in particular that receives a lot of attention. The best Korean essences are among the most buzz-worthy skin care products out there right now, and one of the easiest to incorporate into your existing routine.
Not to be confused with a Korean toner or a serum, an essence is really the foundation of any Korean skin care routine. This treatment product provides an additional layer of hydration and increases skin cell turnover — both of which help to prep the skin for the rest of your routine and lead to brighter, more even-toned skin over time.
Essences are designed to be applied right after your toner (if you use one), and you can use a cotton pad, but the most popular way to apply an essence is with your hands alone. Place three to five drops into your palm, gently warm the product between your hands, and then simply pat it into your skin. This helps your skin do a better job of absorbing all the amazing ingredients.
It’s important to note that while essences still pack a serious punch, they aren't intended to replace the serum step, despite the fact that both contain high concentrations of active ingredients. While serums are even more concentrated, the main role an essence is to prep the skin for for the serum and the additional steps to follow. Even if you aren't a fan of 10-step Korean skin care routine, an essence can help you get the most of the products in your routine.
So, before you dismiss adding an extra step to your beauty routine, check out these holy grail Korean essences and let the amazing results speak for themselves.
1The Third Generation Of This Incredibly Popular Fermented Yeast Essence
The third and latest generation of this popular treatment essence, this formula provides additional hydration in MISSHA’s signature fermented yeast base. MISSHA’s essences (which are 90 percent fermented yeast extract) have a reputation for being compared to the pricier SK-II Facial Treatment Essence. In fact, users say it works the same and can’t believe how it hydrates their seriously rough, dry skin. And the light, watery consistency of this essence makes it super easy for the skin to absorb.
2A Lightweight Essence That's Perfect For Sensitive Skin Types
This lightweight, fast-absorbing essence contains 80 percent fermented yeast (are you noticing a theme here?) — but it's also formulated with moisture-rich ceramides and hyaluronic acid to ensure your complexion will be hydrated as well as bright. The formula is fragrance-free, so it’s perfect for a sensitive skin type.
3An Anti-Inflammatory Essence That Helps Treat & Prevent Breakouts With Tea Tree Oil
This multitasking essence is comprised of 90 percent tea tree extract which works as an anti-inflammatory on sensitized, acne-prone skin or anyone experiencing redness in general. Sea buckthorn and antiseptic grapefruit seed extract work together to speed the healing time of breakouts while brightening the complexion in the process. As an added bonus, this vegan formula is free from parabens, mineral oil, artificial coloring, and fragrance.
4A Lemon & Caviar-Infused Essence With Nine Skin-Enhancing Benefits
NEOGEN Code9 Lemon Green Caviar Essence + Tox Tightening Pack, $50 (25 Pads), Amazon
This highly concentrated essence formulated with Vitamin C, lemon, caviar, and other natural low-temperature ripened ingredients takes care of everything from dryness and dullness to inflammation and clogged pores. It's applied with Neogen's own multi-layered pads (included) which help to manually exfoliate your skin as you apply the product. They're packaged separately, but the essence is actually designed to be poured in the container with the cotton pads (yes, the entire bottle at once). To keep things sanitary, the kit also comes with a pair of tweezers so you don't need to pick up the pads with your fingers.
5A Concentrated, Serum-Like Essence That Brightens The Complexion
Galactomyces — a fancy name for fermented yeast — is the key ingredient in Cosrx’s proprietary essence, which contains 95 percent fermented yeast extract. Aside from fermented yeast, the other five percent of ingredients includes niacinamide, which does a fantastic job of helping fade dark spots and post-acne marks and improving the skin's barrier function over time. While the formula may sound similar to MISSHA's popular essence, the texture is completely different. This essence feels as thick as a serum, which helps it create a barrier on the skin, making it a great choice for sensitive or dry skin types.
It's also important to note that, while this essence has the word "whitening" on the bottle, this is really just a terrible translation. It contains no whitening ingredients, and is not intended to lighten your skin color. When Korean products use this super-unfortunate term, it's meant to communicate the same idea as Western "brightening" products — which aim to help fade dark spots by encouraging your skin to renew itself more frequently.
6A Hydrating Essence That Calms & Plumps The Skin
This hydrating essence contains algae extract, an ingredient that’s been deeply researched for its amazing benefits that include everything from protecting the skin on a cellular level to calming inflammation — which makes it a perfect product to get you through a harsh winter. In addition, ceramides work to retain moisture while moringa extract soothes a sensitized complexion.
7A Gentle Essence That Improves Skin Texture Over Time
This cult favorite essence features Cremorlab’s proprietary T.E.N. thermal water — a rare and mineral-rich H20 from Geumjin, Korea — to hydrate, brighten, and improve the texture of the skin. It’s free of parabens, artificial colors, fragrances, and denatured alcohol, so it’s suitable for all skin types.
8A Unique Powder-To-Liquid Essence That Revives Dehydrated & Dull Skin
This unique essence starts as a powder but melts into a liquid form upon contact with warm skin, so it’s easily absorbed. While it’s suitable for all skin types, rose stem cells and distilled rose water give dry, rough skin a serious moisture boost while grapefruit and yuzu extracts brighten — making it a great option for dehydrated, dull skin.
9A Seed Essence That Hydrates & Protects For Extra-Glowy Skin
This essence is made up of 93 percent lotus seed extract which contains high levels of healthy fatty acids that hydrate the skin. The formula also contains niacinamide, which evens out the skin tone and helps strengthen skin's natural barrier, as well as hydrating hyaluronic acid. To ensure you don’t overuse the product, the bottle is marked to show exactly how much essence you should be using each and every time.
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