Why You Should Never Skip This Key Skincare Step

Product roundups

Essence may be a crucial part of the 12-step Korean skincare program, but for us 2 to 3 steppers, it often gets overlooked. “Why do I need essence when I’m doing cleanser, serum, moisturizer, eye cream and – *hopefully* – SPF?” we ask ourselves. Because it basically sets your face (and the rest of your skincare regimen) up for success, that’s why.

“Essences are highly concentrated active ingredients for skin and body care,” explains NYC-based celebrity aesthetician, Vicki Morav. “They are great for various purposes such as deep hydration, healing, and repairing the skin from the bottom-up.”

When applied after cleansing, and before the rest of your skincare products, they allow them to penetrate and absorb more efficiently. And most feel like liquid velvet and smell divine, so they’ll quickly become your fave step – day or night.

It’s important to note that essence isn’t a one size fits all product however, so if your skincare routine is approaching multi-step territory you may want to check your layering lineup with an expert. “It’s possible for one to make mistakes when choosing products for their own skin,” adds Morav. “When someone looks at ingredients, they can’t exactly understand the textures and the process that they will undergo. For example, peptides and acids don’t match. They dismiss each other’s activity and have no beneficial results, so I find it best to get professional advice about product usage for various skin conditions.”

Because of the high-quality ingredient lists found in essences, they can sometimes be on the pricey side, but the good news is you only need a drop or two, so a bottle will last.

Ahead, a few essences we can’t stop applying right now.

Best Skincare Essences:

Shani Darden Sake Toning Essence, $52

When tending to the faces of A-list clients like Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and Shay Mitchell, Darden reaches for this toner and essence in one alcohol-free formula. Her essential skincare step balances sebum production while minimizing pore size, and the gentle sake water-based liquid also softens and brightens rough patches.

111SKIN Energising Essence, $100

To plump up a slack, parched dermis, apply a bit of this fast-acting essence primer directly after cleansing. Calming aloe vera and nourishing giant kelp work wonders when combined to refresh and quench. Copper chlorophyll also reduces discoloration. It feels amazing and really plumps the skin!

Makeup Revolution Niacinamide Mattifying Essence Spray, $9

Feeling lazy? Meet essence in spray form. Ideal for anyone with redness, uneven tone, or oil issues, this niacinamide-infused essence spray absorbs excess oil throughout the day – and minimizes inflammation – without leaving a cast.

Peach & Lily Wild Dew Treatment Essence, $39

With fast-acting extracts, antioxidant-rich lotus extract and brightening niacinamide, this essence is a fast track ticket to brighter skin. With the addition of age-defying yeast ferment, firming adenosine, protective bamboo extract and nourishing radish leaf extract, it’ll help to restore your skin to dewy goodness and fight against environmental aggressors.

Hourglass Equilibrium Restoring Essence, $65

Hourglass Cosmetics has recently gotten into the skincare game and their Equilibrium collection is just as pro-level as their makeup. One of our favorites from the new line is the Restoring Essence, which protects your face from environmental pollutants and primes it for serums, moisturizers and amped-up hydration to follow.

Augustinus Bader The Essence, $85

For an essence that really goes the extra mile, try Bader’s 3-in-1 must-have to boost your glow-up meter and act as a mild chemical exfoliant at the same time. Powered by hydroxy acids and high-potency botanicals (we see you, white peony flower and wasabi ferment), a few drops of this silky situation will be a total game-changer.

Banila Co Dear Hydration Intense Essence, $28

For severely dry skin, Banila’s Intense Essence will be a welcome treat. A patented urban water guard system promises your skin will retain moisture longer while holy basil extract boosts its immunity to fight radicals.

COSRX Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence, $25

Snail mucin is a known extract for repairing SOS-level skin and this TSA-friendly formula contains 96% of the stuff, to get red, sensitive, post-breakout skin back on the road to recovery. We love this gentle and effective formula!

Kat Burki PH+ Enzyme Essence, $100

Kat Burki’s essence utilizes ph (potential hydrogen) balancing ingredients and fruit enzymes to restructure your skin’s acid mantle and keep the pH mid-level to acidic. Which is a fancy way of saying it will get your skin health in check and support extra collagen creation.

TONYMOLY I’m Watermelon Sheet Mask, $3.75

Another sneaky way to get your essence in is via a sheet mask. TONYMOLY’s watermelon-scented, 3-layer, pulp sheet mask is infused with an absorbing essence cocktail of natural oils, vitamin C, and antioxidants. And you can’t beat the price for a quick hit of hydration when your skin needs it.

Do you guys use an essence in your skincare routine?