Skincare » Guide to K-Beauty Facial Essences: Benefits, Uses & More

Guide to K-Beauty Facial Essences: Benefits, Uses & More

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If facial essences weren’t on your radar, then it’s time to pay attention. Essences are an integral part of the multi-step skincare routine that is so popular in South East Asia. Skin essences sit somewhere between a toner and a serum, and provide the very best of both of those worlds.

In this article, we explain exactly what facial essences are, how they work, and what their benefits are. We’ll help you choose the right essence for you, based on your skin’s unique needs and concerns. To make sure you use your essence of choice properly, we outline all the steps for use, along with tips and tricks to elevate your experience.

In this article:

What Is a Facial Essence and What Does It Do to Your Skin?

Facial essences are a great way of giving a boost to a skincare routine. Essences are usually water-based skincare products, and have the texture of a rich liquid. Since essences have such a thin texture, the skin absorbs them instantly, and enjoys their benefits instantly.

Korean essences almost always include ingredients that will seriously target and eliminate dehydration in the skin, and that can be considered their main benefits. If your skin is feeling parched and dry, then an essence should be the first thing you consider adding to your routine.

Facial essences will frequently include ingredients that boost the skin’s barrier functions, with probiotics and fermented extracts standing at the forefront. Because of this, if your skin is sensitive to probiotic ingredients due to some sort of fungal skin conditions, you will want to be very careful when buying essences.

Essences will also contain other skin-boosting ingredients, and the list is truly endless. Some essences will have formulas that focus on anti-aging, while others will be more brightening or soothing.

Since an essence stands out by its texture and ability to hydrate the skin, its active ingredients are not what defines it. However, an essence is an excellent way of delivering active ingredients into the skin, since they can sink in very deeply.

How Is Essence Different from Serum, Toner and Ampoule?

So it’s fair if you’re confused by all these skincare steps that every second beauty blogger says are absolutely mandatory. The truth is that it can be difficult to completely differentiate between all these different skincare products, especially if you’re used to a more traditional beauty routine.

Before I start clarifying the differences between essences, serums, toners and ampoules, it’s important to note that they are not cut and dry. While most of the time essences, serums, and ampoules adhered to these rules, every once in a while you will see a product that is labeled as one thing but seems much more similar to another.


So we already know that essences are skin-hydrating products that usually have a fluid texture that is slightly thicker than a toner. They will contain all kinds of skincare ingredients, and are meant to make the skin instantly hydrated and looking brighter and healthier. Essences should be applied to the skin after toner (as well as after treatments with pH-dependant active ingredients).

Differences Between Facial Essences, Serums, Toners & Ampoules


Toners are also liquids, so they have a similar texture to an essence, but their function is totally different. Toners are meant to be used after cleansing to balance the skin’s pH and to prepare the skin to absorb anything that is applied next.

Many toners contain astringent ingredients that are meant to tighten the pores. These days hydrating toner formulas are becoming very popular, and some of those do happen to be very similar to essences, although they tend to be a little thinner in texture and to contain less active skincare ingredients.


Next there are serums, which are probably the hardest skincare product to differentiate from skincare essences. This is because for the longest time the word “serum” was used as a catch-all for any skincare product with a texture that is thicker than toner but thinner than moisturizer, so products that qualify as essences would have been called “serums” in the West.

Generally, serums tend to be thicker in texture than essences. The primary purpose of a serum is usually to deliver active ingredients to the skin and to target very specific skin concerns, with hydration being only a secondary purpose.

With all this being said, it is very common that the same product will be marketed as a “serum” in the US and Europe and as an “essence” in South East Asia.

Skin Ampoules

Lastly, there are ampoules to consider. Ampoules are the Asian beauty version of “boosters”. They are a type of serum that is highly concentrated and very rich in a specific active-ingredient.

Facial ampoules don’t contain hydrating or moisturizing ingredients, since those take up space from the important actives. They can be applied all over the face or only to a particular part of the face, and are meant to concentrate on a specific skin need like brightening, anti-aging, or acne-fighting.

The Bottom Line

Depending on your skin’s needs you may want to use toners, essences, serums, and ampoules in your routine, or you may only want to use one, two, or three of the four. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to skin care; you should just do what works best for you!

Facial Essences Skin Benefits

What Benefits Do Facial Essences Bring?

  • First and foremost, facial essences increase hydration levels in the skin better than any other skincare product. They are by far the best kind of product to combat dryness, since they do a fantastic job of introducing hydrating ingredients to the skin at a very deep level. If your skin gets tight or flakey, or if you live in a very dry climate, then you really cannot go wrong with skincare essences.
  • Hydrated skin is brighter skin, so face essences are a great way of getting rid of a dull cast to the skin. After application the skin instantly looks brighter and healthier, with a natural glow.
  • Facial essences can combat signs of premature aging on a few levels. First, by hydrating, the skin essences can improve overall skin function. When the skin is hydrated, skin cells tend to live for longer and to multiply more easily, which slows down the aging process. Secondly, skin essences usually also include antioxidant ingredients that prevent environmental stressors from breaking down the skin cells and causing all kinds of aging damage to the skin.
  • Essences can also help sooth red or irritated skin. Their ingredients (especially if they contain probiotics) can soothe inflammation and help strengthen the skin’s barrier functions, which helps to eliminate redness and reduce signs of sensitivity in the skin.
  • Face essences can instantly improve the texture of the skin. By hydrating the skin, they plump it up, which helps to smooth out texture issues including larger pores and fine lines or wrinkles. The skin instantly feels smoother and softer.
  • The last benefit of skin essences is not quite as visible but it is very important: self-care. There is something very relaxing about taking your time during your beauty routine to layer products, press them into your skin, and really luxuriate in taking care of yourself. Adding essences to your routine can really help you learn to love yourself and care for yourself.

Which Essence Should You Pick for Your Skin Type and Concerns?

While there are facial essences that work for all skin types, you should still take your skin concerns into account when purchasing one.

How to Choose the Best Facial Essences for Skin Types

Best Essences for Dry Skin

Face essence was basically created for those with smaller pores and very little oil production. Those with dry skin tend to become dehydrated more easily, since their skin does not produce enough of the oils that lock water into the skin.

While a facial essence is no replacement for your moisturizer if you have dry skin, it can seriously reinforce it. All facial essences will work for dry skin types, but the ones with a thicker texture (which usually comes from silicones or botanical oils) might feel a little nicer.

Additionally, look for facial essences that are completely free of alcohol, as this means that they will be less moisturizing.

Best Essences for Normal and Combination Skin

If your skin is somewhere in the middle, with medium size pores and normal oil production, then your skin is mostly balanced. If you find that some parts of your face are oilier while others are dryer, then you have a combination skin type.

With your skin type, essences can be a nice although not mandatory addition to your regimen. Almost all essences work well for normal and combination skin types.

You may choose to only use the essence on the parts of your face that are dryer, or you can even use your essence instead of a moisturizer on the parts of your skin that are oilier.

Best Essences for Oily and Acne-Prone Skin

You can certainly use facial essences, even if you have larger pores, and your skin produces a lot of oil (i.e. the sure signs of oily skin). Essences are usually oil-free products that are meant to hydrate the skin without weighing it down or clogging it.

Because of that, if your skin is extremely oily, it is very possible that all your skin will need for hydration and moisture is a skincare essence.

If your skin is acne-prone, you may want to avoid facial essences that contain probiotic or fermented ingredients. Beyond that, you really cannot go wrong with a face essence since the light texture will be perfect for your skin.

Best Essences for Sensitive Skin and Redness

Essences can be a fabulous way of soothing skin that becomes red or irritated very easily. If your skin gets red or irritated easily, then look for essences with ingredients that will boost your skin’s barrier functions.

As long as you’re not sensitive to yeast or probiotics, then essences rich in ferments are a great choice. Additionally, look for other skin-soothing ingredients like green tea.

Avoid skincare essences that contain alcohol or a lot of fragrance ingredients – even essential oils can irritate the skin.

Best Essences for Hyperpigmentation

If you have some sort of darkness or hyperpigmentation that you’re trying to eliminate, whether caused by sun exposure or acne, some facial essences can help reduce it.

Essences are not quite as concentrated as serums or ampoules, but they can still containing skin-brightening ingredients that are extremely effective. Their light texture means that they are easier to apply all over the face, as opposed to serums that are thicker and might be better for more concentrated areas of pigmentation.

Look for essences that are advertised as skin-brightening. The best essences for your skin will contain ingredients like vitamin C, licorice root extract, or niacinamide.

How to Use Facial Essences

Best Essences for Premature Aging

Almost all face essences will have some ingredients to combat the signs of premature aging, like wrinkles, fine lines, and loss of tone. Keeping the skin hydrated is a key part of keeping it looking young, after all.

With that being said, the best essences for keeping the signs of aging at bay will also include a variety of skin-renewing and protecting ingredients. There are thousands of excellent antioxidant ingredients that can be used in essences in order to protect the skin, along with more powerful ski- rebuilding ingredients like the different kinds of peptides.

Take note of the best essences that I describe as anti-aging on the list above.

How to Use a Facial Essence?

To get the most out of your facial essence, you should certainly use it properly. Skin essences are best used once or twice a day to maintain consistently high levels of moisture in the skin. It’s completely up to you whether you want to use your face essence in the morning, evening, or both.

  1. Cleanse

    Begin by making sure your skin is perfectly clean. Whether this means doing a thorough oil cleanse, a double cleanse, using micellar water, or using your favorite foaming cleanser paired with a vibrating face brush is totally up to you. We accept all cleansing methods here! I do recommend, however, that you opt for a cleanser with a pH of 5.6 or less, as anything higher can throw your skin off balance.

  2. Tone

    Next you will want to tone your skin by soaking a cotton pad with a toner and wiping your skin with it in upward, circular motions. If your skin cleanser is pH-balanced, then toning can be nice but not mandatory.

  3. Use Actives

    If your routine includes pH-dependant actives like salicylic acid, vitamin C, or glycolic acid, you will want to apply them now regardless of their texture. You may choose to wait 15-20 minutes to allow them to work.

  4. Apply the Essence

    Now you’re finally ready to apply your essence! Some brands recommend soaking a cotton pad in your essence, but I think that this wastes product, so I don’t suggest doing it. Instead, pour about a nickel-sized amount of essence into the palm of your hand. Rub both your hands together to warm up the essence slight and to transfer it unto the other hand.

  5. Press

    According to Asian beauty principles, products should be pressed into the skin, as massaging is believed to cause unnecessary trauma to the skin. I’m not totally convinced, as I believe that massaging can help invigorate the skin, so it is totally up to you whether you want to press the essence into your skin or if you want to massage it in.

  6. Apply to the Face Crevices

    Apply the essence to the crevices of the face, like around the nose and eyes, with the pads of your fingers. Press it in lightly. As long as your essence is alcohol-free and light on the fragrance, it is perfectly safe for using to hydrate the area around the eyes. Give your skin a few moments to absorb most of the essence.

  7. Apply the Rest of Your Skincare

    Next apply the rest of your skin care in the following order: ampoule, serum, and moisturizer. In the daytime, make sure to finish off with a healthy amount of sunscreen. In the evening, you can finish things off with an overnight mask or occlusive balm.

Tips and Tricks for Using Facial Essences

Tips and Tricks for Using Facial Essences

  • For an easier application, pour your facial essence into a spray bottle (or replace the cap), and then spray it directly on your face. This will work with almost all liquid facial essences.
  • You skin essence can double as a makeup refreshing spray! Splash a bit onto your face if you feel like your makeup is looking too dry or powdery.
  • If you’re in a rush, you can use your facial essence to boost the hydrating capabilities of your moisturizer. Mix the two products in your hand right before applying to your skin. This can also work with serums or ampoules.
  • Essences are great for making your own sheet masks. You can purchase dry sheet masks online. Soak the sheet mask in your essence of choice, and apply it to your skin. After twenty minutes your skin will feel impossibly soft and hydrated.
  • If your skin gets dehydrated throughout the day, feel free to carry an essence with you (especially one that comes with a spray top), and mist your skin with it every time your skin feels parched for an instant pick-me-up.

Photos via @evelyneslava_, Instagram