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WTF Is An Essence?

Written by Tiana Lewis

Photography by Photographed by James Kicinski-McCoy

For years, the Asian beauty craze (especially Korean) has taken Western markets by storm. From sheet masks to cushion compacts, it seems as though the experts in Asia are in on some underground vault of remarkable self-care secrets, and the U.S. wants in! We first witnessed this obsession with the adoption of the coveted BB Cream, a small, but mighty rebellion against foundation that quickly took rise as a cult product, and is now found in nearly every beauty aisle. And, while BB creams and their equally successful counterparts are still making appearances on victory tours today, it appears that a new skincare star has stepped onto the scene, causing everyone to take a second look—enter the “essence.”

If you’re like us, the very word itself has probably caused more than a few head scratches. What the f*ck is an essence, anyway? And, do I really need one? Or, is this going to be yet another temporary trend that I retire within a few months? Don’t worry! You’re not alone. These are the questions burning in everyone’s minds, and we’re here to get to the bottom of even the grittiest questions.

To break it down, an essence is just that—the soul of the Korean skincare regimen. And, while in form, it may look strikingly similar to something already stashed away in your medicine cabinet, like a toner or a serum, the results that it provides are all its own. Packed with higher dosages of hydrating active ingredients like hyaluronic acid and glycerin, an essence comes after one’s toner to help further balance the skin’s pH level, and provide additional moisture and anti-aging effects before application of a serum. More than its benefits, application is also what sets the essence apart. Instead of relying on a cotton pad or fingertip massage, Korean experts say that it’s typically best to pat an essence into your skin to reveal optimal results. To put it simply, an essence is the in-between step used to go that extra mile with your skincare routine, especially when it comes to hydration and anti-aging.

This may sound excessive. What’s one extra step that some may argue only offers part toner, part serum? And, it’s a valid question. However, modern advancement and the marriage of cultures has elevated the technology of an essence to the next level. Today, you’re likely to find a variety of different essences on the shelf that work to treat a multitude of skin issues. That’s why we’ve put together a list of some of our favorites–from traditional essences to those developed by the brands you already know and love, so that you can explore the market and find out which, if any, is the right one for you.

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