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BEAUTY LESSONS:

IT’S ESSENTIAL,
MY DEAR

The essence: a feat of skin care marketing or a critical missing piece of your regimen?


Written by FIORELLA VALDESOLO

With the rise of K-beauty and J-beauty came new entries in our collective beauty vernacular: new concepts (double cleansing! cushion compacts!) and new products too: chief among them, the essence—part toner, part serum, complete skin-improvement powerhouse. We asked skin care insiders to weigh in on these weightless wonders.

THE ORIGIN STORY

Japanese beauty giant Shiseido first marketed an essence to the public in the early 1900s but, says New York-based medical esthetician Jordana Mattioli, there has been documented mention of “beauty waters” as part of traditional geisha beauty rituals dating back centuries. “The terminology could be part of the confusion on the origins of essences,” says Mattioli. “In Asia, lightweight layers of products are the norm but what we call an essence now, they sometimes refer to as a lotion, or watery lotion.”

THE PROFILE

Though it may share traits with both a toner and a serum, the essence is very much its own product. “Essences won’t be as light and watery as toner, but they usually aren’t as ultra-concentrated as serums,” explains Mattioli. “They can provide another light layer of nourishment to the skin, and the additional hydration can help the skin barrier to function at its best while also being a way to target a specific skin concern.” Because they are, points out Dr. Timm Golüeke, founder of Royal Fern Skincare, active. “An essence is packed with active ingredients and is boosting your cell turnover,” he says. “It’s the second active step in your routine.” The ideal essence will have, says Mattioli: a complex mix of antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, brightening and hydration agents.

THE MODUS OPERANDI

When considering how to use an essence, Dr. Sonia Batra, a Santa Monica-based dermatologist and co-host of The Doctors TV show, analogizes the skin to a sponge. “It should be slightly moist rather than completely dry in order to best absorb the therapeutic serums or creams that follow,” she says. Conventional product wisdom—applying lightest to heaviest—should be followed so essence comes after cleansing and toning, and before serums and creams. Mattioli likes to apply them with her fingers, pressing a few drops into the skin.

THE ESSENTIAL
ESSENCES

1

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5

An essence masquerading as a facial mist, it has all the hydrating effects of the former, and the coolly satisfying application of the latter.

2

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5

Packed with active botanicals like the brand’s iconic serum (and only other product), this mildly exfoliating essence is made with water-soluble hyaluronic acid, vitamin C, lactic acid and gluconolactone.

3

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5

Illumination is the primary intention of this lightweight essence formulated with 33 super-active naturally-derived ingredients, but plumping and hydration are some positive side effects.

4

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5

A cornerstone of the brand, this magical watery essence is packed with Pitera, SK-II’s signature time-rewinding ingredient. Silky to the touch, when regularly pressed into skin it boosts radiance and refines texture.

5

/

5

As supremely gentle as it is powerful, Cadualie’s skin brightening and smoothing essence is best used in tandem with the brand’s serum, whose efficacy it boosts.