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What is an Essence? Is it essential?

For the longest time, essence has been the heart of Korea and Japanese skincare routine. What they really are and what makes them so dear to the heart of Asian beauty? It is more than just any regular toner nor a serum. If you are ready to jump in deeper into the world of K-beauty by understanding the essential part of essence, read this article to the very end!


The origin of Essence


The first origin of essence can be a little hard to pin-point. However, this beauty rituals have been found back in the 18th century in Japan. The Geisha beauty rituals involved preparing their skin with a potent water-based plant extract that they believe to be the best-kept secret of the Geisha’s smooth and radiant skin. Shiseido was the first Japanese brand that came out with an essence product inspired by this rituals. Since then, it has been an essential part of the Asian

skin care routines. It is very common for you to notice at least one type of essence from each roadshop brand (I.e Etude House, Nature Republic and Innisfree) in Korea.

What they really are


At a glance, you might really think that an essence can be labelled as lotion in some Japanese skincare brand. The terminology of some skincare products can be a little overwhelming and making it hard to decide on what it really is and how to incorporate them into your routine. This is how we would like to describe what an essence is:

  1. It is more than just a toner

A toner usually has a more watery texture with less active ingredients. An essence usually has more ‘body’ and slip than just any regular toner with more concentrated active ingredients.

  1. It is not as skin-concern specific as serum

While serum is packed with specific ingredients to target specific skin concerns in a small bottle, an essence is more inclusive for all skin concerns packed in larger bottles. In general it hydrates your skin, repairs your skin barrier and enhances the absorption of the following active ingredients that you put on your skin.

  1. It is something in between a toner and serum

We can say that an essence is the baby of a toner and a serum. Your skin can get the best of both worlds with an essence, the lighter texture of a toner and active ingredients from the serum.

The active ingredients that are commonly packed in an essence are different kinds of skin-beneficial plant extracts to nourish your skin, for instance hyaluronic acid will ensure your skin is hydrated, plump and ready to absorb any following skincare product you are going to layer on your skin. In terms of absorption, the more damp your skin is, the more it is easily absorbed into your skin. Just like using your toner, don’t wait too long from the time you step out of the bath to slather on the essence. Alternatively, you can dampen your skin with another spray of mist or toner since the essence is usually packed with a potent amount of active ingredients, you want to apply them when your skin is ready to drink it all in.

How to incorporate an essence into your routine?


Essence is a gentle product that can be used two times daily, day or night, whatever feels right for your skin. There is no right or wrong on how to incorporate essence into your routine. You can either apply it on a damp-cleansed face or right after your toner step. Choose whichever step you are most comfortable with. Your skin, your way!

My tips: With the colder season over the corner, you can layer your essence after your toner for that extra boost of hydration for your skin. No more dry and cracked skin during the winter with this combo!

You can pour an appropriate amount of product on your palm and cup it gently into your skin. This method will allow you to save up more products, the warmth of your skin will help the product to absorb better as well. If your skin is needing that extra exfoliating step from a cotton pad, you can soak your cotton pad with this skin-beneficial essence and swipe it all over your skin (always down to your neck). The extra hydration on your skin will help your other product’s active ingredients to penetrate better into your skin.

Who can benefit most from this


An essence is not a ride-or-die kind of product. It is not essential but yet can be beneficial whenever it is added to your routine.

If you have drier skin type and aging-skin, you can benefit the most out of this particular step. Their additional hydrating and active ingredients can plump up your skin and smooth out the appearance of fine lines. Moreover, a bouncy, plump and radiant skin is the best canvas for great makeup, no more cracky makeup during the day.



Takeaway: Essence has been the must-have items for every Korean skincare brand for some reason. They are basically a fusion between a toner and a serum that are hydrating, nourishing, packed with skin-benefiting ingredients. Is an essence part of your “essence-tial” skincare routine?


Claudia Christin


- By Claudia Christin (@funskincare)

Seoul based Dermatology Post Graduate Student


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