January 6, 2017

What’s an Essence, Why You Should Be Using One, and My Favorites!

I receive a small commission if you shop through my link.


What’s an essence? It’s an important part of any skincare’s routine and I think you should be using one! Why? Because they are a great addition to any skincare line up as they’ll add more moisture and prep your skin for serums and moisturizers. But more on this in a bit…..!

Korean skincare has becoming increasingly popular in the US. I’ve been blogging for 10 years now and if you’re read my blog for that long you know how obsessed I am with Japanese, Korean, and other Asian skincare (as well as makeup). I learned quite early on that the 10 step Korean skincare routine is actually a really, really good way to keep my dry, dull skin very happy. I’m not vain, I swear I’m not, but I get a lot of comments telling me, “Wow your skin looks really good!” both in life and on my blog. Again, I swear I’m not being vain, but I agree. Why? Because dry skin is hell. It’s really hard to wear makeup when you have drier skin as powders clings to flakier areas, liquids tend to look mask line, and makeup in general is patchy, uneven, and clinging to drier areas. It’s not fun. But I can’t help but agree, my skin does look good and that’s because I work hard to keep it looking that good!

Here’s where essences come into play and why I think you should use one.

Essences are a lightweight gel-like serum that are considerably less potent than a standard anti-aging serum. After facial mist, the first item I apply is essence. They act as a predecessor to any other skincare and add a light moisture to skin that works to allow other serums and moisturizers to absorb more easily. Have you every applied your moisturizer and felt like it was just sitting on top of your skin? This is where essences steps in to display their very important role and powers. They’ll prep your skin, add light moisture, and allow your moisturizer to fully absorb a lot more easier. They perform a very, very important task in your skincare routine and will allow your other skincare to perform their tasks a lot more easier.

Sounds like hogwash?

It isn’t.

Believe me, essences, especially in drier skin types, are a God sent. After injecting them into your skincare routine you’ll notice your skin’s texture will improve and become smoother as well as softer. You’ll also find that your makeup applies more easily and looks smoother and more even (and less likely to cling to drier areas). And most important dull skin will look brighter and healthier.

Some of my favorites are:

Essences like Hada Labo Rohto Goku-jun Hyaluronic Milky Lotion are best suited for PM use as they take a little more time to apply and they are also a little more richer. You can apply them in the AM should you like but I prefer using them as part of my nightly routine.

I hope you enjoyed this introduction to essences.

Do you use essence?

Do you have any favorite formulas to recommend?

I receive a small commission if you shop through my link.

About the Muse

Isabella MuseIsabella is just an average everyday geeky girl who doesn’t blend her eyeshadow correctly, wears too much blush, and hopes she never finds her holy grail products because she likes the thrill of the chase so much. Her mission is to bring you super honest reviews on makeup, skincare, fragrance and all things beauty. She’s in no way an expert on the topic and she sure as hell isn’t a super model. But she’s passionate about makeup and is seeking like-minded individuals that like pina coladas, getting caught in the rain, and ones that enjoy spending hundreds of dollars at Sephora without feeling buyer’s remorse. If you’re that person feel free to reach out and leave a comment or follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Bloglovin‘.

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  • Dani

    You MUST try Paula”s Choice Brightening Essence. It has been a game changer for my skin! I feel like I could never live without it now!

    • Isabella Muse

      really? promise? ๐Ÿ˜€ Her stuff has disappointed me a little bit!

      • Dani

        I have been disappointed by some of her stuff too. I have 3 products of hers (out of the maybe 10 that I have tried), that are holy grail for me! The brightening essence is one of them!

        • Isabella Muse

          I think you told me to try it before (or maybe that was someone else). Ordering now hehe ๐Ÿ˜€

      • Alys

        The PC Skin Brightening active ingredient is alpha arbutin, which I have been using from The Ordinary. (For $9.) And it is pretty darn good! Has helped fade some of my summer sun spots.

  • Eraser

    I’m a recent convert! I was at an Aritaum store in Las Vegas a few months ago and the SA gave me tons of samples and trial sizes. Unfortunately the one I liked the best was the most expensive… However, my local Marshall’s and TJMaxx had a good selection of Shiseido & Clinique around the holidays and I got Clinique’s, which even states on the package that it’s designed for Asian skins. I’m not Asian but it’s working very well for me. I also added Hylamide Subq serum at the same time and I’ve been amazed at the results. Essence will definitely be a permanent addition to my routine.

  • RandiLu

    Hello! Just found your blog recently, love it!

    Question for you – I’ve started to do the daily Korean skincare routine, but I feel like every site I go to has different steps. Do you have a specific routine you use? Do you have an article or website I could reference?

    Thanks so much!

    • Isabella Muse

      Hi Randi! Nice to meet you and thank you!!!!! Yeah, people do things differently. Really, it’s about what you personally feel your skin needs in my experience but this is my routine if it helpful to you (this is my nightly routine):

      Remove eye makeup with eye make remover
      Cleanse skin with cleansing oil or cleansing balm
      follow up with a foaming cleanser that’s water based (sometimes I use an exfoliating cleanser once or twice a week)
      Dry off and use a cotton pad with micellar water to remove anything my cleanser missed
      mist with a hydrating facial spray (my favs: https://www.musingsofamuse.com/2014/02/hydrating-facial-mists-recommendations.html)
      sheet mask after my skin dries off from the mist
      ampoule or serum (this varies depending on what my skin needs)
      facial oil
      eye cream


      Hope this helps!???

      Honestly, don’t listen to what I tell you or what anyone else says. Taking care of your skin and seeing what it likes is an entirely unique experience. You might not need all these steps depending on how your skin behaves. Try out different methods and products and see what works best for your skin type and concerns ๐Ÿ™‚

      • RandiLu

        Thanks so much Isabella! It’s hard to know what direction to go in sometimes! What I’ve done so far has been working well, but I’m hoping that adding a few of the steps you mentioned will take it to the next level ๐Ÿ™‚

        Thanks again!

        • Isabella Muse

          Randi, girl do you! I feel the same way, so many different people telling me I have to take care of my skin in so many ways! It’s really a personal experience ๐Ÿ™‚ You have to figure out what is making your skin look it’s best and go from there. If you like your routine currently, STICK with it ๐Ÿ™‚ And adding to it with items that hopefully make your skin look even more awesome is the way to go. Good Luck!!!!!!!!!!! let me know how it works out for yoU!

  • Claire

    I really like the May Coop Raw Sauce… it’s so good and absorbs right into your skin!

  • Diana

    Would you please do a detailed post about the Asian 10-step routine that I hear people talking about? What does it entail? Is it only for dry skin? What do I need to add to my routine? HELP!! Thanks ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Isabella Muse

      I’ll def do one Diana, been gearing up to do one for a while but read the comments in this post, I discussed it a little bit, so hopefully that’ll help a little bit until I do write the post ๐Ÿ˜€

  • Carol G

    Just incorporated an essence in my routine on January 1st! I got a sample of the belif hungarian water essence and so far so good. It does seem to help your serum sink in better. I also bought a bottle of The Body Shop’s drops of youth essence since it was 40% off. Haven’t tried it yet but I hope it’s half way decent.

  • Jen

    Omg Hada Lobo and Etude House all the way!!! I stocked up at their counters in Shibuya. Thankfully I found a store locally that carries Hada Lobo fairly cheap. I have stupidly sensitive, acne prone, combination skin with an ultra fair and often ruddy complexion. Asian skincare has saved it. I’m not totally breakout or blackhead free, but it’s significantly helped to reduce the frequency and ferocity of them thanks to low pH.

  • Kish

    I bought one of the sets from Sephora during the sale, mainly because it had the SK-II essence in it. Sadly, I fell in love with it. But it’s so expensive. ๐Ÿ™ I have also used the Clinique Even Better for combo/oily and it’s nice. I’ll probably buy it when the SK runs out, or possible the Dr. Jart one. I love a lot of their stuff, so I’m sure it would work for me as well.

  • Sarah

    Muse, I’ve frequented your blog for the better part of 8 years, and you’re the reason why I’ve adopted a lot of Asian inspired routines and products in my regimen. I started using even more when I moved to a city 3 years ago that offers great Asian markets with beauty sections and The Face Shop. Like you, I have insanely dry skin (it gets better in the summer, but it’s still dry). Winter is a mess for me, so I found that the 10-step process makes my skin much happier and I’m sticking with it. Sounds like my routine is very similar to your’s based on your comment above.
    I’ve been using an essence regularly for nearly 2 years. For a long time I was only using one at night but I recently introduced one in my morning routine as well. My favorite so far is May Coop Raw Sauce. I’m super picky with products and own/try a lot. That’s the only one I’ve ever repurchased. Instead of using as a tonor, I apply Fresh Black Tea Age-Delay Instant Infusion Treament Tonor as an essence too…it works really well for me. I’m really glad you wrote this post…more dry skin gals need to try these products/steps out!! It truly does make a difference.

    PS – You must try The Face Shop’s The Therapy Oil-Drop Serum. AMAZEBALLS.

  • Pandora

    I have gone through two smaller bottles of the May Coop Raw Sauce and it is amazing how much better my skin feels when I incorporate it into my routine. Still new to the essence work I might give one by Skinfood a try next.

  • Codename Duchess

    I’m fairly new the the AB skin care game and just started using an essence (Cosrx Galactomyces Whitening Power Essence) a few weeks ago. I’m not really sure it’s doing anything for me, as my skin is too oily for me to notice any added hydration and I haven’t been using it long enough for it to do any serious effect on my hyperpigmentation.

    I actually have pretty good skin without doing anything for it (it’s combo/oily, but clear), but turning 35 inspired me to start thinking about finally adopt an “adult” skincare routine in order to preserve my youthful complexion for as long as possible. I’m still trying to figure out which steps are actually helpful to my particular skincare goals and which are redundant for my skin type.

  • Alys

    Okay maybe a dumb question…. but what is the difference between this “essence” and a toner? I currently have a very detailed skin regimen but I skip the toner because I’m apparently too lazy for one more step. (Don’t you worry though, I still use a full arsenal of other stuff… I’m a Deciem junkie.)

    • Isabella Muse

      toners are liquid, essence’s are more serum like with higher concentrations of ingredients and moisture benefits. Toner’s are most about removing anything your cleanser may have left behind or even removing any residue from a cleansing oil or balm. I typically “tone” with a micellar water after I wash my face. You’ll get benefits from an essence if you’re looking to add more moisture and plumpness to your skin. They’ll also go a long way at making your moisturizer easier to apply. Toners do some of that but essences are way more beneficial in my experience. Hope this helps!?