What is an Essence?

Hint: not a toner.

You’ve probably heard this week's beauty dictionary term thrown around, especially if you’re reading up on Korean beauty. However, you might be confused about what exactly separates it from its skincare cousins like toners, mists, and beauty waters. We're here to demystify this skincare staple for you.

The word: essence

Also known as: A common part of the multi-step Korean skincare regimen 

What it means: Let’s get a few things out of the way: 1. An essence is not a fancy term for plain ol’ water in a fancy bottle. 2. While essences have similarities to other skincare products like toners and mists, they’re not the same thing. So, what separates them? Jessica Jeong, MISSHA's PR & Marketing Coordinator, explains, “Commonly mistaken for toners due to their low viscosity (watery texture), essences are actually closer in nature to serums. They aren't meant to cleanse; instead they moisturize and nourish the skin, which enhances the effects of products that follow. Think of an essence as a base coat or primer for serums/ampoules.” 

That means don't try to remove your makeup with essences!

She elaborates that essences are considered an "essential" first step of any K-beauty regimen because they contain many active ingredients. This separates them from your average toner or beauty mist that doesn’t contain actives (i.e. hero anti-aging ingredients).

Essences are important because as Jeong explains, they’re like the primer for all of your other skincare products. Not only do they help boost moisture and fight the signs of aging on their own, they also help to make your other beauty products more effective. And we all know that one of the keys in Korean beauty is efficacy.

Dr. Karyn Grossman, celebrity dermatologist and creator of the KARYNG Skincare line says that you want to apply your products in terms of occlusiveness (lighter products first followed by thicker or oilier ones) so you would apply your essence after your cleanser and toner and before your serum and/or ampoule. Because of essence’s watery texture, most are applied with a cotton pad or ball, although some can be applied directly to your face using your fingers. 

Essences are also great multi taskers, especially the latest formulas hitting the market. Dr. Grossman explains, “Today essences also tend to have concentrated actives in order to improve the skin as well—blurring the line between serums and essences. So, maybe someone wants to work on several problems in the skin—using a serum and an essence can help to alleviate more than one concern.”

While essences tend to be more expensive compared to toners thanks to their potent ingredients, they will also probably last longer because you only need a couple of drops to adequately cover your face.

Just when you thought you had essences all figured out, note that there are “first essences” which can throw you for a loop.  While you might think that a “first essence” means it’s something that you need to apply first, in a lot of cases it just differentiates one collection from another. For instance, the Missha Time Revolution The First Treatment Essence is different from the other brand’s essences simply because it’s more hydrating. 

Ready to get an essence? Here are a few we love:


Missha Time Revolution The First Treatment Essence ($29.75, Amazon)


This essence contains a whopping 80 percent yeast concentrate. If you’re scratching your head about the benefits of putting yeast on your skin, note that it helps perk up your complexion, increase absorbency and elasticity, and it hydrates.



Manyo Factory Galactomyces Niacin Special Treatment Essence ($21.00, Amazon)

Manyo Factory Galactomyces Niacin Special Treatment Essence

This product might come in a pipet bottle but don’t let that fool you because it’s still very much an essence. The fermented formula helps to minimize the appearance of pores and boost your skin’s moisture barrier. Plus, you only need to use a few drops to cover your entire face.


SK-II Facial Treatment Essence ($179, Sephora)

SKII essence

This essence comes with an eye-watering price tag, but there’s a reason why people swear by it. It penetrates better than any old face cream so it can effectively hydrate your skin and minimize the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

Have you ever used an essence? Make sure to review your favorite on Influenster!