What Is a Skin Essence, and Do You Really Need One?

It's safe to say that the most cutting-edge skincare often originates from Korea. From sheet masks to snail gel, if something is big in Korean skincare, it's likely to become a buzz over in the West, too. So it might come as no surprise that we have Korea to thank for the surge of skin essences cropping up in our bathroom cabinets.

But what is a skin essence, and do we need to be using one? It's something I've asked myself a lot, too, because even though I'm always partial to add yet another step to my Sunday Nightlies routine, there's no point in investing in a skin essence (and trust me—some are an investment) unless you really understand what it can bring to the table.

So I spoke with Megan Felton, co-founder of expert-led skincare consultancy firm Lion/ne (and my go-to skincare guru), to find out what a skin essence really is. "Skin essences are a hard one to define because each brand will have a different meaning for what an 'essence' is," Felton says. "For some, it may be more of a toner or a facial mist, while others might use this word for a light serum."

Marketing jargon aside, what is the point of a skin essence? "An essence often has similar benefits to a serum, meaning it will have a lower molecular weight than a moisturiser and will, therefore (when formulated correctly) penetrate the skin more deeply," Felton explains.

How Do You Apply a Skin Essence?

Essences should be treated like serums when applied. Water-based (thinner) essences should go on first, working up to your thicker product like moisturiser and SPF. "The trend for skin essences became more popular with the rise of K-beauty skin regimes, that often have several steps. While the addition of a skin essence (for me personally) isn't an essential step in a skincare regime, it certainly can be an added bonus. Many skin essences can help to add in an extra layer of hydration for dehydrated skins and are great for priming the face for makeup," says Felton.

Which Is the Best Skin Essence?

There are so many skin essences around, and it really depends on the ingredients as to which is right for you. There are hydrating skin essences that are perfect for dehydrated skin types (which, let's be honest, is pretty much everyone this time of year), and then there are brightening essences that can pep up tired, dull skin. So whether you want to splash out (hello, La Mer) or try one that's more affordable (Algenist, we love you), we've rounded up some of our all-time favourite skin essences that are perfect for pimping up your Nightlies routine.