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Everything You Need to Know About Essences, a K-Beauty Staple

What does an Essence do? We're answering all your questions about Essences—and how to get glowing young-looking skin with this superstar product.
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Known as the heart of Korean skin care, the essence is a staple of the 10-step routine. Outside of K-beauty, however, the essence doesn't seem to be, well, essential. They're honestly kinda misunderstood and their purpose can seem somewhat unclear. Is it a toner? Is it a serum? Is it just... fancy water?

Just going off the packaging, its benefits can seem very similar to products you may already be using. So... do you actually need one? Well, that's up to you — but to start, know this: An essence isn't a toner and it isn't a serum. It's actually so much more — so don't skip it! Here's everything you need to know.

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What is an essence?

An essence is a super-packed water-like product whose active ingredients attack your face's worst enemies: dryness, fine lines, wrinkles, uneven skin tone and skin dullness. An essence — specifically, essences from Korea — differ from a serum and toner in that it's meant to nourish your skin and work on a more cellular level to optimize your skin cell turnover rate. It's literally skin regeneration in a bottle. (Think Wolverine from X-Men.)

Active ingredients commonly used in essences are fermented yeast, rice extract and hyaluronic acid. With regular use, an essence can help you achieve smoother, brighter and younger looking skin.

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When do I use an essence?

Everyday! An essence isn't as highly concentrated as a serum and generally contains ingredients that are safe for everyday use, so you don't have to worry about irritation.

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How do I use an essence?

Apply your essence after cleansing your face and applying toner. Essences also help your skin absorb your skin care products better — they enhance the effectiveness of other products like serums — so apply your essence early in your skin care routine.

(P.S. As a general rule for layering skin care: Go from lightest consistency to the thickest.)

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Do I need an essence?

Essences give you an extra boost of hydration, anti aging and brightening. But to be 100... you don't need-need it. If you have a solid skin care routine, complete with moisturizer, exfoliators, serums and whatnot, then your skin is likely already getting a little bit of everything you need. But an essence can give your skin that extra oomph — especially if you're concerned with dryness, aging, or skin sensitivity. In K-beauty the essence is the heart, and for me it's essential — but ultimately, you do you.

Ready to give an essence a try? Read on to see my favorite essences.

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