Perhaps you’ve heard of this often confusing skincare step mentioned on Peach & Lily before, or you’ve heard a celebrity swear by using one. Or, perhaps, you're hearing of them for the first time right now.
You might be wondering—why do Korean women swear by using an essence? How is it different from a serum? What kind of results should I expect? So, here’s everything you need to know about essences.
We've broken down all of our essences, so if you already have your eye on one, just click on it's name below to skip to it!
Cremorlab Mineral Treatment Essence
Mizon Mela Defense White Capsule Essence
Mizon Water Volume EX First Essence
May Coop Raw Sauce
Primera Miracle Seed Essence
Cremorlab Aqua Essence Water Fluid
Shangpree Bitgoa Hue Essence Toner
Tosowoong Propolis Brightening Essence
Tosowoong Green Tea Eco Brightening Essence
Dr. Dream Age Radiance Powder Essence
The Lotus Essence with Lotus Leaf
Lady & Skin La Vie En Rose Youth Reviving Essence
WHAT IS IT?
Essence is an integral step in typical skincare routines of Korean women. The primary goal of an essence above all else, is to hydrate. Alicia always notes that our skin is like a sponge—when wet, it becomes more absorbent. Using an essence drenches the skin with moisture allowing for better absorption of subsequent products. Also, like a sponge, when it’s wet and it’s squeezed, the surface doesn’t crack unlike a brittle, dry sponge. In the same way, when skin is well hydrated, it is healthier, stronger and functions better. Essences help your sponge-like skin fill up with necessary moisture for better skin health and better product absorption.
Ultra simplified skin diagram - left depicts dehydrated skin, right depicts hydrated skin
While the primary goal of an essence is to help hydrate skin, essences are also packed with other skin-benefitting ingredients that help firm, brighten, lift, etc.
WHAT DO THEY FEEL LIKE?
Essences are (usually) fluid-y substances, which feel much like water. However, they range from that thin consistency to much more viscous, serum/emulsion-like textures. We even carry a uniquely formulated powder essence that liquefies upon application. They run the gamut in texture, but typically they’re less viscous than serums.
HOW DO YOU USE AN ESSENCE?
As for the how-to: It’s easy. After cleansing and toning, pour a small amount onto your palm and pat into skin. You can also use a cotton pad to pat into skin.
WHICH ESSENCE IS BEST FOR ME?
Because each essence is formulated with benefits in addition to its primary function – hydration – and because some are better for certain skin types, this guide will help you pick that perfect essence for you.
Of course, you can still always email one of our in-house estheticians (at email@example.com) with any questions regarding picking the best essence for skin care regimen.
Here at Peach & Lily, we’ve got a pretty extensive range of these miracle skin tonics. Read on for all the need-to-knows to help you figure out the perfect essence for your skin!
Alicia's Take: “When I tested this, I knew it would become the cult-favorite product it is today. Cremorlab products use their exclusive thermal water that’s rich in rare minerals like vanadium. The water is so good for wellness that the brand makes pharmaceutical-grade products with their water. All that goodness comes in an intensively hydrating essence form – to boot, the brand decided to include a rich list of active ingredients. Not only is skin immediately hydrated, but after a few weeks of use, skin is more translucent, uneven skin tone is improved, and skin feels really, really supple.”
Key Ingredients: Niacinamide (brightens), rose water (soothes), glycerin (hydrating), adenosine (refines skin texture and brightens), thermal water (vitamin rich--nourishing)
Who It’s Best For: normal, combination, oily skin types.
Benefits: helps with pores, texture, brightens, moisturizes
Scent: very faint—earthy, fresh
The Innovation Factor: Cremorlab's Mineral Treatment Essence has become a P&L cult classic—a favorite from the start. Its unique combination of fermented ingredients + Cremorlab's proprietary T.E.N. thermal water give this product a unique, hard-to-find formulation.
Alicia's Take: “This essence is great for anyone who is struggling with any kind of hyperpigmentation – acne scarring, sun spots, uneven skin tone. It works really quickly and stubborn dark spots are dramatically improved or gone altogether. Love that there’s also a ton of antioxidants included in this to help your skin nourish itself as the hyperpigmentation is being combatted. When we initially tested this product four years ago, our focus-group gave this product the highest marks for the visible results – and now it's a customer-favorite, too.”
Key Ingredients: niacinamide (brightens), vitamin C (antioxidant, fights breakouts and dark spots), jojoba oil (hydrating)
Who It’s For: oily, normal, combination -- and primarily combatting hyperpigmentation. (Note: not ideal for sensitive skin)
Benefits: brightens, helps with breakouts, hydrating but lightweight (note: not hydrating enough for those with dry or normal-to-dry skin)
Texture: a slippery liquid, with capsules which keep the ingredients fresh until application
Scent: a clean floral, noticeable, but not overpowering
The Innovation Factor: A lot of products that combat hyperpigmentation can be very drying and can cause flaking of the skin. Not this one. This formulation includes a medley of wonderful oils—even though you might not notice it at all as the texture is really liquid-y and lightweight—which was an interesting twist to add so that the skin barrier stays a bit stronger versus getting flaky. (Note: for those who breakout using oils, this may not be the best essence for you; it's not a very oily product, though, and you can't feel any greasiness or heaviness at all, so this note is for the benefit of those who are very sensitive to oils)
Alicia's Take: “Mizon’s R&D labs never fail to impress with dozens upon dozens of patented solutions for formulations and ingredients that quickly become well loved by Korea’s discerning beauty consumers. This essence has their patented hydration technology that they spent a meaningful amount of time working on. It basically hydrates, but also helps the skin better hydrate itself from within! It’s sort of like working out – you’re providing your body with needed exercise, but with continued exercise, the body becomes healthier. It’s a positive cycle. Love products that help skin improve itself. Great noticeable results with the first try – but the real magic is with continued use, skin is able to better hydrate itself.”
Key ingredients: Mizon’s patented Hydra ToX technology (activates the skin’s natural moisturizing capabilities to improve the moisture barrier), lactic acid (resurfaces, smoothes, and brightens the skin), niacinamide (brightening), adenosine (skin smoothing), sunflower oil (hydrating, does not clog pores)
Who It’s For: all skin types
Benefits: brightens, refines texture, hydrating, skin becomes more able to hydrate itself
Texture: clear, watery
Scent: subtle scent that's fresh and lightly fruity
The Innovation Factor: Mizon's R&D lab is among the top in epically skin-savvy Seoul. Patented Hydra ToX technology activates the skin's natural moisturizing capabilities, which strengthens the skin's barrier and locks hydration in, allowing your skin to better absorb all products applied afterwards.
Alicia's Take: “We partnered with Sephora on this product, so you might have seen this in Sephora’s shelves on their “Favorites” wall. I’m not surprised that this product ended up there. It’s been a favorite at Peach & Lily, too, as soon as we launched it. Maple tree sap is smaller than water molecules and the same size as your bodily fluids, so this waterless essence will disappear right into skin. Watch your skin drink this up – nature’s power at its best.”
Key Ingredients: maple tree sap (hydrating and nourishing), panthenol (conditioning), antioxidants like chestnut, rice bran, grape, black currant, and wheat extracts (shield skin from free radical damage)
Who It’s For: normal, combination, oily, dry. Not ideal for sensitive skin.
Benefits: hydrating, nourishging, protective, brightening, softening
Texture: silky, watery, with a bit of hold, doesn't drip right off the skin, slick but never sticky
Scent: subtle hints of sweet maple
The Innovation Factor: May Coop uses maple tree sap as its base instead of water like many beauty products. The first ingredient listed is the hero ingredient, maple tree sap, which is both the base of the product and the active ingredient. That means this beautiful, natural product has a whole lot of action that is happening for your skin. This nutrient-packed essence is a cult-favorite for its ability to help us achieve that coveted lit-from-within glow.
Alicia's Take: “I love fermented ingredients for all the vitamins, amino acids, minerals in them. However, some people can be sensitive to products with fermented ingredients, and this product came up a lot in reviews from those who usually react poorly to fermented ingredients as one of the few fermented-ingredient products that didn't break them out. So hats off to Primera for this gentle formulation!"
Key Ingredients: lotus seed extract (antioxidant, brightens, moisturizing), Saccharomyces Ferment (boosts cell turnover rate, firming, brightening), glycerin (hydrating)
Who It’s For: all skin types, including sensitive skin types.
Benefits: anti-aging, hydrating, brightening, texture refining
Texture: clear, watery
Scent: almost entirely undetectable
The Innovation Factor: Primera's natural formulation contains 93.1% lotus seed extract, rich in amino acids and linoleic acids to plump and hydrate the skin.
Alicia's Take: “I test a lot of products and my already sensitive skin sometimes goes through the wringer. This is the essence I personally reach for whenever my skin needs some extra love while treating my skin with kid gloves. I never worry that this will irritate my skin, even when sensitized. It also hydrates my skin and plumps it up. Makeup looks great afterwards with a well-primed canvas. This has been a staple in my bathroom cabinet for years."
Key Ingredients: witch hazel (toning and pore refining), licorice (brightening/anti-inflammatory), soybean oil (antioxidant, hydrating, helps with breakouts)
Who It’s For: all skin types, including sensitive skin types
Benefits: hydrating, antioxidants, minimizes pores, soothing
Texture: This essence won't slip off the hand at all, a gel-like consistency which absorbs as it's massaged into the skin
Scent: light and fresh
The Innovation Factor: Defying our expectations of essences, this slightly goopy formulation is made to nurture the driest skin types back to a state of hydrated-ness. It's richly hydrating, but will not make the skin greasy, thanks to toning witch hazel and anti-inflammatory licorice. And of course, includes Cremorlab's signature T.E.N. mineral-rich thermal water.
Alicia's Take: "This was love-at-first-pat. And of course, it would be. It was created so thoughtfully by Korea's top estheticians from the iconic award-winning spa, Shangpree. Basically, this hydrates, makes skin really radiant, doesn't irritate, and leaves skin with that bouncy feel when you're well rested, totally hydrated, and having your best skin moment. This essence creates that best-skin-moment for me every morning. LOVE LOVE LOVE this one."
Key Ingredients: niacinamide (brightening), ginseng root, pumpkin, rice, pomegranate extracts (brightening and antioxidant), glycerin (hydrating)
Benefits: hydrating, brightening, antioxidants
Who It’s For: all skin types, including sensitive skin. And dry and normal skin types will especially find this perhaps even a holy-grail essence.
Texture: opaque milky liquid, feels like silk on the skin
Scent: herbal, floral
The Innovation Factor: Eight fermented ingredients (lotus, soybean, pomegranate, rice, pumpkin, milk, rye, and ginseng root) are united in this impressive formula, which combines toner and essence into one luxe step—trust us, you won't feel like you're skimping with this one.
Alicia's Take: "I love propolis for how it calms my skin down while energizing it -- and this one is all-about-that propolis."
Key Ingredients: propolis (brightening, anti-microbial, and anti-inflammatory), witch hazel (anti-inflammatory, oil balancing, reduces pore size), Vitamin E (brightening, hydrating, antioxidant) Green Tea (balancing, antioxidant), galactomyces ferment filtrate (antioxidant, hydrating, brightening)
Who It’s For: all skin types, but not ideal for sensitive skin
Benefits: soothing, hydrating, antioxidant, brightening
Texture: clear, gel-type, syrup-y texture
Scent: subtle honey scent
The Innovation Factor: A rich concentration of propolis (75%) means this essence emphasizes calming irritation and redness in addition to the general hydrating properties of this step of your skincare regimen.
Alicia's Take: "I don't break out often and don't have too many issues with redness, but I do get inflammed, red angry skin when I test the wrong products. I use this essence when my skin is irritated and it calms it down, and helps reduce the redness."
Key Ingredients: green tea (brightening, balancing, antioxidant), glactomyces ferment filtrate (antioxidant, hydrating, brightening), witch hazel (brightening, balancing, pore size reducing), adenosine (texture perfecting), Vitamin E (brightening, hydrating, antioxidant), strawberry, rice, blackberry, raspberry extracts (antioxidants)
Who It’s For: all skin types, including sensitive skin
Benefits: brightening, pore refining, texture refining, hydrating, antioxidants
Texture: clear, gel-like, syrup-y texture
Scent: light green tea scent
The Innovation Factor: Antioxidants are not always given the credit they are due. These powerful molecules, however, are some of our best defenses against free radicals and other environmental stressors that cause damage to the skin. Green tea is incredibly rich in antioxidants, making this essence a great choice for anyone in need of strong defenses. In combination with peptides, galactomyces ferment filtrate, vitamin E, and adenosine, this essence features potent anti-aging, brightening, and hydrating ingredients too.
Alicia's Take: "I try really, really hard to wear enough SPF daily, but invariably, at the end of each summer, I am struggling with uneven skin tone and sunspots. I used this essence set and by the end of the 4-vial set, I was starting fall with translucent, totally even-toned face, and knew this just had to be curated for the site. Focus-group-test results, as expected, said just as much!"
Key Ingredients: rose stem cell (hydrating, anti-aging), rose water (soothing, nourishing), eucalyptus (purifying, skin refining), yuzu & grapefruit (brightening, antioxidant)
Who It’s For: all skin types, including sensitive skin
Benefits: brightening, repairing, soothing
Texture: powder—liquefies upon contact with skin
Scent: light rose
The Innovation Factor: One of our favorite things about this one-of-a-kind powder essence, is its versatility. While it can be used alone, we like to cocktail it in with serums, moisturizers, or even our cushion compacts, to give our skin a boost in brightening antioxidant power. Turn an ordinary product into an extraordinary one by adding this booster in. This is DIY beauty at a whole new level of innovation.
Alicia's Take: "When my skin needs a little boost of strength, I turn to this essence. The white lotus leaf extract from pristine Jeju Island that is exclusively used in this brand's lineup of star-products, is a super-powerful antioxidant and when that's combined with ceramides, my skin feels strengthened both from the skin barrier feeling stronger and from the skin-within being fed a very nourishing meal. I think of this as a mega-vitamin-pack for the skin."
Key Ingredients: lotus leaf extract (anti-aging, antioxidant, pH balancing), green tea extract (brightening, antioxidant), ceramide (strengthens skin, hydrates), sunflower seed oil (hydrating and nourishing)
Who It’s For: all skin types, including sensitive skin. (Note: not for those who might be allergic or sensitive to lotus leaf extract)
Benefits: antioxidant, brightening, hydrating
Texture: milky liquid, smooth to the touch
Scent: natural, herbal, slightly floral scent, lingers, but is pleasant
The Innovation Factor: The Lotus is named to honor its hero ingredient—the unique flower is the source and inspiration of the products and is harvested from the pond at the ancient Beophwa Temple on Jeju Island, which has earned its fame as a beauty mecca thanks to the lush ingredients growing there. This incredible formula contains 89% lotus leaf extract, which contains flavinoids—an anti-inflammatory antioxidant. The waterless nature of this innovative formula allows for an undiluted, highly concentrated product.
Alicia's Take: "I personally am not able to use products with a strong scent, but I appreciate the luxurious ingredient list of this product -- truffle oil, caviar extract! Here's a brand that doesn't skimp on ingredients."
Key Ingredients: rosewater (soothing, hydrating, pore tightening, texture refining), caviar extract (nourishing), truffle oil (antioxidant), collagen (hydrating, firming) adenosine (brightening, texture refining)
Who It’s For: oily, combination, normal-to-oily. Not ideal for those with dry skin or sensitive skin
Benefits: antioxidant, nourishing, softening
Texture: This gel-like essence absorbs into the skin, leaves skin with a tiny bit of a chalky feel immediately after, but about five minutes after, skin is left smooth
Scent: strong rose scent that lingers
The Innovation Factor: This luxurious essence's ingredient list reads like a menu at a very fancy restaurant. Containing 100% Bulgarian Rosewater instead of water, which is anti-inflammatory, healing, and mildly astringent, which tones the pores. Caviar, truffles, gold, and fermented grapes provide nutrients to the skin.
Finally, for the visual among us, check out all our essences, organized by texture, from most watery to most viscous.