Confused about Korean essences? So is the rest of the world. And for good reason, because this is one tricky and difficult product category. However, we’re here to help you find your way into the world of Korean essences: what are they, what are they made of, and what are the best K-Beauty essences for your routine?
Are you up for a little dive into cosmetic history?
What are Korean essences?
There are two ways to answer this question, with one answer being much shorter than the other. The short answer is that Korean essences are equivalent to serums.
The long answer is that it’s never quite that simple. When Korean essences first came over to the west, nobody could quite figure out where they fit in a skincare routine. The more skincare fans tried to explain essences to one another (and got it wrong by likening essences to toners), the more Korean brands realized they had to change things around because no one in the west could understand what an essence was.
But why did we think essences were similar to toners?
In South Korea, essences are highly concentrated skincare products that promote skin barrier health (this is not a legal definition, however). “Essences” are rich in active ingredients, and in that sense they are basically the same as “serums” and “ampoules”; indeed, they enter your skincare routine at more or less the same stage. Think of these words like you think about “creams” and “moisturizers” in the world of western beauty: you probably use them interchangeably to talk about the same products.
That worked well enough in the K-Beauty market. However, when Korean essences started appearing in western stores, skincare fans got deeply confused and tried to create a definition for this “new” type of product. Magazines started claiming that essences were watery lotions, with a texture similar to toners. As we have seen, this wasn’t exactly right, but that was the definition that ended up spreading.
In order to solve this misunderstanding, somebody had to move–and it was Korean companies who moved, by essentially adapting some of their product names and descriptions to clear up any confusion with western customers. Essences with thicker formulas became “serums” in english translation (indeed, this is why you will sometimes find products with names that mean “essence” in Korean, but which are translated as “serum” in the english packaging).
This brings us to the current market situation, where essences can have a toner-like texture or a thicker one. Both options are correct and to be expected. In the end, essences are not defined by their texture, but by their function.
So, are Korean essences toners?
We mentioned that there are essences with different textures: some are nearly liquid (closer to what we in the west think of as “toners”) and some are thicker (closer to “serums”). But does this mean that the more liquid essences are toners? No. But also, yes.
The fact that there is no regulation regarding product types anywhere, means the lines between what each product type is are blurry. Or nonexistent. There is no one forbidding a toner from having a high concentration of actives and replenishing compromised skin–exactly the same as a K-Beauty essence. All in all, some essences serve the same purpose as some great toners. Now, is what you call a product extremely relevant? Not at all. What is important is that you get the benefits from the formula. Choose the texture and formula that best fits your needs and you’ll be good to go.
What are the best Korean essences?
With thousands (yes, thousands) of K-Beauty brands out there, it’s impossible for anyone to find the ultimate Korean essence. However, we can show you some of the best-selling essences that have made a name for themselves based on their unique formulas, ingredients, and benefits.
Let’s check some of them out:
Korean anti-aging essences
Korean brands love to combine classic botanical extracts with cutting-edge scientific ingredients. If you’re looking for a holistic approach to aging, a Korean essence with anti-aging properties can be a great addition to your skincare routine:
Korean essences for oily skin
Highly hydrating but fresh formulas are a specialty of Korean cosmetics. Water-like formulas provide a hydrating cocktail enriched with top-notch ingredients to help oily and even acne-prone skin:
Korean essences for dry skin
If you have dry skin, look for thick and rich formulas that glide on the skin in order to provide much-needed nourishment. You’re spoiled for choice when it comes to ingredients, too! Whether you decide to use viral snail mucin or other hydrating natural extracts, your skin will thank you.
Korean essences for sensitive skin
If you suffer from sensitive skin, worry not. One thing Koreans know about is how to soothe skin. Cosmetic treatments are extremely popular in South Korea, so most skincare routines are all about soothing the skin and keeping the skin barrier intact.
Korean essences for a “glass skin” effect
Looking for super dewy skin that is extra hydrated? These radiance-boosting essences have come to your aid, and they’re not alone. Their formulas are chock full of trusty hyaluronic acid to give you the coveted “glass skin” look:
Now that you know a little more about Korean essences, you can ask yourself the question: do you need an essence in your skincare routine? As always, the answer is “it depends”. If you’re happy with your current routine, there’s no need at add more products just for the sake of it! If you’re looking for a little extra, however, a Korean essence might just be the thing that takes your routine to the next level. There’s a formula for every concern, and we’re sure you’ll find the right one for you.
Pharmacy Technician & Beauty Writer