What exactly is 'essence' and do I need it in my skincare routine?

Image: iStock.

If you’ve been perusing the skincare aisles of your favourite beauty haunts recently, you might have spotted one product popping up on shelves more than others – ‘essences’.

A skincare staple in Asia, more and more Western brands are incorporating essences into their stables – but what exactly are they and where on earth do they fit into your existing routine?

According to Emma Hobson, Education Manager for the International Dermal Institute and Dermalogica, essences are great for dehydrated skin.

“Essences have been available in Asia for years, particularly as they are formulated to focus on hydration. Because they are so lightweight they are a great product to use in a humid climate or when the weather is drying,” she explains. (Another of our skincare favourites? Face mists like the Jurlique Balancing Rosewater Mist. Post continues after video.)

As for exactly what they are, the answer’s not quite so simple.

“Today an essence is more or less the same as a serum or ‘booster’, but that said, you can also buy essence toners. An essence is always lightweight in texture where as some serums can be (but by no means all) slightly more viscous,” she explains.

Because essences were traditionally lighter and more watery, they were originally used as an extra hydrating layer post-toner to use in addition to serums, but have developed to incorporate some of those serum benefits in their own right. (Post continues after gallery.)


Like a serum, an essence contains carefully selected active ingredients that target specific skin concerns which differentiate them from toners.

“As a rule of thumb a serum will most likely have a slightly higher concentration of actives than an essence,” Hobson says.

To use essences, she advises pressing or lightly patting the product into skin after toner and before moisturiser – unless it’s an essence toner (like a toner but with added hydrating benefits) in which case you would use it instead of toner. Confusing, we know!

While the difference between an essence and a serum has become quite small, as both products have developed, Hobson believes the confusion ultimately just comes down to language.

They're great for dry or dehydrated skin. Image: iStock

"Up until now in Europe, the US and Australia we have tended to use the word 'serum' and 'booster' when naming and marketing these style of products, whereas in Asia they have used the word 'essence'," she explains.

So whether you opt for an essence, booster or serum - it's up for you and a matter of personal preference, but there's no denying what a saviour (and necessity) they are if you're someone with dehydrated skin.

Do you use an essence?

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