Skip To Content
  • APA badge

Here's Everything You Need To Know About Essence, The Asian Beauty Secret

If you're into the idea of plump skin, keep reading.

Zoë Burnett / BuzzFeed

We hope you love the products we recommend! Just so you know, BuzzFeed may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page. Oh, and FYI — prices are accurate and items in stock as of time of publication.

Hey, hello, what's up? I'm here to tell you that — if skin care is even REMOTELY a jam of yours — essence is not negotiable.

Essence Fest

It's been a crucial part of Asian skincare routines for literally centuries, so it's about time the rest of the world hopped on the essence train.

If you need a primer on must-have K-beauty brands, the 10-step routine, or reader-approved products, here ya go!

But worry not, if you're in the camp of "WTF is essence and why do I need it," here is everything you need to know.

Sarah Han / BuzzFeed

That's a finger heart, just fyi.

1. Essences are basically thinner and more concentrated versions of moisturizer.

2. Essence is ~essential~ for promoting skin regeneration. With consistent use and over time — and depending on the specific ingredients — essence will result in smoother and brighter skin.

@skii / Via

In Tatcha founder Victoria Tsai's new book Pure Skin: Discover the Japanese Ritual of Glowing, she explains it as such: "Moisturizers must penetrate the skin in order to nurture. The top layer of your skin is made up of dead skin cells that protect the delicate skin beneath, but this layer can prevent active ingredients from sinking into the layers where they are most needed. A water-light essence floods skin with hydration and amplifies the performance of any treatment — including sheet masks and serums — by channeling it into the skin."

3. They come in a variety of consistences from liquid to gel (especially for spot treatment essences) to lotion-like treatments, so you can figure out which ones you prefer.

@skii / Via

4. Essence should be applied after your cleansing and exfoliating/polishing steps but BEFORE any serums, ampoules, moisturizers, oils, or sleeping masks. Here's a visual to help:

Zoë Burnett / BuzzFeed

Read more about As/Is beauty editor Essence Gant's thoughts about trying the entire 10-step routine for a month! Essence and essence. Heh, so fitting!

5. Adding on, it's NOT a replacement for any of your current steps. Essence preps the skin for all the treatments that follow so they absorb fully and properly.

6. Apply with your HANDS. Pour a few drops into the wells of your palms...

The Klog / Via

If it's *especially* watery, you can also transfer the product into a spray bottle and apply sans hands.

7. ...And then rub your hands together to disperse the product a bit and pat it gently into your skin.

Sarah Han / BuzzFeed

Tap, tap, tap! It's a very nice wakeup call too, lol.

8. Essence is nutrition for the skin, so look for active, preferably fermented nutrients that produce lactic acid — which helps with cell turnover and improving skin texture — like yeast, green tea and seaweed at the top of the ingredient list!

Studio Ghibli

Why is fermentation important? According to a post on The Klog that consulted Outin Futures R&D Director, G. Choo, “fermentation naturally produces amino acids, vitamins, and various antioxidants, which are great for the skin" and the process "results in a smaller molecular structure, which makes it easier to absorb into the skin.”

And ingredients are basically placed under very specific conditions: virtually nonexistent light, 30-70 degrees celsius, and a humidity of 70-80%.

9. Essence isn't just for the's for your hair too! Hair essences coat your hair with a thin, watery layer of nourishment and protect that makes your strands instantly shinier and softer!

Soko Glam

A #sokosecret Charlotte Cho shares in her book: "Whenever I would get my hair done in Seoul, my stylist would also give me a stern scolding when I'd cop to using an essence only every once in a while instead of every time I washed my hair." I've personally used this avocado leave-in essence and it's fab! It has just the right consistency and texture that doesn't weigh down your hair and absorbs instantly into damp hair.

More recently I've been using a hair oil after each hair wash (technically all hair treatments are referred to as "essences" in Korea) — British M Organics Annatto Hair Oil to be precise (read my full review if ya want) — and my hair has never felt healthier and softer. It also tames the post-wash frizz so, so much.

Get Skinfood Avocado Leave-in Fluid from Soko Glam for $8. If you prefer mists, hair essences are often marketed as such too!

10. And a personal anecdote: It feels FUCKING LUXURIOUS — mind you — *on top* of nourishing and plumping your skin. My skin doesn't drink up moisturizer or anything else the same way than it drinks up essence. There's also something so soothing about patting it in, and I wouldn't trade that few moments every morning and night for the world.


Sometimes I skip the morning because I'm in a rush, but I ALWAYS apply essence at night along with the rest of my routine.

And of course, I can't leave you without a few product suggestions:

Tatcha The Essence is known as a skin softener and it's made up of 98.7 percent hadasei-3, a concentrate of green tea, rice, and algae. When your moisture levels are instantly doubled, looking like a plump cherub becomes your reality.

@tatcha / Via

Ok, you don't even want to get me started on how much I love this essence, but I'm gonna tell you anyways. It's my holy grail, my skin's anthem, and the siren call of softness. Yes, I KNOW the price tag is hella steep, but I'm NOT KIDDING you when I say, if I could only own one skin care item, it'd be this. It's soft and delightful in every sense and I totally attribute this to the health and softness of my skin throughout the colder months, and even now as it warms up.

P.S. Allure editor-in-chief Michelle Lee also uses this essence, so BRB stocking up on my supply and getting backups! Check out her entire skin care routine, plus those of seven other boss editors!

Get it from Sephora or Barneys for $95.

Missha Time Revolution The First Treatment Essence works overtime to clear up your skin, so temperamental and dull skin types, rejoice!

Neogen Real Ferment Micro Essence is 93% fermented, which is crazy good for your skin. It's also fragrance-free and contains 17% birch juice (substituting water, essentially) and 9% rice extract for brightening effects.

@sokoglam / Via

Pick it up before it inevitably sells out again! Neogen is just one of those scientific-but-totally-approachable brands that I'll trust fall into. No lie. I've been using this one constantly since I got it and it just feels like I'm doing something ~wonderful~ for my stressed out skin.

Get it from Soko Glam for $38.

Laneige Water Bank Essence has a slightly ~silky~ texture made from hydro ionized mineral water and six essential minerals to keep everything supple and smooth!

@laneige_us / Via

Get it from Laneige for $36.

Cosrx Galactomyces 95 Tone Balancing Essence feels like a watery gel that glides right onto your skin and contains 95% galactomyces ferment filtrate, in addition to the more recognizable crowd fave, hyaluronic acid.

Soko Glam

Cosrx has definitely developed a cult following for their no-bullshit formulas that give you results, PERIOD.

Get it from Soko Glam for $20.

Shiseido Eudermine Revitalizing Essence, first introduced in1897, is one of the brand's oldest products and feels as soft as flower petals. Its main draw is its quick response to changes in climate to keep the skin's moisture levels consistent.


Promising review: "I began using Shiseido products 30 years ago in Hawai'i, where your skin is intensely challenged day and night. Seeing how diligently my Japanese-American friends followed tradition with these products, I also followed suit and have been pleasantly rewarded. Starting and ending the day with Eudermine Essence tones, hydrates, and smooths the skin wonderfully, and allows the rest of your skincare regimen to absorb perfectly. Shiseido packaging is also a delight and a reminder of the timeless beauty the company strives for." —Miss Fritz

Get it from Nordstrom for $48.45+ (available in two sizes).

Leegeehaam Tea Tree 90 Essence contains 90% tea tree extract, making it a godsend for those with sensitive, irritated, and acne-prone skin types.

You can use it all over the face or as a targeted spot treatment. Tea tree extract is well-known for helping keep breakouts 👏under 👏control 👏, while trehalose helps bind moisture to your skin and sea buckthorn extract and centella asiatica helps to improve skin texture and tone!

Get it from Glow Recipe for $45.

For the most potent dose of hyaluronic acid of your entire life, look no further than Hanskin Skin Essence.

@sokoglam / Via

This one's slightly stickier in texture, but there's a damn good reason why it earned a winning spot in Soko Glam's Best of K-Beauty 2017 Awards. Why? Because it contains a special, advanced form of hyaluronic acid called sodium hyaluronate that is made up of smaller molecules that lets it — drumroll, please — hold 1,000 times more moisture than water. Um yes, one thousand. YOU READ THAT RIGHT. Plus, it supports lipid production, which in turn helps to repair your fragile skin barrier.

Get it from Soko Glam for $46.

AmorePacific Vintage Single Extract Essence costs a hefty penny because its handpicked green tea leaves are grown in one of their gardens on Jeju Island, naturally fermented for 50 days, and then transferred by tea masters and placed into onggis (traditional Korean earthware that are buried underground) to age for another 50 days.

http://@amorepacific.official / Via

Yeah, it's safe to say they take the fermentation process VERY seriously. I felt like an emperor's daughter when I used this for the first time and I swear my skin looked calmer and brighter when I woke up the next morning.

Get it from AmorePacific or Nordstrom for $145.

You upon waking up in the morning post-essence:

Check out how BuzzFeed is celebrating at Asian Pacific American Heritage Month!

Andrew Richard / BuzzFeed