The Korean 10-step skincare routine isn’t for everyone, but there’s no denying that the best essences do bring something extra to the table that your regular toners and moisturisers can’t achieve.
What are facial essences?
Facial essences were a uniquely Korean skincare category but has now become a skincare staple even in the Western world. The texture of essences ranges from watery, almost toner-like, to rich and gel-like closer to that of a serum.
Essences often contain active ingredients to target specific skin concerns, on top of providing additional hydration to the skin. Essences also prepare the skin to absorb products that are applied afterwards, to maximise the potency of serums and moisturisers.
How to use facial essences?
In a skincare routine, an essence goes after a toner and before ampoules, serums and moisturisers. If you are using multiple essences, the typical order would be from the thinnest to thickest textures, to make sure each layer can properly absorb before another one is added on top.
You can apply essences with your hands or cotton pads for added exfoliation effect.
Best essences to try
If you are looking to add one to your routine, here are 20 best essences to help you achieve your skin goals, be it healthy, well-hydrated skin or a glowing complexion.
su:m37° Secret Essence
The iconic Secret Essence is su:m37°’s best-seller and it is no surprise how popular and well-loved this product is. The key ingredient Cytosis®, derived from a unique fermentation process, is capable of strengthening the skin’s foundation and reversing signs of ageing, all while intensely hydrating the skin.
The subtle scent of lavender from the essence also has a calming and relaxing effect every time you use it.
su:m37° Secret Essence retails for SGD108, available at all su:m37 ̊ counters in TANGS at Tang Plaza and VivoCity, and Isetan Tampines.
Laneige Water Bank Hydro Essence
Laneige Water Bank Hydro Essence has the lightweight texture of an essence and the potency of a serum, which allows it to deliver hydration to deeper layers of the skin.
The Green Mineral Water with mineral-filled vegetable extract will replenish the skin with nutrients and hydration, which are then securely locked in using Laneige’s special formula called Water Zipper.
Laneige Water Bank Hydro Essence is available on Sephora at SGD60 (70ml).
COSRX Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence
K-beauty enthusiasts are no stranger to this cult favourite essence from COSRX. The high concentration of snail secretion filtrate in the product deeply moisturises and gives the skin a healthy glow.
This essence has a rich and luxurious texture, yet absorbs quickly into the skin. It is ideal for those with dry and dehydrated skin.
The COSRX Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence is available on Watsons at SGD28.90.
COSRX Galactomyces 95 Tone Balancing Essence
Formulated with 95% Galactomyces Ferment Filtrate, the COSRX Galactomyces 95 Tone Balancing Essence is intensely hydrating and nourishing. It also contains Niacinamide to fade dark spots and hyperpigmentation, for an even and more radiant complexion.
This essence is perfect for those with dehydrated skin. The lightweight, fast-absorbing texture also makes it possible to layer other products on top of it.
COSRX Galactomyces 95 Tone Balancing Essence is available on Watsons at SGD32.90 (100ml).
Missha Time Revolution The First Treatment Essence
The Missha Time Revolution The First Treatment Essence has consistently been among the most highly raved about essences. It’s even considered one of the best dupes for the more expensive SK-II Facial Treatment Essence.
Despite the affordable price tag, this essence packs a punch. Formulated with 90% fermented yeast extracts of Himalayan purple barley and gemmule,the highly concentrated essence nourishes and hydrates the skin from within and give it a healthy, radiant glow.
Missha Time Revolution The First Treatment Essence is available on Amazon at SGD38.66.
Fresh Kombucha Facial Treatment Essence
Made from kombucha, fermented sweet black tea, Fresh Kombucha Facial Treatment Essence is packed with good bacteria and antioxidants to fight against pollution and signs of ageing.
The highly concentrated formula will help strengthen the skin’s barrier, smooth out fine lines and keep the skin hydrated all day long.
Fresh Kombucha Facial Treatment Essence is available on Sephora at SGD45 (50ml).
Jurlique Activating Water Essence
The Jurlique Activating Water Essence contains high-performing botanical extracts such as Marshmallow Root extract to enhance the skin’s natural glow and activate its ability to retain moisture.
It also primes the skin to better absorb the products that you apply afterwards so you can get the most out of your skincare regimen.
Jurlique Activating Water Essence retails for SGD93 (150ml), available at all Jurlique stores at Plaza Singapore, Takashimaya, and Westgate.
b.glen QuSome White Essence
While most essences come in a more watery texture, the b.glen QuSome White Essence has a more luxurious gel-like consistency and is meant to be applied after your serums.
Formulated with key brightening ingredient Arbutin, the Qusome White Essence promises to intensely brighten the skin, fade dark spots and protect the skin from future UV damage. A great brightening essence with proven active ingredients isn’t the only thing that’s important – the delivery system is – too.
b.glen’s unique QuSome® technology encapsulates the Arbutin molecules and delivers them deep into the skin to target the source of skin damages.
This means that, unlike many other brightening products, the key ingredient Arbutin is protected in nano-sized capsules instead of being exposed to air and light.
Beauty ingredients are less likely to oxidise and lose efficacy, which often happens to unstable ingredients such as Arbutin or vitamin C, and can be used both during the day and at night. The patented technology is really what makes this product a winner.
With consistent use of 45 to 60 days, many users have managed to see a visible brightening effect and a healthy, luminous glow on their skin.
b.glen QuSome White Essence retails for SGD73, available exclusively on b.glen’s website.
WEI Royal Ming Imperial Tonic Essence
This refreshing essence uses all-natural ingredients that are commonly found in Traditional Chinese Medicine, such as tree peony, wild ginseng root, and Tibetan safflower.
Use this regularly by splashing it onto cleansed face, and you’ll find that it gives an instant boost of hydration and enhance the absorption of other skincare products that follow.
Those who are sensitive to alcohol will also be happy to know that its formula is alcohol-free.
WEI Royal Ming Imperial Tonic Essence retails at SGD95, available at Sephora.
Innisfree Soybean Energy Essence EX
Made with 91% naturally fermented Jeju soybean extract, this facial essence helps to purify, smoothen, and brighten skin. Despite is relatively affordable price, this is much raved about by those who have tried it, with some of them calling this one of the best essences they have ever used.
The soybean extract is an important ingredient in the product that helps to protect skin from environmental aggressors, while calming and moisturising skin. This is especially loved by users with dry and rough skin.
Innisfree Soybean Energy Essence EX retails at SGD54, available at all Innisfree boutiques. You can also get it at SGD44.30 at Althea.
Starting Treatment Essence Rose Edition
The Rose Edition of the popular Secret Key Starting Treatment Essence contains rose water extracts to hydrate and brighten the skin. The 94% galactomyces ferment filtrate helps smooth out skin texture and gives the skin a healthy glow.
Starting Treatment Essence Rose Edition retails for SGD33.50, available on Althea.
Kiehl’s Iris Extract Activating Treatment Essence
If you are looking to amp up your anti-ageing routine, definitely consider the Kiehl’s Iris Extract Activating Treatment Essence. It contains Iris Florentina root extract to nourish the skin, Sodium Hyaluronate to boost hydration, and lipo hydroxy acid (LHA) to refine skin texture.
The essence also optimises the penetration of subsequent products on your skin, particularly ideal to be used in a multi-step skincare routine.
Kiehl’s Iris Extract Activating Treatment Essence retails for SGD68, available at all Kiehl’s boutiques islandwide.
Arcona Celestial Activating Essence
One thing you might immediately notice when you shop for this product is how the essence in every bottle seems to look different. This is because the essence is made with natural ingredients like Rose and Chamomile, and different harvest used give it a different tint.
This lightweight essence is well-loved for its ability to deliver instant hydration that soothes your skin, and at the same time helps to improve the absorption of the actives from other products that you may apply later.
With ingredients that help to calm skin while delivering anti-ageing benefits, this facial essence is suitable for all skin types, and is lauded by many users as one of the best essences they’ve tried.
Arcona Celestial Activating Essence retails at SGD73, available at Sephora.
SK-II Facial Treatment Essence
This iconic essence needs no introduction. Nicknamed “miracle water”, the SK-II Facial Treatment Essence is formulated with more than 90% Pitera™ extract, a special yeast strain exclusive to SK-II and is packed with amino acids, vitamins and minerals.
This highly concentrated and powerful formula improves the skin’s barrier, prevents skin surface damage and reverses signs of ageing.
L’Oreal Paris Revitalift Crystal Micro-Essence
A relatively new product, the L’Oreal Paris Revitalift Crystal Micro-Essence has already impressed with its powerful and effective formula.
It contains skin-brightening actives such as Salicylic Acid to mildly exfoliate the skin, as well as HEPES (Sulfonic Acid), which activates natural enzymes to break the bonds between dead skin cells the skin surface, for a clearer and brighter complexion. Centella Asiatica, rich in antioxidants and known for its healing and soothing properties, is a key ingredient that helps to deeply repair and firm the skin.
This facial essence has a lightweight and watery consistency, which absorbs quickly into the skin and penetrates up to ten skin layers for an instant boost of hydration. It also doesn’t leave a sticky residue, perfect to use in Singapore’s humid weather as well as to layer other products on top of it.
The result can be seen within just seven days. You can look forward to well-hydrated, crystal clear skin with a brighter complexion and smoother texture. As dehydration often causes skin to overproduce sebum, well-hydrated skin will also tend to be less oily. If this sounds like the skin of your dream, definitely consider adding this essence into your daily skincare routine.
The L’Oreal Paris Revitalift Crystal Micro-Essence retails for SGD35.90 for 130ml, and SGD22.90 for 65ml. You can find it at Watsons, Guardian, major super/hypermarkets, selected department stores, Lazada and Shopee.
Hada Labo Super Hyaluronic Acid Premium Hydrating Lotion
A step-up from the popular Hada Labo Super Hyaluronic Acid Hydrating Lotion, this Premium comes with even more hydrating power. It contains five types of hyaluronic acid that penetrates from the surface to inner skin layers to hydrate and keep your skin looking plump and glowy all day.
While many use the original Hada Labo Super Hyaluronic Acid Hydrating Lotion as a toner, the slightly thicker texture of the Premium version makes it more suitable to be used as an essence.
Hada Labo Super Hyaluronic Acid Premium Hydrating Lotion retails for SGD18.67 (170ml) on Watsons.
ALBION Flora Drip Essence
ALBION Flora Drip Essence was only launched in 2019 but has already received numerous beauty awards in for its benefits and efficacy.
Through the brand’s unique fermentation technique, the key ingredients including pure white koji and five medicinal herbs interact with one another to produce over 7,800 multiple active substances to treat long-term cell damage and deliver seven anti-ageing benefits.
Another unique feature of the Flora Drip essence is its herbal scent that helps calm and relax the mind. When using the essence, it is advised to rub it in the palms of your hands and breathe in the scent before pressing it onto your skin.
The ALBION Flora Drip Essence is priced at SGD98 (80ml) and SGD182 (160ml), available at all ALBION counters – at Takashimaya Department Store, Metro Paragon and Robinsons Raffles City.
Caolion Peace Water Aqua Essence Mist
If you’re looking for an essence that can deliver intense hydration, consider this one. Made with 10 different hydrating plant ingredients that are native to Jeju, this highly concentrated essence helps to instantly hydrate skin. Those with dry and dehydrated skin will be happy to know that their skin will be intensely hydrated for a long time.
Caolion Peace Water Aqua Essence Mist retails at SGD35, available at Sephora.
Primera Miracle Seed Essence
Primera Miracle Seed Essence is made with 93.1% lotus seed extract, with high concentrations of amino acids and linoleic acid to nourish the skin.
The luxurious gel-like texture instantly makes the skin feel supple and soft to the touch, particularly suitable for those with dry and dull skin.
Primera Miracle Seed Essence retails for SGD68.90, available on Althea.
Caudalie Vinoperfect Concentrated Brightening Essence
If you’re looking for an essence that helps brighten skin and is suitable for sensitive skin, your search may be over. This essence from Caudalie is designed to be a prep-step essence to help receive the active ingredients from your subsequent skincare products, so that their effectiveness can be maximised.
At the same time, it helps to gently sweep away dead skin cells so you can achieve an instant radiance.
Online reviews for this essence were great. Some reviewers call this their “favourite essence” and others attest to the brightness and softness of their skin after using it.
Caudalie Vinoperfect Concentrated Brightening Essence retails at SGD60, available at Sephora.
La Prairie Skin Caviar Essence-in-Lotion
A part of the luxurious Skin Caviar Collection, the La Prairie Skin Caviar Essence-in-Lotion complements other products in the line to deliver incredible anti-ageing benefits.
The distilled Caviar water infused in the product boosts hydration, lifts and firms the skin over time while preparing the skin to reap the full benefits of the rest of your skincare routine.
La Prairie Skin Caviar Essence-in-Lotion retails for SGD410, available at all La Prairie counters islandwide.