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When it comes to a basic skincare routine, most of us follow these three simple steps: cleansing, toning, and moisturising. Of course, we’re throwing on sunscreen in the mornings too.

However, for those of us who have already upgraded our basic routines to include either an essence or serum, we’re sure this question comes up: do you apply essence or serum first?

If you’re confused, read on and we’ll clear things right up.

What is an essence?

An essence is a lightweight, water-based formula infused with active ingredients, which primarily serve to provide moisture, antioxidants, and enhance skin hydration.

Notably, ingredients like hyaluronic acid and plant botanical extracts are essential players in an essence. Hyaluronic acid excels at attracting and retaining moisture, resulting in plump and well-hydrated skin.

Meanwhile, plant botanical extracts offer natural compounds that both hydrate and nourish the skin, contributing to a healthier and more radiant complexion.

Essence can also be used to improve the performance of these other products by prepping the skin to absorb them more easily.

What is a serum?

Much like essence, serums offer substantial advantages for your skin.

They function as specialised treatments, honing in on particular skincare concerns like fine lines, acne, dryness, and lacklustre complexion. Furthermore, they are formulated to brighten, moisturise, and deliver various benefits to your skin depending on the specific serum you choose.

Whether your goal is to combat wrinkles, address acne, or simply enhance your skin’s hydration, you can rest assured that there’s a serum tailored to meet your specific needs.

Should you use essence and serum or both?

Whether you should include an essence, a serum, or both in your skincare routine depends on your unique skin concerns. Each of these products brings its own unique benefits, and they can complement each other effectively within your daily routine.

As we mentioned, serums are typically more concentrated and are designed to address specific skincare concerns such as wrinkles, dark spots, or acne. Hence, serums are ideal for individuals seeking intensive, fast-acting solutions for particular issues.

On the other hand, essences have a much lighter texture compared to a serum. They primarily focus on hydration and your overall skin health.

They are excellent for maintaining your skin balance, improving moisture retention, and creating a healthy canvas for other products. Essences are often used to prep the skin, making it more receptive to subsequent treatments like serums.

By combining both essence and serum, you can maximise the level of hydration your skin receives while simultaneously addressing specific skin concerns you may have.

So, should you apply an essence or serum first in your skincare routine

Much like the way you apply primer before foundation to create a flawless makeup base, the same principle applies to your skincare routine when it comes to using essence and serum.

It’s important to begin with essence before applying serum.

The essence helps hydrate your skin and preps it so it’s more receptive to skincare actives. Apply an essence first, and your skin will be able to better absorb the powerful and concentrated serums that you’ll apply later.

Source: @deszell

Here are a few other tips you should incorporate in your routine:

  • Cleanse beforehand: Always start with clean skin to ensure that your products can penetrate effectively. Cleansing removes dirt, oil, and impurities, allowing all your skincare products to absorb better into your skin.
  • Gently pat your face: Avoid vigorously rubbing your skin, and instead, softly pat your essence and serum onto your skin to reduce the risk of potential irritation.
  • Take a 30-second pause: Wait for a minimum of 30 seconds before applying another skincare product. This gives time for them to fully absorb into your skin.
  • Tailor your skincare: Instead of following someone else’s skincare regimen, choose an essence and serum that address your unique skin concerns, and if you’re uncertain, seek advice from a dermatologist.
  • Don’t overlook sunscreen: It’s crucial to complete your skincare routine by applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen to shield your skin from harmful UV damage.
  • Make it a routine: Consistency plays a pivotal role in any skincare regimen, akin to the way it’s crucial in dieting and exercise; regularly use your selected products to observe lasting improvements.

Keep in mind that everyone has different skin types and requirements, so it’s vital to be attentive to how your skin reacts to various products and adapt your routine accordingly.

Best essences to try

COSRX Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence

essence and serum

We get it – the idea of snail mucin in your skincare routine might raise an eyebrow or two. But hold on, because this little wonder does double duty, soothing irritated skin and quenching your skin’s thirst like a hydration superhero!

Despite its slightly unconventional slimy texture, this product proves highly effective in addressing concerns like acne, dark spots, and uneven skin tone.

This lightweight essence, boasting a whopping 96.3% Snail Secretion Filtrate, swiftly absorbs into your skin, leaving behind a natural radiance. It soothes redness, sensitive skin, and post-breakouts while replenishing vital moisture.

Regardless of whether your skin leans toward dry or oily, you can incorporate it into your daily skincare routine, both day and night, to experience enduring moisture, comfort, and skin rejuvenation.

This retails for S$29.15 on Watsons

SK-II Treatment Essence

essence and serum

Beauty enthusiasts are no strangers to the SK-II Facial Treatment Essence.

This iconic product is renowned for harnessing the power of PITERA™, an exclusive active ingredient that plays a vital role in maintaining your skin’s natural renewal cycle for optimal nourishment.

The key ingredient Pitera encourages cell regeneration, effectively reversing signs of ageing and revitalising your skin’s texture.

Beyond that, this treatment essence also balances the skin’s pH and controls sebum production, ensuring that both oily and dry areas of your skin receive the proper moisture they need.

It’s also enriched with a blend of vitamins, amino acids, and minerals that promises a clear and radiant complexion.

This retails for S$325 (230ml) on Sephora

Estée Lauder Micro Essence Treatment Lotion Fresh with Sakura Ferment

essence and serum

Estée Lauder, a prominent name in the beauty industry, is known for its wide range of skincare products, including the Estée Lauder Micro Essence Treatment Lotion Fresh with Sakura Ferment.

This essence lotion, enriched with the essence of Sakura Ferment, is designed to seal in moisture, offering soothing relief to the skin while also reducing the appearance of skin irritation and redness.

Postbiotic 12+ is combined with 98.9% Bio-Active Lactobacillus Ferment, working harmoniously to enhance the skin’s protective barrier. This action significantly fortifies the skin’s first line of defence, effectively warding off external aggressors.

This retails for S$205 (200ml) on Sephora.  

Shiseido Eudermine Activating Essence

essence and serum

Deeply rooted in traditional Japanese beauty rituals, Shiseido Eudermine Revitalizing Essence carries a rich historical significance. Notably, it was adored by geishas, Japanese hostesses, who relied on it to protect their skin from the toll of wearing heavy makeup regularly.

Suitable for individuals from their early 20s to late 50s, this essence incorporates Bio-Hyaluronic Acid to provide intensive hydration and maintain the skin’s moisture at an optimal level.

This retails for S$145 (145ml) on Sephora.

Fresh Kombucha Facial Treatment Essence

essence and serum

Fresh’s Kombucha essence was reformulated recently, making it even better than before.

It is designed to deeply penetrate the top layers of your skin, elevating hydration levels and imparting a radiant glow to your complexion.

This rapidly absorbing treatment not only provides protection, but also promotes visible skin rejuvenation through its double-fermented kombucha formula and advanced metabiotic, resulting in skin that is both smooth and luminous.

This retails for S$139 (150ml) on Sephora

Best serums to try

Dr Dennis Gross Hyaluronic Marine Hydration Booster

essence and serum

The key to attaining smooth and supple skin lies in the power of this highly effective hydrating super-serum. Infused with super-hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid, watermelon extract, centella asiatica, and marine algae, this potent serum breathes new life into dehydrated skin.

This serum delivers a weightless burst of hydration, effectively diminishing the appearance of dry fine lines and rough texture to bestow a soft and luminous complexion.

This retails for S$117 (30ml) on Sephora

Beauty Of Joseon Revive Serum Ginseng + Snail Mucin

essence and serum

Ginseng is a highly favoured ingredient in numerous K-beauty products, and for a good reason!

The Beauty of Joseon Revive Serum Ginseng + Snail Mucin is a skin-reviving serum crafted with 63% Ginseng Root Water and 3% Snail Secretion Filtrate. This powerful combination thwarts wrinkles, enhances skin elasticity, and illuminates lacklustre complexions.

Moreover, it boosts hydration, aiding in shielding the skin against external aggressors by locking in moisture deep within the skin for extended periods.

This retails for S$18.20 (30ml) on Watsons.  

Dr.Jart+ Cicapair Serum

essence and serum

Perfectly suited for individuals with oily and sensitive skin, the Dr.Jart+ Cicapair Serum provides swift relief and hydration, effectively diminishing redness.

With its quick absorption and syrup-like texture, it glides seamlessly onto the skin’s surface, promptly calming and restoring moisture levels while fortifying the skin’s protective shield.

Additionally, its fragrance-free and paraben-free formulation makes it an exceptional option for those with sensitive skin.

This retails for S$65 (30ml) on Sephora.  

Dermalogica BioLumin-C Serum

essence and serum

This high-potency vitamin C serum works with the skin’s inherent defence mechanisms to illuminate and tighten the skin.

Its advanced bio-technology and exceptionally stable vitamin C reduce fine lines and wrinkles while combatting oxidative stress and the onset of skin ageing.

Furthermore, its formulation incorporates cutting-edge technology to enhance the delivery of vitamin C into the skin for maximum efficacy.

This retails for S$175 (30ml) on Sephora

Lancôme Advanced Génifique Anti Ageing Face Serum

essence and serum

The Lancôme Advanced Génifique Anti-Ageing Face Serum features a powerful blend of ingredients. It taps into the science of our microbiome to accelerate skin revitalisation, resulting in a firmer and more youthful complexion.

This updated formula is enriched with a unique complex of seven prebiotics and probiotic fractions, thoughtfully selected and transformed to provide essential nourishment to both the skin and its microbiome.

Génifique operates to enhance the fundamental youthful functions of your skin, including its natural defence and recovery capabilities.

Remarkably, within just seven days of use, you can expect your skin to display noticeable improvements in radiance and smoothness.

This retails for S$260 (75ml) on Sephora.  

Feature image credit: @kezhaldashtitv