Skin care 101: What exactly is an essence?

Skin care 101: What exactly is an essence?


Skin care 101: What exactly is an essence?

Cleanse and moisturize—those are the basic steps many Canadian women follow for their skin-care routine. However, according to our Korean counterparts we’re missing many crucial steps, including adding an essence. Once you know what it is, you’ll never skip this step again. 

If you’re a skin care sleuth or even if you’re not—there’s a good chance you’ve heard of the infamous Korean 7 + step beauty routine. While some products are totally familiar to us western beauty consumers, other categories are a little more mysterious, like essences. 

What is an essence?
Firstly, we’ll tell you what it’s not. It’s not a toner, it’s not a lotion and it’s not a serum. So what is this mystery fluid? Essences were created and made popular in Korea and Japan over two decades ago. Much like serums, they are a highly concentrated treatment, the main difference is that its consistency is more water-like. But just because they're more watery than serums, that doesn't mean they're watered-down. In fact, many of them are even more concentrated and hydrating than serums. They contain active ingredients such as vitamins, antioxidants and moisturizing agents such as hyaluronic acid and glycerin.

When do you apply an essence?
It’s a key step in the Korean 7 step method. After cleanser (if you’re doing the Korean method, double cleanse) and after toner comes the essence. Post-toning, pat an essence into skin using your fingers. Keep patting until the product is fully absorbed and your skin is almost dry—next it’s on to serum. 

We should all be hopping on the essence wave. Here, five essences totally worth adding to your skin-care ritual. 



 Fresh Black Tea Kombucha Facial Treatment Essence

Kombucha is a probiotic-rich fermented tea that’s really blown up in North America in the last few years. It’s also quickly becoming a favourite ingredient in skin care. In late fall, Fresh Beauty launched a silky liquid, a.k.a. an essence, that fights free-radical damage, protects against pollution and boasts skin luminosity thanks to fermented sweet black tea. Worried it might have a funky scent? We can assure you it smells light and delightful. 

Fresh Black Tea Kombucha Facial Treatment Essence, $85,


Biotherm Life Plankton Essence 

Biotherm was one of the biggest skin-care brands to launch an essence in North America. Biotherm’s Life Plankton Essence continuous to be a top seller for the French company since its launch in 2014. Thermal Plankton is at the core of the brand, they’ve been using it since 1952, however, in this formula they have the highest concentration, five per cent. This was never possible in a cream because an essence provides a more stable environment. The ingredient is shown to accelerate cellular renew, smooth inflamed skin and protect from offer protection from the environment. 

Biotherm Life Plankton Essence, $75,


Erborian Korean Skin Therapy Dongbaek Camellia Essence

The key ingredient in this essence is camellia, which is a wildflower from Korea. Camellia teamed with other nourishing oils such as macadamia seed, argan and sunflower seed deeply hydrates and soothes the skin. 

Erborian Korean Skin Therapy Dongbaek Camellia Essence, $69,


Saturday Skin Freeze Frame Beauty Essence

Shaped like a water bottle—but for your skin—this elixir contains high levels of squalene (a highly-effective emollient and natural antioxidant), pomegranate extract and a patented complex the helps accelerate cell turnover. 

Saturday Skin Freeze Frame Beauty Essence, $58,


Amorepacific Vintage Single Extract Essence

The pricey-est one on this list is from Korean beauty brand Amore Pacific. It uses anti-oxidant rich vintage (aka, fermented green tea leaves).The leaves are harvested from the brand’s Dolsongi tea garden on Korea's Jeju island. The vintage tea is fermented for 50 days and aged in earthenware for another 50 days, creating a concentrated skin superfood. The bold brew helps improve the skin’s texture, elasticity and clarity. 

Amorepacific Vintage Single Extract Essence, $200,


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For a quick fix, try a root touch-up product (like L’Oréal Paris Magic Root Cover Up Temporary Gray Concealer Spray, $13.50,, which deposits colour pigments at the roots. But if you really want to turn back time, we suggest this first-of-its-kind innovation from Phyto Paris: Phyto RE30 boosts pigmentation by activating melanin synthesis and transferring it
to the hair shaft. It protects against future grey hairs, too; during clinical trials, after three months, greys were reduced by 30 percent. 

Phyto Paris Phyto RE30, $59,

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There are two things that really matter: placement and blending. For the latter, be sure to blur the edges of your blush so it looks seamless with your foundation. For the former, Rose-Marie Swift, founder of RMS Beauty, offers her advice. “Don’t go below the nostrils,” she recommends. “Blush has to lift the cheekbones up.” Placing the product too low pulls the face down, emphasizing gravity’s effects; placing it higher will help distract from under-eye bags and give the illusion of lift.

RMS Beauty Lip2Cheek,


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What’s the best way to protect my damaged hair?

Believe it or not, your best line of defence when it comes to your hair is conditioner. “Conditioners can offer replenishment and an infusion of ingredients like few other forms of hair care can,” says Jeni Thomas, principal scientist for Pantene. And with new formulations that target the inner hair fibre, instead of just smoothing the outside, conditioner can set you up for a good hair day every day. Thomas’s tip? Condition your hair from root to tip, not just the ends, paying special attention to where you do the most damage—including where you apply heat or tie your ponytail.

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Absolutely! Whether you’re looking to
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I’m looking for a mascara that packs a punch but doesn’t feel like it’s weighing down my eyelids. Any recommendations?

Benefit, the beauty brand famous for its innovative products, has released a mascara that uses space technology to give you the most lightweight application on the market. With aero-particles, one of the lightest known materials, the formulation offers dramatic volume that also lifts and lengthens—without feeling heavy.

Benefit BadGal Bang! Volumizing Mascara, $32,

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How do I find my perfect shade of foundation?

Whether your skin colour is cool, warm
or neutral, it doesn’t matter. “You simply need to find a shade that matches your skin,” says Clint Dowdell, global brand ambassador for Nude by Nature, Australia’s number one natural cosmetics brand, which has just landed in Canada. Dowdell suggests applying three shades on your jawline; the one that disappears is the one you should buy. 

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Editor's Pick

This serum-like eyeshadow glides on and leaves behind a layer of glitter-filled colour. It’s flake-free and will stay
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Stila Glitter & Glow Liquid Eye Shadow in Gypsy, $31,

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Why does my skin get sensitive and irritated in winter. What will help?

“There are two types of skin sensitivity: genetic, meaning you’re born with it; and sensitized skin, which refers to a temporary state caused by exposure to either internal or external factors,” says Jennifer Ahartz of the International Dermal Institute in California.

In other words, it’s tough to pinpoint what causes it. The most effective remedy is multipronged, such as Dermalogica’s new UltraCalming duo, which treats the major concerns: dehydration and irritation.

Dermalogica Barrier Defense Booster, $101, and Dermalogica Calm Water Gel, $65,

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I need an anti-aging moisturizer for my oily skin. Is there something effective that feels light?

Good news! Olay has launched whipped-texture versions of its three most popular lines (Regenerist, Total Effect and Luminous). The idea behind the need for lighter formulas was confirmed with feedback from the Olay Skin Advisor online tool. “We asked, ‘How do you want your skin to feel: lightly hydrated or richly moisturized?’ ” says Frauke Neuser, associate director of scientific communications at Procter & Gamble. With more than a million data points from the technology, Olay realized women were driven by texture and feel. “There seems to be a trade-off between doing something powerful for your skin and choosing something light. We wanted a light-as-air finish with potent skin-care results.”

Try Olay Regenerist Whip, with an advanced amino-peptide complex that plumps, firms and fights to fill fine lines.

Olay Whips, $40 each,

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How do I make my go-to bold lipstick last?

Help your fave colour stay put by filling in your pucker with a pencil before swiping it on—just be sure that the liner isn’t darker than the lipstick. Or you can swap your go-to for a liquid version, which contains more oils and polymers (and less wax) than traditional bullet-shaped lip colours; it dries to an opaque finish and has serious staying power with little to no transfer—perfect if you dislike reapplying after eating.

Image by: Alex Evans By: Julia McEwen

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Steroid cream is the only thing that helps my eczema. Is there anything less harsh to stop the itching?

According to an international study conducted by La Roche-Posay in 2016, 89 percent of those with eczema are affected by uncontrollable itching. Ease the urge to scratch by filling your tub with warm (never hot) water and a few cups of colloidal oatmeal, a soothing ingredient—and avoid itch triggers like wool or products with perfumes and dyes. If the feeling is still strong, try this soothing stick from La Roche-Posay. With just three active ingredients—antibacterial zinc gluconate, anti-inflammatory madecassoside and shea butter (to restore the skin’s barrier)—relief will come fast, plus the cream won’t transfer onto clothes. 

La Roche-Posay Lipikar Stick AP+, $16,

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Is there a product that can treat adult acne without drying out my mature skin?

This mask lets you use dermatologist-approved light therapy to soothe inflammatory acne—at home! Like most skin disorders that can flare up, the solution to adult acne isn’t just about treating the breakouts; it’s also about preventing them. Enter Neutrogena’s Light Therapy Acne Mask, which you wear like a pair of glasses for 10-minute sessions. The mask emits a pink glow—a combination of red light (to reduce inflammation) and blue light (to reduce bacteria on the skin’s surface) for a tag-team approach to fighting the condition. 

NEUTROGENA Light Therapy Acne Mask, $50,

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Is there a green cosmetics line that performs and doesn’t cost a fortune?

Eco-friendly beauty brand Burt’s Bees has been around for more than 30 years and attained iconic status thanks to its natural lip balms and skin-care products. Not one to hop on a trend, the company debuted a line of lipsticks in 2016 but waited
to fully enter the cosmetics arena—until now. After investigating the acquisition of an existing natural-makeup line, Abena Antwi, lead innovation scientist at Burt’s Bees, says, “We found they weren’t up to our standards, so we decided to start from scratch and create our own.” The collection hits shelves this month with eight essentials: liquid foundation, powder foundation, blush, mascara, eyeshadow, eyeliner, brow pencil and glossy lipstick. 

Burt’s Bees Nourishing Mascara, $14, Burt’s Bees Goodness Glows Liquid Makeup, $20, and Burt’s Bees Mattifying Powder Foundation, $18,

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Do I need a toner?

Need? No. Want? Maybe. Toners are liquid formulas used for purifying skin after cleansing. The old-school versions were astringent fluids strictly used to reduce oiliness, but the new generation does so much more. Sometimes known as tonics, mists or elixirs, they’re brimming with antioxidants, soothing agents and vital hydrating ingredients.

Best for mature skin: Biologique Recherche Lotion P50T, $66, 

Best desk spray for all skin types: Glossier Soothing Face Mist, $22,

Best for acne-prone skin: Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Oil-Free Toner, $24,

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I’m looking for a full-coverage under-eye concealer that won’t accentuate lines. Any ideas?

Makeup application and technique are just as important as the concealer you choose, says Maddox Lu, national brow and trend artist for Benefit Canada. “Full coverage might not necessarily be the answer,” he says. “You may find you’re better off with a sheer-to-medium concealer that’s buildable and flattering for your skin type while giving you the coverage you need.” Lu suggests trying a moisturizing product, like Benefit Boi-ing Hydrating Concealer. Apply it to the orbital bone, then pat and blend gently into the skin using your ring finger.

Benefit Boi-ing Hydrating Concealer, $27,

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What is micellar water?

Like many beauty advances, micellar water (pronounced “my-SELL-ar”) hails from France. It’s made from water infused with micelles, which are tiny oil molecules that attract dirt. On
the skin, they draw out impurities and dissolve them while leaving behind a glowing, hydrated finish. Designed to be applied with a clean cotton pad, micellar water replaces traditional cleansers for some skin types; for others, it can be the latter part of double cleansing. 

Olay Luminous Micellar Water, $12, 

Read more: Learn more about micellar water
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I love bright lips but never have time to reapply my lipstick. Does bold colour requiring no maintenance exist?

Countless brands have claimed wear-all-day colour—trust me, I’ve tried them all—but at long last, I found one that lives up to its claim. Available in 10 shades, from nudes to neons, Maybelline New York SuperStay Matte Ink promises 16 hours of full-on saturated colour—and it delivers. The fiery-red shade titled Heroine got me through three meals, two cups of coffee, a bottle of Perrier and a sweat-inducing Spinning class with no touch-ups required. 

Maybelline New York SuperStay Matte Ink in Heroine, $12,

Read more: Bright and bold lipstick
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I'm so confused when I see an eyeshadow palette that's full of different colours. Is there a correct way to apply so many shades?

Chances are you don’t need a palette that has more than six or seven colours, so my advice is to skip the supersize versions. If you tend to use the same few shades, try the first three shadows in the palette together to create a casual smoky eye. Usually, those hues tend to be more neutral, whereas the last three will be more dramatic (great for evening!). 

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How can I soften my crow’s-feet?

Botox is still the most effective way of slowing down the progression of crow’s-feet, but the $300-plus injectable treatment is off the table for most of us. For a topical solution, you can try Estée Lauder Advanced Night Repair Eye Concentrate Matrix ($88, The serum has a patent-pending polymer and a twice-concentrated infusion of two kinds of hyaluronic acid to protect (and plump) the eye area against natural micromovements, such as blinking—something we do more than 10,000 times a day. 

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What’s the difference between dehydrated skin and just plain old dry skin?

Whether your priority is to treat dark spots and wrinkles or cleanse your skin, you should know which camp you fall into so you can choose the right formulations. Dry skin lacks oil, so introduce a facial oil into your routine; these products absorb quickly and support the skin’s lipid barrier. For skin that’s deprived of water due to dry air and cold temperatures, you’ll need to swap out your light moisturizer for something more substantial, like a cream or a balm.

Image by: Getty Images

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I’m looking for a full-coverage foundation that won’t dry out my already-parched skin. Any ideas?

A foundation that pays special attention to locking in moisture is what you require. Search for options with skin-care benefits, plus sunscreen, to keep your skin looking and feeling supple. Our pick is CoverGirl’s new Vitalist Elixir Foundation ($18,, a foundation with full coverage and a radiant finish that will seal in hydration while helping protect and perfect your visage.



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Skin care 101: What exactly is an essence?