What Is A Skin Essence And Do You Really Need To Use One?

Serums vs. essences, explained.

When it comes to your skincare routine, there appears to be an established ‘order of things’ that celebrities and skincare influencers subscribe to. It usually follows the classic: cleanser, serums, moisturizer and SPF.

However, what if you were to add another step  to help your expensive serums penetrate the skin more deeply, while also hydrating your skin barrier?

Enter, the essence, the key building block to any successful skincare routine.

But, is it really necessary, how can you apply it in tandem with your existing serums and moisturisers, and will it actually make a difference? We sat down with the experts, Dr. Anne-Laure Bulteau, skin biologist at fresh and Dr Clara Hurst, founder BLANC & co-founder of The Secret Skincare to find out more.

1. What Is The Difference Between An Essence And A Serum?

skin essence vs serum
You’ve definitely heard of a serum, but what about an essence? (Credit: Image: Getty)

According to Dr. Anne-Laure Bulteau, the difference between an essence and a serum is about how deeply they penetrate the skin.

“An essence deeply penetrates surface skin layers to boost your entire skin routine’s efficacy. It provides immediate hydration and works as an essential prep step for other products,” she explains.

“A serum is a potent, concentrated formula that contains active ingredients and are designed to target specific skin concerns or needs, like hydration, anti-ageing, skin resilience, skin texture, and more.”

Dr Clara Hurst adds that essences help the rest of your skincare products to work harder.

“Acting as a delivery system, essences are designed to help additional skincare products (like serums and creams), better absorb into the skin. They are hydrating, water-based products which help to retain moisture in the skin,” she adds.

Hurst says that while serums tend to be more potent than essences (think retinol, Vitamin C and other key actives), combining the two products is best for good results.

2. Where Does An Essence Go In Your Skincare Routine?

Dr Bulteau explains that the essence is best used as the second step in your skincare routine after cleansing. “[It] fully prep[s] the skin for other products. It is the start of the treatment phase of your skincare routine,” she says.

“After that, you would apply serums that target your specific skincare concerns and needs, and then finish with your favourite day or night moisturiser.”

3. Should You Use An Essence Every Day?

skin essence how to use
An essence is usually a thin liquid that is applied after cleansing. (Credit: Image: Getty)

The answer is, yes! Unlike harsher actives like exfoliants, essences and serums are designed to be used daily. You can also choose to vary it if you prefer, “depending on the product or what your skin needs at a specific time,” Dr Bulteau says.

When it comes to the essence that fresh has designed, she says it’s best used as a “particularly important as part of your morning routine because it protects and repairs skin against damage from pollution and blue light throughout your day, which can lead dullness, dryness, uneven skin tone, and visible lines.”

Dr Hurst adds that essences can be great tools at night-time, applied “after cleansing” to help the rest of your products do their best work. However, she adds, “not when you are using a retinol or retinoid [at night], as this may cause irritation.”

4. Is An Essence Important In A Skincare Routine?

While many-step skincare routines are going the way of the dodo, experts agree that essences still have an essential place in your routine.

Hurst explains, “Everyone can benefit from additional moisture in their skin! Essences are suitable for all skin types including acne-prone and sensitive skin, as they work to hydrate and nourish the lipid barrier.”

While Bulteau knows that some may have previously skipped using an essence, she sees it as an essential building block for your routine, saying, “essences are an often-overlooked skincare step, but they are vital to properly protect and prep the skin.”

The Best Skin Essences To Try Right Now


Fresh Kombucha Facial Treatment Essence

$130 at Sephora

Best for: every skin type

Recently reformulated, this antioxidant prep step is designed to penetrate more than 20 surface layers of the skin in order to boost hydration and glow. It’s protective and features double-fermented kombucha for smoother skin.

  • Use morning and night
  • Alcohol-free
  • Fragrance-free
  • Oil-free
  • Boosted with hyaluronic acid


L’Occitane Immortelle Reset Tri-Phase Essence 150mL

$119 at Adore Beauty

Featuring organically grown Immortelle plant, this essence is designed to restore moisture and balance the skin’s microbiome. It contains both water and oil, with a velvety finish to match the skin’s normal water/oil balance.

Key features:

  • Combats dull skin
  • Penetrates the skin quickly
  • Contains probiotics to strengthen microbiome


Caudalie Vinoperfect Concentrated Brightening Glycolic Essence 150mL

$55 at Sephora

Best for: blemish-prone skin

This oil-free formula is great for those who might suffer from oily or acne-prone skin, with glycolic to gently exfoliate, white peony flower to soothe and the brand’s iconic grape water for hydration.

Key features:

  • Fragrance-free
  • Oil-free
  • Suitable for acne-prone skin


Augustinus Bader The Essence 100mL

$140 at Mecca

This three-in-one formula is designed to mildly exfoliate, tone and add essence for smoother, more hydrated skin. It contains natural amino acids, phytic acid for exfoliation, salicylic acid for skin imperfections alongside white peony flower and hyaluronic acid to soothe and hydrate.

Key features:

  • Cruelty-free
  • Vegan
  • Brightening
  • Minimises pores


Tata Harper Brightening Essence 125mL

$411.43 at Net-A-Porter

This essence is designed with glow in mind, featuring over 30 hardworking ingredients to correct dark spots and unlock your most luminous complexion yet.

Key features:

  • Targets darkness
  • All-natural ingredients
  • Designed for morning and evening use
  • Formulated with seven key vitamins and minerals



COSRX Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence 100ml

$38 at Adore Beauty

While it might sound a little left-of-field, this Korean essence contains a snail secretion (mucin) to hydrate and calm the skin. It has a hydrating, watery formula that is non-comedogenic and will improve the appearance of scarring while boosting glow and protecting the skin barrier.

Key features:

  • Cruelty free
  • Sulphate free
  • Alcohol free
  • Paraben free

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