The best Korean essences to add to your skincare routine

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Interested in the 10-step Korean beauty routine, but not sure where to begin when it comes to Korean essence? It’s understandable – the market is flooded with them. And if you’re not familiar with K-beauty, you may be wondering what an essence even is, and what it does. How can you know if you need one if you don’t even know what it does?

What is a Korean essence?

Korean essence Colette Bennett

Several Asian skincare routines use thin layers of moisturizing products so the skin has time to absorb them without clogging pores, as some denser moisturizers do. An essence is one of these and is usually made up of a combination of power-packed ingredients like snail, collagen, and niacinamide. Not only does it moisturize the skin, but it better prepares it to absorb the following product layers. Like many of the other steps in the routine, it’s popular in South Korea to use botanical ingredients in its skincare products as well.

The texture of an essence can vary depending on the brand. For summer, toners with a water-like consistency are desirable as heavier layers may feel sticky due to humidity. You can use a cotton pad to swipe it on or pat it in with clean hands. A prime example of this kind of essence is the Tia’m Snail & Azulene Essence.

For colder months, many people switch to a denser essence with the consistency of a gel. These take longer to absorb into the skin but provide a deeper dose of moisture, which is essential when the air is cold and dry. Swanicoco’s Honey Dewy Calming Propolis Essence is a perfect example (and also comes in handy to calm irritated skin!).

An essence is typically the third or fourth step in a 10-step routine depending on which steps you are doing on that day. It is used after your toner step, or after your actives (AHAs and BHAs) if you are doing one.

How do I choose a Korean essence?

Just like all other skincare, essences are best chosen based on your skin type. We’d advise that you ignore whatever’s currently popular (hard, we know) and make a point of reading reviews of the products you’re considering. Luckily, the Korean beauty blogger world is prolific, so you shouldn’t have any trouble finding someone who has tried the product you are considering firsthand. Or, if that sounds like a lot of work, just pick from our suggestions below.

For normal/dry skin:

1)Missha Time Revolution First Treatment Essence Intensive 

Korean essence Amazon Affectionately nicknamed FTE for short, Missha’s famous Korean essence was one of the biggest stars in Korean beauty when it first debuted. Widely considered to be an affordable dupe of the insanely expensive SK-II Facial Treatment Essence, it’s a terrific workhorse in both summer and fall skincare routines. Missha has two versions: the Intensive Moist, which is for normal to dry skin, and the Intensive, which is aimed at dry/aging skin. Despite its watery consistency, it’s a great way to pack in moisture in the early steps of a routine.

Price on Amazon: $29

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2)COSRX Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence

Korean beauty essences Amazon If the FTE just isn’t providing enough moisture for you, consider a Korean essence with snail. COSRX’s Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence is known as a classic in K-beauty circles thanks to its incredibly reasonable price and its ability to deeply moisturize the skin. It’s also ideal to use after a day in the sun thanks to its calming properties, although we recommend using it am/pm for the best results. 

Price on Amazon: $16.25

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For oily skin:

1) Cremorlab Essence Tonic

Korean essence Amazon

If you’re used to fighting acne, Cremorlab’s Essence Tonic is a good pick for you. Niacinamide will brighten overall skin tone while rosewater soothes troubled areas. The product also contains glycerin and adenosine for hydrating and refining the skin’s texture. Cremorlab also uses thermal water unique to its products that’s rich in rare minerals. With a mild scent and a watery texture, daily use of this Korean essence should keep those angry pimples at bay.

Price on Amazon: $39

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2)Tia’m Snail & Azulene Essence 

Korean essence Beautytap

If you believe in the power of snail as a skincare product, then boy, are you going to love this one. This Korean essence is made up of a whopping 87% snail secretion filtrate, so you’re simply dousing your face in all it’s slimy goodness. The Azulene is an organic compound with soothing properties, so it’s excellent for irritated skin.

Price on Amazon: $15.50

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For sensitive skin:

1)Mizon Water Volume EX First Essence

Korean essence Amazon

Mizon is a well-known name in Korean beauty not only because of its quality products but also because of the extensive research it pours into making them. The Water Volume EX First Essence is a perfect example as it uses Mizon’s Patented Hydra ToX technology. This Korean essence works to not only hydrate skin, but also stimulate it to produce more natural hydration on its own. In addition, it also refines skin texture and brightens tone.

Price on Amazon: $17.98

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2)Nature Republic Real Squeeze Aloe Vera Essence

Korean essence Beautytap

If your skin is sensitive, soothing elements are always welcome. This Nature Republic essence is packed with aloe vera, leaving the skin cool and calm. It also contains polysaccharides, which encourage skin cell regeneration, and antioxidant polyphenol, which calms the skin after sun exposure. This is also excellent for those in search of a vegan product, as it’s free of parabens, talc, mineral oils, artificial dyes, and animal ingredients.

Price on Amazon: $16.22

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Looking for more skincare tips? Here’s what you need to know about doing a multi-step skincare routine and the best sheet masks to add into it. You may also enjoy our primers on choosing the best cleansertonersunscreen and more.

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Colette Bennett

Colette Bennett

Colette Bennett is a writer/editor who specializes in web culture, skincare, and all things geek. Her work has appeared on CNN, HLN, Engadget, Kotaku, Colourlovers, and Continue Magazine. She also writes horror and sci-fi fiction for Corona Books and is at work on her second novel.