The skincare world sure is baffling. Take serums and essences. What the heck are they, you ask? We break them down for you.
With new technology, brands and a thriving K-beauty scene, the world of skincare is always exciting and confusing – even for those of us who live and breathe beauty! Something we’re always asked is what an essence is, and why it’s any different from a serum. Although the lines between the two occasionally blur, we can assure you that they are different, and they do different things for your skin too! We unravel it all out in the guide below.
They key difference in the formula
The two are not interchangeable. Serums are chock-full of the best and most potent active ingredients around. They target your specific skin concerns, like ageing, pigmentation, fine lines and skin dullness. They’re not to replace your moisturiser either as the latter is mostly used for hydration. To get the most out of your moisturiser, you’ll need to combine it with a serum.
Essences, on the other hand, work as a pre-serum treatment. Unlike the heavy-hitting ingredients you’ll find in serums, the ones in essences, which typically contain hyaluronic acid and glycerin, are targeted at boosting moisture. They also help to rebalance your skin’s natural pH balance, after stripping it of oils during cleansing and toning.
Let’s talk textures
Essence looks a lot like toner, but don’t mistake them for the same thing! Essences typically have watery formulas, which are slightly thicker than that of toners. Serums, on the other hand, can come in a range of textures – gel, cream, oil – but always with a thicker yet lightweight consistency. They usually come in smaller bottles that you’d find in your moisturisers.
An essence is the first step to hydration. After cleansing and toning, pat essence on, starting from the chin and moving upwards. Once you’ve given it enough time to sink in (I usually give it about two to settle but not dry), apply your serum. If your skin is dry by then, lightly mist it, as the key to better product absorption is starting off with damp skin. Press it into skin, then massage it thoroughly, moving upwards.
Our favourite essences
Porcelain Balance, Sebum Control Essence
This one’s only available in 8ml, which tells you how potent this tiny potion can be. It contains high dosages of sodium hyaluronate, horse chestnut extract and tea tree extract to keep sebum at bay while hydrating skin.
$41, shop online
Hada Labo SHA (Super Hyaluronic Acid) Hydrating essence
Intensely boost your skin’s moisture with this essence by Hada Labo. It penetrates deep into your skin’s layers to leave it bouncy, radiant and visibly brighter.
$31.90, available at Watsons and Redmart
Su:m37 Secret Essence
The cult product from the luxury K-beauty brand certainly lives up to its hype. It contains Cytosis, Su:m37’s patented ingredient made from over 80 types of local plant varieties which have been put through a very thorough and exclusive natural fermentation technology to maximise the production of antioxidants. The result is glowing, smoother, clearer and more supple skin after just a few days.
$108, available at TANGS
SK-II Facial Treatment Essence
Despite being unchanged for the past 35 years, SK-II’s Facial Treatment Essence is always ahead of the game. It’s made with the brand’s trademark Pitera, which is rich in vitamins, amino acids, and minerals. We know a handful of people who’d only share their bottles when you pry it out of their dead, cold hands. This stuff is gold – it evens out skin tones, repairs skin firmness, smooths over pores and protects you from wrinkles.
$269, available at SK-II counters
Algenist POWER Recharging Night Pressed Serum
10: That’s the number of days it takes for this serum to transform your skin. Alguronic acid is its powerful secret to anti-aging, and targets tired skin, reducing fine lines and wrinkles, and improving any dull, uneven texture. Although it looks like a moisturiser, it applies like a serum, and quickly melts into skin.
USD95, available at Sephora
Skin Inc My Daily Dose Serum cocktail
Homegrown Skin Inc lets you create the serum your skin is thirsting for by identifying your skin concerns via a quiz, then co-creating this elixir. Needless to say, its benefits are customised to your skin, and can offer you anything from anti-aging and firming to mattifying and smoothing.
$169, shop online
Eladerm Cosme LCD
Made to complement treatments at Estheclinic, the Eladerm Cosme LCD serum features chlorophyll to improve cell regeneration and to protect you against environmental pollutants which ravage your skin. Expect firmer skin, fewer fine lines and a cleaner complexion.
$130, available at Estheclinic Tanjong Pagar, Rochester Park and East Coast
Clarins Double Serum
Behold the eight generation of Clarins’ famed Double Serum. Its claim to fame is that it has two serums in one – it contains both water-soluble and oil-soluble ingredients to mimic skin’s own make-up, and features natural potent extracts like turmeric to target visible signs of ageing.
$125, available at Clarins counters
Astalift In-Focus Cellactive Serum
We never thought the day would come when a photo-imaging giant creates a skincare brand. We’re talking about Fujifilm’s award-winning Astalift – the skincare brand’s In-Focus Cellactive Serum boasts the high-tech wizardy we expect from its umbrella company. Stem cell replenishment is the goal here, thanks to Nano Astaxanthin CP+ and Nano Boswellin Acid which both protect and activate them.
$222, available at Astalift stores at Wisma Atria, JEM, and NEX.
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Photography by Darissa Lee