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 ABCs of skincare are always exciting and confusing – even for those of us who live and breathe beauty! A popular question we come across is the importance of essences and why it’s any different from a serum. Although the lines between the two occasionally blur, we can assure you that they are not the same and do various things for your skin. We unravel all in this guide.
For the 100th time, essences and serums are not the same
The two are not interchangeable. Serums are chockfull 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 levels after stripping it of oils with certain facial cleansers and toners.
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 toners. Serums, on the other hand, can come in a range of textures – gel, cream, oil – but always with a thicker yet lightweight consistency.
Application: Pat it on
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 (give it about two minutes 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 onto the skin, then massage it thoroughly, moving upwards.
E is for essence
Kew Organics Clear Skin Treatment Essence
We’re not sure what the future holds but we’re confident you’ll have clearer skin thanks to Kew Organics’ treatment essence. Only real beauty junkies will geek out on the massive ingredient list: Organic rose (for anti-ageing), snow fungus (a natural super-hydrator), organic gotu kola (tightens skin) and liquorice roots (lightens pigmentation). Suitable for normal, combination, oily and dry skin.
Kew Organics Clear Skin Treatment Essence, $123.10, Clarke Quay Central, Everton Park and Cluny Court.
Hada Labo Kouji Treatment Essence
Don’t be fooled by the light, watery texture of this essence ‘cos it’s formulated with stellar ingredients that’ll restore your tired, dry and dull skin. How does a dose of ceramides, amino acids, vitamins, minerals and peptides sound? All these come from the hero ingredient, Japanese kouji rice. Layer this on cleansed skin for an all-round glowing complexion.
Hada Labo Kouji Treatment Essence, $44.99, available online
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.
Porcelain Balance Sebum Control Essence, $41, available at Porcelain spas or shop online.
Huxley Oil Essence
Don’t be put off by the words, ‘oil essence’. This K-beauty brand has hit the sweet spot in creating an oil-like essence, which leaves a nice shine on your skin that’s totally absorbent. The essence features prickly pear seed oil that’s packed with antioxidants to repair skin; linoleic acid to stimulate collagen and increase skin cell turnover, as well as vitamin K to improve your skin tone and elasticity. Use this for a boost of hydration.
Huxley Oil Essence, $59, available online and at Guardian stores
Hada Labo SHA (Super Hyaluronic Acid) Hydrating Essence
Intensely boost your skin’s moisture with this essence by Japanese skincare brand, Hada Labo. It penetrates deep into your skin’s layers to leave it bouncy, radiant and visibly brighter.
Hada Labo SHA (Super Hyaluronic Acid) Hydrating Essence, $25.52, 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.
Su:m37 Secret Essence, $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 and is truly one of the greatest of all time. It’s made with the brand’s trademark pitera, which is rich in vitamins, amino acids, and minerals. This stuff is gold – it evens out skin tones, repairs skin firmness, smooths over pores and protects you from wrinkles.
SK-II Facial Treatment Essence, $108 for 75ml, $269, available at SK-II counters.
And then comes the serum(s)…
Drunk Elephant B-Hydra Intensive Hydration Serum
We’re going to go out on a limb and say that Drunk Elephant probably made serums popular again. Ever since its launch in Singapore, we’ve been concocted amazing serum cocktails by playing around with its variety of choices according to our skincare concern. For starters, try the B-Hydra Intensive Hydration serum that’s packed with Offer 24/7 hydration, soothes dry skin and protects against free radicals thanks to goodies like pro-vitamin B5, pineapple ceramide, barberry extract and sodium hyaluronate crosspolymer, just to name a few.
Drunk Elephant B-Hydra Intensive Hydration Serum, $68 for 50 ml, available at all Sephora stores.
Allies of Skin Mandelic Pigmentation Corrector Night Serum
This heavy-duty night-time serum features hardworking products like 11% mandelic, lactic and salicylic acid along with eight brighteners and seven antioxidants and peptides to treat large pores, blackheads, uneven skin tone and pigmentation. It also speeds up the renewal of cells to strengthen the skin’s barrier.
Allies of Skin Mandelic Pigmentation Corrector Night Serum, $92, available at Sephora and online.
Sephora Collection Ultra Glow Serum
Don’t be fooled by this relatively new product. What it lacks in experience, it makes up for with a clean formula full of natural ingredients like peptides from marine algae along with vitamin C and E extracted from potato and sunflower. The texture and scent is not as oily or pungent as other serums and is quickly absorbed into the skin. Oh, and plus points for the eco-friendly packaging made of recyclable glass and vegetable ink.
Sephora Collection Ultra Glow Serum, $29, available at all Sephora stores.
Estee Lauder Advanced Night Repair Synchronized Recovery Complex II
The multiple reviews speak for the product. If you haven’t jumped on this premiere night serum, you should already. A pioneer in anti-ageing, this baby is formulated with a special ChronoluxCB Technology to maximise the skin’s natural repair during the PM and, of course, our favourite hyaluronic acid to lock in moisture. Use this religiously and you’re on your way to smoother, hydrated and radiant skin.
Estee Lauder Advanced Night Repair Synchronized Recovery Complex II, $125 for 30 ml, available at all Estee Lauder counters islandwide.
Sunday Riley Sunday Riley CEO Serum
This serum combats dark spots and discolouration and reduces redness, leaving you with plump, healthy skin. Formulated with the MVP, THD ascorbate (a superior form of vitamin C), it’s no wonder you’ll see results in just a few tries. We also love the citrusy scent!
Sunday Riley Sunday Riley CEO Serum, $126, available at Sephora stores.
Paula’s Choice Resist Intensive Wrinkle-Repair Retinol Serum
Save time and money by cutting down your skincare routine with Paula’s Choice’s Intensive Wrinkle-Repair Retinol Serum, which combines all of our favourite things: Retinol, vitamin C, antioxidants and anti-ageing plant extracts in one powerful bottle. Perfect for all types, your skin will feel firmer and have a more balanced skin tone in no time.
Paula’s Choice Resist Intensive Wrinkle-Repair Retinol Serum, $65, shop at Beauty Collective and Skinx.
Whal Myung Skin Elixir
Hailing from Dong Wha Pharm, Korea’s first-ever pharmaceutical company, cult K-beauty brand Whal Myung has one solid elixir for your anti-ageing serum, toner and oil steps. Why have multiple steps in your routine when you can combine them, right? The natural herbs and ingredients (typically used in traditional Korean medicine) have anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial benefits that kick signs of ageing in the butt.
Whal Myung Skin Elixir, $47.60, available at selected Guardian stores and online.
Foreo Serum Serum Serum
If its moniker isn’t obvious enough, Foreo’s hyaluronic acid- and squalane-packed serum also has a micro-capsule infused formula that delves deep into the skin. It almost feels like the product screams, ‘serum, serum serum’ as it penetrates into the skin (see what we did there?). Massage it into the skin or pair it with the Luna 3 for supple, smooth and hydrated skin.
Foreo Serum Serum Serum, $99, available online
Bio-essence Bio-Gold Skin Elixir
Bio-essence is famed for its 24K Gold line, and its Golden Skin Elixir fares just as well. This hydrating serum is rich in antioxidants for UV protection; improves skin complexion by treating dark spots and pigmentation; and regulates your skin’s moisture balance. The lightweight serum also has a slightly moisturising sheen thanks to Moroccan argan oil. Plus, we love how the gold flakes – which will eventually absorb into the skin – make us feel all luxurious.
Bio-essence Bio-Gold Skin Elixir, $34.45, available online and at Lazada, Guardian and Watsons
Derma Lab Lumiclar Anti-Hyperpigmentation Serum
If your stubborn spots are still not budging despite your religious skincare routine, it’s time for a boost. Kiss hyper-pigmentation, acne scars and dark spots goodbye with this serum. It’s packed with resveratrol (a whitening agent that evens skin tone and reduces the formation of the aforementioned trouble areas) and 2% vitamin C (protects the skin from free radicals, pollutants and pre-mature ageing). So you can spend less time concealing all these spots. Remember to follow up with SPF protection!
Derma Lab Lumiclar Anti-Hyperpigmentation Serum, $31.90 for 15g, available online, Watsons and Lazada
DrGL Skin Repair
Dubbed as the ‘fountain of youth’, this anti-ageing elixir does everything in its power to heal and repair concerned areas like acne scars, redness and pigmentation. Active plant cells are used to stimulate skin cell growth, repair damaged cells and also replace them with new ones. Another skin-boosting ingredient to note is alpha lipoic acid (thioctic acid), which is 400 times more potent than vitamin C or E. Yup, definitely helps to achieve that glowy skin. The lightweight texture is also gentle on sensitive skin.
DrGL Skin Repair, $118, available online, Sephora and Shopee
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.
Algenist Power Recharging Night Pressed Serum, $123.50, available at LookFantastic and StrawberryNet.
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-ageing and firming to mattifying and smoothing.
Skin Inc My Daily Dose Serum cocktail, $68, shop at various Skin Inc concept stores islandwide.
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.
Eladerm Cosme LCD, $130, available at Estheclinic outlets at Tras Street, Holland Piazza and Joo Chiat.
Clarins Double Serum
Behold the eighth 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.
Clarins Double Serum, $170, 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 wizardry 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.
Astalift In-Focus Cellactive Serum, $222, available at Astalift stores at Plaza Singapura, JEM, and NEX.