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Essence vs Serum: What is Essence in Skin Care Anyway?

February 05, 2021 Charlotte Cho

essence vs serum skincare

The essential step in skincare


This weekend over pizza, artichokes and wine, a friend leaned over and whispered, "You got to tell me more about this essence." For someone that had pretty nice skin (and is Korean-American), I admit I was taken aback. It reminded me that essence (and toner) are still the biggest mysteries in skincare stateside. BUT if you ask any woman in Seoul, they will likely tell you the two are the most essential steps in their skincare regimen.

I started to imagine how much she could benefit if she added this steps to her skincare regimen. At the very least brighter skin… and at the very most - flawless, porcelain-like skin. 

Want to know more about this essence? This Korean skincare secret to flawless skin? Read on. 


Why is essence the most essential step in your skincare regimen? 

You'll see more results from essence than any other product because it treats skin on a cellular level. Essence is a concentrated formula that specifically targets wrinkles, fine lines, and dull and uneven skin tones. Korean essences typically contain an active ingredient that optimizes your skin's natural cell turnover rate (think skin regeneration) and with regular use you will notice that your skin is more smoother and brighter. It can't turn back time, but it will definitely revitalize your skin so that with continued use - you can look more youthful.

Korean skincare essence

Missha's Time Revolution Essence ($45) - The most popular skincare product at Missha and perfect dupe of the $100 SK-II Facial Treatment Essence. The main ingredient is yeast, which helps restore vital balance by promoting the skin's natural 28-day surface renewal process.

Korean essence vs serums

Tip! Watery consistency means a lot of wastage. Instead of having it soak through cotton pads, transfer the essence into a spritz bottle and spray directly onto your face.

Essences have a variety of consistences. For my entire face, I prefer liquid to gel type consistences. With liquid, I can almost feel my skin soaking it it and could even see that my face gets slightly plump from absorbing all the good stuff. And for spot essence treatments (very concentrated formula) I prefer a tackier feel since I need it to concentrate on a particular area.


What is essence in skincare

The tacky consistency is perfect to make sure the formula stays put.


What is the difference between essence vs serum?

Depending on the concentration of the formula, they have been also referred to as serums, ampoules and even boosters. Ampoules are super concentrated versions so they tend to be more expensive than essence.

ampoule vs essence skincare

Missha Time Revolution Night Repair New Science Activator Ampoule ($42) - Another dupe of the famous $92 Estee Lauder Advanced Night Repair. They share the key ingredient, bifida ferment lysate, a probiotic that is said to act like a DNA repairing agent.

ampoules vs essences vs serums

Lots of product. Love the hygienic glass dropper.

Less watery than the Missha First Treatment Essence, since it is a more concentrated formula. 


How do you use essence?

Korean women would never forget essence in their skincare routine, whether it is morning or night. After cleaning your skin, apply toner (to deep clean and prep your skin for the essence). Then apply essence by dispensing the product onto your hand (or a cotton pad) and evenly apply all over your face and neck.

A handy tip!

Korean women are all about tapping when applying anything on their face. Why? Rubbing your face like you're windex-ing a window is not the recommended technique. They recommend tapping because it enhances absorption. FYI - it sounds like this, "TOK TOK TOK." Try it!


Would love to hear your thoughts.

What essence do you use? Have you personally noticed a difference?

Please share your favorite brands and tips about using essence!


Editor's Note: Soko Glam is not paid to market any of the brands listed on this site. These are brands and products that we have independently procured and tested after thorough research. Reviews are conducted after testing and these opinions are my own.

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About Charlotte

Soko Glam co-founder and chief curator. Licensed esthetician sharing the love of all things K-beauty.

About Sokoglam

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