Serums + Essences Guide

  • Essences are mainly for hydration and go after toner
  • Serums target skin concerns and go after essences
  • Choose both depending on your hydration needs and issues

Over the years, more and more skincare trends have crept over to the UK from Korean skincare, and serums and essences are some of these. They are often part of the now famed Korean ten step routine, but they can be worked in to your regime in whatever way you choose.

For those of us coming from the old Western tradition of cleansing, toning and moisturising, it can be confusing to figure out exactly what an essence or a serum does.

So, here’s a quick rundown to start you off.

What is an essence?

The difference between an essence and a serum is debatable — some think it comes down to consistency, others believe it depends where it is applied in your routine, and still more think it depends on the concentration of active ingredients.

But essences are, essentially, focused on preparing the skin for more active and targeted skincare, whereas serums are the targeted skincare. So a lot of essences focus on hydration.
When do you use an essence?

Essences are usually a more fluid consistency than serums, and are usually applied after toners and before serums. However, the most important thing to remember is that it is your skincare routine, and you can move things around into whatever order feels right for your skin.

How do you choose an essence?

Essences are often focused entirely on hydration, though many also contain minerals and antioxidants to give your skin a boost.

So, when choosing an essence, think about the level of hydration your skin needs, and if you need any extra nourishment.

Those with existing dehydration issues will find this step incredibly useful just to aid this concern, but those not struggling with dehydration might prefer to add in antioxidants to get extra free radical protection.
What is a serum?

A serum is a product usually containing a few active ingredients to very specifically target an issue. This might be brightening, wrinkles, or sun spots. They differ from something like a moisturiser because the key ingredients are a higher concentration.

Serums are usually a similar consistency to oil, though some are more like lotion. They come in small bottles and you only need a small amount for each application.

When do you use a serum?

The order you set for your regimen is very personal, but usually it’s advised to apply serums after toner and after essences. This way, you keep all the key ingredients close to your skin and lock them in with your moisturising layers.

How do you choose a serum?

Finding the serum that is best for you means choosing based on your skin type and what skin concerns you need to address. Serums are ideal for targeting your problems, so assess what these are.

Key ingredients to look out for...
  • Vitamin C (aka L-Ascorbic Acid) - brightens the skin, fights free radicals caused by UV exposure, and helps minimise fine lines
  • Hyaluronic Acid - hydrates, and improves the appearance of ageing skin
  • Ceramides - increases hydration and strengthens the skin’s protective barrier
  • Retinol - fights the signs of ageing
  • Niacinamide - fights acne and helps fights the signs of ageing
  • Salicylic acid - fights acne by exfoliating the skin

If you examine your skin type and your skin concerns, you should be able to pick a serum that really helps your skin improve.

Whilst finding your way through the variety of serums and essences can be confusing, it’s definitely worth doing a bit of research, as these are such powerful components of your regimen.

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