Cleanse, Tone…Essence?? 

Recently there’s been a new media fascination as Korean skincare products are flooding into the North American beauty market. Sephora even has a whole new section of ‘K-beauty’ online. I’ve been seeing things like egg mousse cleanser and jelly eyeshadow, but the one product most intriguing has been essences.


It’s a concentrated fluid meant to have many benefits to the skin, and it’s supposed to be applied after your cleanse and tone routine but before moisturizing. They supposedly prime your skin to maximize the effects of your moisturizer while absorbing additional nutrients. But wait….isn’t that what a serum is for? Do we really need another product or is this stuff just for bored rich people?

An article in Harper’s Bazaar stated you should still use your regular serum after your essence and then moisturize. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a lot on my skin, and I ain’t rich! Another article I read argued that the words ‘serum’ and ‘essence’ we’re getting lost in translation from Korea and were basically the same thing. Hmmm.

Some essences are more fluid than others. The one I’ve been trying out is the Biotherm Lifeplankton Essence in combination with my Biotherm Aquasource moisturizer (best damn thing!). It’s thicker than a toner but slightly thinner than a serum. I find the essence to leave my face a bit sticky even hours after applying. After moisturizing on top of it, there’s no way in hell I’d want to throw a serum into the mix. The essence sits on the skin and leaves a dewy glaze almost, but I like it.

The combo of essence and moisturizer leaves my skin looking dewy and fabulous. It’s like that post-workout glow without the sweat. The real cherry on top is when I do my makeup on top of this routine…It gives me a subtle dewy finish without looking oily and gross. My skin feels plump and my foundation actually seems to last longer and wear nicer. I do forego using primer when I use the essence because it just feels unnecessary and I don’t want to overload my skin.


I’ve got a mixed verdict. I quite like this essence business so far but I’m a bit skeptic. I wouldn’t be using an essence AND a serum unless they promised to turn me into a Victoria’s Secret model and clean my apartment. I think marketing plays a big role in the serum vs. essence debate, as essences and serums are both pretty dang expensive. If the skincare industry can make us buy TWO expensive skin treatments, all the better for them. The Biotherm Lifeplankton Essence retails for $76 after all. Before running out to buy an essence, I’d recommend trying to get your hands on a deluxe sample like I did, or waiting until you are out of serum and see if you prefer switching it into your routine.

Maybe Korea is on to something? I mean, I’m sure my own skincare routine is pretty plebeian compared to our K-neighbors.

xo J



  1. October 27, 2015 / 4:17 am

    Great post! Such a fun read! I never knew the difference between an essence and a serum, I actually stopped using both because they are so expensive!

    But now you make me really want to try it, maybe I’ll save up for a bottle. 🙂

    • October 27, 2015 / 9:15 pm

      Yes they really are, and sometimes I wonder if a healthy diet is all you really need….xo J

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