Difference between a Serum and an Essence…

Korean skincare can be a little confusing to us simple folk so let’s break down the differences between the lotions and potions. You may or may not have heard of the infamous Korean 10+-step face care regimen. While certain products in the regimen make a lot of sense to western beauty junkies (I totally understand face cleanser and moisturizer!), there are some categories that probably have you scratching your head. Like essences, for example, what are those?

As I started really delving into the regimen with SMD Cosmetics, I learned a whole new world of skincare I was missing out on! Let me help you out…

OK, so your face is cleansed and toned. Technically this is when you should use an essence…So, what IS an essence? This is going to be controversial, but here goes: An essence and a serum are essentially the same thing. Amazing, right? BUT. There are some important caveats to note.

According to SMD Cosmetics, essences traditionally were more lightweight and less concentrated than serums, and were used after a toner to add another layer of hydration before you applied serums. Now, however, while you can still find the more watered-down essences (and I frequently see this type of product called an “emulsion” as well), that line is completely blurred. Serums are getting more lightweight and essences are getting thicker, and they both can contain high concentrations of active ingredients.

In fact, the very words “essence” and “serum” are nothing but marketing words now. Basically (and I’m generalizing here), western women understand “serum” and Asian women understand “essence,” so now that we’re all exporting our products to each other’s countries, the terms essence/serum/concentrate are practically interchangeable.

Essence is however one of the most essential steps in the Korean skincare regime. It optimizes the skin’s natural cell turnover rate and revitalizes the skin with continued use. An essence immediately leaves the skin feeling smoother and brighter because all the nutrients are usually in the essence step!

Generally, a serum contains a few key active ingredients to address specific issues like brightening, dark spots, wrinkles, etc. The actives are usually more concentrated than what you’ll find in, say, a moisturizing cream. Serums are a bit thicker in consistency — almost oil-like — and usually come in a bottle that’s much smaller than a toner or cleanser bottle. Often the bottles have droppers to dispense the product, though I’ve seen serums that are opaque and almost lotion-like, in small pump bottles.

No matter which or how many products you use, the general rule-of-thumb is to apply the most watery product first and the thickest, richest one last.

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