“Are essences even a thing, and do I need yet another layer of skincare in hot and humid Singapore?,” you might wonder. If skincare essences of the world had a publicist, what would they need you to know? For starters, they’d like to clarify that essences are in fact, not toners. Repeat: not toners. While they share visual similarities (‘Aren’t they just expensive bottles of sciency-sounding water?’), essences act like liquid treatments: delivering nutrients and hydration, typically helping strengthen the skin’s microbiome and prepping it to receive the full benefits of your skincare that follows. Toners, on the other hand, while non-binary and catering to almost every skin type today—generally help to remove impurities and dead cells, recalibrate the skin to an optimal pH level, and hydrate the skin.
While the skincare-literate among us remain unfazed at 10 Step K-Beauty rituals, adding an extra layer of product to your face especially in this heat might elicit mixed-feelings towards essences. The good news is that being liquid, essences are lightweight, fast-absorbing and virtually traceless: in fact, essence virgins will be pleased to find that their skin is actually smoother and softer in one application.
What are facial essences and who should use them?
“Facial essences are a key daily skincare routine to address specific skin concerns, such as dullness, ageing, and pigmentation; their watery form is meant to be absorbed quickly by the skin, infusing your complexion with their powerful ingredients,” says SK-II’s senior manager of scientific communications, Kazumi Toyama.
Hera’s brand general manager, Doreen Chia says an essence is, “the first step of your skincare to help replenish the skin of moisture and nutrients” and that “it also helps subsequent products to absorb better” while helping retain “hydration and nutrients better in the skin.”
Making a case for the essences, PSA founder Nicolas Travis says they contain “concentrated actives that are designed to penetrate deeper into the skin and help transport actives ingredients right where they are needed. As they are usually water-based, they are a lightweight yet effective way of customising your skincare routine based on what your skin needs at that point in time.”
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Hera Cell Essence Biome Plus
This lightweight, milky essence enriched with prebiotics and probiotics is an essential first step to rebalance and help skin maintain a healthy microbiome. What is the skin microbiome? A living ecosystem of bacteria, fungi, protozoa and more that live on and inside your body. Imbalance to this skin microbiome can cause a weakened or vulnerable skin barrier that may show up as skin conditions including acne, allergies or eczema. All that we know of urban life including lack of sleep, pollution, and stress unfortunately puts us straight in the path of disrupting this skin barrier which in turn leads to moisture loss, wrinkles, inflammation and other skin diseases. Cell Essence Biome Plus is formulated with eight skin activators such as lipids, hyaluronic and amino acids, peptides, ions with Lactobacillus Ferment Lysate, a probiotic that reinforces the skin barrier and restores skin integrity. Through probiotics and prebiotics, Hera aims to increase good bacteria, and boost skin hydration from the inside-out. “At Hera, we take pride in our years of research behind cell studies to develop solutions for urban women and this improved formulation of Cell Essence Biome Plus does exactly that—countering skin issues due to external environmental factors and stressful lifestyle, by strengthening skin health with prebiotics and probiotics for an effective cell-level solution,” says Chia.
Hera Cell Essence Biome Plus, $80 for 150ml and refill at $64; available at Sephora
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La Mer The Treatment Lotion
Want to awaken your skin in a flash? A super hydrating drink for parched complexions, we love the Treatment Lotion for its ability to deliver an instant rush of moisture to the skin. Described as ‘liquid energy’, this essential treatment is charged with La Mer’s star Miracle Broth, Revitalizing Ferment and softening waters to soften and boost the skin, improving its texture. It’s non-sticky (helpful if you’ve an 8-step skincare ritual in humid Singapore), fast-absorbing and preps your skin for the next step in your regime. Simply sprinkle onto fingertips and press into skin, slowing your breath as you enjoy its ultra-comforting, restorative scent and silky fluid texture.
La Mer The Treatment Lotion, $235 for 150ml; available at Sephora
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Shiseido Revitalizing Treatment Softener
More than mere ‘fancy water’, this softener aims to re-awaken skin from within improving the appearance of lines while offering 24-hour moisture with Japan’s Kirishima mineral spring water, Mishima Saiko, olive leaf, brightening Lempuyang and clarifying Hamamelis extracts. Shiseido’s assistant training manager, Faith Lai shares that softeners or essences, “are an essential step to help future-proof skin from the harmful external aggressors that we are exposed to on a daily basis, [preparing] the skin’s surface to maximize the effectiveness of moisture treatments.” Lai also shares that it helps the epidermis optimise natural moisture production, drenching the skin in “moisture magnets or humectants to improve trans-epidermal moisture loss.” It aligns skin cells in the epidermis to optimise natural moisture production and drench skin in moisture magnets (humectants) to improve trans-epidermal moisture loss.”
Shiseido Revitalizing Treatment Softener, $125 for 150ml; available at Lazada
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SK-II Facial Treatment Essence
You could say that SK-II has always been ahead of its time. As we see a rise in skincare products featuring fermented ingredients, SK-II’s signature bestseller has essentially remained unchanged for over 38 years. The sell is crystal clear skin and the Facial Treatment Essence delivers through its star ingredient, Pitera, a natural bio-ingredient derived from yeast fermentation. This clear liquid contains a host of micronutrients and is rich in peptides, proteins, amino acids, and minerals. Pitera closely resembles our skin’s own Natural Moisturising Factors (NMF) and helps improve the skin’s renewal cycle for brighter skin. It also helps prevent the formation of dark spots by strengthening the skin’s resilience; plumps the skin with moisture—thereby reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, while refining and retexturising the complexion. Use after toner and pour directly onto the hand, pushing the nutrient-rich essence in from face to neck and décolletage for supple skin. “SK–II’s iconic essence is legendary for its transformative powers as it can address multiple skin conditions at once,” says Toyama. “With more than 90 per cent Pitera, the Facial Treatment Essence can brighten the skin, prevent the formation of spots, reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, smoothen skin texture, and improve skin firmness, making the transformation to crystal clear skin possible by adding only one bottle to your routine.”
SK-II Facial Treatment Essence, $220 for 160ml; available at Tangs
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Clarins Multi-Active Treatment Essence Vitality
If delaying the signs of ageing is top on the agenda for you, Clarins’s Treatment Essence Vitality offers a first step in the right direction. It contains organic Teasel from France, known to help minimise the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles while Mythroamnus, which thrives in arid conditions in the mountains of southern Africa, helps tone, rehydrate, and soothe skin. Apply after cleansing to help prepare skin to truly benefit from skincare applied afterwards.
Clarins Multi-Active Treatment Essence Vitality, $70 for 200ml; available at Clarins
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Clé De Peau Beauté Essential Refining Essence
Great for controlling shiny T-zones in the heat, shake to activate the swirling essence that helps to smooth and mattify the skin, diminishing the look of pores with its Surface Refining Complex EX. With impurities out of the way and pores clarified, the Illuminating Complex EX with precious silk and pearl elements help even the skin tone, reducing signs of fatigue and environmental stress for translucent, supple skin. This essence also helps to freshen the skin, controlling excess oil with its Sebum Absorption Powder. For this reason, it’s best to pat the skin with the product to help instantly mattify and tighten the pores. Finish by sweeping it over the skin to further retexturise the skin and refine the complexion.
Clé De Peau Beauté Essential Refining Essence, $130 for 170ml; available at Tangs
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Josh Rosebrook Hydrating Accelerator Moisturizing Facial Mist
Any clean beauty skin buff worth their weight in adaptogenics counts Josh Rosebrook as their top shelf beauty must-have. This cult, skin-cooling Hydrating Accelerator is so much more than a toner or mist, especially in our heat in Southeast Asia. Formulated with a slew of organic botanicals, antioxidants, and herbal anti-inflammatories, it revives and hydrates even the most temperamental and sensitised skins, and is a particular hit with the gua sha-inclined: this mist + a touch of serum or oil + your gua sha tool = seventh heaven. Toe-curlingly good. Self-care Sunday sorted. Use it before toning, to set make-up, activate powdered clay masks, or throughout the day to calm, nourish and replenish the skin. Note for the uninitiated: they say ‘mist liberally’, we say ‘make it rain’ and your skin will love you for it.
Josh Rosebrook Hydrating Accelerator Moisturizing Facial Mist; available at Josh Rosebrook
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Caudalie Vinoperfect Concentrated Brightening Essence
A favourite at French pharmacies, this essence treats four types of pigmentation that dulls the skin, including solar freckles from UV exposure and air pollution, inflammation and scars from acne marks, age spots and pregnancy or hormone-related melasma. This essence sweeps away dullness and dead skin to promote luminosity with white peony extract and its signature grape water for hydration and skin soothing to offer instant, clinically-proven results in dark spot correction and evening the complexion.
Caudalie Vinoperfect Concentrated Brightening Essence, $60 for 150ml; available at Sephora
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Estee Lauder Micro Essence Skin Activating Treatment Lotion
This essence-in-lotion skin strengthener contains a micronutrient and peptide-rich Nutrient bio-ferment to stimulate cellular renewal, calming irritation so that the skin’s energy is directed towards rebuilding and repairing itself. It offers the skin moisture, helping the complexion feel supple and smooth, while appearing translucent and radiant.
Estee Lauder Micro Essence Skin Activating Treatment Lotion, $172 for 200ml; available at Sephora
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Origins Mega Mushroom Relief & Resilience Soothing Treatment Lotion
Aimed at protecting one the skin’s first lines of defense, the microbiome, Origins harnesses Reishi mushroom prebiotics with Lactobacillus probiotic technology to strength and boost the skin’s barrier while also calming and soothing red, inflamed and irritated skin. Reshi, regarded as the ‘Mushroom of Immortality’, has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine to promote longevity, while fermented Chaga, the ‘King of Mushrooms’ offers 28 per cent more anti-irritant power. Finally, the Corprinus mushroom, known as the ‘Fairy Princess Mushroom’, offers instant relief to stressed complexions.
Origins Mega Mushroom Relief & Resilience Soothing Treatment Lotion in limited edition Bruno Grizzo design, $63 for 200ml; available at Sephora