For light and hydrating formulas, these Korean and J-Beauty-inspired formulas have it all

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As the days get longer and the temperatures creep up, our minds are turning to lighter skincare.

Enter lotions and emulsions, a lighter take on rich moisturising creams for fresh, dewy skin These watery liquids are a staple of J-Beauty and Korean skincare. First off: what's the difference between an emulsion and a lotion and which one do you need?

In J-Beauty and K-Beauty, with their more involved skincare routines, both are quite different steps. A lotion with its lighter watery texture is usually a clear liquid similar to an  essence  but a bit more gel-like. An emulsion, on the other hand, is more of a thin moisturiser, lighter and runnier than your usual day cream.

“In  J-beauty  lotions are used to deeply hydrate the skin and prepare it for the next step,” says Dr Valentina Elguindy, dermatologist and medical advisor for J-beauty brand Forlle’d. “We think of it as a pre-serum as it helps serums and creams penetrate better, whereas emulsions are a light version of a cream formula moisturiser. They’re typically lightweight, but richer than serums,” Dr Valentina continues.

In J-beauty you would use a lotion to condition the skin straight after cleansing (as with a toner) and before additional serums and creams or moisturisers, explains Dr Valentina. As for emulsions, think of them as a moisturiser and use them as your last skincare routine step before primer and  SPF .

In western beauty parlance, lotions and emulsions are often one and the same. “The terms are used interchangeably to mean a very lightweight moisturiser,” explains Micaela Nisbett, founder of London skincare brand Neighbourhood Botanicals, which launches its first lotion, Mild Mannered in May 2021.

“Emulsions can be used over serum and before moisturiser to act as a seal and a booster for your existing treatment steps or they can be a replacement for moisturiser,” says Bobbi Brown’s senior pro artist, Warren Dowdall. “As a rule of thumb, always apply your skincare from lightest texture to heaviest texture.”

Organic skincare brand Dr Hauschka this year launched three different lotion formulas (see below) for different skincare needs. They suggest using lotion in place of a moisturiser.

Which skin types can use lotions and emulsions?

Anyone can swap to a lotion or an emulsion for the summer months, but Dr Simon Jackson, co-founder of vegan sustainable skincare brand Modern Botany, says emulsions are particularly good for stressed skin. “Both formulations are non-comedogenic, but I would suggest that someone with sensitive skin or acne-prone skin would be better with the lightest formulation so would recommend an emulsion.”

Lotions and emulsions to try now

Bobbi Brown Intensive Skin Serum Radiance Emulsion, £52 for 150ml

The latest addition to Bobbi Brown’s Intensive Skin Serum family, this ultra-light emulsion is designed to be used ahead of your foundation to hydrate the skin and make it look extra radiant. It sinks in within seconds leaving skin feeling soft with no stickiness. Gingseng energises the skin, while bamboo grass extract makes it look calmer and thale cress flower protects the skin from pollution and free radicals.

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Forlle’d Hyalogy lotion and emulsion

d Hyalogy P-effect Refining Lotion, £84 for 150ml
Japanese beauty brand Forlle’d’s lotion is one that’s more akin to an essence, to be used pre-serum for an extra hydrating layer. Think of it like wetting a sponge before using; it helps your skin to absorb the other products you’re going to apply. It feels soft and refreshing on the skin and include low molecular hyaluronic acid to help your skin absorb it easily.
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d Hyalogy P-effect Basing Emulsion, £141 for 100ml
As a J-beauty brand, Forlle’d has an emulsion in its product lineup too. As you’d expect from an emulsion, it’s ultra-light and helps soothe and soften the skin. This particular emulsion also helps repair the  
skin barrier  (ideal if it’s been compromised by mask-wearing) and makes for a smooth base for makeup.Buy nowThe Body Shop Drops of Youth Youth Fresh Emulsion SPF20 PA+++
, £15 for 100ml

With an ultra-fresh scent and a bouncy feel, this emulsion sinks into the skin for a fresh complexion. It has UVA and UVB protection and The Body Shop suggests either using in place of your daily moisturiser or as well as your usual day cream for extra moisture.

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Dr Hauschka Soothing Day Lotion, £27.50 for 50ml

This launched in March 2021, alongside the  Balancing Day Lotion , £26.50, for combination skin and the  Revitalising Day Lotion , £25, for dehydrated skin. The Soothing Day lotion is designed to protect sensitive skin and has a silky texture that cools the skin as it sinks in (just what you want when the weather warms up). Ingredients include dog rose to nourish, lady’s mantle to strengthen and even the complexion plus borage to soothe.

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AHC Aqualuronic Emulsion, £22

Korean beauty brand AHC has a fragrance-free emulsion as a part of its five-piece Aqualuronic Collection powered by the Triple Hyaluronic Complex, designed to deliver hydration to every layer of the skin, for a brighter complexion. The emulsion includes ceramides, French sea water and hyaluronic acid in a milky, non-sticky solution that drenches the skin.

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Neighbourhood Botanicals Mild Mannered Lotion, £TBC

East London brand Neighbourhood Botanicals is releasing its first lotion ready for summer. It’s an ultra-light hydrating face lotion that is gentle and hydrating for the skin after sun-drenched days with soothing and healing properties of aloe vera and calendula.

Out soon

Decorte Lift Dimension lotion and emulsion

Decorté Lift Dimension Brighten + Plump Emulsion, £60 for 200ml
Decorté is Japan’s best-selling beauty brand so it’s no surprise it has both an emulsion and a lotion in its roster of products. This emulsion is part of Decortè's new lifting and brightening collection and is designed to bring radiance to mature skin, helping with concerns that grow with age including persistent dullness, yellowing uneven skin tone and dark spots. Though light, this emulsion feels luxurious to use, giving elasticity to the skin and helping following products to sink in better.
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Decorté Lift Dimension Brighten + Replenish Lotion, £60 for 200ml
This plumping lotion makes skin appear firm and dewy. The brand recommends applying this with a cotton pad and patting it into the skin, then following with the cream from the collection for maximum effect.
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Lixir Skin Universal Emulsion, £36 for 100ml

Ever so subtly scented with a soothing, almost baby-powder fragrance, Lixir Skin's motto when it comes to skincare is less is more, so this was designed to be used all over the face and body and can be enriched with the brand's various boosters (which include N ight Switch Retinol 1 per cent , £28,  Night Switch Essential Lipids , £24,  Night Switch BHA/AHA te per cent , £20, and  Night Switch PHA/AHA ten per cent , £20). Ingredients include  squalane  and shea butter and it's thicker than most emulsions, sinks in like a dream, leaving skin, feeling dewy but not oily, almost sealing in a layer of cocooning moisture. If you’re using in the daytime this makes for a great makeup base.

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Estee Lauder Revitalizing Supreme+ Bright Power Soft Milky Lotion

, £75 for 100ml

Launched in February of this year, this lotion combines Estee Lauder's moisturising ingredient beautyberry and  vitamin C , for a lightweight, ultra-nourishing moisturiser that improves the look of dark spots and blemishes, with moringa extract and a  collagen -supporting complex to help rebuild skin firmness and bounce.

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Sisley Phyto Blanc La Lotion, £104

Another lotion that launched this year, this landed in January and was created to make skin look brighter and forms part of a routine that also includes the  Phyto-Blanc La Mousse Brightening Cleansing Foam-in-Cream , £113, which work together to make skin look more even. It uses pea  peptide  extract to lessen the production of melanin to brighten the skin and reduce dark spots.

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Avene Cleanance Mattifying Emulsion, £9.75 for 40ml

Created to mattify oily skin, Avene’s Cleanance range was reformulated this year and the emulsion was a new addition to the family. Designed to be used post-cleanse, it hydrates and mattifies oily, blemish-prone skin for a fresh, soothed face. It’s non-greasy, regulates excess sebum, minimises the look of pores and uses Avene’s signature ingredient, thermal spring water, for hydration.

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Origins Mega Mushroom Relief and Resilience Fortifying Emulsion, £32 for 100ml

According to Origins, the emulsion market grew by 20 per cent in China last year, so it expanded its iconic mushroom-infused range to include an emulsion. As with the whole Mega Mushroom collection, it uses the power of mushrooms to deliver anti-irritant, soothing powers straight into the skin to calm an angry complexion. It has  squalane  in too to boost the moisture barrier and a relaxing essential oil blend of geranium, orange, mandarin, patchouli and lavender to soothe the mind and senses as well as your skin.

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Beauty Pie JapanFusion Hydra Prep Lotion, members pay £8.93, typical price £25

Part of Beauty Pie’s Japanese-inspired collection, this lotion acts as a magnet for your moisturiser, supercharging all the products you put on after it and hydrating and plumping in its own right. It’s sold out at the moment but is due back in stock in June so keep an eye out.

Not a member of Beauty Pie? Join using code GTGSENTME and get an extra £50 to spend.

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Clinique Dramatically Different Moisturising Lotion+, £31 for 125ml

A classic in the skincare world, Clinique's fast-absorbing lotion lends a hydrating veil to the skin, strengthening its barrier and locking moisture in for the whole day for a healthy glow.

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Clarins Nutri-Lumiere Nourishing & Revitalizing Day Emulsion, £55 for 50ml

Our tester who gave this a spin loved it for her mature skin. It combines horse chestnut flower extract with horse chestnut escin to reinforce the skin's barrier, giving protection from pollution and keeping the skin looking fresh.

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