Already widely used in Korea, this antioxidant-rich, anti-pollution liquid is still something of a niche buy mainly because we're confused about what it actually does. We wouldn't be without it and here's why

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There are a lot of things we've embraced from the infamous 10-step Korean skincare routine  oil cleansers  and jelly moisturisers , for example, are bathroom shelf staples here at GTG. But a skin essence? They've been around for a few years now, but how many people use one? We think this hydrating skincare step deserves its place alongside the other essentials: cleanser, toner, serum, moisturiser and SPF.

It was New York derm Dr Dendy Englamanm, who at the launch of Elizabeth Arden's first essence which came out in April 2020, explained the concept of a skin essence so clearly that suing one seems like a no-brainer. She described it as a power hydrator that softens your skin enough to allow all your other skincare to work harder. Think of it like wetting a sponge.

So what is it exactly? Not a toner  and not quite a serum , it’s a hybrid of the two that provides a first dose of hydration and ingredients that calm stressed skin and help defend against environmental aggressors.

"An essence is a concentrated prep step applied after cleansing and prior to a serum," says Anja Skytte-Mosbaek, UK training manager for Elizabeth Arden. "The formula is thicker than a toner, but thinner than a serum, although it holds similar serum benefits to target specific skincare concerns whilst balancing and moisturising the skin."

It can also be effective against pollution adds consultant dermatologist Dr Sandeep Cliff. “The concept of an essence is to be embraced - in offering the ‘stressed skin’ another opportunity to counteract the negative effects of pollutants along with effective cleansers and serums.”

What's the difference between a facial essence and a hydrating toner? Think of an essence as a souped-up version that contains higher amounts of actives that penetrate deep into the skin after you’ve cleansed.

An essence can be classed more as a treatment than a traditional toner, facialist Abigail James  tells us. “An essence is more likely to include other skin health benefits rather than just hydration,” she says. If you are using an exfoliating toner  or acid, apply your essence after this and before your serum, she adds. Many essences advise pressing the product into the skin to reap the full benefits.

If adding another step to your skincare routine doesn’t exactly sound appealing, an essence could potentially take the place of your hydrating toner thanks to its more sophisticated formula often found brimming with goodies such as  probiotics , hyaluronic acid , PHAs , antioxidants and other skin barrier -boosting ingredients.

MORE GLOSS: Cleansing masks - could your skin benefit from these ‘anti-pollution’ face washes? 

Here are the ones that stand out and make incorporating the extra step into your routine worth the time and money.

Elizabeth Arden Ceramide Micro Capsule Essence, £45

Brand new to market, Elizabeth Arden has scored a first with this micro-essence. Micro essences rapidly penetrate the skin more deeply to provide a precise dose of skincare. This fast-absorbing one includes tsubaki oil to moisturise and prep the skin, red algae to boosts the skin’s own production of natural moisturising ceramides and orchid stem cells to revitalise the skin, delivering radiance and luminosity.

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SVR B Essence Hydra, £22

Vitamin B3 and hyaluronic acid come together in this formula to plump up the skin, repair the skin's barrier and strengthen the defences of the skin. It feels every bit as hydrating as the sea-blue bottle suggests, too.

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Jurlique Activating Water Essence , £46

Don't be fooled by how lightweight this essence it - it's packed with 14 natural extracts including marshmallow root extract that attracts and retains water to provide long-lasting hydration, peach leaf extract to revitalise skin and yarrow extract to condition skin for a supple complexion.

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Cosrx Galactomyces 95 Tone Balancing Essence , £23

The name of this one is a bit of a mouthful, but it's like you actually need to say it when adding to your online basket. From Korean brand Cosrx this essence works to enrich your skin cells with hydration, giving you a clear, glowing complexion. It also helps repair the skin and reduce hyperpigmentation.  It's a particularly good one if you have dry, rough, or uneven patches as this essence helps remove roughness and dead skin cells thanks to niacinamide in the ingredients list.

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Origins Original Skin Essence Lotion with Dual Ferment Complex, £24

This pick provides fast-absorbing hydration to a range of different skin types thanks to a clarity and glow-boosting and stress-relieving combo of Canadian willowherb, Persian silk tree, molasses, essential oils and chestnut seed.

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B. Essence Lotion, £6.99

Great for skin and wallet, this purse-friendly option contains a calming cocktail of allantoin, naturally derived algae extract and hyaluronic acid to leave skin soothed and soft.

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Paula’s Choice Resist Brightening Essence, £41

Leaving skin more radiant, this skin-plumping pick enriched with barrier strengthening niacinamide , hydrating sodium hyaluronate and anti-inflammatory licorice root extract seeks to leave skin brighter and bouncier.

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Caudalie Vinoperfect Concentrated Brightening Essence, £30

With a fast-absorbing water-like texture that smooths and soothes (thanks to the brand’s signature grape water and the use of glycolic acid), this refreshing essence preps skin for whatever you pop on top of it.

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Rituals The Ritual of Namasté Glow Essence, £24.90

“I love the fact that this product is all-natural," Abigail James tells us. "The texture is amazing and it absorbs so well into the skin. It is a great summer hydrator in this warmer weather and will really help anyone experiencing dryer skin without adding extra oil to their skincare routine."

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Read more: A guide to using exfoliating acids in your skincare routine