When it comes to skincare routine, we often think of these three fundamental steps only (at least some of us do): cleansing, toning, and moisturising and sometimes the occasional use of a sunscreen. However, there’s more to just using these products.

And for those of us who have already upgraded our basic routines to include either an essence or serum, we’re sure this question comes up: do you apply essence or serum first?

If you’re confused, read on and we’re sure you’ll get it figured out.

What is an essence?

Before we get to the answer, let’s first try to understand what an essence is.

Essence is a water-based product enriched with potent active ingredients. Although some may skip it, essence offers numerous benefits that shouldn’t be overlooked.

The lightweight formula of an essence is designed to penetrate deeply into the skin, providing it with essential moisture and nourishment without drying it out. However, the effectiveness of a specific essence may vary depending on its ingredients and how well it suits an individual’s skin type.

Essence can also be used to improve the performance of these other products by prepping the skin to absorb them more easily.

In addition to providing moisture, most essence products contain a high content of active ingredients that can help:

  • Rehydrate the skin cells
  • Protect the skin barrier
  • Boost the health of the skin
  • Rebalance the pH of the skin
  • Soften and smooth the epidermis

What is a serum?

Similar to an essence, serums also delivers significant benefits to your skin.

They serve as specialised treatments, targeting specific skin concerns such as wrinkles, acne, dryness, and dullness. Additionally they’re also designed to brighten, hydrate, and provide various advantages to your skin based on the type of serum you use.

So, whether you’re looking for a serum to tackle issues such as wrinkles, fight acne, or hydrate your skin, there’s a serum out there that can do the job!

Should you use essence, serum or both?

Whether you should include an essence, a serum, or both in your skincare routine depends on your unique skin concerns.

Each of these products brings its own unique benefits, and they can complement each other effectively within your daily regimen.

Serums are typically more concentrated and are designed to address specific skincare concerns such as wrinkles, dark spots, or acne. They contain a higher percentage of active ingredients like antioxidants, hyaluronic acid, or peptides, which penetrate deeper into the skin. Hence, making serums ideal for individuals seeking intensive, fast-acting solutions for particular issues.

On the other hand, essences have a much lighter formulation compared to a serum. They primarily focus on hydration and your overall skin health.

They are excellent for maintaining your skin balance, improving moisture retention, and creating a healthy canvas for other products. Essences are often used to prep the skin, making it more receptive to subsequent treatments like serums.

By combining both essence and serum, you can maximise the level of hydration your skin receives while simultaneously addressing specific skin concerns you may have.

Do you apply essence and serum first in your skincare routine?

The sequence in which you apply your skincare products matters. Using them correctly can maximise their effectiveness and help tackle all your skincare woes, leaving you with nothing but a healthy and radiant-looking skin.

While some may believe it doesn’t make a difference, using an essence before a serum is the right way to go about it.

The reason is simple: the essence helps hydrate your skin and preps it so it’s more receptive to skincare actives. Apply an essence first, and your skin will be able to better absorb the powerful and concentrated serums that you’ll apply later.

essence and serum

Source: @deszell

Here are other tips to take note of when you’re using both an essence and a serum in your skincare routine.

  • Cleanse thoroughly: Always start with a clean face to ensure that your products can penetrate effectively. Cleansing removes dirt, oil, and impurities, allowing all your skincare products to absorb better into your skin.
  • Use gentle patting motions: Do not rub your skin aggressively, instead gently pat your essence and serum onto your skin. This helps with absorption and minimises potential irritation.
  • Wait 30 seconds: Allow each product to fully absorb into your skin before applying the next one. The general rule of thumb is to wait for at least 30 seconds.
  • Customise your skincare: Even if you’re seeing raving reviews a particular product, it may not necessarily work for you. Instead, choose based on your specific skin concerns – especially when it comes to your serums. If you’re unsure, check with a dermatologist.
  • Never forget sunscreen: Especially in the morning, always (always!) finish your routine with a broad-spectrum sunscreen to protect your skin from UV damage.
  • Be consistent: Consistency is the key to any skincare routine. Just like how dieting and working out works, the same applies to your skincare regime. Use your chosen products regularly to see long-term results.

Remember, individual skin types and needs vary, so it’s essential to pay attention to how your skin responds to different products and adjust your routine accordingly.

Best essences to try

SK-II Treatment Essence

If you’re a true beauty enthusiast, you would have definitely heard of the SK-II Facial Treatment Essence.

This iconic product is known for harnessing the power of PITERA™, a proprietary active ingredient that helps keep your skin’s natural renewal cycle in the optimum condition for skin nourishment.

It is also formulated with Piera to encourage your cells to regenerate, reversing signs of ageing and rejuvenating the texture of your skin. This treatment essence works to balance the skin’s pH and sebum secretion so oily and dry areas are properly moisturised, and is rich in vitamins, amino acids and minerals to give you a clear and glowing complexion.

This retails for RM850 (230ml) on Sephora

Fresh Kombucha Facial Treatment Essence

Fresh’s Kombucha essence recently got a reformulation, so it’s now more potent than ever! Despite its price tag, Fresh Kombucha Facial Treatment Essence has also become a favourite among many beauty enthusiasts.

It is designed to deeply penetrate the surface layers of your skin, boosting hydration and imparting a healthy luminosity to your complexion.

This fast-absorbing liquid treatment offers protection and visible skin repair through its double-fermented kombucha formula and an advanced metabiotic, resulting in smooth and luminous skin.

This retails for RM380 (150ml) on Sephora

COSRX Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence

We understand your initial reaction – using snail mucin in skincare might sound unusual. However, don’t be misled, as this skincare essence serves the dual purpose of soothing irritated skin and maintaining proper hydration.

Despite its slightly slimy texture, this product can effectively address issues such as acne, dark spots, and uneven skin tone. So, if you’re looking to tackle these concerns, the slimy texture becomes a noteworthy benefit.

This remarkable lightweight essence, containing 96.3% Snail Secretion Filtrate, rapidly absorbs into the skin, resulting in a natural radiance. It has the added advantage of soothing redness and sensitive skin following breakouts while replenishing essential moisture.

Whether you have dry or oily skin, you can use it day and night to enjoy long-lasting moisture, comfort, and skin healing.

This retails for RM76 on Watsons.  

Estée Lauder Micro Essence Treatment Lotion Fresh with Sakura Ferment

The Estée Lauder Micro Essence Treatment Lotion Fresh with Sakura Ferment is another popular essence that has received glowing reviews.

Infused with the essence of Sakura Ferment, this essence lotion locks in moisture and soothes the skin while alleviating the appearance of skin irritation and redness.

The Postbiotic 12+ works together with 98.9% Bio-Active Lactobacillus Ferment to optimise the skin’s barrier and significantly boost the skin’s first line of resistance to prevent external aggressors.

This retails for RM545 (200ml) on Sephora.  

Shiseido Eudermine Activating Essence

Originating in 1897 and deeply connected to traditional Japanese beauty practices, Shiseido Eudermine Revitalizing Essence holds a special place in history. It was also cherished by geishas (a Japanese hostess) who relied on it to shield their skin from the effects of heavy makeup.

Perfect for those in their early 20s up to late 50s, this activating essence features Bio-Hyaluronic Acid, to intensely hydrate and keep skin’s moisture at an ideal level.

This retails for RM360 (145ml) on Sephora.  

Best serums to try

Beauty Of Joseon Revive Serum Ginseng + Snail Mucin

Ginseng is a widely used ingredient in many K-beauty products, and it’s not without reasons!

Beauty of Joseon Revive Serum Ginseng + Snail Mucin is a skin-repairing serum formulated with 63% Ginseng Root Water and 3% Snail Secretion Filtrate to prevent wrinkles, improve skin elasticity, and brighten dull complexions.

It’s also known to promote hydration, which helps to protect the skin from external aggressors by retaining moisture deep within the skin for long hours.

This retails for RM89 (30ml) on Threebs.  

Dr. Dennis Gross Hyaluronic Marine Hydration Booster

The secret to achieving supple and soft skin lies in the potency of this hydrating super-serum. Enriched with the super-hydrating hyaluronic acid, watermelon extract, centella asiatica, as well as marine algae, this formidable serum revitalises and rejuvenates parched skin.

This liquid formulation provides your skin with feather-light hydration, effectively smoothing out dry fine lines and rough texture to give you a soft and radiant complexion.

This retails for RM360 (30ml) on Sephora

Lancôme Advanced Génifique Anti Ageing Face Serum

The Lancôme Advanced Génifique Anti-Ageing Face Serum is a powerful skincare product containing a blend of potent ingredients. It harnesses the science of microbiomes to accelerate skin rejuvenation, resulting in firmer and more youthful-looking skin.

This facial serum boasts an updated formula, enriched with a unique complex of seven prebiotics and probiotic fractions meticulously chosen and transformed to provide essential nourishment to both the skin and its microbiome.

Génifique works to enhance the core youthful functions of your skin, including its ability to defend and recover. Remarkably, within just seven days of use, your skin appears noticeably more radiant and smoother.

This retails for RM655 (75ml) at Lancome counters and Sephora.  

Dermalogica BioLumin-C Serum

This high-performance Vitamin C serum works with the skin’s own defence mechanism to brighten and firm up the skin.

Its advanced bio-technology and an ultra-stable Vitamin C work synergistically to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles as well as fight oxidative stress and the appearance of skin ageing before it even begins.

Plus, it’s also formulated with advanced technology to deliver more Vitamin C into skin.

This retails for RM499 on Sephora

DR.JART+ Cicapair Serum

Ideal for individuals with oily and sensitive skin, the DR.JART+ Cicapair Serum swiftly soothes and hydrates the skin, effectively reducing redness.

Its rapid absorption and syrup-like texture spread smoothly upon contact with the skin, promptly soothing and replenishing moisture levels while enhancing the skin’s protective barrier.

Furthermore, its fragrance and paraben-free formula makes it an excellent choice for those with sensitivity.

This retails for RM190 (30ml) on Sephora.