Cultural differences are a funny thing. Many of us (myself included in my uni days) would give ourselves a pat on the back for remembering to remove our makeup with a wipe at the end of the night before flopping into bed. In countries like Japan and Korea this wouldn’t cut it. Not even close. Home of the 10-step skincare routine, Koreans take their skin seriously. It’s only in the last few years that we Westerners have sat up and taken notice of their incredible glass skin, super hydrated and flawless. Keen to get as close as possible to this result, I would bring back what was considered at the time weird-looking potions from my Hong Kong trips. Snail mucus? Slap it on. Charcoal? Bring it on. Sheep placenta? I did draw a line at that. Visiting Seoul for the first time a few years ago I felt like a kid in a candy shop: so much choice, so many intriguing products, quite a few of them I hadn’t a clue what to do with. K-beauty is still very much in the beauty limelight and this year’s discovery is the essence. It took me a few attempts to wrap my head around the purpose of this product, so I’d rather use Cosmopolitan’s explanation: ‘Essence is a hybrid between a toner and a serum. It works perfectly to hydrate the complexion, aiding cellular turnover for a youthful appearance.’ So what is its purpose and is this additional skincare step really worth the hype?

K beauty inspired essences

The Korean skincare routine

To help understand where the essence fits in it’s worth getting to grips with the Korean 10-step skincare routine, which according to Cosmopolitan can involve:

  1. An oil cleanser to remove make up such as Elemis Nourishing Omega-Rich Cleansing Oil 
  2. Another cleanse, this time with a water-based cleanser such as Herbal Essentials Miracle Cleanser to remove oil residue#
  3. Exfoliation (not every day though) to remove dead cells that can dull the skin – give Filorga Scrub & Mask a go 
  4. Toner to prepare the skin so that it absorbs as much serum, oil or moisturiser as possible. I’m using Urban Veda Radiance Hydrating Toner at the moment 
  5. An essence to balance and hydrate, priming the skin to receive the active ingredients contained in a serum or moisturiser – product suggestions below…
  6. An ampoule containing a concentrated serum – can’t say that I’ve ever used that
  7. A serum loaded with hard working ingredients such as S5’s salicylic acid-rich Purity Serum to target blemishes 
  8. A sheet mask for a big hydration boost which you’ll get from Korean natural beauty brand Innisfree’s huge range of masks 
  9. An eye cream to specifically target the delicate eye area – The Ordinary’s Caffeine Solution 5% + EGCG will depuff those bags in no time 
  10. And finally a moisturiser such as Aurelia Cell Revitalise Day Moisturiser 

There are a few variations between the morning and evening skincare routine (the am version always always includes SPF as the final step to protect from UV rays and prevent sun spots), but essentially this is what a Korean skincare routine looks like, and one that is increasingly adopted by Westerners in awe of Korean’s glowing skin.

Two skincare bottles in a white bathroom

Caudalie Vinoperfect Concentrated Brightening Essence

I’m no stranger to Caudalie’s Vinoperfect radiance range which targets dark spots, specifically the serum and night cream, so adding the essence seemed logical. As with most Caudalie products, this brightening essence comes in elegant packaging: a heavy frosted glass bottle finished with a silver cap and a silver grape pattern. The 98% natural formula looks, smells and feels like a toner. After cleansing my skin (only once, I rarely double cleanse as my makeup tends to be light) I skip the toner and instead use the essence on a cotton pad, swiping it across the whole face and neck. It feels very light, refreshing and hydrating, just as a toner would. I follow up with the serum and moisturiser from the same range. As I’ve swapped the toner for the essence this ritual doesn’t feel any different to my typical skincare routine, but what about the results? According to Caudalie’s National Training Manager Angeline Noblanc ‘if you use the serum on its own you’ll notice improvements to skin after 46 days, however if you apply the essence beforehand, results are visible after just 28 days’. After a week long holiday in Morocco I was desperate to erase some of the damage caused by my repeated sun exposure (when will I learn to wear a hat?) and using this combination of essence, serum and moisturiser seemed to help even out skin tone, but whether that’s from returning to days spent in the office or the magic of Glycolic Acid and White Peony I can’t say for sure. 150ml RRP £30.00 

Caudalie Vinoperfect brightening essence on a stone

Clinique Moisture Surge Hydrating Lotion

One of Clinique’s bestselling ranges, Moisture Surge keeps growing its offering, with one of its latest additions being this Hydrating Lotion. The texture differs from Caudalie’s essence, it reminds me of Diadermine’s Micellar Lotion – still lightweight but the consistency is that of a watery lotion. Reading around essences I realise I’ve been applying it wrong. Instead of swiping on with a cotton pad it should be poured directly into the hands, warmed between the palms then patted onto clean skin until absorbed. Whoops. As with the rest of the Moisture Surge range, the Hydrating Lotion leaves my skin feeling fresh and plumped. 200ml RRP £30.00

As an additional step in my skincare routine I find it hard to justify that extra time spent on my face – my husband already baulks at my bathroom-hogging skills as it is. But as a replacement for toner, I’m on board. Have you tried this K-beauty trend? Please leave a comment below to let me know.

Features gifted products.


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