Facial Essences Are Japan’s Best-Kept Beauty Secret. Here’s Why You Should Be Using One

They make your skin feel crazy soft.

essences
Image: Instagram @liveglenwood

I recently returned from an excellent trip to Japan. Before I went, one of the things I was most excited about (apart from eating all the delicious foods and seeing all the incredible sights, obvs) was checking out all the beauty products.

You see, the Japanese have a reputation for having some of the best (and wackiest) skincare and makeup products in the world. Much like in Korea, they treat looking after their skin like a full-time job — it’s not unheard of for women to have an 11-step skincare regime. For this reason, there tends to be a lot more diversity in their beauty products.

So, when I found myself in the cosmetics floor of Yodobashi Camera (an enormous chain store where you can find everything from tech gadgets to glitter), I was like a kid in a candy store. Amongst the egg white cleansers and snail mucus serums (more on that later), one phrase kept popping up again and again — facial essences.

Our number one summer skincare essential ☀☀ #summertime #summeressentials #summerskincare #facialtreatmentessence #skii

A post shared by SK-II’s Official Instagram (@skii) on

WTF are facial essences?

I wondered the same thing. Were they facial perfumes you spritz to make your face smell delish? Or more like beauty mists? Turns out, they’re neither. Facial essences are a super lightweight, hydrating liquid, designed to help prep your skin for your moisturiser after you cleanse. As Zoe Dubs puts it in this Elle UK article:

 Think of your skin like a sponge – once cleansed and dried, a dry sponge cannot as easily absorb moisture compared to a slightly damp one. Essence is the hydrating layer that properly primes the skin to best absorb your fancy serums and creams.

Ohhh…

“But wait…” you may say. “Isn’t that what toner is for?” Yep! But not everybody loves that tight, tingly feeling you get when you use toner. Facial essences feels more light and creamy, kind of like a serum. Having picked one up myself when I was over there, I can report it actually feels super nice and refreshing on your face. They also make you skin feel crazy soft.

It’s also worth noting that facial essences tend to be loaded with a higher concentration of active, anti-ageing ingredients than toners — sometimes, even more so than serums! They also tend to penetrate deeper into your skin. To use them, you basically just put a few drops into your palms and press the essence into your face until absorbed.

Where to get them

Okay, so facial essences absolutely deserve a spot in any beauty-lover’s skincare regime. But unless you happen to live in Japan, where do you even get them from? Luckily, the rest of the world is slowly starting to cotton on to the power of facial essences, with international brands releasing their own versions. Scroll through the gallery for some of our top picks.

1. The Body Shop Vitamin E Aqua Boost Essence Lotion

Shop The Body Shop Vitamin E Aqua Boost Essence Lotion.

2. Jurlique Activating Water Essence

Shop the Jurlique Activating Water Essence.

3. Origins Original Skin Essence Lotion

Shop the Origins Original Skin Essence Lotion.

4. DHC Beauty Essence

Shop the DHC Beauty Essence.

5. SK-II Facial Treatment Essence

Shop the SK-II Facial Treatment Essence.