Essence vs. Serum – Pros & Cons, Benefits, How to Choose

Christine Steuber
Mar 28, 2022
What's the difference between essence vs. serum? Are both products necessary for your skin? Read my post to find out!

The beauty industry is ever-growing, and sometimes it may be hard to keep up with skincare trends. And that’s understandable, considering that the vast amount of skincare products appear very similar at first sight but are completely different when it comes to their purpose. 

Essence and serum are in that category as well. Both are highly popular among beauty gurus and even made it to the list of 44 most popular skincare products in editor’s choice by Vogue.

But what if you’re a newbie and want to level up your skincare routine but don’t know the difference between essence and serum? The internet has taken you to the right place.

I’m going to compare essence vs. serum, break town the key differences, benefits, and help you choose the product for your skin type. 

So, carry on reading for more details. 

What is Essence?

Essence via

An essence is a highly popular element of Korean skincare, with the primary function to hydrate the skin and help it absorb other products faster. According to a study, most plant-based essences also contain antioxidants that are great for aging skin and provide UV protection.

Essences improve the penetration of active ingredients and prepare the skin for the rest of the routine. Essences increase the permeability of your skin barrier, so with that in mind, it’s crucial to apply a moisturizing product right after using an essence. 

Otherwise, the increased permeability barrier will cause dryness of the skin. So it’s essential to seal the essence with a moisturizer. 

When an essence increases the permeability barrier, it may dry and irritate the skin because it contains fragrances that may be damaging for some skin types. So, if you’re not going to combine it with other moisturizing products, then it’s completely unnecessary.

Benefits of essence

Essences have plenty of advantages for the skin. Despite its light texture, it delivers a package of helpful components to the skin. 

Here’s how an essence benefits your skin:

  • Creates a protective barrier. An essence serves as a protective layer and safeguards the skin from UV rays and other damages.
  • Hydrates the skin and balances its pH level. Essence has a hydrating effect on the skin due to its main components: water, hyaluronic acid, and glycerin. 
  • Softens the skin and provides a smooth texture. The moisturizing effect of an essence results in soft and smooth skin.
  • Helps the skin absorb other products. Essences prep the skin and help it soak in moisturizers and their components.

The beauty market offers a grand selection of essences, and you’re completely free with your choice. However, I highly recommend you avoid essences containing the following components.

  • Ethanol
  • Methylparaben
  • Alcohol denatured 

The above-mentioned products are harsh on the skin and have a stripping effect that will dry out your skin over time. And products containing Methylparaben increase the risk of skin cancer while exposed to sunlight.

Now let’s move on to serums.

What’s a Serum?

Serum via Unsplash

A serum is a skincare product that targets skin issues such as aging, acne, discoloration, and beyond. It also serves as extra hydration to the skin. As I mentioned in my previous Serums vs. Toners article, this product is full of active ingredients such as herbal extracts and vitamins that penetrate deep into the skin to get rid of blemishes. 

The serum has a more oily and thicker texture compared to essence. However, it has a lighter consistency than a regular moisturizer. Serums should be applied after essence but before other skincare products because it helps lock in moisturizers and other creams.

It’s applied like regular moisturizers: you need to add a few drops to your face and massage the product into your skin with your fingers.  

Serums are perfect for nourishing the skin with important ingredients. However, they may not be necessary for you. If you’re lucky enough to have perfect skin without any issues, then you can skip this step from your skincare routine since the primary purpose of a serum is to fix skin imperfections. So, if you’re using a serum only for hydration, you can stick with a tried and true moisturizer. 

Benefits of including serums in skincare

Serums are highly beneficial for your skin, especially if you’re struggling with some flaws. Whether you have acne-prone skin, discoloration, or fine lines and wrinkles, you can always find a serum that targets and fixes those issues. 

Here are some of the advantages serum has in store for your skin.

  • Improves the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. A serum for the face is proven to be highly effective in reducing fine lines and wrinkles. For this purpose, you need to look for a product containing retinol which lessens the appearance of wrinkles on the skin.
  • Absorbs the product into the skin immediately. Compared to creamy skincare products, serums absorb into the skin quicker. Due to their light consistency, serums absorb immediately, so you don’t have to wait for the product to dry out to apply other products.
  • Nourishes the skin. Serum’s formula includes active ingredients that hydrate and nurture the skin providing a smooth texture and fresh appearance. 
  • Provides UV protection. Serums containing Vitamin E, C, green tea, and similar ingredients protect the skin from UV rays and pollution and prevent premature aging. 

Nowadays, the beauty market is full of various serum brands, from high-end to low-quality ones, and I myself know how difficult it can be to pick the right one. That’s why I’ve selected some of the components you should be avoiding in a serum.

  • Alcohol
  • Fragrances
  • Polyethylene glycol 
  • Parabens
  • Hydroquinone
  • Synthetic colors
  • Now it’s time to compare both products. 

You should always avoid using the above-listed products on your skin because they can irritate it and cause extreme dryness.

Are Serums and Essence the Same?

Short answer is no. When we compare essence vs. serum, these products have different purposes.

Both serums and essences deliver a high concentration of active ingredients to the skin. However, despite the similarities, they have many differing factors. For instance, essence has a lighter consistency compared to serum. 

Serums have specially designed formulas that address certain skin imperfections. So, if you have skin discoloration, wrinkles, or any other issues, you can use serums to perfect your skin.

Continue reading to find out their main differences.

Essence vs. Serum – Key Differences

It can be a real struggle for beginners to understand how a serum is different from essence. At first sight, they can be very similar since both are liquid products. But when you dive into the details, you’ll see that, despite all similarities, they have diverse purposes. 

The main difference between the two products is that serums can be used without any other products. At the same time, essence primarily serves as a booster for other skincare products and moisturizers.   

Also, the next main difference is in the key purpose of both products. Serums are designed to deliver active ingredients to the skin, while essences are used to hydrate the skin and prepare it to absorb other ingredients.

You can easily include a serum and essence in the same routine; just make sure to apply the essence first before you apply the serum.

I’ve made this simple infographic to visualize the main differences between serums and essences.

Essence vs. Toner Comparison - First for Hers

Are Serums and Essence Necessary for My Skin?

Now, let’s compare the effects of essence vs. serum for the needs of different types of skin.

It’s no secret that the same skincare routine will not work for all skin types. Hence, serums and essences can be crucial for one type of skin and utterly unnecessary for the other at the same time. 

Both have many benefits for the skin but do you necessarily need to use them? No, it’s not obligatory. 

Here’s how they work for each type of skin.

Normal skin

Normal skin is perfect with its versatility that allows you to use all kinds of skincare products. If you want to try something new in your beauty regime, you can try both essences serums. 

For your skin type, you can pick a combination of products that will nourish and moisturize it. The purpose is to get your skin hydrated and receive essential nutrients that will result in a fresh and smooth finish.

Oily skin

If you have oily skin and are struggling to choose between essence vs. serum, in your case, serums are a better choice. Because oftentimes, people with oily skin try to avoid moisturizers as they can increase skin oiliness. In this case, serums are the perfect substitute due to their lighter consistency that hydrates the skin without making it oilier. 

The best serums for oily skin should include components such as zinc, niacinamide, enantia chlorantha, and lactic acid that help reduce the oil and mattify your face.

Essences can be used for oily skin as well but may not be the perfect product for the cause. Because an essence should always be followed by a moisturizer, and it may be too much product for oily skin.

Dry skin

Facial essences are most helpful for people with dry skin since their main feature is hydration. However, as mentioned earlier, you need to combine it with other moisturizing products since essence alone doesn’t moisturize your skin but helps to boost the effect of other hydrating products. 

For people with dry skin to see better results, it’s recommended not to contrapose essence vs. serum but combine both products in your skincare. You can apply an essence before serums since it helps to absorb the product quicker and hydrate the skin. 

Combination skin

People with combination skin may find it challenging to pick between essence vs. serum. With this type, your skin may be dry overall with some oily areas or vice versa.

An essence can be the ideal choice for people with combination skin, as this product responds well to layering. You can use essence to hydrate your skin and prepare it for other beauty products to balance out oil build-up and dry patches. 

6 Best Essences and Serums

To narrow down your choices, I’ve selected some of the best essences and serums that receive high rates and reviews from customers.

You can start by choosing one of these examples or do more research and pick the one that best suits your needs. It’s completely up to you.

1) Pixi Rose Caviar Essence – For Sensitive Skin

Pixi rose caviar essence
Credit: Pixi Beauty

If you have sensitive skin and are looking for an affordable essence, then this is by far the best option. This essence has a gentle formula that soothes the skin and works perfectly with sensitivity. 

This customer’s feedback says it all.

Pixi Rose Caviar Essence positive product review
Credit: Pixi Beauty

The product comprises the following ingredients: mulberry extract, anise extract, and rose oil.

2) Caudalie Vinoperfect Glycolic Brightening Essence – For Oily Skin

Caudalie Vinoperfect Glycolic Brightening Essence
Credit: Caudalie

This essence from a well-known French beauty brand is ideal for oily skin. It’s slightly pricier but definitely worth it. Customers’ reviews are always the best indicator of quality, and the feedback below proves that this product works:

Caudalie Vinoperfect Glycolic Brightening Essence positive product review
Credit: Sephora

This oil-free essence includes highly beneficial ingredients, such as white peony, glycolic acid, and grape water that hydrate the skin, reduce oil build-up and clean out pores.

3) COSRX Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence – For Acne-Prone Skin

COSRX Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence
Credit: Dermstore

Lately, everyone is hyped about snail cosmetics, and there’s a reason for it. This essence contains 96% of snail secretion that provides a bouquet of vitamins to your skin. Customers also claim that they’ve noticed the result even after using it for three days only.

COSRX Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence positive product review
Credit: Ulta Beauty

Its special formula reduces acne and helps to get rid of skin blemishes.

4) Skinceuticals C E Ferulic – For Dry Sensitive Skin

If you have dry and sensitive skin, this serum can be your savior. It’s a pricey one, but if you’re ready to give it all for beauty, it’s a perfect option. The review below confirms it.

Skinceuticals C E Ferulic positive product review
Credit: Byrdie

What makes this product flawless is its ingredients, which are as follows: ferulic acid, Vitamin C and E. This combination helps to get rid of dry patches and nourish the skin.

5) Dermalogica AGE Bright Clearing Serum – For Acne-Prone Skin

Dermalogica AGE Bright Clearing Serum
Credit: Dermalogica

For oily and acne-prone skin, this serum can work wonders. Its main components are beta-hydroxy and salicylic acid, which help unclog the pores, reduce oiliness and get rid of breakouts. This happy reviewer confirms that the product has worked for their acne-prone skin.

Dermalogica AGE Bright Clearing Serum positive product review
Credit: Sephora

That’s exactly what most people notice after using the product for a while. Such an effect is possible thanks to niacinamide which addresses skin discoloration that may appear after acne.

6) Cerave Hyaluronic Acid Serum – For Dry Skin

Cerave Hyaluronic Acid Serum
Credit: Cerave

This one is by far one of the most talked-about serums out there for dry skin. It’s also one of the affordable ones you can find in drugstores. Check out what customers have to say about this product.

Cerave Hyaluronic Acid Serum positive product review
Credit: Cerave

This gelly serum gently hydrates the skin due to its main component, hyaluronic acid.

Wrapping Up

Hopefully, the article helped you gain more knowledge about essence vs. serum and their main differences. I’ll sum it up with a brief list. 

Here’s what to look for when choosing a serum or essence.

  • If you decide to use an essence, don’t limit your skincare to that product only. Combine it with other moisturizers to lock in the product. 
  • To provide more benefit to your skin, make sure to select serums and essences with important active ingredients.
  • Before selecting a certain brand of essence or serum, double-check to be sure it fits your skin type.
  • Overall, the main difference between the two products is that serums deliver essential components to your skin. Essences provide active ingredients as well. However, its primary purpose is to hydrate the skin and help it absorb other products quickly. 

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