13 Best Essences of 2024 to Drench Your Skin in Hydration

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Pat-pat your way to glass skin.

Best Essence a collage of Ilia Beauty of Joseon and SKII essences on a light pink background

Collage: Laneen Wells; Source images: Courtesy of brands

Craving hydration? Do formulas feel like they’re sitting on your skin rather than actually penetrating the surface? It may be time to incorporate one of the best essences into your routine. A mainstay among the best Korean skin-care products, these highly concentrated treatments are nestled somewhere in between your cleansing and moisturizing steps. That’s because facial essences contain high doses of active ingredients, like hyaluronic acid, glycerin, ginseng, and fermented ingredients (e.g. yeast and rice), that can intensely nourish skin post-cleanse and prep it for any serums, ampoules, creams, or oils that come after.

Our Top Picks

Need further convincing? Essences for the face are a gateway product to “glass skin.” These bottles of hydration are key to amping up plumpness and clarity—making them a highly valuable addition to any skin-care routine. We’ve rounded up the best essences to nourish skin, boost elasticity, and more below.

Frequently Asked Questions

Best Essence Overall: Cosrx Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence

Cosrx

Cosrx Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence

Why it’s worth it: Chockfull of snail mucin (96% to be exact, hence the product name) and sodium hyaluronate, Cosrx’s popular Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence tackles hyperpigmentation, dry spots, and dehydration with just a pump or two. One of our favorite Korean skin-care products, this TikTok-viral formula also aids in repairing existing damage from acne scars and sun damage.

Editor’s tip: Apart from the facial essence, we’re also fans of the Cosrx Advanced Snail Peptide Eye Cream, which content director Kara McGrath says “reflects the light without any sparkle, which can make you look more awake.” The more snail, the better, in our opinion.

Key ingredients: snail mucin, arginine, sodium hyaluronate | Who it’s for: everyone | Fragrance-free: yes

Best Luxury Essence: SK-II Facial Treatment Essence

SK-II

SK-II Facial Treatment Essence

Why it’s worth it: Our editor in chief Jessica Cruel has been using the Best of Beauty-winning SK-II Facial Treatment Essence for the past decade, which is one hell of a testament. She says that this treatment immediately gets rid of the tightness her cleansers tend to leave behind and gives her melanated skin a noticeable brightening boost. What’s the key to this magical elixir? SK-II’s proprietary Pitera complex, a rice ferment filtrate that’s packed with micronutrients like amino acids, vitamins, and minerals—which are helpful for skin cell renewal and stimulating the production of filaggrin, a protein that’s critical to skin barrier health.

Editor’s tip: Pitera was inadvertently discovered when scientists realized that Japanese sake makers had baby-soft, seemingly age-reversing hands, and they adopted the fermentation process to produce what we now experience in these prestige skin-care products.

Key ingredients: Pitera | Who it’s for: everyone, but especially those concerned with signs of aging | Fragrance-free: yes

Best Budget-Friendly Essence: Beauty of Joseon Ginseng Essence Water

Beauty of Joseon

Beauty of Joseon Ginseng Essence Water

Why it’s worth it: The Beauty of Joseon Ginseng Essence Water is infused with 80% ginseng root water, an antioxidant-rich and anti-inflammatory ingredient that shields the skin against free radicals that can lead to signs of premature aging. Playing a secondary but no less important role is niacinamide to balance oil production and diminish the appearance of large pores over time.

Editor’s tip: Named after the last imperial dynasty of Korea (and a highly chronicled one—if you watch a lot of Korean TV and movies like us!), Beauty of Joseon utilizes “hanbang,” which references traditional herbal medicine. The brand enlists ingredients that have been passed down from the Joseon Dynasty to meld Korea’s history with modern science and technologies.

Key ingredients: ginseng root water, niacinamide, ginseng ferment filtrate | Who it’s for: oily skin types | Fragrance-free: yes

Best Essence for Sensitive Skin: Ilia The Base Face Milk

Ilia

Ilia The Base Face Milk

Why it’s worth it: If animal-derived ingredients aren’t your jam, skip the snail mucin and instead reach for Ilia The Base Face Milk, which targets red, compromised skin. Although the formula is lightweight, you’ll find actives like squalane, glycerin, and argan oil within—as well as allantoin and vitamin E to soothe and support compromised skin. “My skin drinks up this syrupy, strangely satisfying liquid,” commerce editor Sarah Han says. “I apply one layer as my pre-moisturizer step in the morning (which is a slimmed-down routine) and pat in at least two layers as a post-double-cleanse step to really step on the gas in terms of infusing hydration into my skin.”

Editor’s tip: If you have oily or combination skin, consider subbing this in for your moisturizer in a pinch. (It also works well as a moisturizer on hot, humid days.)

Key ingredients: squalane, glycerin, allantoin | Who it’s for: those with redness or sensitivities | Fragrance-free: yes

Best Essence for Dry Skin: Tatcha The Essence

Why it’s worth it Inspired by a Japanese tea ceremony, Tatcha’s The Essence will drive a burst of moisture-replenishing ingredients into your complexion post-cleanse. Infused with the brand’s signature trifecta of Japanese superfoods—Akita rice, Okinawa algae, and Uji green tea—your skin will feel baby-soft and plump to the touch. And because the rice undergoes a fermentation process that naturally produces amino acids and AHAs, you get a bonus benefit of gentle exfoliation.

Editor’s tip: Patting this Best of Beauty winner into your skin doubles as a self-care moment. “The physical act of patting and pressing it into my skin is extremely calming, and the liquid is completely absorbed just a few seconds later,” says Han. “My skin always looks extra glowy whenever I use this.”

Key ingredients: green tea extract, rice ferment, glycerin | Who it’s for: those with dry skin | Fragrance-free: yes

Best Essence for Combination Skin: Then I Met You The Giving Essence

Then I Met You

Then I Met You The Giving Essence

Why it’s worth it: As potent as it is pretty, Then I Met You The Giving Essence contains 80% naturally fermented ingredients, such as the yeast-derived galactomyces ferment filtrate (derived from fermented sake) and saccharomyces ferment filtrate; together, they nourish skin and minimize the appearance of pores, blackheads, and excess oil. Polyglutamic acid holds four times more moisture than hyaluronic acid to pack a serious punch of hydration, while licorice and ellagic acid brighten skin tone and protect against UV rays.

Editor’s tip: Gently exfoliating red algae and black chokeberry give the liquid its natural pink hue.

Key ingredients: galactomyces ferment filtrate, saccharomyces ferment filtrate, niacinamide, polyglutamic acid | Who it’s for: people who need to target hydration and pores/excess oil | Fragrance-free: yes

Best Essence for Acne-Prone Skin: Shiseido Eudermine Activating Essence

Shiseido

Shiseido Eudermine Activating Essence

Why it’s worth it: Designed with large pores and congested skin in mind, Shiseido’s Eudermine Activating Essence takes a gentle approach, using fermented kefir extract to encourage skin cell turnover while supporting—not weakening—the skin barrier. At the same time, the cult-classic formula hydrates skin with a blend of yuzu extract and hyaluronic acid, and deploys vitamin C to even out skin tone.

Editor’s tip: The bottle is refillable, saving you money each time.

Key ingredients: rice ferment, witch hazel extract, hyaluronic acid | Who it’s for: oily or breakout-prone skin types | Fragrance-free: no

Best Essence for Mature Skin: Fresh Kombucha Facial Treatment Essence

Fresh

Fresh Kombucha Facial Treatment Essence

Why it’s worth it: Kombucha isn’t just for drinking. Fresh’s Kombucha Facial Treatment is spiked with antioxidant fermented black tea, hydrating hyaluronic acid, and brightening mandarin peel extract to promote an even tone, refine the look of pores, and add that extra “pep into your step” to your complexion. Associate beauty director Sarah Kinonen swears that her serums and moisturizers don’t absorb well without this essence. “Just a few shakes of the essence into my palm and then pressed into my skin is all it takes to feel refreshed and ready for the rest of my routine,” she attested.

Editor’s tip: It also comes in mini and jumbo sizes, so you can take it on travels—or stock up if you love it.

Key ingredients: kombucha, hyaluronic acid, artemisia | Who it’s for: everyone | Fragrance-free: no

Best Essence for Inflamed Skin: Neogen Dermalogy Real Ferment Micro Essence

Neogen

Neogen Dermalogy Real Ferment Micro Essence

Why it’s worth it: Neogen Dermalogy’s Real Ferment Micro Essence is not messing around. It’s packed with more than 93% naturally fermented ingredients, including Bifida ferment lysate, Saccharomyces ferment filtrate, and rice ferment filtrate, that deliver immediate hydration and plump up the skin. “With the Neogen Dermalogy Real Ferment Micro Essence, you’re not just getting a concentrated layer of moisture or helping your other skin-care products absorb better,” our tester says. “It also strengthens your skin overall.”

Editor’s tip: Our tester also noted that it helped clear her skin up after a bout of hormonal acne.

Key ingredients: Niacinamide, rice ferment filtrate, allantoin | Who It’s For: Everyone | Fragrance-Free: Yes

Best Essence for Dehydrated Skin: Peach & Lily Wild Dew Treatment Essence

Peach & Lily

Peach & Lily Wild Dew Treatment Essence

Why it’s worth it: Make room in your skin-care cabinet for Peach & Lily’s Wild Dew Treatment Essence. Firming lotus extract, brightening niacinamide, skin-turnover-accelerating yeast ferment, and hyaluronic acid are some of its key ingredients, making it a one-stop product that transforms dull and dehydrated skin in a matter of seconds (and, of course, consistent use over time). Long-lasting hydration in a formula you barely notice once it’s applied—now that’s something to celebrate.

Editor’s tip: It looks and feels like water, so it’s ideal if you don’t love the feeling of extra product on your skin.

Key ingredients: niacinamide, yeast ferment, adenosine | Who it’s for: dry or dehydrated skin types | Fragrance-free: yes

Best Essence for Dullness: AmorePacific Vintage Single Extract Essence

AmorePacific

AmorePacific Vintage Single Extract Essence

Why it’s worth it: Every superhero has an origin story, and Amorepacific’s Vintage Single Extract Essence has green tea leaves plucked from the foothills of a mountain on Jeju Island in South Korea. The petals form a protective shield against free radicals, keeping your skin safe from things like pollution, UV rays, and cigarette smoke. Apply the thin liquid after you cleanse and before you moisturize and you’ll notice your skin looks softer and more radiant—the reason we gave this formula a 2018 Allure Best of Beauty Award for best essence.

Editor’s tip: It works quickly. “Like me, after the first use, you’ll also notice your skin will instantly look brighter and plumper,” says Allure shopping market editor Angela Trakoshis.

Key ingredients: green tea extract, glycerin | Who it’s for: people with dry or mature skin | Fragrance-free: yes

Best Essence for Redness: Missha Time Revolution The First Treatment Essence RX

Missha

Missha Time Revolution The First Treatment Essence RX

Why it’s worth it: Missha’s best-selling essence underwent a reformulation in 2023; it now features a probiotic ingredient called Bifida ferment lysate, which has been shown in clinical studies to help decrease skin sensitivity and improve resistance to external stressors. Like the original, the Time Revolution The First Treatment Essence RX is formulated with its superstar ingredient, 90% yeast. Yeast extract plumps the skin, smooths texture, and reduces hyperpigmentation, while niacinamide brightens and clarifies.

Editor’s tip: For those prone to redness, consider the brand’s Time Revolution Artemisia Treatment Essence, which contains 100% mugwort, another popular fermented ingredient in K-beauty known for its anti-inflammatory properties.

Key ingredients: fermented yeast extract, niacinamide, ceramides | Who it’s for: everyone | Fragrance-free: yes

Best Fragrance-Free Essence: Hourglass Equilibrium Restoring Essence

Hourglass

Hourglass Equilibrium Restoring Essence

Why it’s worth it: Hourglass’s Equilibrium Restoring Essence has earned a Best of Beauty Award winner seal, so you know that a robust team of beauty editors fully backs it. The ingredient list is surprisingly short but stacked with hydrating humectants like calcium PCA, calcium gluconate, and glycerin—as well as irritating-mitigating alteromonas ferment extract, which is excreted by a microorganism that lives in hydrothermal deep vents.

Editor’s tip: Phosphatidylglycerol is a vegan form of a compound found in amniotic fluid, a.k.a. what surrounds you in the room; it can encourage skin cell turnover and fortify the skin barrier.

Key ingredients: phosphatidylglycerol, ectoin, hyaluronic acid | Who it’s for: dehydrated skin | Fragrance-free: yes


Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the difference between a toner and essence?

Unlilke a toner, which also follows cleansing but is intended more for exfoliation or to balance your skin’s pH, “An essence is ideal for those who want to really drive moisture into the skin,” Mona Gohara, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at Yale University, previously told Allure. (That said, you can also find hybrid facial essence-toners, which both exfoliate and hydrate skin to smooth and soften skin texture.)

Another benefit of essences is they have a lightweight texture that’s super easy to layer beneath other products. Cosmetic chemist Ni’Kita Wilson explained to Allure that you won’t find any waxes and emollients in essences for the face—so they don’t clog pores or feel heavy or greasy. Essentially, think of them as a lighter, non-tacky, and pilling-free version of a serum, lotion, or cream. As a result, all skin types can benefit from essence in their routines—whether you’re looking to nourish dry skin, hydrate oily skin, or improve elasticity.

Meet the experts

  • Mona Gohara, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist at Yale University who specializes in skin of color and medical and surgical dermatology.
  • Ni’Kita Wilson is a cosmetic chemist and formulator.

How we test and review products

When Allure tests a product, our editors look at it from every angle in an effort to best serve you. We review ingredients, scrutinize brand claims, and, when necessary, examine peer-reviewed scientific and medical studies. In addition to testing each and every product that’s included in each and every review, we rely on experts who shape their fields, including dermatology, cosmetic chemistry, and medicine, to help us vet the ingredients and formulas.

For our list of the best essences, we considered each product’s performance across five primary categories: product ingredients and efficacy, packaging, fragrance, texture, and product wear. Every product was determined to have excelled in each category by our editorial team, which is composed of in-house writers and editors as well as contributors—along with special consideration from dermatologists. To learn more information on our reporting and testing processes, read our complete reviews process and methodology page.

Our staff and testers

A beauty product is a personal purchase. You might be searching for a face cream to address persistent dryness or a new nail product to add to your Sunday self-care routine; you may simply be browsing around for the latest launches to hit the hair market. No matter what you seek or your individual needs and concerns, Allure wants to ensure that you love anything we recommend in our stories. We believe that having a diverse team of writers and editors—in addition to the wide range of outside testers and industry experts we regularly call upon—is essential to reaching that goal.

After all, can we really say a skin-care product is the “best” for people over 50 if the only testers we’ve solicited opinions from folks who have yet to hit 30? Can we honestly deem a high-end diffuser worthy of your hard-earned cash if it’s never been tested on curls? We’re proud that our staff spans a wide range of ages, skin tones, hair textures, genders, and backgrounds, which means that we are able to fairly assess any beauty product that comes into the beauty closet.


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All products are independently selected by our editors. If you buy something, we may earn an affiliate commission.

    Sarah Han is the commerce editor at Allure. Previously, she served as an associate editor at BuzzFeed, where she spearheaded coverage of K-pop and beauty. A native Illinoisan, upon graduating from the University of Chicago with a degree in International Studies and a minor in Creative Writing, she took… Read more

    Deanna Pai is a freelance writer, editor, and copywriter who’s been writing about beauty, health, and wellness for more than a decade — as well as a longtime contributor to Allure. Prior to freelancing, she was the senior associate beauty editor at Cosmopolitan. When she’s not experimenting with skin-care products, you… Read more

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