10 Step Korean ski care routine - essence
Reviews,  treat

Do You Need an Essence in Your Routine?

Leslie here, and today we are going to talk allll about essences..es….es. I have recently picked up a few of this Korean Beauty staple and started working them into my routine. I have fallen in love with this step in my regimen and I think you will love incorporating an essence too!


Korean skincare, k-beauty, has become very popular over the last few years in places outside of Korea. Their glowing, hydrated skin is all thanks to a lengthy regimen, and some seemingly absurd products and ingredients (*ahem* snail slime). The main goal of a K-beauty routine is prevention and hydration. Starting early in your skin’s life is key, and keeping it healthy is the main objective. You won’t find a lot of ingredients that promise to “reverse” wrinkles or signs of age (like retinol). Because for most of those following a strict Korean routine – they would be focusing on prevention and anti-aging.

An elaborate, multi-step, routine is just part of their culture. Something I wish more youngsters everywhere else would learn from (Just please, wear sunscreen. And moisturizer!!). Something I wish I myself knew to start doing before my 30s!

Although some can go well beyond 10, you can break a basic Korean Skincare Routine down into 10 steps:

  1. Makeup Removal / Oil Cleanse
  2. Second Cleanse / Water Based Cleanser
  3. Exfoliate (if using a physical exfoliant)
  4. Tone (I switch 3 & 4 if doing a chemical exfoliant)
  5. Essence
  6. Treat (Serums, Ampoules, Boosters, Oils, Emulsion) – this can sometimes become MANY steps in itself
  7. Sheet Mask
  8. Eye Cream
  9. Moisturize
  10. SPF (in the AM) or a Sleeping Pack (PM)

While I’d love to (and just might!) dive into each step and my favorite products in that step, we are only going to focus on step 5 today. The essence.


In short – an essence is basically a pre-serum. Excessive? Maybe. But totally seems necessary the more I use them.

They are lighter in texture and viscosity than a serum, so it is important they are applied before the serum/oil/ampoule step. However, they can technically be umbrella’d under the “treat” category.

What are we treating? Well, mostly essences help with moisture in the skin. They typically also contain some sort of active ingredient that will help with cell turnover, to help achieve and maintain smooth youthful skin.

Essences also help to prep your skin for the rest of your routine. It’s like a primer for your nighttime face (much like you need a primer for your daytime face). Their ingredients tend to increase the effectiveness of those applied to your skin after them.

So do you need an essence?

Well no. You don’t really NEED anything more than face wash and a moisturizer. But if you are a Leslie Here reader, and a skincare lover like myself, then you know that we need every step. THEY ARE ALL NEEDED.


I was very intimidated by the K-beauty routine for a long time. I thought “well I can’t just dip a toe in.”

But you can! You can just take one, or two, or ALL of the pieces and add them to your own routine. There are no rules in skin care. (Except sunscreen. please wear sunscreen.)

So I snagged up a few essences..es…es, and I want to share my brief thoughts on these with you as well as a few others that are HOT AF in the K-beauty scene!


The one I have currently been OBSESSED with is the CosRX Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence.

best Korean beauty essence

The main event in this essence really highlights what I briefly mentioned earlier about absurd ingredients – SNAIL SECRETION. Snail Slime, snail filtrate, snail mucin. They actually have snail spas in some Asian countries where living snails crawl around on your face.

found this image while doing research and LOLOLOL (Shutterstock)

So, basically, snails move around by dragging their bodies on the ground. The same time they are TEARING up their body by slipping and sliding all around – they are secreting this super healing, lubricating slime. This not only protects them from the elements but is also packed with a TON of healing nutrients should any damage occur. (Their slime has many other evolutionary uses, but we are just talking about our selfish taking of their beautiful gift today!)

**I would like to take this time to note that I am unclear on whether or not Snail Mucin is cruelty-free. If you are strict cruelty-free and that is important to you, I would definitely skip any products containing Snail Mucin, as I don’t even know exactly how the “slime” is collected.**

Snail slime naturally contains things we constantly look for as buzzwords in our skincare – hyaluronic acid, proteins, glycolic acid, & copper peptides. (Speaking of copper peptides, does anyone want me to try and review the new The Ordinary “Buffet” + Copper Peptides 1%?? You know I love a reason to spend money). So it is stellar at antiaging: stimulating collagen, protecting from free radicals, repairing damaged tissue and restoring moisture. ETCETERA.

This particular essence is very light in texture, and yes, SLIMY. But it sinks in/ disappears almost immediately, leaving no film or trace behind. My skin has just felt overall more plump, smooth and hydrated lately after incorporating this essence into my routine.

And going back to the foundations of Korean skincare – because they essentially focus on prevention, you won’t see a lot of significant, groundbreaking, wrinkle reversing changes in your skin. You will just notice that your skin is healthier, more glowing, and just a little better than it was yesterday. And I’m cool with adding this step into my routine for that.

Ya know?


Another essence I have recently picked up and used here and there is the May Coop Raw Sauce. This brand used to be sold at Sephora, but I don’t see it in a ton of places anymore. It is currently online at Walmart.

I mentioned this essence in a few videos recently, but I honestly don’t use it nearly as much as the one above AND the SECOND ingredient is straight up alcohol. Alcohol! Like how is this supposed to aid in skin hydration and repair with alcohol?

So I’m torn on this one, and I don’t want to get full into an ingredient dive here on this post. So if you want to see a breakdown, let me know!

But as far as my experience, I actually do really like this on my skin! It feels and smells really nice. I like the way my skin feels after using and massaging in. Cons: the scent is strong (even if natural? is it natural?) and alcohol is a concern.

SK-II Facial Treatment Essence

have not tried – but totes pops…and ‘spensive. The standard size is ONE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY-NINE DOLLARS.

POPULAR KOREAN ESSENCEThis essence’s main ingredient is something called Galactomyces Ferment Filtrate (which is another fave in the k-beauty world). Apparently, there have been a few studies around this “filtrate” that indicate a reduction of large open pores and blackheads after use. But I am basing this off of something I found off of Wikipedia – because need I remind you … I am no professional.

MISSHA Time Revolution The First Treatment Essence

have not tried – but this brand is very popular and available at target.com!

improve skin texture - Korean essence



This essence contains 80% Fermented Yeast Extract, which helps to moisturize, firm & balance the skin. It also contains Niacinamide which is known for actually shrinking pore size. Maybe I should pick this one up….. brb, placing a Target order.

Lumene VALO Glow Boost Essence

Vitamin C Korean essence

This essence has the added benefits of Vitamin C to help brighten as it boosts hydration with hyaluronic acid.

Recommended Reading: Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum

Pixi Rose Caviar Essence

other essence options - available at target

Even Pixi & Target are getting in on the action! This essence from Pixi has encapsulated flower oils that will soften, refine and tone the skin. Another one I absolutely want to try!!

So there is a white woman from South Carolina’s take on the Korean Beauty Essence. Do you need an essence in your routine? I have been loving the additional step, and will definitely be on the lookout for new ones to try!