Add this to your beauty dictionary: essences, another big-in-Asia trend, may look like toner—but don’t be fooled. In fact, these are watery, fast-absorbing skincare treatments packed with active ingredients, meant to be patted on before a separate serum and moisturizer are applied. Benefits range from mega-hydration to softer, glowier and healthier skin.
THE SMOOTH OPERATOR: Kiehl’s Iris Extract Activating Treatment Essence
THE PROMISE: This silky liquid is formulated to improve radiance, evening out skin texture for better light-bouncing ability, while helping to fend off fine lines.
THE TECH: Lipo-hydroxy acid (LHA) gently exfoliates, and sodium hyaluronate (similar to hyaluronic acid) gives immediate moisture. Over time, a concentrated extract of iris florentina root works to fortify skin’s underlying structure.
THE TEST DRIVE: “Despite its slightly slick feel, this essence sinks in quickly, imparting a noticeable glow on my formerly dehydrated face.” —Lauren Kerbel, assistant editor, Cosmetics
THE ENERGY BOOSTER: Clinique Turnaround Revitalizing Lotion
THE PROMISE: Like the beauty equivalent of an espresso shot, this watery fluid aims to pep up lacklustre, exhausted skin by amping up the natural metabolic process involved in cell renewal.
THE TECH: Caffeine, adenosine phosphate and creatine help fuel the skin’s energy production. Trehalose and hyaluronic acid pump up moisture, while ingredients like rice bran extract restore luminosity.
THE TEST DRIVE: “This texture seems tailor-made for an oil-prone skin type like mine. It gives hydration without even a bit of heaviness, while helping disguise my night-owl tendencies.” —Wing Sze Tang, editor, Cosmetics
THE COOLING TOUCH: Biotherm Life Plankton Essence
THE PROMISE: This rejuvenating essence vows to improve skin texture and hydration in as little as eight days. The star ingredient, life plankton, is also said to improve redness and irritation associated with atopic dermatitis.
THE TECH: Abundant in 35 nutrients such as rhamnose and xylitol, life plankton purportedly improves the immune capabilities of cells, reduces inflammation and helps skin repair damage.
THE TEST DRIVE: “I was hesitant about adding yet another step to my skincare regimen, but this essence has me hooked. It delivers a soothing, cooling sensation while boosting softness and radiance.” —Katherine Lalancette, beauty director, LOULOU
THE SKIN SHIELD: Chanel Sublimage La Lotion Suprême
THE PROMISE: Described as a “sophisticated water” developed by labs in France and Japan, this elixir takes a holistic approach to tackling all manner of aging concerns, including wrinkles, skin density and tone.
THE TECH: Vanilla planifolia extract stimulates growth factors responsible for cell regeneration as it forms a protective hydrolipidic film. The formula also features a “magnetic water complex,” said to improve absorption of active ingredients.
THE TEST DRIVE: “This lightweight fluid worked to revitalize and hydrate my skin without leaving a greasy residue. The result: a healthier-looking, I-do-yoga-and-drink-matcha complexion.” —Ally Dean, fashion & beauty editor, Hello! Canada
THE KOREAN BESTSELLER: Missha Time Revolution The First Treatment Essence
THE PROMISE: Often compared to cult brand SK-II’s Facial Treatment Essence, this Korean product also has a loyal following of its own. The do-all formula is made to hydrate and calm, balance sebum levels and even out tone.
THE TECH: Fermented yeast extract is the hero ingredient here. Rich in amino acids and vitamin B, this powerhouse speeds up cell regeneration and repairs the moisture barrier, while licorice root calms inflammation.
THE TEST DRIVE: “This stuff delivers an instant dewy glow! A few drops left my face feeling super-hydrated, brighter, softer and way less temperamental. A little goes a long way—after weeks I’ve barely made a dent in the bottle.” —Nancy Won, senior fashion features editor, FLARE