A skin care essence is a hydrating pre-serums for the skin. Generally containing mild to moderate concentrations of exfoliants like alpha hydroxy acids, a skin care essence is designed to prime and exfoliate the skin. This means other skin care ingredients can penetrate the skin more deeply. In general, a skin care essence feels like water. I like to think of a skin care essence like a new age toner: Meant to stay on the skin for longer-lasting benefits, and infused with more beneficial, modern ingredients like AHAs, sodium hyaluronate, and probiotics.
Here are some of my favorites:
Best for Pore Unclogging, Skin Refining, and Anti-Aging: Kiehl’s Iris Extract Activating Treatment Essence
Kiehl’s Iris Extract Activating Treatment Essence is a mix of LHA, sodium hyaluronate, and iris extract. As longtime FutureDerm readers know, I’m less likely to jump on the “natural” product bandwagon, and am far less excited by the mildly antioxidant, somewhat calming iris extract than the amazing, scientifically-proven LHA in this product!
LHA, or β-lipohydroxy acid, has had research support in dermatology since the mid-2000’s, and started to appear in skin care in the early 2010’s. According to a 2007 study published in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, LHA has pore-refining and skin-clearing action that is similar to salicylic acid. LHA decreases the concentration of bacteria found within the pore.
What makes LHA a superior exfoliant is that it has a lipophilic (fat-loving) nature. LHA also has a relatively slow penetration in the skin. The LHA molecule has been found to separate transmembrane glycoproteins at the corneosome/corneocyte interface, cleanly detaching individual corneosomes from one another (European Journal of Dermatology, 2002). Together, these properties make LHA an effective exfoliant, even at low concentrations.
Studies have also shown that LHA appears to have antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal and anticomedogenic properties, combating acne and even dandruff.
I think we will be hearing a lot more about LHA because it has been shown to stimulate the skin in a manner similar to retinoids, that is, by renewal of epidermal cells and the extracellular matrix (Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology, 2009). Although LHA is undoubtedly weaker in this effect than, say, 1.0% retinol or prescription retinoids, its exfoliating action is potent enough to nonetheless make it appealing to many a skin care fanatic.
In contrast to many other peeling chemicals, LHA also has a pH that is similar to that of normal skin (5.5) and does not require neutralization. FutureDerm readers will probably be happy to know that LHA can therefore be used with everything from acidic forms of vitamin C to retinoids (for which activation occurs at pH 5.5-6.0).
Definitely a huge fan of Kiehl’s Iris Extract Activating Treatment Essence! It’s a superb way to infuse the skin with skin-beneficial LHA, and to reap the benefits all morning and night long.
Best for Age Spots and Discoloration: SK-II Facial Treatment Essence
SK-II Facial Treatment Essence contains Pitera, a form of yeast that is naturally an excellent source of peptides, proteins, amino acids, carbohydrates and nucleic acids (Household and Personal Products Industry). There is limited research, produced by Procter & Gamble (the brand behind SK-II) attesting that the Pitera yeast used in SK-II increases the production of hyaluronan – a component found in the skin’s extracellular matrix – in a synthetic skin model. Since hyaluronan synthesis normally slows with age, this is considered to be a unique way to address the problem of aging.
Although the proteins and carbohydrates found in Pitera are too large to penetrate the skin, and hence likely only hydrate the skin when applied, they are still most likely beneficial for the skin, if for no other reason than increased moisturization.
What I love about SK-II Facial Treatment Essence is that it is as light as water, and is quickly absorbed into the skin. Its gently exfoliates — you will get some desquamation, or flaking, as you apply. But it’s better than a regular toner, because SK-II Facial Treatment Essence can be left upon the skin all day safely.
Best for Normal Skin: Shiseido Eudermine Revitalizing Essence
Shiseido Eudermine Revitalizing Essence, along with Skinceuticals CE Ferulic, was one of the products that got me super excited about skin care in the first place as a teenager.
The secrets behind Shiseido Eudermine Revitalizing Essence are arginine, magnesium chloride, and calcium chloride. Though present in low concentration, not much of any of these ingredients are required for skin refining and firming benefits.
Arginine is said to be a human growth hormone (HGH) enhancer. As you age, you produce substantially less hormones, including human growth hormone (Journal of Clinical Investigation, 1981). And that’s a shame, because HGH has been found to increase skin thickness due to heightened activity of fibroblasts (Dermatology, 1996). By stimulating the body to produce more HGH, arginine may help the skin look younger. Secondly, arginine functions as an antioxidant (Journal of Surgical Research, June 2002). As you all know, antioxidants work by fending off free radicals before they can damage DNA.
Magnesium, on the other hand, has been documented in many studies to improve skin firmness and hydration. Topically applying magnesium supplements your serum levels, since the mineral is able to traverse and be absorbed by the skin. Participants in one study instructed to perform a 20 minute foot-soak with magnesium chloride flakes and to apply a magnesium-rich oil showed a statistically significant increase in serum magnesium levels without any change their diet. In a second study, it was shown a 1% solution of magnesium sulfate can increase serum magnesium levels. The second reason magnesium is beneficial in skin care? Magnesium as magnesium chloride has been found to improve skin hydration when used as a part of a magnesium Dead Sea salt solution (International Journal of Dermatology, 2005).
Though critics online say that Shiseido Eudermine Revitalizing Essence contains too much alcohol, this stems from a common misunderstanding of cosmetic chemistry. When used in conjunction with other skin care ingredients, alcohol compacts or shrinks the volume of the solution. So if you’re choosing between a serum with only glycerin or one with glycerin and alcohol, I’d choose the latter, because the solution is thinner, and there is less volume for beneficial ingredients to traverse to get to your skin.
How to Apply a Facial Essence
1.) Place a few drops onto your hand.
2.) Spread across your hands, up to the fingertips.
3.) Gently press onto your face and neck until well-absorbed. Avoid the eye area.
If you’re looking for a way to add more benefits into your skin care regimen, consider adding a skin care essence. Ingredients that are hard to find, like the super exfoliant LHA in Kiehl’s Iris Extract Activating Treatment Essence, the brightening Pitera in SK-II Facial Treatment Essence, or the skin-firming arginine and magnesium chloride in Shiseido Eudermine Revitalizing Essence, can all easily be added into your regimen with an essence!