Should You Apply Essence or Serum First?

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There are no true rules when it comes to skincare regimes. It’s an art. But there are recommendations and signposts that will help you find understanding and clarity in your routine.

If you are a skincare enthusiast, you may have heard of essence, which is relatively new in Korea. Essences resemble serums a lot. Both fight dark spots, treat fine lines, and provide your skin with the necessary ingredients to glow.

But they are different, with unique benefits. When using both together, should you apply essence or serum first?

In this article, we’ll explain how to use both essence and serum, and how you should approach the order.


What is Essence?

Essences are nutrient-rich, healthy liquids formulated from nourishing nutrients and hydrating ingredients that help restore hydration, protect your skin, and improve skin health. It is usually applied to clean skin just after cleansing and using toner.

Here’s an example of a high quality essence:

DERMALOGY by NEOGENLAB Real Ferment Micro Essence 5.07 Fl Oz (150ml) - 93% Naturally Fermented Facial Essence, Instantly Hydrates and Delivers Healthy Supple Skin - Korean Skin Care
  • Formula made with over 93%...
  • Bifida Ferment Lysate> Skin Barrier...
  • Rice Ferment Filtrate/Aspergillus>...
  • Saccharomyces Ferment Filtrate>...
  • Betula Alba Juice> Anti-Oxidant Benefits...

What is a Serum?

Serums are easily-absorbed oils that are notably light when applied to your skin. They are not like lotion, cream, or a moisturizer. They often come in ampoules of serum: small bottles with a dropper and contain high concentrated formulas, often including hyaluronic acid and/or Vitamin C.

These concentrated chemicals sink quickly into the skin and deliver ingredients that solve common skin problems, such as dryness, redness, wrinkles, and acne.

Here’s a good example of a serum:

La Roche-Posay Hyalu B5 Pure Hyaluronic Acid Serum for Face | Vitamin B5 + Hyaluronic Acid + Madecassoside | Hydrating Serum Visibly Plumps Skin | Sensitive Skin Safe | Anti Aging Serum | Oil-Free
  • This anti-aging ultra hydrating pure...
  • This skincare serum combines...
  • Anti-aging skin care recommended for:...
  • Pure hyaluronic acid serum hydrates and...
  • 4 week consumer test showed 90% of users...

Should You Use Essence or Serum First?

Your skin is very important, and you should be careful about what you apply to it and what amounts.

Unfortunately, there are limited studies and information on which or how much of the very many skincare products you should apply to your skin. 

As a general rule, when applying different products to your skin, you should allow each product to ‘settle into the skin’ before applying the next product.

As a general rule, when applying different products to your skin, you should allow each product to ‘settle into the skin’ before applying the next product.

This will help avoid ‘disturbing’ each layer in your routine as certain products will roll up if applied just after another has been used.

When compared in terms of weight, essences are lighter than serums and less concentrated. According to Hadley King, MD, a clinical instructor of dermatology at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University, essences are used after toners to increase hydration before you apply the serum.

He adds that the active ingredients in serums are fewer, as they address particular issues you may have, like dark spots, fine lines, and brightening.

Most companies recommend going for the essence first after cleansing and toning.

One of the essence’s most commonly known benefits is allowing the skin to absorb additional products, including serums and moisturizers. 

Essence will make your serums work better.

In addition to prepping the skin for easy absorption, essences boost the skin’s health, rebalance the skin pH, smooths and soften the epidermis, and create a protective barrier on the skin.

Do You Have To Use Both Essence and Serum?

It is not necessary to apply both essence and serum since they play pretty similar roles. Both of these products aim to deliver active ingredients to your skin before you moisturize.

Your choice to use one or both of these products really comes down to individual preferences, skin needs, and the size of your wallet.

Some people don’t like the greasy and thick feel of applying cleansers and toners followed by serums, then moisturizers.

If this is the case, you should consider using an essence. They will give you the refreshing, light role you are looking for. Moreover, they will hydrate your skin with a water-like consistency.

Serums stand out from essences concerning potency. They have large amounts of active ingredients in just a single lightweight product. Serums sink deep into the skin and get to work. Most people prefer to apply them after cleansing and before moisturizing. 

Moisturizer particles are often large and cannot penetrate through the skin layers. They adhere to the skin. Serums are recommended to be followed up with a moisturizer to lock it with the skin.

They are also preferred because they tend to target specific skin problems.

For example, if you have hyperpigmentation, you take vitamin C serum like Cellex-C, and if you have a dry skin problem, you take one with hyaluronic acid.

An important point to note is that serums are usually concentrated, so it is advisable to use them in small amounts to avoid irritation or dryness. You should also list the skincare ingredients your skin cannot tolerate.

An important point to note is that serums are usually concentrated, so it is advisable to use them in small amounts to avoid irritation or dryness.

If your skin leans on the sensitive side and you are worried the high concentrations might result in itching, breakouts, redness, or general irritation, essence might be your best pick.

This will allow you to get the benefits of having the same ingredients but with much lighter formulas. 

Essences typically contain natural ingredients which are less likely to result in any bad or adverse effects on the skin.

For this reason, they are considered to be among the safest skin products anyone can use regardless of their skin.


Essences and serums are designed to solve similar skincare problems such as dryness, acne, and signs of aging. What you decide to go with will depend on your skin sensitivity and overall preference.

Some people might find that going for potent serums will bring about the desired effects quicker and opt for them, while others may choose essences instead as they are lighter and less irritating. 

For example, if you have noticed signs of aging and are looking for the best product with anti-aging effects, try starting with a serum. However, if you cannot tolerate the thickness of serums or if you realize your skin is too sensitive, switch to an essence with fewer concentrated ingredients.

You can use them both for those with no irritation or skin sensitivity by going for the essence first. After applying the cleanser and toner, this should be done, then going for the serum before finally topping it up with a moisturizer.

If you don’t mind the extra layers, this is the best way to go about it. Essence will help to improve the absorption properties of your skin.

Written by Kayla Young

Kayla is the founder of LuxeLuminous. She has worked professionally in the tanning industry for years. She has been interested in esthetics since childhood, and has tried every hair, skin, and makeup product ever produced (more or less).