Serum vs Essence vs Emulsion- Which Would Be for You?

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The products at the beginning of your skincare routine share a lot of similarities in appearance and texture. It can have you wondering why you need everything. Let’s consider a comparison of three products on the detailed K-beauty skincare routine, serum vs essence vs emulsion.

These three products are hydrating in different capacities but they are not the same. Serums are quite popular and their targeted functions are well established. On the other hand, essences and emulsions are other products on an extensive routine that not everyone considers necessary.

However, if you’ve used them before or you currently have them in your routine, you’ll agree that they’re worth every cent. But if you just got a recommendation or you’re about to expand your routine, you should know the differences between serum vs essence vs emulsion.

What Is a Serum and What Does It Do for Skin?

A serum is a skincare product that contains high concentrations of active ingredients in a liquid-based formula. The lightweight formula delivers the actives into the deep layers of your skin to treat specific skin concerns.

These products usually have a gel-like or watery consistency that enhances the delivery of the active ingredients. Serums are naturally hydrating and can help boost hydration levels, plump your skin and restore elasticity.

Some of the active ingredients contained in serums include hyaluronic acid, retinol, vitamin C, niacinamide, salicylic acid, and glycolic acid. Serums are formulated to suit every skin type and its specific needs.

Ingredients like ceramides and peptides increase skin resilience against the formation of free radicals that can disrupt the skin barrier and cause premature aging. They are also responsible for protecting your skin from UV rays and enhancing moisture retention.

According to the base ingredient in a serum, it can do so many other things for your skin. Serums are generally soothing, they help to refine your pores and keep them clear of debris. They brighten your skin and improve the health and texture of your skin.

What Is an Essence and What Does It Do for Skin?

Skincare essences are hydrating products that mediate between a toner and a serum. These products come in different packaging. Megan Felton, a skincare expert says, “for some, essence may be more of a toner or a facial mist, while others might use this word for a light serum.”

Essences are packed with active ingredients that help to hydrate, smoothen, and glow up your skin. Just like skin toners do, they also help to rebalance skin pH and prepare your skin to better absorb products like serums and moisturizers.

Furthermore, using facial essence is very beneficial to people with oily skin. It also helps to regulate oil levels and cut down excessive shine, yet leaves your skin glowing. The lightweight nature of essences makes them penetrate deep into your skin to hydrate skin cells and plump your skin.

Hyaluronic acid, glycerine, plant extracts, fermented yeast, vitamins, and minerals are common ingredients in essence. They help to soothe even the sensitive skin type and protect your skin from issues like acne, hyperpigmentation, and the onset of premature aging.

What Is an Emulsion and What Does It Do for Skin?

An emulsion is a lightweight cream with a milky appearance. They are classified as lighter moisturizers because they leave out the heavy ingredients that make moisturizers thick and greasy. Regardless of their lightweight formula, they still contain rich concentrations of active ingredients.

Just like a moisturizer, they are also very hydrating. As a plus, they absorb better into your skin and help treat skin-related conditions. An emulsion can help regulate oiliness by hydrating your skin, thereby preventing overcompensation with the overproduction of sebum.

These K-beauty wonder products are beneficial for every skin type, and this includes oily and sensitive skin types. The hydrating formula can help soothe inflamed skin and control acne breakouts.

The water-based formula of emulsions guarantees your skin relief from comedogenic products. Since it absorbs quickly into your skin, it leaves no build-up that can clog your pores. Therefore, it can help prevent acne breakouts.

Serum vs Essence vs Emulsion

On the spectrum of consistency, essences are the lightest and least concentrated of the three products. All three of them are hydrating skincare products but with varying strengths and other added benefits.

Although hydrating and packed with active ingredients, emulsions and essences cannot penetrate your skin as deep as a serum would. Likewise, they do not intensively target specific skin-related conditions like skin rejuvenation, skin resurfacing, reversing signs of aging, and acne.

Essence and emulsion may help these conditions but they are not skin treatment products like serums.

Another thing that differentiates the three products is their method of application. Depending on how a skincare essence is packed, you either mist it or hand press it into your skin to aid absorption.

Serums come in dropper bottles; all you need do is pump out a few drops and gently tap it all over your face and neck or warm it between your palms before applying. Emulsions are applied the same way you apply a moisturizer to your skin to boost hydration.

Is Serum Essence?

No, serums and essences are two different products and these differences start with their appearance. Typically, you’ll find serums in small glass bottles with a dropper applicator. Essences, on the other hand, are packed in larger bottles which could be mister bottles.

Moreover, a serum is more concentrated than lightweight essences. Although both products are hydrating and can help improve the appearance of your skin, serums do a better job of treating skin concerns.

Serums penetrate better into your skin, and unlike essences, which are formulated to hydrate your skin, they target skin issues at a deeper level.

Should You Use Essence or Emulsion?

The product you choose to use depends on what you’re looking to address and the demands of your skin. Both products are highly hydrating, so, your skin may be fine with just one.

In addition, an essence cannot moisturize your skin or seal it in moisture like an emulsion. It rather hydrates your skin and preps it for serum and moisturizing. Therefore, if you want to moisturize your skin, you shouldn’t consider skincare essence.

You can use emulsion as a moisturizer if you find it hydrating enough and you’re looking to drop the thickened creams for something lighter.

Can You Use Essence Alone?

Always follow up essence with a serum or moisturizer to lock in moisture. Skincare essence alone cannot completely address any of the issues that plague the skin. For this reason, you should use them with other products in your routine.

Applying serum or moisturizer after the essence will enhance the penetration and effectiveness of the active ingredients in the essence. As a result, the appearance and texture of your skin improve greatly over time.

Can You Use Emulsion Alone?

You may use an emulsion alone if it suffices to hydrate your skin, especially if your skin is more on the oily side. However, for people with dry skin, you may need to follow up with a moisturizer to boost hydration levels.

Most importantly, apply emulsion to pre-cleansed skin. Always apply sunscreen over it to protect your skin from sun exposure which can cause the formation of free radicals or make your skin photosensitive due to the presence of certain ingredients in the formula.

Can You Use Serum Without Essence or Emulsion?

Yes, you can. Skincare experts say that essences and emulsions are not skincare necessities; you can have your routine without either of them. However, this does not undermine their effectiveness in your routine.

You can apply serum alone if you have oily skin and it adequately hydrates your skin. Ideally, you should follow up the serum with a moisturizer to seal in moisture and boost hydration levels.

The moisturizer creates a film over your skin that enhances the penetration of the serum and prevents moisture loss.

Can You Use Serum, Essence, and Emulsion Together?

Yes, you can. No skincare product is one-size-fits-all. Serum, essence, and emulsion complement each other in your routine. In a comparison of serum vs essence vs emulsion, no one product on its own can perfectly help you achieve your skin goals.

Looking to identify the differences between your products is great but when they don’t serve the same purpose, a comparison of products like serum vs essence vs emulsion may not be as effective. Overall, it is best to use the three products together for better results.

How Should You Use Serum, Essence, and Emulsion Together?

You can incorporate all three products into your routine and treat your skin to doses of goodness. Before you use any product on your skin, be sure that the ingredients are safe for your skin type. Most importantly, be sure your skin needs the product at the time.

  • Every skincare routine starts with cleansing. Dampen a cotton ball with a mild cleanser or micellar water and gently wipe off dirt, oil, soap, and makeup residue
  • Afterward, take a little essence in your palm and press it into your face or mist it over your face (whichever is the case)
  • Allow it to absorb into your skin for about a minute before you go on to use the serum. However, your skin should retain some amount of moisture
  • Now it’s time to use the serum. Pump out the serum and release a few drops into your palm
  • You can either use your fingertips to gently tap the serum into your skin or run it between your palms and pat your face. Allow the serum to absorb into your skin
  • Thereafter, apply emulsion all over your face to seal in moisture
  • If you want to, you can apply a face moisturizer afterward and the other creams and oils in your routine
  • Apply sunscreen to shield your skin from UV rays during the day


Can you use emulsion in place of essence?

No, you shouldn’t replace emulsion with essence. Essences come first on the routine, before applying emulsion. The former helps to hydrate your skin while the latter is a lightweight moisturizer that seals in moisture.

Can you use essence every day?

If you’ll like to incorporate essence into your routine, you can use it every day. It’s gentle and mildly formulated for everyday use.

Is emulsion necessary?

An emulsion is not a necessary skincare product. You may skip this step of your routine if your skin perfectly tolerates the heavy creams that come after. Emulsion works like a moisturizer to seal in moisture. Therefore, you can replace it with a moisturizer.

Do you need essence if you use serum?

You may skip essence if you already have a serum on your routine. The active ingredients present in skincare essences are also present in serums. You can stick to serums alone and avoid piling up products on your skin.


The differences between serum vs essence vs emulsion start with their appearance. Physically, they differ in their consistencies with essences being the lightest of the three. Furthermore, they perform different functions in your routine.

It is better to look out for what makes each unique, what it can do for your skin, and how to incorporate it into your routine. Instead of a comparison of serum vs essence vs emulsion, you sure can have all three, if you’re ready for a detailed skincare routine.

Thanks for reading.

Check Serum101 to read the best skincare product comparison guides to help you make good choices.