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Essences, Serums, Emulsions and Moisturizers: How do you use them and what are they for?

Posted by Jbeauty Collection on
Essences, Serums, Emulsions and Moisturizers: How do you use them and what are they for?

Loving the short, sweet, and minimalist J-Beauty philosophy, but confused by all the skincare terminology? Here we break down the essentials so that you know what to use when.


Sometimes confused with toners, the J-Beauty essence is a watery solution that nourishes, softens, and restores moisture to the skin. Although an essence may look like a toner, its function is totally different. Toners are astringent liquids designed to wipe away dirt, bacteria, and makeup, while essences are lightweight skin conditioners that quench thirsty skin with essential nutrients.

When to use an essence:

  • Immediately after cleansing in your daily routine, to restore moisture to the skin, and help prime and prep the skin for denser products like emulsions, serums, and creams
  • When your skin needs extra TLC after spending time out in the sun

Tips when using an essence:

  • Douse a generous amount onto a cotton pad and gently pat it into cleansed skin in bottom-up strokes
  • Gently press your face with your hands to help the essence fully absorb

JBEAUTY product pick:

A cult favorite in Japan, the Naturie skin conditioner helps achieve soft mochi-skin with its soothing formulation rich in vitamin B and amino acids.

Naturie Hatomugi Skin Conditioner


Serums are targeted treatments that deliver a high concentration of active ingredients to the skin to help solve specific skin problems. There are serums designed for every skin issue under the sun – acne, hyperpigmentation, and anti-aging, to name a few. Their consistency varies from serum to serum, but they tend to run slightly heavier than essences but lighter than most creams.

When to use a serum:

  • When you have a particular skin issue that needs extra attention and treatment

Tips when using a serum:

  • Layer on after applying your essence, to areas of concern or all over the face
  • Take a pea-sized amount, then press gently into the skin with your hands

JBEAUTY product pick:

Infused with powerful natural extracts, the Shiseido Ultimune Power Infusing Concentrate visibly strengthens, firms, and guards the skin against daily damage to keep the skin supple and smooth.

Shiseido Ultimune Power Infusing Concentrate


Denser than essences but lighter than traditional creams, the emulsion is a water-based, milky moisturizer with a gel-like consistency. Their unique non-comedogenic formulation allows them to deliver nutrients to deeper layers of the skin without clogging your pores.

When to use an emulsion:

  • If you have oily, acne-prone skin that reacts to cream-based moisturizers
  • If you want lightweight hydration that won’t weigh down your skin with a greasy residue
  • After your essence but before your cream step, for an additional boost of hydration

Tips when using an emulsion:

  • Use alone in lieu of your moisturizer in hot and humid climates, or before your cream in cold and dry weather
  • Dab a few dots on your cheeks, nose, chin and forehead. Lightly warm another small amount with your hands, and gently massage the emulsion throughout your face and neck in upward motions

JBEAUTY product pick:

The La Vie Précieuse MOIST A.P.G. Emulsion helps skin achieve a healthy balance of water and oil with natural extracts proteoglycan, glycyrrhizinate, and apple-derived ceramide.

La Vie Précieuse MOIST A.P.G. Emulsion


The cream-based moisturizer is the heaviest product in Japanese skincare routines and is therefore applied at the very end. Moisturizers are excellent at locking in all the hard-earned nutrients from the previous steps, and they help ensure that the skin retains this moisture for the whole day (or night). They also help defend and protect the skin barrier.

When to use a moisturizer:

  • Day and night for dry and mature skin types, or for added protection in colder weather
  • For nightly repair alone in oily skin types, or in hot and humid weather

Tips when using a moisturizer:

  • After your essence, serum, and emulsion steps to “seal the deal”
  • Apply to specific dry zones or all over the face and neck as necessary

JBEAUTY product pick:

The KITAO Matcha + Chia Facial Cream is loaded in antioxidant-rich superfoods matcha, chia seeds, quinoa, and acai extract to help quench dryness and replenish the skin with nutrients.

KITAO Matcha + Chia Facial Cream

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