What exactly is an emulsion, and is it right for you? Here’s the 411 on all you need to know about emulsions.
What is an emulsion?
Popular in J-Beauty and K-Beauty skincare routines, there is no true equivalent skincare product for emulsions in the western beauty world. An emulsion is a milky moisturizer with a gel-like consistency. Emulsions are water-based, so you can think of them as a lighter version of moisturizing creams. This makes emulsions a lightweight alternative to traditional creams and face oils, which can leave a greasy, weighed down feeling. You will usually see emulsions in Japanese skincare products sold in a pump or bottle form, due to their semi-liquid consistency.
What are the benefits of emulsions for your skin?
Let’s talk chemistry for a moment. The molecule size of a product is a big factor that determines how easily the product is absorbed by the skin. Water molecules are smaller than oil molecules, so the more water-based a product is, the easier it absorbs. The more oil-based, the less it absorbs. Don’t get us wrong - creams are great for locking in moisture and protecting the skin barrier, since they sit on the surface of the skin, but they’re not the most effective way to deliver nutrients to deeper layers of the skin.
That’s where emulsions come in. The water-base of emulsions ensures that they easily seep into the deeper layers of the skin. They’re not all water, though - emulsions like the La Vie Précieuse MOIST A.P.G. Emulsion contain essential oils and nutrients, which help maintain a balance of water and oil in the skin. The unique structure of emulsions means that they can offer the benefit of a concentrated substance, making them more targeted than creams.
There’s also an added advantage to emulsions. Emulsions are considered non-comedogenic, which is basically a fancy way of saying that they won’t clog your pores.
Who should use an emulsion?
The non-comedogenic, water-based formulation makes emulsions an obvious choice for oily, acne-prone skin types than don’t require a heavy moisturizer. Emulsions are also an excellent option in hot and humid climates, as they quench thirsty skin without the greasy feeling that can accompany traditional creams and face oils. However, dry skin types can benefit from emulsions as well. When layered underneath a moisturizing cream like our La Vie Précieuse MOIST A.P.G. Cream, emulsions can provide an additional hydration boost, without the worry of product buildup.
It’s important to note that not all emulsions deliver the same benefits to your skin. Emulsions can be formulated with specific ingredients for targeted treatments, such as hyaluronic acid for hydration, or ceramides that strengthen the skin barrier. It’s definitely worthwhile to investigate the active ingredients in an emulsion, to make sure it’s suitable for your skin goals!
Emulsion vs Essence
What’s the difference between essences and emulsions? Essences are usually filled with “essential” ingredients and tend to perform “essential” functions prior to heavier products in a Japanese skincare routine. Japanese beauty essences like our La Vie Précieuse MOIST A.P.G. Lotion (Essence) are generally loaded in minerals and vitamins, with the purpose of restoring nutrients to the skin. They also soften the skin and prep it to better receive the benefits of emulsions, serums, and creams, maximizing the most of your beauty efforts. Although essences may seem basic, using one post-cleanse can make the difference of night and day. The essence is often the secret step to a luminous canvas that looks and feels like your natural skin, but better!
While essences have a liquid consistency that is runny like water, emulsions are denser with a gel-like consistency. A mixture of two or more liquids that are normally unmixable, emulsions are commonly a blend of water and oil. Emulsions are meant to be lightweight moisturizers, so their function is totally different from that of essences. The benefits of your emulsion will go a long way if you apply it immediately following your essence toner.
Emulsion vs Serum
Serums are concentrated, powerful formulas that target specific skin goals like brightening, anti-aging, treating acne, and reducing dark spots. They come in a variety of consistencies, from super liquid to gel-like to oily and creamy, but they’re usually silky and transparent since they’re meant to be paired underneath moisturizers.
Emulsions are thicker than serums and opaque in appearance. Their primary function is to hydrate above all else, and although they often contain active ingredients for issues like anti-aging and brightening, they are less concentrated compared to serums. So while emulsions are great for daily upkeep, serums are your number one go-to when your skin needs intensive treatment in a particular area.
Emulsion vs Cream
Traditional cream moisturizers are the heaviest product in a routine and are therefore always applied last. They’re completely opaque and sit on top of the skin, strengthening the skin barrier. Creams play an important role locking in all the product from the steps before. While they’re great for dry and mature skin types, they can feel greasy to the oily and acne prone, which is why rich creams are often used only at night.
With a unique milky gel-like consistency, emulsions are lightweight making them suitable for all skin types and comfortably used day and night. This puts emulsions at a huge advantage compared to creams, since they allow the skin to drink up moisture sans a weighed down feeling. Emulsions also absorb better than creams and deliver nutrients to deeper layers of the skin, while creams tend to remain on the skin surface.
Can emulsions replace moisturizers?
The short answer is yes, but you’ll benefit the most from an emulsion when you use it in the right order in your skincare routine. Not to beat a dead horse, but correct product layering is essential due to the varying molecular size of different products. If you’re using an emulsion in lieu of a moisturizer, you’ll want to apply it following your essence toner. If you’re also using a serum in addition to your emulsion, you’ll want to apply the thinner of the two first. Otherwise, you can use your emulsion as the in-between your essence toner and cream. Many people in Japan use emulsions and creams together in their skincare routine in the colder seasons. Especially if you have combination skin, you may want to apply the emulsion to your entire face, and dab on cream on select dry spots.
How should you use emulsions in your skincare routine?
To apply an emulsion, 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.
Still on the fence?
If you’re not accustomed to emulsions, you might feel weary about adding yet another step to your skincare routine. But since emulsions are often multi-functional, with the right product, you might actually find yourself simplifying your skincare routine. On the flip side, if you’ve tried emulsions like Korean emulsions in the past, but are new to the world of Japanese emulsions, just know that the main difference between Korean emulsions vs Japanese emulsions is product ingredients. Korean emulsions often feature traditionally Korean ingredients like snail mucin, birch juice, and ginseng, while Japanese emulsions tend to include local ingredients like Japanese sake, hatomugi, licorice root, and rice bran.
TLDR? Japanese emulsions are an amazing boost of moisture for every skin type under the sun, so this is a product you definitely don’t want to miss out on!
We also recommend the La Vie Précieuse A.P.G. Line 7-Day Trial Set to try the emulsion with the other products in the lineup.