If you have mild panic attacks when it comes to figuring out all the various terminology that skincare brands and specialists are throwing at you, you are not alone. Partly to blame is the fact that different skincare experts use different terms from others. Deep calming breaths. The main thing to know is that the same products are called different things—depending on the country of origin. With that bit of knowledge tucked away, you’re halfway there to demystifying those sometimes-confusing labels.

Today we’re going to talk about lotions and essences.

Let’s start with lotion.

In the U.S., a lotion is often used to refer to moisturizing substances for the entire body. For example, type in “lotion” into any US-based online store, and you’ll get a number of all-over body moisturizing lotions, such as Aveeno Daily Moisturizing Lotion or Jergens Ultra Healing Lotion. But we're here to talk about a different lotion we found during our beauty trip to Tokyo. Lotion in Japan is a facial product equivalent to a toner. If you are at a Japanese cosmetics counter you would ask for a face lotion. At any other skincare counter, you would ask for a toner. Same product type, same step in a skincare routine.

So what does lotion do? Japanese lotions prepare and prime the skin for serums and heavier moisturizing creams that come next in your skincare routine. The lotion usually has a milky texture and to apply it, you either use a flat cotton pad or your hands and pat, pat, pat. They contain ingredients that soften the skin, making it receptive for what follows. I have combination skin during the colder months and oily skin during the summer. I found that double layering the lotion was better for me that using a regular moisturizer. I'm currently obsessed with the Hada Labo lotion I found during my Japanese pharmacy skincare haul.

On to the essence.

A lot of confusion occurs over this word and how essences are different from serums. Overall, it used to be that essences had a lighter consistency and serums a heavier one, and that’s how you could tell them apart, but as far as purpose — they both do the same thing. Consumers buying products from the U.S. and Europe may be more used to the term “serum.” Those buying Korean skincare and Japanese make up products will be used to the term “essence.” Today, marketers and copywriters use both interchangeably, depending on what they think sounds better.

But what does it do? Think of essences as a skincare product that targets what your skin needs. Want to brighten? Moisturize? Target sunspots? There is an essence for every need. And some products target multiple areas in one go, such as Son & Park's Beauty Water. What you need to know is that essences and serums occupy the same place in a skincare routine. And so long as you know to apply from lighter-weight formulations to heavier formulations, you won’t have to wonder about what to put on first. Depending on how my skin feels, I usually use essence with a cotton pad, or warm it up in my palms and pat it on my face. Sometimes I buy one of those cotton sheet masks, which you can find at Asian convenience stores or here. I then soak the essence in the dry sheet for a quick sheet mask sesh. Also, always, always use it before a flight and before you land. You'll thank me when you get off the plane.

What we learned here is that lotions and essences are localized terms for products that are trending in the beauty world. You may have met them under a different name, and now you’ll be able to recognize them the next time around.

Check out our range of essences here!

Tomoko Matsuoka

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