Is the next step in skincare liquid gold?

Is the next step in skincare liquid gold? asks beauty editor Janetta Mackay.

Skincare companies have recognised this maxim by investing in convincing us that our faces need extra attention from a new wave of conditioning care. Photo / Supplied.

If time is luxury, then skincare companies have recognised this maxim by investing in convincing us that our faces need extra attention from a new wave of conditioning care.

So-called essences, concentrates, treatments or watery lotions are designed to slot into the middle of the usual cleanser, toner, serum and moisturiser regime. The idea is that water-borne soothing, anti-ageing and mildly moisturising ingredients will absorb especially effectively into clean skin before being locked into place by a denser barrier layer. They can also work without the moisturising top-up, particularly on skin that isn't parched, or in warmer weather when build-up from creams is more noticeable.

Prestige brands, particularly those active in Asian markets where essences are better known, are now developing more of these types of products for sale worldwide. It's a niche market, given that essences add another less obviously essential layer to skincare, but the same was said 10 years ago about now widely used serums.

Japan gave us the first essence, Shiseido's Eudermine, and this ground-breaking product still sells more than 100 years on. The cosmetic giant continues to innovate, with plans to launch an advanced "power-infusing concentrate" in a few months. Another Japanese product, SK-II's Essence, is perhaps the most visible of the category globally, promoted by actor Cate Blanchett.

It uses a yeast extract derived from sake that first came to the attention of scientists after it was noticed that brewery workers' hands dipped in the stuff were ageing less obviously than their faces. Another yeast extract, this one derived from beer, is at the heart of Time Solution First Treatment Essence from the popular Korean brand Missha.

My experience testing some of these essences is that with regular use over several weeks they do indeed freshen the face. The effect is subtle, so they are best suited to those whose complexions are already clarified and who are willing to invest in incremental improvement. If lines and wrinkles, firming, acne or pigmentation are your main concerns, then your first choice should be to seek out more targeted treatments.

What I like about essences is that they can be infused with ingredients suspended in water without weight, so they layer easily with other products. A comparison is water and white spirits: they look alike, but as drinks their concentrations and effects obviously differ. So too with water-based skin drinks. Because they do not contain the large number of ingredients included in many beauty creams for sensorial effect, they may also be better tolerated by those with sensitive skins.

Unlike toners, which are best wiped across the face with a cotton pad, apply an essence by gently pressing and patting into the face with fingers. As well as allowing you to perform a little lifting ritual and encouraging absorption, this will make the preciously priced lotion last longer.

Shiseido Eudermine Revitalising Essence; SK-II The Facial Treatment Essence; La Mer The Treatment Lotion; Clarins Hydra Quench Intensive Serum Bi-Phase; Estee Lauder Micro Essence Treatment Lotion.

Shiseido Eudermine Revitalising Essence 125ml $134
Launched in 1897, this was the first commercial Japanese skincare product made by Shiseido, which had its earlier beginnings in the pharmacy trade. The name Eudermine derives from the Greek words for good and skin. Reformulations have happened over the years, but the basic premise of helping maintain skin's optimal moisture level remains. When wiped on, this feels like heavy water, verging on liquid-gel like. (Department stores and selected pharmacies)

SK-II The Facial Treatment Essence 150ml $220
The refining effect is akin to a softener - the Asian description for the region's milder more humectant take on a toner - but this refresher first formulated in 1980 deserves to be a separate step. It comprises 90 per cent Pitera, a yeast ingredient said to stimulate the skin renewal process and at the heart of the SK-II brand. The topical effect, I saw over several weeks was a more glowing and balanced looking complexion. (Exclusive to DFS Galleria Customhouse, for retail and duty free sale).

La Mer The Treatment Lotion 150ml $225
Contains a good dose of so-called "miracle broth," a fermented kelp extract that has built the brand a cult following. A desert algal extract is an extra. La Mer reckons the broth's positive charge helps draw hydration from deep within the skin towards its surface because it is drawn to the negative charge at the bottom of wrinkles to help plump skin from within. Sometimes this stuff makes me feel like I'm getting the bends! I can report that the lotion glides on smoothly, but dries quickly for a firm fresh feel with a lingering delicate hint of floral fragrance. Skin is left ready to lap up more attention. (From Smith & Caughey's).

Clarins Hydra Quench Intensive Serum Bi-Phase $87
Although essences aren't serums, some serums, such as this one, seem more akin to essences than those with the usual gel-like or fluid cream consistencies. Clarins has made this hydrator watery because it is said to better mimic the mix of water and lipids in the skin for easier absorption, compared with some more oil-laden offerings. Try this for a liquid lick of hyaluronic acid and plant extracts that won't weigh dehydrated skin down. (Selected salons, department stores and pharmacies).

Estee Lauder Micro Essence Skin Activating Treatment Lotion 150ml $120
The American-based Lauder company is a leader in expanding into Asia and does a lot of research and development there to ensure it understands future consumers. This "essence-in-lotion" with a bio-ferment blended with micro-nutrients and peptides was developed for Asian skins, but is being marketed worldwide as a next-generation treatment for translucence and resilience. It penetrates seamlessly, leaving skin feeling clear of any residue. The small bottle top means not too much gushes out in one go, (Selected department stores and pharmacies).


Kumi Craig is an expert groomer to the stars who says a watery lotion is one of her favourite products because it "awakens the skin. You can feel it instantly absorbing and hydrating." The New York-based celebrity helper has a background in entertainment industry makeup. She now specialises in readying the likes of Jon Hamm, Russell Crowe, Zac Efron, Jude Law and Ben Affleck for the camera or events. One of her favourite products to use on herself and clients is La Mer's Treatment Lotion.

How and when do you use it? After cleansing and toning add 2 to 3 drops of lotion to your palm, rub together and press gently on to the face and neck. Follow with your serum and moisturiser of choice.

Do we really need another layer of product to apply? As a groomer, I work with a lot of men who are not big into having many different products applied to their skin. This is the one that helps me manage a healthy, hydrated natural glow without too much shine. It absorbs and hydrates the skin without leaving any excess on the surface.

Who is it best suited to? Lotion is great for all skincare concerns, it helps prep the skin to receive the full benefits of the treatments that follow. In addition, it's great as a pre- and post-shave treatment.

What makes La Mer's The Treatment Lotion so special? It is soothing and gentle, good for sensitive skin and has multiple uses. It is amazing for humid conditions, the ideal first touch for your skin after a shower, and is great under sunscreen or moisturiser. In addition, it contains La Mer's legendary Miracle Broth to help re-energise skin.

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