We have always been a bit cynical about ‘toners’. Actual toners – used after cleansing – often over-stripped the skin, featuring in some cases harsh alcohol. But skin essences are a very different thing – and they are definitely ‘a thing’. Lightweight liquids, they feel like an old-style toner (without the stinging), and actually deliver the first layer of moisture in your regime – priming skin, and delivering concentrated ingredients rather as a serum does. (In fact some of them are very like serums – and nowadays, the lines are pretty blurred.) But because skin essences have stormed onto the UK market from Korea (where women notoriously have as many as 10 steps in their regime) – and we get asked about them a LOT – we thought we’d better ask our testers to put them to the test. You know what? They scored really high marks (especially the Gold Award-winner). So it might just be time to think about adding one more step into your own skincare programme. Generally, they are swiped over skin using cotton pads – or splashed into palms and then pressed into skin.


GOLD AWARD (JOINT) Jurlique Activating Water Essence

From Australia’s #1 premium skincare brand (which we’ve known and loved since we met the original owner and founder, Dr. Jurgen Klein, aeons ago), the botanicals in this recently-launched essence include soothing marshmallow root, which produces a thick, syrupy-like liquid with softening, balancing and moisturising powers. In their own trials, 88% of testers using Activating Water Essence for 14 days said their skin felt continuously hydrated.


'This certainly cleansed my skin further, used on a cotton pad. My skin felt instantly very clean and fresh. There wasn't the slightest stinging. It brightened my skin tone straight away and this increased after I had used the product for a while. My moisturiser sat very well after using this’ • ‘My neck and dec seem so much better, very hydrated and less crêpe-y’ • ‘Having never used a similar product before I have been well and truly converted. Skin felt instantly hydrated and refreshed, especially during the long hot summer. It felt very calming, probably due to being heavy on the lavender, which I love. A lovely product that provides a refreshing start to the day and a relaxing end. Smells gorgeous and was fantastic during the long hot summer! Just a few sprinkles are enough per application and I have loads left so excellent value!’ • ‘I love using this! A happy moment twice a day’ • ‘I love Jurlique products and this is no exception. Being slightly thicker than a toner meant it sat well on my skin without feeling like it was drying. Living in an area with very hard water, it was lovely to use this to remove the hardening feel from the water’ • ‘I really like the aroma of this – botanical and delicate – and feels calming on my skin. I liked the ritual of applying it every night; it felt like I was prepping my skin and also nourishing it’ • ‘My skin looked healthy and blooming after about a week of using this.’

£40 for 150ml - click to buy



GOLD AWARD (JOINT) Murad Hydro Dynamic Quenching Essence

Delivered from a sleek pump-action dispenser, from one of the pioneering dermatologist’s brands, the key hydrating ingredient here is Mexican blue agave extract, which is said to ‘bond with the skin’s surface to restore its ability to attract and retain water’. This essence doesn’t just moisturise, but has an actively resurfacing action, too, incorporating a gentle glycolic acid to ‘open hydration pathways’ (which it does by exfoliating). Alongside, there’s a blend of watermelon, apple and lentil to further relieve dryness.


'My skin instantly felt smoother and looked more dewy. There was not the slightest tingling or stinging. It certainly cleansed my skin more thoroughly, used on a cotton pad. It worked absolutely fine with my other skincare and didn't cause any pilling with my moisturiser’ • ‘This is a joy to use. My skin is 100 per cent more moisturised, instantly hydrated, soft and plump. Skin tone is brighter. I like the light fresh fragrance. I love this product, which did so much for my skin. It sank straight in and my skin felt great. I will repurchase as I cant bear to be without it’ • ‘My skin drank this up and felt hydrated and very smooth and lovely to touch. It did make my skin feel plumper, which was further improved when I applied moisturiser’ • ‘This felt like a super food for skin. My skin felt plumped and moisturised and I did notice that my finer lines were less visible’ • ‘A really lovely product. Y skin looked brighter fro the very first use and continued with daily application. Any redness was smoothed, radiance improved, skin felt and looked better cared for. Marvellous.’

£70 for 30ml - click to buy


SILVER AWARD Chantecaille Vital Essence

This pump-dispensed essence is especially well-loved by beauty editors, from the luxurious brand founded by our friend Sylvie Chantecaille. It features 95.5% botanicals – extracts of bilberry, honeysuckle flowers and cherry leaves, alive leaf and soybean – to smooth, brighten and moisturise. Add to that vitamin C, seaweed extract and lashings of hyaluronic acid and aloe vera, in a base of pure rosewater – the heaven-scented signature of much of Chantecaille’s luxe range.


'The fresh rose fragrance was lovely and refreshing in the morning and relaxing in the evening. My skin felt hydrated and my moisturiser sat very well after. My skin tone was more even after regular use, it helped to calm redness from a spot. I used it round the eye area and it helped to reduce puffiness and dark circles. I noticed how much brighter my skin is now’ • ‘This looked and felt like a luxury product and smelt deliciously of flowers. After using it for a while, my skin felt less dry and plumper, definitely more moisturised and hydrated’ • ‘The flowery fragrance is lovely. My skin felt instantly refreshed but not more tight or taut. No stinging at all. It brightened my skin. My moisturiser went on very well and seemed to keep working longer than usual’ • ‘Skin feels hydrated and moisturised, which is surprising, so you don't always need a moisturiser with it. It brightens the skin and you can see that most when you've used it at night; in the morning, skin is bright and clear, even in tone’ • ‘A very beautiful  product, which provides hydration, brightens the skin and evens out skin tone. I see how good my skin looks in the evenings when I take off my make-up after the day’ • ‘I really enjoyed using this product. My skin felt great afterwards and looked good. I noticed a difference in the texture of my skin after using for a few weeks. It looked visibly brighter and felt nice and soft. Great product.’

£92 for 50ml - click to buy



OK, not as cheap as some ‘steals’ we feature – but if you’re looking for an entry-level essence to see how you get on with using this kind of product, Hydraliane Essence put on a very good show. The key ingredient in the Hydraliane is something called ‘Physio-adapted water’: 99.9% purified water, 100 times more concentrated in trace minerals like magnesium, zinc and manganese, along with sodium lactate. This offers 7% glycerine and a hyaluronic complex, in an ‘aqua-jelly’. (And it really is just that.) If you don’t know the name, Laboratoires SVR is a greatly-loved French pharmacy brand new to the UK, launched by husband-and-wife pharmacists Simone and Robert Veret back in 1962, and one of the first to bridge the gap between medical and cosmetic skincare.


‘This was an unusual product; I hadn’t heard of anything like it before. It was a pleasure to use as skin felt doubly cleansed and hydrated and looked fresher. Moisturiser and make-up went on smoothly after’ • ‘Very ease to use on a cotton pad from the plastic bottle. You could see the remaining make-up/dirt coming off your skin after cleansing. It was a pleasure to use as my skin felt so fresh and hydrated. It brightened my skin tone almost instantly. I loved using this product. My skin felt so much fresher than with other toners and the added hyaluronic acid helped to hydrate my skin. It felt so comfortable. I would 100 per cent recommend this step in anyone’s skincare routine’ • ‘This cross between a toner and a serum was lovely and refreshing in this hot weather. I used it in place of toner and it left my skin soft and hydrated. My skin felt clean and light, which is good for hot weather. Decanted into a small bottle, it would be a holiday travel essential’

£7.50 for 75ml – click to buy