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What is an essence and why do I need it? It depends on who you ask. The description I like most is: a lighter, more watery serum. Adding this step is a great idea for anyone, but it is especially wonderful for someone with dry skin. Products absorb better when moisture is present in the skin. An essence not only adds nutrients to the skin, but the watery consistency assists in letting all the products applied after penetrate more deeply. A moisturizing toner also assists in providing that moisture base to help other products absorb, but it lacks the powerful ingredients available in most essences.
When adding a new skincare item, you can evaluate your routine to see which step you can skip. Someone already doing a double cleanse (usually an oil based cleanser followed by a foaming cleanser) may not need a toner and an essence. It has been a while since toners helped bring PH balance to the skin, because most soaps no longer mess with the balance. That means providing an extra cleanse and lubricating the skin are now the primary functions. If the second cleanse takes over the extra cleanse, and the essence adds moisture, you can drop the toner. That said, I still use mine. My thoughts are keeping it in cannot hurt.
So, after cleansing (or double cleansing if I am wearing makeup), I apply toner, immediately followed by essence. The item I did drop from my routine when I added the essence was my first serum. Yes, I always applied an activating serum followed by a more targeted serum. The essence took the place of the activating serum in the winter, but I think I can use activating serums in the summer where my skin does not need as much help. This was wonderful in winter, but I found my skin loves essence when it is squelching hot.
In my quest to get a better skincare routine, I collected four essences. The first was SKII, which I’ve wanted to try for a long time. I purchased Secret Key and Original Raw which gave me the free Iope. I decided I wanted to use them one at a time to see which I preferred (show down style) and if any were worth purchasing (SKII or Iope) or repurchasing (Secret Key or Original Raw). This Iope Bio Essence Intensive Conditioning was the second essence I completed, so I am ready to compare the first two. Iope was a brand I’d never heard of before receiving the sample, so I went in with no expectations one way or the other.
After starting it, I decided to do a little research. This product received a lot of awards in 2012 and 2013, but there is not a lot of information after that. I was also concerned that this may have been a toner, instead of a traditional essence. It looks, smells, and feels like pure water. There are bubbles when you handle it that do not appear in water, so I know it is not pure water, even though it looks like I could drink it. Considering this won First Essence Awards, my theory that it was a glorified toner were out.
I started this essence around the same time I started using Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid. That is a chemical exfoliant with explicit rules not to rinse it off. Every time I used them together, I felt this “essence” just rinsed it off. After some trial and error experiments by using them together and using each individually, I am confident the BHA liquid worked better when I did not use this. Essence is the first item applied after cleansing, so I could not just switch the product order around, even though it would have been better to use them that way. This experiment taught me two things. Chemical exfoliants work better without overly liquid essences on top, and my skin does better skipping the essence than it does skipping the BHA liquid. Discovering those things together is why it took me nearly four months to finish a 0.6oz sample.
This formula is very wet and drips easily, so I could not use the same application technique I used for the SKII. The website even recommends application with a cotton round, and I agree. Applying this with fingers is too messy and using the back of my hand was almost impossible. While I do not bother placing the cotton round between my fingers, I did find it applied evenly and absorbed better and faster with the cotton round. It also seemed to remove less of the BHA liquid I applied before when I applied it this way. Even with a cotton round, it absorbs at the rate of water, so you need to rub a while or let your skin set for a minute before embarking on the next step in your skincare routine. If you do not, it will feel like it is diluting products that come after it as well.
The sample was small, but I feel confident it was large enough to write this review. I would not purchase this, nor would I use more samples that made it my way. Though the effects this first essence promises seem amazing, I noticed no difference when I used it and when I did not, well, no beneficial differences. It dilutes products that work more efficiently than when I skip this, which proves this is actually detrimental to my skincare routine. While this could work wonders for someone with oily skin, I need something thicker than bonds better to my skin for better product absorption. My skin is too dry for anything less.
That means SKII without a doubt wins the head to head match. Read its article to see the major differences. There are two more essences to go, and I look forward to declaring a winner. I’ve picked up two more essences since I started this series, so I am thinking of making this a never-ending series (unless I find something I cannot leave without and gift samples of other items) and starting a series for direct comparison of other products. To get the most out of my BHA liquid, I decided I want to use a thicker essence next. While a thicker essence is probably better for Winter vs Summer, the Original Raw bottle is so large that it will last through this winter if I start it now. This means Secret Key will be last up in this battle.
Do you use this essence? What do you think of it? Whether you’ve tried it before or not, do you think it is worth the price to buy a bottle? If it really provides a fountain of youth, are you willing to invest? Have you tried another essence outside of my series that is worth trying?