An essential step in many Asian beauty routines, essences have also gained popularity in the U.S for their toning, priming, hydrating, and sometimes exfoliating abilities — all packed into one super lightweight, fast-absorbing formula. Because of their concentrated levels of hydration, oily skin types might be hesitant to reach for an essence, but that shouldn't be the case. There's a difference between lacking water and oil, after all, which is why oily skin types can still be dehydrated. The best essences for oily skin still include hydrating ingredients, plus added actives that specifically target oil production, enlarged pores, breakouts, and other concerns typical to oily skin.
What ingredients to look for in an essence:
Key ingredients oily skin types should look for in their essences are AHAs and BHAs that exfoliate the skin to remove dead skin cells and pore-clogging dirt and oil. Glycolic, lactic, and citric acids are all common AHAs, while salicylic acid and its natural counterpart, willow bark, are common BHAs used to treat oily and acne-prone skin. Witch hazel is another great ingredient that has both anti-inflammatory and antibacterial effects, making it ideal for oily and acne-prone skin types, while niacinamide can help even out skin tone by fading scars and hyperpigmentation.
And don't be afraid of all those moisturizing ingredients you see in essences. Again, oily skin still needs hydration (otherwise, your pores will start producing even more oil to compensate), and essences use gentle ingredients to keep skin smooth and soft. To hydrate skin without leaving it greasy, look for hyaluronic acid and glycerin, in particular.
When to apply an essence:
Because essences basically work as a primer and toner to help the rest of your skin care products work more effectively, you'll want to apply your essence on freshly cleansed skin. Pouring several drops onto the palm of your hand and gently pressing or tapping the essence over your face and neck is the K-beauty way, but you can also use a cotton pad. Then, follow up with your serum and moisturizer.
Ahead, you'll find five of the best essences for oily skin, whether acne and enlarged pores are your primary concern or you're trying to balance your combination dry and oily skin.
1. Best Essence For Oily, Breakout-Prone Skin
COSRX BHA Blackhead Power Liquid
For oily skin that's prone to breakouts or acne, COSRX's cult-favorite BHA Blackhead Power Liquid combines two ingredients to clear out and tighten pores as well as control excess oil: betaine salicylate and white willow bark water. Betaine Salicylate is a natural alternative to the BHA salicylic acid that's derived from sugar beets. BHAs, of course, help to gently slough away dead skin and cut through oil to unclog pores. White willow bark is also a natural form of salicylic acid (though it hasn't been proven to be as effective), and it contains antioxidant-rich polyphenols and flavonoids with anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties that can even help protect the skin from free radical damage. The tannins found in willow bark extract are also astringent, so they help constrict the skin and tighten pores. To combat any dryness, COSRX included hyaluronic acid in its formula, too.
2. Best Essence For Oily Skin Lacking Hydration
Hanskin Hyaluron Skin Essence
Just because you have oily skin doesn't mean it's properly hydrated. In fact, dehydrated skin could even be contributing to excess oil. To compensate for the skin's lack of moisture, it will actually start to produce more oil, which in turn could be leaving you with a shiny face. That's where this Hanskin Hyaluron Skin Essence helps. This is a water-based essence, which means it adds moisture (not oil!) to the skin, and it includes three majorly hydrating ingredients that won't clog pores — glycerin, hydrolyzed collagen, and sodium hyaluronate (aka hyaluronic acid).
3. Best Essence For Oily, Uneven Looking Skin
Manyo Factory Galactomyces Special Treatment Essence
If you've notice enlarged pores and an uneven looking skin tone, this essence uses 97 percent niacinamide to help even things out. Also known as vitamin B3, niacinamide helps regulate excess oil production and strengthen the skin's elasticity, which can help reduce the appearance of clogged pores. It can also help reduce hyperpigmentation, brighten dark spots, and fade post-breakout marks, leaving you with a more even looking complexion. Manyo Factory also added their galactomyces into the formula, which is extract from yeast fungus. While that may sound a little gross, it is said to contain vitamins B and P, as well as minerals that help moisturize and protect the skin.
"I'm a person of color with oily, acne-prone skin," writes one Amazon user. "I started using [this] a week ago during an active hormonal breakout. I immediately noticed that my skin was healing faster … over the following days, I found that the spots that healed weren't nearly as brown as they would have been."
4. Best All-Natural Essence For Oily Skin
Isoi Pore Tightening Tonic Essence
Formulated with natural ingredients, isoi's Pore Tightening Tonic Essence contains witch hazel to help relieve inflammation from acne and act as an astringent to reduce the appearance of enlarged, oil-clogged pores. To add hydration back to the skin, isoi formulated their essence with glycerin and Bulgarian rose oil. Extracted from Damask roses from Valley Kzanlak, Bulgaria, rose oil helps soothe skin and is rich in skin-brightening vitamins. Because of its natural ingredients, it's also free of synthetic preservatives, artificial fragrance and color, and synthetic ingredients.
5. Best Essence For Combination Dry & Oily Skin
COSRX Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence
Another pick from COSRX, this Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence works to repair and hydrate skin. Snail mucin, which is the trail of slime snails leave behind them, was first used as a skin treatment in ancient Greece, and it recently gained popularity in Korean skin care products. In addition to being super hydrating, snail mucin is also said to help with breakouts and hyperpigmentation. This particular formula was made to be enjoyed by all skin types, including oily and combination.
Amazon users overwhelmingly approve. "I have combo skin [that's] mostly dry with acne," describes one reviewer who gives COSRX five stars. "[This] helped to add moisture to the dry sections without breaking me out in the oily sections," they wrote, adding, "My redness is reduced [by] the next morning, [and] my skin is plump and healthy."
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