The Single Extract Essence Trend: What’s So Good About It & Is It Here to Stay?
Single extract essences aren’t new, but the recent wave of artemisia single extract essences is kicking off a renewed interest in the product type first made famous by SK-II. Let’s take a look at this trend and why you may need to add one to your routine.
When it comes to thinking about K-beauty and Korean skincare as a whole, I can’t help but think how much it’s grown in recent years. I know some of you were there with me in the early days, creeping on websites that were only in Hangul and had virtually no product reviews to guide any purchasing decisions. Even with me being able to read the product descriptions and what not, I had no idea what an ampoule or a tone-up cream was. Fast forward to today, and both the products available and the information about them is vastly different, largely thanks to the online community (like you lovely people) and content creators like the kick-ass @Jude Chao.
As much as things have changed, some key things have weathered the test of time in this insanely fast-paced industry. Ampoules that aren’t in single use packaging are still being made (I still think in Korean beauty they’re largely the same as serums), sunscreen thankfully still remains a pillar of K-beauty, and first treatment essences are just as popular as they used to be.
I think a ton of us had our first experience with first treatment essences via the Missha Time Revolution Treatment Essence. It may have been inspired by the classic Facial Treatment Essence from SK-II, but it’s safe to say that the Missa FTE (what skinsiders call first treatment essence) launched what felt like a wave of dozens of similar products in Korea, and FTEs, with all their hydrating, brightening, fermented goodness, have been a staple for me since my newbie K-beauty days.
Not a lot of innovation has been done in this staple category of products until very recently, where first step essences have taken on a new form. Usually, FTEs are largely made up of some type of yeast ferment or blend of yeast ferments, which are combined with other skin beneficial ingredients to make a super thin, watery formula that you pat on right after cleansing. It sinks in quickly and sort of sets the stage for the rest of your routine.
The buzz in Korea over the last few months has been all about essences made entirely from the extract of one single ingredient. I’ll be the first to admit I was a bit skeptical; sometimes the ingredient lists for beauty products can get quite long, especially in K-beauty, but these were almost worryingly short. A short ingredient list by no means makes a product ineffective or bad, but it was a definite change of pace from a lot of what we see. Take the AmorePacific Vintage Single Extract Essence for example; it was the mother product that really kicked off this whole trend, and its star is fermented green tea extract, with little else included.
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Missha is at the forefront as well (as to be expected) with their Time Revolution Artemisia Treatment Essence, which literally just has one ingredient listed: Artemisia annua Extract, aka mugwort extract. Hanyul has an entire mugwort line with a similar essence made up of 100% mugwort extract as well, so clearly everyone wants a piece of this pie.
Now let me make one thing clear: When you read “mugwort extract,” it is important to note that the bottle isn’t just made out of juice squeezed from these leaves. There is always something that the plant needs to be distilled in, like water (think of making a cup of tea), preservatives that need to be mixed in to ensure your skincare isn’t turning into a lab experiment, and other things that may be in the mix to make said extract. You’re still getting a huge dose of the main ingredient, but other things are part of the process of creating the extract.
The releases that we’re seeing in this single extract essence category are largely based around mugwort/artemisia at this point in time (like the much-talked-about Vely Vely Artemisia Balance Essence), and I think it’s an interesting alternative to traditional FTEs that was honestly needed in the market. I know people who have very sensitive skin or deal with skin conditions like fungal acne who are very hesitant to or cannot tolerate using yeast ferment in their skincare, my SO being one example. He has dermatitis (which I’ve successfully tamed through Korean skincare!), and because it’s technically caused by an excess of yeast that naturally occurs on everyone’s skin, any products containing yeast is something his dermatologist has advised he stay far, far away from.
Yeast-based FTEs also are known to have mild exfoliating properties, which helps contribute to that signature “glass skin” translucency that they’re known to encourage, but some people do find this another reason that traditional FTEs don’t vibe well with their skin.
All of the single extract essences I’ve come across also ferment their ingredients, as this is supposed to help them penetrate and absorb more deeply and quickly into the skin, so you still get all of that fermented goodness, but with a very different end result.
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An FTE featuring something as calming and soothing as mugwort or antioxidant-rich as green tea could be an amazing addition to a skincare routine for people who find that brightness or smoothness is further down the list of their skincare goals and have more priority placed on calming redness, irritation, and inflammation. I recently switched up my retinol and exfoliation schedule to be a bit more intensive (I would not advise y’all do that during the summer — do not do as I do), and the idea of giving a concentrated dose of pure, soothing fermented plant goodness literally makes me feel warm and fuzzy.
I’ve also started to see some whispers online about brands focusing on other ingredients for single extract essences, and the first one I’ve seen outside of the mugwort family is a release from Make P:rem with their Chaga Concentrate Essence focused on chaga mushroom extract. Maybe there’s a mushroom trend on the horizon? Or is the next entry going to be a super watery fermented snail mucin essence? Maybe centella? What I can say for sure is that this variation on FTEs is not going away anytime soon, and with as many possibilities as there are, I’m excited to see what is coming next.
Speaking of things that are coming next, I’m starting the process of testing the Missha Time Revolution Artemisia Treatment Essence and ampoule from the same line for y’all, so keep your eyes peeled for that in the coming weeks! Have any of you tried a single extract essence? Any particular ingredients you’d love to see featured in one? Sound off below and, as always, hope you have an awesome week, and wear your sunscreen!