What Is an Emulsion in Skincare? How to use it?

You asked— we answered! What is an emulsion in skin care? How can you use it in your daily skin care routine? What are its benefits? This is a step-by-step guide to understanding the mystery skin care product - Emulsion.

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If you're a fan of K-beauty products, you're most likely familiar with the famous 10-step Korean skin care routine, known among Korean women (and men) as a beauty secret to achieve a healthy and glassy complexion.

From the many steps in the extended facial care ritual, you may currently use only certain products, such as serums, exfoliators and facial cleansers, as they are pretty common in Western regimen. 

However, the number of people around the world adopting Asian-inspired skin care has been on the rise. Today, it is increasingly common to see people using some Korean products, such as sheet masks, pimple patches, and under-eye patches.

But despite the growing K-beauty trend and popularity, some skincare terms are still new and confusing—like emulsion.

Interestingly, it seems like no one can give a straight clear answer as to what an emulsion does and how to incorporate it into your skincare routine. That's why we're here to explain that mysterious skincare product, the emulsion.

What is an emulsion?

"Is an emulsion just another word for moisturizer?" or "Is it the same as a face lotion?" These are some of the most typical questions about emulsions. 

Simply put, emulsions are a lighter and more watery version of traditional moisturizing creams and lotions. They are watered down, lightweight, and non-sticky formula—they absorb into the skin faster without clogging pores, and blend better with makeup.

Benefits: What does emulsion do to your face? 

In the Asian skin care world—especially in South Korea and Japan—emulsions are considered an important skin care staple that helps to achieve a more supple and more glowing skin. 

It may not be a compelling choice for everyone, but think of it as an extra-credit step that provides an additional layer of hydration and nutrients, making skin look healthier and more radiant.

Here are the benefits of using emulsions and why you should incorporate them into your daily skincare routine.

  • Lightweight formula
  • Hydrates skin
  • Fortifies skin barrier
  • Absorbs easily
  • Won’t clog pores (Non-comedogenic)
  • Can address specific skin concerns
  • Ideal for oily, acne-prone skin 

How to use an emulsion and when to use it?

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What comes first: emulsion, serum, or moisturizer? 

The answer is depending on the formulation of the products, as it varies from brand to brand. The consistency of an emulsion is generally more watery and lighter than a moisturizer, but not quite as light as a serum.

Therefore, emulsions are more commonly used after a serum but before sealing it in a moisturizer. You can choose an emulsion or a cream to finish your skincare regimen, or you can use both together to add extra hydration.

Some emulsions, however, are formulated to emulsify and soften the skin, making it easier to absorb the skin treatment - if that's the case, you'll need to use it before applying your skin treatments like serum or ampoule.

Still not sure which is which? The best way to know how to use your emulsion is to read the brand's recommendations and product instructions. 

What is the difference between an emulsion and a moisturizer?

Generally, both products are formulated to hydrate the skin and act as a moisture lock, trapping all the hydration and potent ingredients you have fed to your skin. 

Emulsions are usually water-based and oil-free formulas that absorb into the skin much faster and don't sit on top of the skin the same way some face creams do. (Helpful hint: lotions are still thicker than emulsions.)

Here's a pro tip: Emulsions can be a great alternative to regular moisturizer on summer days or for oily, acne-prone and sensitive skin because they less likely clog pores or irritate skin. 

(Related Post: How To Find The Best Moisturizer For Your Skin Type?)

What is the difference between essence, serum, ampoule, and emulsion? 

Essences are lighter than a serum and have a more watery consistency. Both contain small molecules that can penetrate deeper and dissolve faster. Serums are generally more potent than essences.

Serums are usually thin formulas that contain a few active ingredients to target your current skin concerns, such as brightening, acne scars, dull complexion. 

Ampules are a type of supercharged serum, meaning they contain a stronger concentration of effective ingredients. It is recommended to use them once or twice a week, rather than incorporating them into your daily skincare routine.

Some emulsions contain active ingredients that target specific skin problems, like serums, so they can sometimes be considered a hybrid of serum and moisturizer. You can use them in lieu of moisturizers, but they can't replace serums.

Which skin type benefits most from using an emulsion? 

Emulsions are suitable for all skin types, but work best on oily, combination, and sensitive skin, and skin prone to acne breakouts.

They are fast-absorbing and have a watery texture that provides hydration without feeling too heavy or blocking pores, while controlling excess sebum.

Dry and mature skin can also appreciate an extra layer of hydration, but if you have extremely dry and dehydrated skin, it's best to apply it before your face cream, night sleep mask or facial oil. This way, your skin will get a double up for hydration and active properties. 

5 Best lightweight, hydrating emulsions/moisturizers

Shiseido Vital Perfection Uplifting and Firming Cream Day Emulsion

Shiseido Vital Perfection Uplifting and Firming Cream Day Emulsion SPF 30 Japanese skin care moisturizer K Beauty World

Formulated with a revolutionary skincare formula: ReNeura Technology++™ —for better and faster anti-aging results— as well as the exclusive KURENAI TruLift Complex (thistle extract, Bulgarian rose water and Odoriko plant extract) that restores resilience and elasticity, improving skin firmness.

This Japanese moisturizer is also contains VP8 Complex with 4MSK, a balancing agent developed by Shiseido, which reduces the visibility of pigmentation spots and promotes an even, radiant complexion.

Dr. Jart+ V7 Emulsion

Dr. Jart+ V7 Emulsion face moisturizer for oily combination skin k beauty world

Suitable for those looking to treat dull, uneven and tired-looking skin, this lightweight gel texture gently and deeply penetrates the skin, leaving a fresh, dewy finish without stickiness.

Infused with seven different multivitamins to instantly create a luminous complexion with a clear glow for up to 24 reported hours. It's also ideal for oily, combination and sensitive skin.

Etude House SoonJung 10-Free Moist Emulsion

Etude House SoonJung 10-Free Moist Emulsion Korean skincare k beauty world

A hypoallergenic moisturizing emulsion that quickly delivers moisture to the skin and works to make your skin smooth, clear and supple while strengthening the skin's moisture barrier.

Made with 93% naturally derived ingredients, this lightweight moisturizer has a low pH, ideal for soothing and balancing all skin types, especially sensitive skin.

💘 Check out Etude House Soon Jung Emulsion

La Roche-Posay Hydranorme Emulsion

La Roche-Posay Hydranorme Emulsion for dry sensitive skin children moisturizers eczema best moisturizer K Beauty World

It is a facial care adapted to the dry and sensitive skins presenting deficiencies in water and lipids in the adults and children because it is composed of thermal water, glycerin which helps to hydrate the upper layers of the epidermis while supporting the regeneration of the hydrolipidic film, and restoring the resistance of the skin.

This product has been dermatologically tested on dry facial skin in winter and also with drying anti-acne treatments: The result is a significant reduction in skin dryness in 87% of cases and a moisturizing effectiveness rated good to excellent by dermatologists.

Biotherm Life Plankton Sensitive Emulsion

Biotherm Life Plankton Sensitive Emulsion for dry oily skin french skin care gentle facial moisturiser K Beauty World

Thanks to the highest concentration of the patented skincare ingredient Life Plankton™, this lightweight facial care effectively soothes dry skin, reduces signs of irritated skin, such as itching or redness.

The Life Plankton™ is a patented active ingredient from Biotherm that has a protective, strengthening and regenerating effect thanks to a large number of vitamins, minerals and trace elements. With regular use, the light emulsion makes the skin noticeably more resilient and protects it from negative environmental influences.

This hypoallergenic formula is ideal for the care of sensitive and dry skin. Free of kerosene, sulfate, ammonia, phthalate, pigment, dye and oily ingredients.

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