If you’re a fan of K-beauty products, you most likely know the famous 10-step Korean skin care routine, which is known as a beauty secret among Korean women to achieve a healthy and glassy complexion.
From the many steps of the extended face care ritual, you may currently only use certain products, like serums, exfoliators, cleansers, as they are also pretty common in Western regimen.
However, the number of people around the world adopting an Asian-inspired skincare regimen has been growing. Now it’s more common to see one who incorporates some Korean staples, such as sheet masks, pimple patches, and under-eye patches.
But despite the increasing K-beauty trend and popularity, some skin-care terms are still new and confusing—like emulsion.
Interestingly, it seems like that no one could give a straight clear answer of what emulsion does and how to incorporate it into your skin care routine. That’s why we are here to explain this mystery skincare product, emulsion.
What is Emulsion?
“Is an emulsion just another word for moisturizer?” or “is it the same as face lotion?” These are a few of the most typical questions regarding emulsion.
Simply put, emulsions are lighter and a more watery version of traditional moisturizing creams and lotions. They are watered-down, lightweight, and a non-sticky formula — which is absorbed into the skin quicker without clogging pores and blends better with makeup.
Benefits: What does emulsion do to your face?
In the Asian skincare world—especially South Korea and Japan, emulsions are actually considered as an important skin care staple that helps to achieve a more supple and glowy skin.
It may not be an imperative choice for everyone but think of it as an extra-credit step that offers adding an additional layer of hydration and nutrient, making the skin looks healthier and radiant.
Here are the benefits of using emulsions and why you should incorporate it 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 Do You Use It?
What goes first emulsion, serum, or moisturizer?
The answer is depending on the formulation of the products as it differs from brand to brand. The consistency of emulsion is generally more watery and lighter than a moisturizer but it’s not quite light as a serum.
Therefore, emulsions are more commonly used after your serum but before sealing it in with a moisturizer. You can choose an emulsion or a cream to finish your regimen or you can use both of them together for extra hydration.
Some emulsions however are formulated to emulsify and soften skin so that your skin treatment can be easily absorbed—if that’s the case, you need to use it before applying your skin treatments such as serum or ampoule.
Still not sure which one is which? The best way to know how to use your emulsion is to read the brand’s suggestions and product instructions.
What’s the difference between emulsion and moisturizer?
In general, they’re both formulated to hydrate skin and act as a moisture lock that traps in all the hydration and any potent ingredients you’ve fed your skin.
Emulsion is generally water-based and oil-free formula that can be absorbed into skin much more quickly and doesn’t sit on top of the skin the same way some face creams do. (Useful note: Lotions are still thicker than emulsions.)
Here’s pro tip: emulsions can be a great alternative for your regular moisturizer during summer days or those who has oily, acne-prone and sensitive skin, as it less likely to cause pore clogging issues or to irritate your skin.
(Related Post: How To Find The Best Moisturizer For Your Skin Type?)
What’s the difference: Essence, Serum, Ampoule, and Emulsion?
Essences are lighter weight than a serum and have a more watery consistency. They both have 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 issues, like brightening, acne scars, dull complexion.
Ampoules are sort of a supercharged serum, which means they have stronger concentration of potent ingredients. It’s recommended to use once or twice a week, instead of adding it to your daily skin care routine.
Some emulsions contain potent ingredients that address specific skin problems like serums, so sometimes you can think of it as a hybrid of both a serum and a moisturizer. You can use it in lieu of moisturizers but can’t be replaced for serums.
What skin type is the most beneficial from using an emulsion?
Emulsions are suitable for every skin type, but work best on oily, combination, sensitive, and those who are prone to acne breakouts.
They are fast-absorbing and 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 the best applying it before your face cream, night sleep mask, or facial oil. That way your skin can get a double up for hydration and active properties.
Best Korean lightweight Emulsions & Moisturizers
Cosrx Natural BHA Skin Returning Emulsion
Infused with natural BHA(Betaine Salicylate), this hydrating formula helps keep the skin clear of dead skin cells and excess sebum, leaving the skin smoother and balanced.
Featuring 70% centella asiatica leaf water and hyaluronic acid to provide instant relief from skin dehydration, irritation, and redness. This is an ideal moisturizer for oily, congested, and blemish-prone skin.
💘 Check out Cosrx Natural BHA Emulsion
Etude House SoonJung 10-Free Moist Emulsion
This low pH product contains madecassoside and panthenol, which are known for its soothing and repairing properties. They work well for relieving inflamed acne and reducing the itching sensation while providing hydration.
Formulated with 93% naturally derived ingredients and free from parabens, artificial fragrance and coloring, mineral oil, and animal materials, making it suited for all skin types including sensitive skin.
Isntree Fresh Green Tea Emulsion
Enriched with green tea leaf extract from Jeju island — rich in antioxidants, to protect the skin from premature aging and UV damage while soothing irritated and sensitive skin.
This refreshing emulsion features the brand’s special formulation, Anti-sebum P (HD) ingredient, which helps controlling oil production, leaving the skin feeling comfortable and well-rested without feeling greasy or too shiny.
💘 Check out Isntree Green Tea Emulsion
Aromatica Tea Tree Balancing Emulsion
This vegan moisturizer is filled with 98.3% natural ingredients including tea tree extract, which has anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and oil-moisture balancing properties.
The cruelty-free formula also contains burdock root, comfrey root, giant plantain leaves, and aloe vera juice that help calm and heal redness, swelling, and painful skin conditions while keeping the skin moisturized. Best for oily and breakout-prone skin.
Etude House Moistfull Collagen Emulsion
Powered with moisture-rich Super Collagen™ water (hydrolyzed collagen) and baobob extract, this milk-like consistency provides long-lasting moisture and replenishes the skin’s moisture barrier, leaving the skin feeling bouncy and plump.
Made without harmful chemicals, such as mineral oils, Tar color and PEG surfactants, it is suitable for all skin types.
Laneige Balancing Emulsion
Laneige offers two different types of products that cater to specific skin types— moisture version for dry, combination skin with flaky dead skin cells and a light version for oily and acne-prone skin.
The moisturizing-type emulsion is designed to alleviate dry and dehydrated skin while the matte-type moisturizer helps rebalance and regulate sebum control, leaving the skin brighter and clear.
Formulated with hydro-ion mineral water and opuntia ficus-Indica Extract - a kind of cactus plant which is full of multiple antioxidants, vitamins, and linoleic acid for skin moisturizing and revitalizing.
The Face Shop Yehwadam Pure Brightening Emulsion
If you’re thinking to buy a new anti-aging skin brightening product, this soft and fresh emulsion can help you restore moisture and fight against signs of aging.
Formulated with pearl powder and 6 kinds of natural oriental herbs and flowers, such as white ginseng, honey suckle, and peony extract. It’s specifically designed for improving dark spots and dull, irregular complexion, hyperpigmentation and visible fine lines.
Dr. Jart+ V7 Emulsion
Formulated with 7 kinds of vitamin complex to lighten, brighten, and hydrate skin with a healthy radiant glow.
The exfoliating acids, AHA and BHA smooth out old keratin, refining skin texture and transforms a dull complexion into a clear and revitalized one.
The gel-like texture absorbs easily into the skin without irritating, delivering hydration and nutrients to the deep layers of the skin.
AHC Hydrating Aqualuronic Emulsion Face Lotion
This nutrient-rich emulsion lotion from AHC—Aesthetic Hydration Cosmetics— is especially great for dry, dull, or tired skin.
Infused with a triple blend of hyaluronic acids, ceramides, and French seawater to restore moisture level and suppleness for skin that is smoother, softer, and more balanced. Suitable for all skin types.
Missha, Super Aqua, Ultra Hyalron Emulsion
This hypoallergenic formula combines 10 different types of hyaluronic acid— small, medium, and large molecules—that help bind water to collagen which then traps moisture in the skin, hydrating skin cells and making it look glowy.
Smaller hyaluronan molecules can better penetrate through the dermis, visually giving more of a plumping effect while higher-sized ones sit on the surface of the skin cells for instant smoothing and firming effects.