Once upon a time we were told that all we had to do was cleanse, tone and moisturise. Do those three things and great skin will be yours. However, years passed and all of a sudden extra steps were being incorporated into what was once a simple regime. Serums popped up first. Bottles filled with magical, potent ingredients that we all had to use. Not long after that, facial oils were revealed as another step to include. But when? And what if you had oily skin – surely slathering on an oil was the worst thing you could do? (Spoiler alert: it’s not). And then lo-and-behold we get inundated with essences. When are we meant to use those, and what are they anyway? It’s a minefield out there, which is why we decided to sit down, take a good, hard look at these three categories, all of which are heralded to be complexion-boosting wonders, and tell you what they do, when to use them, why you might want to stock up on them and everything else in-between. So sit back, relax and prepare to let the complicated unfold before you and have a whole new world of simplistic skincare put before you.

Super serums

What are they? The thing that makes serums so special and powerful is their texture. They have a silky, velvety, not quite runny, not quite creamy, gel-like consistency that allows for a higher inclusion and concentration of powerful skin ingredients. They feel exceptionally lightweight on the skin but pack a seriously powerful ingredient punch and this is because they don’t contain the heavier ingredients that you’d find in moisturisers. And because their primary focus is to get all the wonder ingredients efficiently into the skin to combat issues such as fine lines, pigmentation, lack of elasticity or smoothing the skin surface, they don’t always address all the issues that a conventional moisturiser does. Meaning that some skins may wear it as a base layer underneath more product, whereas some skins may find a serum is all they need.

Who are they best for? There is a serum for every skin type and tone; that is the power of serums. And there isn’t a skin issue that doesn’t have a corresponding serum to solve it. In short, everyone and anyone should have at least one serum in their skincare arsenal at all times. The key ingredients you’re looking out for are the big skincare players. If it’s wrinkles you’re looking to combat then a serum packed with retinol and peptides is what you need. Oily skins that are prone to breakouts and enlarged pores need to look for salicylic acid and niacinamide. For skin that needs extra glow, Vitamin C will help even out skin tone and add brightness. Dehydrated skins – hyaluronic acid are a must, as are ceramics that help smooth out uneven skin texture.

The best ones out there:

Chanel Hydra Beauty Micro Serum, Dh657

For dehydrated skins that also want to tackle the signs of ageing, this is the serum for you. It contains camellia micro-droplets; minuscule bubbles that contain the camellia extract in its purest form that only fuse into the skin on application.

Elemis Pro Collagen Super Serum Elixir, Dh419

Packed with powerful marine algaes that act as a natural filler for the face, this velvety smooth serum plumps and smooths our fine lines while also deeply moisturising.

Guerlain Abeille Royale Serum, AED 855

This clever serum aims to tackle all the stresses your skin goes through during the day preventing what are known as ‘micro-tears’ by boosting the healing mechanisms in the skin. By getting the skin to heal itself more effectively, it looks more lifted and springy again.

Exquisite essences

What are they? You’d be forgiven for thinking that essences were just fancier looking-and-sounding toners. However, there is more to this product type that has its origins in Korea. Essences tend to come in bigger, dressing table-worthy glass bottles rather than the small, plastic bottles that toners are normally housed in. Whereas toners are conventionally packed with fairly astringent ingredients to give skin a final deep clean, slightly exfoliate and prep for moisturiser, essences contain nothing of the sort. They are far more gentle and tend to be filled with hyaluronic acid – the moisture maker for your skin, glycerin and natural ingredients that sink deeper into the skin. But they are not cleansers either. They are designed to be used post cleansing and will help rebalance the skin if it’s been stripped away of oils but they’re most definitely not serums. ‘An essence has a lighter weight than a serum, they are designed to give an extra micro-light layer of moisture to the skin, but they’re not to be wiped off like a second cleanser,’ says facialist Su-Man (su-man.com).’Philosophically the word “essence” suggests a single focus with no interference from anything else,’ she adds, ‘which is very much part of an Asian attitude to life and that’s the best way to think of them.’

Who are they best for? In truth, anyone and any skin type can use an essence it just depends if you have time for it in your morning and evening ablutions. Korean women use them as part of their ten-step, yes, ten-step, skincare regime. However, this is for good reason as they tend to have a much thinner skin barrier than other ethnicities and are therefore more prone to dehydrated skin. Essences are a great way of getting moisture in without over-loading the skin and this is not only down to their watery texture but the application method. ‘The best way to apply an essence is to pat it into the skin, starting from the chin and working up,’ says Dr Nadine Pernodet, Estee Lauder’s executive director of skin biology, global research and development. Applied post cleansing, post toning (if you do that) and pre serum and pre moisturiser so it all comes down to time and effort. They do however look pretty special, and whilst we shouldn’t judge a product by it’s packaging, it’s pretty hard not to with essences.

Best ones out there:

La Mer Genaissance The Serum Essence, Dh2,370

With that price tag you’d expect something special with this, and you get it. It contains La Mer’s unique Crystal Miracle Broth - a slow crafted, pure concentration of marine algae unique to the brand - which accelerates the skin’s natural renewal process and also helps refine pores.

NYDG Skincare Luminizing Essence, Dh350

Created by a group of New York dermatologists, this essence only contains great things for your skin with absolutely no nasties. One of which are probiotics that help calm the skin and reduce any redness.

Tata Harper Hydrating Floral Essence, Dh390

Love the idea of an essence but don’t have time to pat it in between other products? Look for this cult beauty spray instead. It is made to be used in the same slot as a regular essence but can also be used throughout the day to give the skin a boost of hyaluronic acid so a great option to keep at your desk or in your handbag for an instant skin boost.

Overindulgent oils

What are they? Facial oils have a bit of a bad reputation with many being overlooked for fear they will leave skin looking greasy and feeling like there’s a sticky residue that will transfer onto clothes and bed linen. Of course an oil by name is an oil by nature so they do have a denser and slippery consistency compared to serums and essences. But application is key to getting the best out of an oil. A few drops are all you need and it’s best to massage them thoroughly into the face and down the neck. Not only does this aid absorption but encourages better circulation, resulting in plumper, glowier skin. And if there is excess left over, don’t waste it, rub that golden elixir into your hands, elbows, arms, knees… wherever! Another reason oils are worth your attention is because they contain a higher concentration of natural antioxidants, which your skin needs to limit the production of free radicals which occur when your skin is put under stress and strain from things like pollution, UV rays, bad diet and not enough sleep. A lot of oils are naturally derived so contain potent ingredients from plants that are lipophilic which means they are absorbed a lot more easily into the lipid layer of your skin and make your skin more water resistant, keeping hydration locked in.

Who are they best for? Much like serums, there is an oil for every skin type and concern and this may vary so you may want to keep a few close at hand depending on what your skin needs at that time. ‘Facial oils add nutrition and moisture to the skin and are a great option if your skin has undergone any radical changes such as exposure to a different climate, stale air in an aeroplane or a change in hormones,’ says Su-Man. It takes time for your skin to fully absorb an oil, so they are best used at night or on a make-up free day as anything that goes on top of an oil will slip and slide slightly.

Best ones out there:

Clarins Blue Orchid, Dh218

Of all the oils, this is probably the most classic. Created in 1965 for use during professional treatments at the Clarins Institute in Paris, it was after years of clients demanding they could get their hands on this rehydrating wonder that it became available. It’s ideal for wearing during skin-sapping flights and smells divine.

Estee Lauder Advanced Night Repair Recovery Mask-In-Oil, Dh353

This cult beauty product has had an oil makeover with an added lipid complex combined into the serum base. The added oilier components provide and important source of Omega 3 and Omega 6 which strengthen the skin and help it look younger as you sleep.

Aveda Tulasara Radiant Oleation Oil, AED 280

Derived from six plant oils, this natural oil not only is perfect for all skin types to help rebalance the skin and add serious moisture but also works on Ayurvedic principles that help calm the mind and body so make sure to take some deep, healing breaths as you massage this into your skin.