Monday, May 14, 2018

More Moisture! Review of e.l.f. Hydrating Water Essence

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I have to admit, I've been skeptical of e.l.f.'s skincare line ever since it came out a couple of years ago. At the time that it launched, most of the products looked very basic and uninspiring, but priced higher than I would expect for basics from e.l.f. (which seems to be true of many of their products lately). Nevertheless, earlier this year I ended up buying the e.l.f. Hydrating Water Essence, so I'll explain why I think it's worth it.

I picked this up after searching for a hydrating essence to add to my routine. Now, I know there are lots of Korean and other Asian essences out there, and some of them have been recommended to me on good authority, but despite a few forays, I still haven't delved completely into Asian skincare. It just seems like a whole other field of study I'd have to master, and I have enough research on my plate at the moment. This e.l.f. essence have the advantages of being easily accessible (ULTA, Target, etc.), and only costing $10 for a huge 5 oz. bottle.

I got interested in adding an essence to my routine after looking enviously at all the people who seem to have achieved beautiful, problem-free skin apparently through applying layer upon layer of moisture. I'm sure there's more going on there, but having moved to hotter and drier climates this year, I figured that more hydration surely couldn't hurt. (Yes, I'm kind of using "hydration" and "moisture" interchangeably here, but technically they are different.) As it turns out, I do believe my deep dive into increased hydration has helped my skin. I don't think it has made permanent, dramatic changes, necessarily, but I think the increased moisture has done some good things, like decrease the appearance of the hollows under my eyes. For example, compare this photo from last September, when I asked for advice about reducing that sunken eye look:

With this one in similar lighting from February:

Or this one I just posted today. The improvement in my under-eye area isn't the same as if I'd got fillers, of course--it's not preternaturally smooth and it's better some days than others--but the overall plumping effects of increased moisture in my skin are noticeable.

Now, I'm not saying that this e.l.f. essence is solely responsible for these differences. It's just one of many hydrating and moisturizing products I've been using in my routine (steps outlined here), but I've been using it consistently for a couple of months now, and I like it.

Oddly enough, e.l.f. does not emphasize what I would consider the more interesting ingredients in its marketing of this essence, the ones that tend to be lauded by skincare-obsessed people on Instagram and Reddit. It doesn't seem to be aimed particularly toward us weirdoes. Instead, they note that it is:
A lightweight and nourishing essence infused with moisturizing effects of purified water, coconut water, algae, and coffee.
Ok. The moisturizing effects of water and some other stuff. Let's look at the complete ingredients.
Water (Aqua), Glycerin, Dipropylene Glycol, Trehalose, Niacinamide, Chondrus Crispus (Carrageenan) Extract, Coffea Arabica (Coffee) Extract, Cyclodextrin, Sodium Hyaluronate, Sodium PCA, Urea, Polyquatemium-51, Triacetin, Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Water, Coceth-7, PPG-1-PEG-9 Lauryl Glycol Ether, PEG-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Disodium EDTA, Xanthum Gum, Phenoxyethanol, Caprylyl Glycol, Ethylhexylglycerin, Fragrance (Parfum) 
So it contains glycerin, trehalose, niacinamide, and sodium hyaluronate, and you're going to talk to me about algae? I mean, carrageenan is a fine ingredient, which is probably mainly in there to thicken up the essence a bit, but I assume they're trying to get you to think of the magical algae in La Mer products by highlighting that one. And sure, coffee extract is a good antioxidant, so thumbs up there. My research into coconut water in skincare is less conclusive, but it seems like it might have some moisturizing properties.

Overall, e.l.f. seems to be using exactly the opposite marketing strategy for this product that The Ordinary uses. They emphasize the ingredients that sounds familiar, natural, and generally pleasant, instead of the others that are effective, but "scary," scientific-sounding chemicals. As a result, I think they are going to miss out on some of the skincare nerd market, so I'm here to draw your attention to some of the other fun shit in there.

Glycerin is just straight up one of the most effective humectants out there, so seeing it second on the list is a good sign in a hydrating essence. It's also nice that they haven't canceled out any of its effects by including drying alcohol like some other "soothing" and "cooling" products out there do.

Trehalose is particularly interesting, because for some reason e.l.f. chose not to emphasize that this essence contains the mystical powers of *~~*~mushrooms~*~~*. A missed opportunity--especially since living in L.A., which tends to be on the cutting edge of health woo bullshit, I've been seeing miraculous (non-hallucinogenic) mushroom extracts all over the fucking place. Trehalose in skincare, however, seems not to be nonsense. It has hydrating, and possibly antioxidant, properties.

Niacinamide is one of my favorite ingredients (though patch test, because not everyone's skin likes it). It's a vitamin B that can help with enlarged pores, lines and wrinkles, uneven skin tone, and, in my experience, acne.

Sodium Hyaluronate is a form of hyaluronic acid, another of my favorite ingredients. This form is generally considered more effective than regular hyaluronic acid. It's a fantastic humectant that always makes my skin very, very happy.

There are other nice ingredients in there, and nothing that particularly worries me, but I thought I'd just highlight those four. Because there is so much water (it's the first ingredient), the concentration of each of these ingredients is going to be lower than in a serum, naturally--but do note that they all appear near the top of the ingredients list, well above the fragrance. The fragrance in this product is noticeable when you apply it, and it's a floral, sort of rose, scent, but it's mild. I can't smell it once it's on my skin. I'm guessing it would be okay for all but the least tolerant of fragrance, but it's something to keep in mind.

As for a review of this essence in actual practice, it has a thin, runny texture, a bit thicker than water. I dispense a few drops into the palm of my hand, rub my hands together, and then spread it on my face. It absorbs in a couple of minutes, but you can apply several layers if you want more of that bouncy, hydrated feeling, and it will continue to absorb. It doesn't cause any sensation on my skin other than comfortable hydration. Other products apply well on top of it. I even like the packaging, which tends to be a factor that's pretty low in importance in my assessment of things. It looks pretty and it's functional, with just a small opening for drops to be shaken out. I really have no complaints!

I also used the e.l.f. essence to make my own soothing/hydrating mist, by mixing it about half and half with water in a spray bottle, and it works very well for that purpose, too.

I've been using my bottle now since early March, almost every night, and I've finished less than a quarter. of it I have a feeling it will easily last me a year. $10 for a year is pretty great. This e.l.f. Hydrating Water Essence is a great example of an effective product with top-of-the-line ingredients at a good price. That's pretty much the best I can hope for from e.l.f. Now I'm wondering if any of their other skincare products are worth a second look. Thoughts?

Oh, in case you're wondering what makes a hydrating essence different from a hydrating toner? Nothing.


  1. Ooh this sounds good. I've been wanting to dabble in the world of essences but haven't been sure where to start. I'll have to rope my mom into splitting an ELF order next time they have free international shipping. The presence of niacinamide is exciting indeed.

    I find ELF a bit overwhelming as a brand (so many products!), so I'm never up to date on what they have. Posts like this are really helpful!

    1. I'm glad it was helpful! Yeah, I stopped paying attention to e.l.f. after their prices went from $1-2 to $6-10 and they stopped having such good sales. It just became too much of gamble after I got a few duds in a row.

  2. I have also stopped paying attention to elf- too many releases all the time. This product does sound interesting... my skin has been trying to figure out if it's dry, normal or oily and right now it is DRY. I just purchased the ordinary's azelaic acid that I'm hoping will help with rosacea/redness and will not make my skin more sensitive than it already is. I came across your azelaic acid post and hoping that I have the same good results you did!
    Thank you for delving into the ingredients and specifying what they can help with. I seem to skip over that when reading the description of products.

    1. I guess I didn't mention my skin type here! Oops. But then I get to thinking and I'm not totally sure what it is at the moment. I guess I'd go with my usual combination-oily, but it's really only oily toward the end of the day lately. I hope the azelaic acid works for you too. At this point I've tried so many duds that I'm pleasantly surprised when I can actually see results.


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