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And of these 5+ times (I’ve lost count at this point), 3 were the giant 325ml bottles, so you know that’s commitment.
But of all the incredible selection of products out there, many at much lower price points, why this essence? It’s a luxury and definitely not for everyone, so if you’re wondering whether or not it’s for you, keep reading!
What is it
Containing more than 90% PITERA™ , our unique yeast-derived formulation improves surface cell turnover renewal and stimulates the skin’s natural reproduction of Hyaluronic Acid and Natural Moisturizing Factors via skin barrier hydration, leaving your skin fundamentally healthy and youthful looking.
Best suited for
Mature skin types dealing with dullness and uneven texture, but don’t want to risk over-exfoliating.
Things to note
Alcohol free and fragrance free.
Typically comes in a glass bottle, but the largest size comes in plastic bottle with a pump dispenser.
A very noticeable sour smell. Some have likened it to saliva, I think it kind of smells like feet. Either way, not pleasant, but it does dissipate quickly.
Like water, with zero tackiness or oiliness.
Natural finish, just as if you’ve splashed water on your skin. Subsequent products will layer with no issues at all.
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SK-II Facial Treatment Essence Ingredients
Galactomyces Ferment Filtrate (PITERA™), Butylene Glycol, Pentylene Glycol, Water, Sodium Benzoate, Methylparaben, Sorbic Acid
If you prefer simple formulas with just one active ingredient, you’ll love how this is 90%+ pitera, supported by a few penetration enhancers and preservatives.
The star ingredient Pitera is the result of fermenting a specific strain of yeast belonging to the genus Galactomyces. The legend goes that SK-II scientists noticed how soft and youthful the Japanese sake brewer’s hands were, and they hypothesized it must be a result of the skin being in constant contact with the fermenting liquid.
Whether or not you believe the story, an in-house study found that Pitera helped protect the skin against damage thanks to its antioxidant benefits and ability to increase hyaluronan production1.
A study in 2014 then found Pitera might help with skin pigmentation, while another study in 2015 found Galactomyces Ferment Filtrate helps maintain a healthy barrier.2,3 We know that fermentation breaks down ingredients into smaller, more easily absorbed nutrients like vitamins, amino acids, organic acids, and minerals, so these findings aren’t all that surprising.
For those with fungal acne, you’ll want to avoid this ingredient (and subsequently this product) as it can make your acne worse!4
Galactomyces Ferment Filtrate vs Pitera
Plenty of Asian skincare products contain Galactomyces Ferment Filtrate, so why does the SK-II version cost 10 times more?
As with cooking, ingredients matter. How and where the ingredients are sourced can greatly impact its quality. According to SK-II, they experimented with over 350 different yeast strains to finally isolate the one that delivered skin transforming results. They then perfected every step of the fermentation, and from this strictly controlled process, you get the SK-II Pitera that stands out from the rest of the filtrates.
That’s not to say all other Galactomyces Ferment Filtrate based products are useless, but my experience with them have been a hit or miss. I share more thoughts in the “similar products” section below.
How to use the SK-II Essence
- As a first essence, you should apply the SK-II immediately after cleansing, before toners and serums.
- I pour a quarter sized amount into the palm of my hand, and gently pat it on my face until fully absorbed. I’ve tried using a cotton pad (too wasteful), toner masking (too much effort for not that much greater results), and patting it directly delivers the best results.
- Once the essence has absorbed, continue with the rest of your skincare routine.
- Use twice a day, everyday for best results.
Usage Experience & Results
I first tried this cult favorite in my mid 20’s, and I was not impressed. In hindsight my skin was in pretty good shape at the time – smooth, good tone, and definitely no fine lines. I had dark spots, but that’s a whole other beast. So it’s no wonder that I noticed no difference after finishing the bottle.
Fast forward 5+ years later to my 30’s, the SK-II Facial Treatment Essence was transformational.
I was hesitant giving it a second chance, but even just a few weeks later I was already seeing improvements: more radiance, improved skin texture, slightly less noticeable pores, and generally more refined looking skin. There’s no other way to describe the results except that it made my skin look good.
Wanting to see if I could replicate the same results with similar products, I took a break from SK-II and evidently, also a break from having clear skin. Not that my face took a turn for the worse but it just didn’t look as good as when I was using the SK-II.
And so begins my story of purchasing the jumbo size SK-II Pitera Essence from Costco whenever I ran out.
I won’t say this completely changed my skin, but I can’t deny that my skin feels its best when I’m using the SK-II Facial Treatment Essence regularly in my routine. The results are very similar to using EGF, but calculating the cost per use, SK-II actually comes out cheaper!
While the brand also claims the essence can improve skin elasticity and reverse signs of aging, I personally haven’t noticed these results. But, it’s also possible that using SK-II’s essence consistently has helped delay the onset of these aging signs.
Overall I’m more than happy with what the essence has done for my skin, and absolutely think it’s worth its price.
What Others Say
Other reviews, both positive and negative, from the internet:
I’ve already noticed a remarkable difference in my overall skin tone and brightness, and my skin feels more rejuvenated within this first week of use than it has all year
Alexa Garcia, dry skin
The price is really unjustified, in my opinion. I didn’t find that the Pitera was “miraculous” for my skin. At least, no more than the other Galactomyces/Saccharomyces essences I used before!
Bonnie Garner, dehydrated combo skin
Somehow it shrinks pores, evens skin tone, and creates a “lit from within” quality that I have never seen with another product.
SK-II “Dupes” Compared
Secret Key Starting Treatment Rose Essence
Probably the closest affordable dupe to the SK-II, the Secret Key actually contains some additional hydrating and soothing ingredients which is a nice plus. While you do see similar skin improvements with continuous use, they’re not as significant as the SK-II. If you’re younger or on a budget, this is a fantastic option.
Missha Time Revolution Essence
Despite using a different type of fermented yeast (bifida ferment lysate to be exact), this is most “famous” of the SK-II dupes, and one I recommend you skip. It’s not bad per se and has its own benefits, but it doesn’t deliver any of the results you’d get with SK-II.
IOPE Bio Intensive Essence Conditioning
Another popular K-beauty essence, this one featuring saccharomyces ferment filtrate. I was able to achieve similar results if I paired this with an ionic skincare device that “pushes” ingredients deeper into the skin or if I lotion masked, as patting simply did nothing. This is a pass for me, as there’s an even more affordable alternative coming up.
Neogen Real Ferment Micro Essence
A fantastic essence that contains 4 strains for fermented extracts, though not galactomyces. It feels more hydrating than the SK-II, and when paired with the serum from the same line, the brightening results are absolutely amazing. Highly recommend adding both to your routine if you’re looking to improve skin tone.
Water like texture makes it easy to apply no matter the skin type or routine.
Start seeing result as soon as 2 weeks.
Visibly improves skin health from multiple aspects: radiance, texture, and clarity.
So so so expensive.
More preventative and won’t actively reverse signs of aging like fine lines or loss of firmness.
Not suitable for those with fungal acne.
Scores & Summary
Although SK-II’s prices are ridiculous, I’ve yet to find cheaper products that deliver the same level of impact on my skin. And when it comes to skincare, result is king, hence why this cult-favorite Facial Treatment Essence remains a staple in my routine. However, because of the steep price, I 100% recommend anyone wanting to try this to start with a deluxe sample/travel size. If it’s for you, you’ll see results in under 2 weeks, but if not, at least it’s not $$$ down the drain.
To keep my content accurate and trustworthy, I rely on peer-reviewed studies, articles from reputable academic institutions, and quotes from certified healthcare professionals to back my claims. No woo-woo clickbait nonsense here!
“Effects of Galactomyces Ferment Filtrate on Epidermal Barrier Marker Caspase-14 in Human Skin Cells.” Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, vol. 62, no. 3, Elsevier BV, Mar. 2010, pp. AB54–54, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaad.2009.11.599.
“Galactomyces Ferment Filtrate Reduces Melanin Synthesis and Oxidative Stress in Normal Human Melanocytes.” Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, vol. 70, no. 5, Elsevier BV, May 2014, pp. AB127–27, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaad.2014.01.527.
Takei, Kunio, et al. “Galactomyces Fermentation Filtrate Prevents T Helper 2‐Mediated Reduction of Filaggrin in an Aryl Hydrocarbon Receptor‐Dependent Manner.” Clinical and Experimental Dermatology, vol. 40, no. 7, Wiley-Blackwell, Mar. 2015, pp. 786–93, https://doi.org/10.1111/ced.12635.
Vlachos, Christoforos, et al. “Malassezia-Derived Indoles Activate the Aryl Hydrocarbon Receptor and Inhibit Toll-like Receptor-Induced Maturation in Monocyte-Derived Dendritic Cells.” British Journal of Dermatology, vol. 167, no. 3, Oxford University Press, July 2012, pp. 496–505, https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2133.2012.11014.x.