Thursday, August 6, 2015

More Cult Japanese Skincare: SK-II Facial Treatment Essence, Mask and Essential Power Cream*

Last year when I started getting more into Asian skincare, I became really intrigued by the yeast ferment ingredient trend, started by the cult Japanese brand SK-II. However, I did not have $100 laying around to spend on a bottle, so instead I tried a whole bunch of Missha Time Revolution First Treatment Essence samples, a product that contains similar ingredients for half of the price. You can read my full review here; in short, I was not impressed enough to shell out for a full size.
But this year, when I had the opportunity to try some real deal SK-II products via BzzAgent (it's an online product reviewing platform - you can join for free using my invite here - I don't think I get anything out of this, btw), I was super excited. The kit I was sent contained two mini sizes of the SK-II Facial Treatment Essence* ($105 for 2.5 oz), the star product in the line, and the SK-II Essential Power Cream* ($215 for 2.71 oz), as well as one SK-II Facial Treatment Mask* ($17 each or $135 for a pack of 10).

Let's get one thing out of the way: the whole SK-II line is incredibly expensive, no doubt about it. Normally, I do not have the budget to spend that kind of money on skincare, so I'm always grateful for an opportunity to sample those more expensive products and compare their performance to the less expensive stuff I use regularly. I believe that all SK-II products contain the proprietary ingredient Pitera, which is a yeast/ fungi (galactomyces or saccharomycopsis) ferment filtrate.
The story goes that this miraculous ingredient was discovered at a sake brewery in Japan, whose workers seemed to all have beautiful, smooth, wrinkle-free hands. I've now heard a very similar story from several brands (apparently Caudalie's brightening serum contains sap from grape vines, which the grape pickers would rub all over their skin...), so I don't know how much I trust those 'organic discoveries'. I don't really care about that though - regardless of whether an ingredient comes from a corporate lab or drops of dew gathered from alpine flowers, I just want to know if it works. That's all I care about.

Back to the products, which I've been using for about four weeks now. Starting with the famous Facial Treatment Essence*, I have to say that I'm a little... underwhelmed. It's a clear essence that looks and feels like water, but has a bit of a weird scent to it; smells fine in the bottle, but as I pat it into my skin, I get a whiff of wet dog/ sweaty socks, which sort of ruins the whole luxurious experience. More importantly though, I haven't really noticed any dramatic improvement in my skin from incorporating this product; sure, it feels hydrating and soothing, but less so than the much, much cheaper Hada Labo Hyaluronic Acid Lotion I just reviewed. So there.
On Instargram, several of you told me you really loved the SK-II Facial Treatment Mask*, and I can't blame you. The cotton sheet is nice and thick, and so saturated in essence that I was easily able to reuse the mask (I do that with most of my sheet masks, just seal the package and keep it in the fridge). The shape of the mask seemed to fit my features a bit better than most Korean sheet masks I've tried so far. When I removed the mask after about 20 minutes, my skin was plump, hydrated, soothed and more even. Of course the effects did really last very long, as with most masks, but it still was a lovely treat. I don't know if I liked it as much as the Tatcha Luminous Deep Hydration Mask* ($28 each, reviewed here), which seemed even more soothing, but then it's not as expensive.
The biggest surprise for me was the SK-II Essential Power Cream*, a daily moisturizer with anti-aging benefits. For whatever reason, I just assumed it was one of those after-thought products in the line meant to capitalize on the success of their Essence. However, it's a beautiful stand-alone product: lightweight, hydrating, evening out any redness overnight. In addition to Pitera, it contains moisturizing glycerin and a hefty dose of my favorite niacinamide (Vitamin B3), an anti-aging, hydrating and hyperpigmentation-fighting ingredient.
Thanks to niacinamide, The Essential Power Cream has that very slight nicotine scent, and in all honesty, really reminds me of the CeraVe Facial Moisturizing Lotion PM, both because of the ingredients and performance (the latter is a bit thicker and more of a gel consistency). Given that the CeraVe is one of my all-time favorite night-time moisturizers, that's high praise - except maybe not if you look at the price difference.

To sum up this rather lenghty review, the cult SK-II Facial Treatment Essence, Mask and Essential Power Cream are all lovely products, and I think if you do have a budget to spend on these and have been meaning to give them a try, you wouldn't be disappointed. However, do I think the results I achieved warrant the extremely high price tag? Nope, not at all. I'm glad I was able to try them and get that curiosity out of my system, but I absolutely would not purchase full sizes after I'm done with my minis (thank God). Have you tried anything from SK-II? What was the last expensive product you tried that didn't match your expectations?

Disclaimer: Products marked with an asterix (*) are complimentary samples I received from BzzAgent or the brand's PR for review consideration. All links are non-affiliate. All opinions are 100% honest and unbiased, no matter if the products featured were purchased with my own monies or provided as free press samples. Thank you for reading!


  1. Oh, I remember Robert Pattinson called sk-ii face pact the only highlight of his twilight shooting experience...I don't think I am comfortable spending that much on these quickly-consumed disposable skincare but in (many ?) a few years if the rose water stopped working for me, I might invest though...

  2. I bought the smallest Facial Essence during the last Sephora sale, so that 20% off made the pill a little less bitter, it was a set that included the face mask. To be honest, I do like the products, and I'm happy to see that they will last me a long time, at the rate I'm going, the small bottle should last about 7-9months. I really enjoyed the face mask, but it's price point is way too prohibitive for me to become a regular user. As for the third lotion you mentioned, it sounds a lot like the Olay products that are chock full of B3, you might want to check those out!

  3. Hi Monika, SK-II is a very popular brand in Asia. I have many friends that credit their flawless skin to this brand. I bought a few things from them to try, and I always thought it was weird how my skin had lots of bumps when I was using them. I might be allergic to their miracle ingredient pitera, so I was a little bummed. No more SK-II for me anymore!

    I had the opportunity to try more of La Mer due to PR samples. I bought their Creme de La Mer a while back, but because my skin was still young, I couldn't really tell much difference. Now that my skin is more mature (ahem, ageing skin actually!), I can definitely see a difference and how effective their products are on my skin. If La Mer wasn't so friggin expensive, I'd convert everything to their brand. I have a few posh friends who swear by La Mer and their skin shows :-)

  4. Monika, I'm so with you -- SKII has been hyped since.. as long as I can remember. Half of my family (i.e. on my husband's side) lives in Asia, so I know how big that brand is, perhaps the prestige, more than the actual performance (Cle de Peau is similar in that sense, imho). It does not mean that they produce inferior quality product -- just like you said, the price is way astronomical for the performance (may as well get botox/fillers for that $$..)

    And yes, I'm a fan of CeraVe PM too! And you/your reader may be interested to know that X ferment filtrate (fill X with your bacteria/yeast/fungi of choice such as sacharromyces, bifidus, etc.) is replete in many other products (Estee Lauder products come to mind immediately). Great write-up as always & thanks for sharing your honest opinion!

  5. I wasn't into SK II until they used Cate Blanchette to promote their stuff. GALADRIEL SKIN! I still want to try the essence anyway, just in case it's omgtehmiracles on me somehow. But I doubt I'll ever splurge!

    And that Robert Pattinson reference cracked me up. Maybe SK II should use him next instead.