Skincare Smackdown: SK-II Facial Treatment Essence vs. Missha First Treatment Essence
A couple of years ago, I was commiserating with a lifelong friend over the high price tag on SK-II’s Facial Treatment Essence. We had just learned about this expensive, yeast-powered, anti-aging liquid, even though it’s been in existence since SK-II introduced it in Japan way back in 1980. The story SK-II tells is that scientists at a sake brewery in Japan noticed that the elderly workers still had extraordinarily soft and youthful-looking hands despite their wrinkled faces. They concluded that it must be because of the constant contact their hands had with the sake fermentation process. They did some research and were able to isolate the “miracle” ingredient, named “Pitera” by SK-II. Pitera is the primary ingredient featured in SK-II Facial Treatment Essence, which is said to contain 90% of the ingredient. A 150mL bottle of SK-II Essence will cost you a whopping $155, which is why my friend and I were so put out.
I decided I would try to find a suitable dupe for the SK-II essence. This is how I discovered Missha’s First Treatment Essence, a similar product that sells for $53 for a 150 mL bottle, about a third of the cost of the SK-II version. The active yeast ferment ingredient in the Missha version isn’t Pitera (SK-II has the patent and exclusive rights to that one). Instead, the Missha essence uses “Fissione,” a beer brewing byproduct from the Saccharomyces family, the same family Pitera belongs to.
I didn’t purchase Missha’s Treatment Essence right away. In fact, it wasn’t until January of this year that I finally took the plunge. Around the same time I purchased a small bottle of SK-II First Treatment Essence so I could compare the two. I wanted to know whether or not these products were the miracles people said they were. I also wanted to find out if there was really a difference between the two. So began my essence experiment.
I wanted to use each product for 28 consecutive days before drawing my final conclusions. It takes 28 days for all the cells in your face to renew themselves. Obviously your skin is constantly renewing itself, but the 28-day thing simply means that if you look in the mirror now, and then look in the mirror again in 28 days, you would be looking at skin comprised of entirely new cells (this is the reason most skincare products say you need to use them for at least 4 weeks before gauging their efficacy). I began my experiment with the SK-II Essence, but the small bottle I purchased only lasted about 20 days, so my product timing isn’t as exact as I’d hoped it would be.
SK-II Facial Treatment Essence
The ingredients list for the SK-II Facial Treatment Essence is pretty short. It contains:
Saccharomycopsis Ferment Filtrate(90%), Butylene Glycol, Pentylene Glycol, Aqua (Water/ Eau), Sodium Benzoate, Methylparaben, Sorbic Acid
The first thing I did was run the ingredients list though COSDNA to see if there were any potential irritants. Butylene Glycol, which is classified a solvent moisturizer, came back with a 1 for acne potential, which is more than 0 but still extremely low in terms of breakout potential.
SK-II Facial Treatment Essence is in the toner category in terms of product type. It’s an Asian toner meant for moisturizing, as opposed to a Western toner, which are usually astringent. In the short product description on SK-II’s website, it says this product’s benefits include texture refinement, firmness, wrinkle resilience, and spots control. The essence is meant to be applied just after cleansing, but before moisturizing. The consistency of the SK-II essence is very watery, and it smells very faintly of yeast. It’s not overpowering by any stretch of the imagination.
You have a couple of options for application – you can swipe it over your face with a cotton pad, or gently pat it into your skin with your hands. I opted to use my hands because cotton pads tend to waste product.
In my three weeks of using SK-II, I didn’t notice any major visible changes in my skin. The essence didn’t irritate me at all, and it did provide a scant amount of extra moisture, but nothing groundbreaking. At some point during the last week of my SK-II trial, I got one of the biggest breakouts I’ve had in months (zits, ahoy!). I don’t believe the breakout was caused by the SK-II Essence. I’d tested an exfoliating product in the days leading up to the breakout that I suspect was the source of my spots. The SK-II didn’t make it any worse, but it also didn’t make it any better. If one of the product claims wasn’t “spots control,” I’d have given it a pass, but for something that claimed to help with spots and skin texture, I was mildly disappointed with how ineffective it was. I wasn’t surprised though – according to COSDNA, none of the ingredients in the SK-II Facial Treatment Essence are designed to help with that sort of thing. The ingredients are mostly moisturizers with an antioxidant, a solvent, and a few preservatives to keep it fresh.
My impression of SK-II’s Treatment Essence is that if it has any benefits, they are more preventative than active. In other words, it’s not going to turn back the clock, but it might make it tick a little slower. There is some scientific data (see resources at the end of this post) to support the idea that the yeast ferment ingredient does stimulate wound healing, which could help slow the aging process, but thankfully, I don’t age all that much in 3 weeks. In the short term, SK-II’s main benefit was that it provided a very light extra layer of moisture.
A lot of people swear by this product, giving it the nickname “miracle water.” Perhaps those folks have been using it longer, or maybe my skin is just responding differently to it. I would love to talk to someone who has been using it for a while and loves it, and find out what difference it’s making for them and how long it took for them to see it. I’ve read some reviews for it on a few blogs from people who love it, but there wasn’t a lot of concrete information about what, exactly, it was doing for their skin.
Skin & Tonics Rating:
Performance: 2/5 – I didn’t see any of the brightening, anti-aging, or spot treatment benefits this product claims, but it is pleasant to use and the extra, non-greasy moisture is nice
Quality: 4/5 – It contains 90% of its active ingredient and not a lot of fillers. My tiny bottle packaging wasn’t much to look at, but the full-sized glass bottles are sturdy and beautiful.
Value: 2/5 – $155 for 150 mL of product is really expensive. It’s a fun luxury product, but for the price, I expect more exciting results.
Missha Time Revolution First Treatment Essence
Missha’s ingredient list is considerably longer, containing:
Saccharomyces Ferment Filtrate (80%), Propanediol,Glycyrrhiza Glabra ( Licorice Root Extract ), Niacinamide, Polyquaternium-51, Bifida Ferment Lysate, Ulmus Davidiana Root Extract, Raffinose, Amaranthus Caudatus Seed, Piper Methysticum Leaf/Root Extract, Centella Asiatica Extract, Beta Vulgaris (Beet) Root, Portulaca Oleracea Extract, Rosmarinus Officinalis, Chamomile Extract, Phellodendron Amurense Bark, Cassia Alata Leaf Extract, Sodium Hyaluronate, Hydrogenated Lecithin, Glycerin, Pentylene Glycol, Hydrolyzed Corn Starch, Tromethamine, Water, Adenosine, Ethylhexylglycerin, Lactic Acid, Phenoxyethanol
When I first saw the longer list, my initial reaction was, “uh-oh.” Sometimes a longer ingredient list can mean more potential for irritants. However, once I took a closer look, I liked the ingredients I saw. In addition to the yeast ferment ingredient, Missha’s First Treatment Essence contained some of my favorite skincare actives, including:
Licorice Root – anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, brightening
Niacinamide – cell communicating ingredient that enhances barrier function, increases ceramide levels, and lightens hyperpigmentation, anti-inflammatory
Chamomile– antiseptic, anti-inflammatory
Lecithin – moisturizer and essential fatty acid, can penetrate the epidermis well so it makes a great carrier
Lactic Acid – acts as a skin softener in smaller amounts, acts as a brightener and exfoliator in larger amounts
I ran the entire ingredients list through COSDNA, and found nothing alarming. Chamomile came back with a ranking of 2 in terms of acne potential, which is still very low.
Like the SK-II Essence, Missha First Treatment Essence is in the Asian toner category and has a very watery consistency. I applied it with my hands just after cleansing. Also similar to the SK-II Essence was the very faint smell of yeast. The description for this product on the Missha website says that Time Revolution First Treatment Essence “hydrates, restores, rejuvenates, and gives you a glowing complexion.”
When I switched from the SK-II to the Missha Essence, I was in the midst of the breakout I mentioned earlier. I was afraid that switching products might make it worse, but I carried on in the name of science. To my surprise, the handful of zits that had been lingering on my face all week disappeared within days. I don’t know if the Missha First Essence Treatment was responsible for that – nothing else in my routine had changed at that point, but it could have just been great timing.
One thing I can confirm is that the Missha Treatment Essence dramatically reduced the redness I get in my cheeks from my retinoid usage. I’d grown accustomed to seeing my red retinoid cheeks in the morning, even when my skin still had plenty of moisture. Argan oil helps with the redness a little, but doesn’t get rid of it completely. I was a bit taken aback when I woke up a few days into my Missha First Essence experiment and saw that the redness was almost entirely gone. I strongly suspect that the anti-inflammatory ingredients it contains – the niacinamide, licorice extract, and chamomile – are to thank for this unexpected but welcome result. In addition to calming my redness, Missha First Treatment Essence also provided that extra bit of hydration I was getting from the SK-II Treatment Essence. At the end of the 28 days, my face looked brighter, more even-toned.
In terms of anti-aging, this product is like the SK-II Essence in the sense that it’s preventative but doesn’t treat current lines or wrinkles. It hasn’t turned back time, but then, nothing really does (except retinol and acid peels). I’m excited to see the long-term advantages of this product, but more than that, I’m happy that the Missha First Essence Treatment has some nice short-term benefits going for it. The redness reduction is a HUGE bonus for me. I’d be interested to know how this product helps redness caused by rosacea. It should work in theory, since some of the ingredients it contains (licorice and niacinamide) are often used in other products designed to combat rosacea and acne induced redness.
Overall, I’m very happy with Missha’s First Treatment Essence. I’ve already purchased a backup bottle so I won’t run out!
Skin & Tonics Rating:
Performance: 4/5 – It didn’t “erase” any wrinkles, but it did brighten, reduce redness, and add a bit of hydration to my skin.
Quality: 5/5 – Lots of great skincare actives, but nothing too harsh or irritating.
Value: 5/5 – $53 might sound expensive out of context, but given that it’s competing with a $155 product, it’s a pretty great price. The glass bottle packaging is also very beautiful and sturdy.
I’d been coveting the SK-II Treatment Essence for so long that a little part of me was afraid I was about to get hooked on a crazy expensive product. But the Missha First Treatment Essence was the winner here by a long shot – there’s no competition when it comes to the redness reduction Missha offers. Plus, there’s that whole mystery of whether or not the Missha Essence was responsible for clearing up my weird breakout. One can hope, right?
The SK-II brand does have a great reputation and a lot of brand loyalists. I wasn’t wowed by their treatment essence, but I’m still interested in trying their other products in the future.
If you’re interested in reading more about the actual studies done on yeast ferment and its effects on skin hydration and wound healing, here are the couple of studies I could find:
Where to Buy
You can find Missha Time Revolution First Treatment Essence on their website. Right now through the end of March, they have a special going on where you’ll receive a free, full-size bottle of the First Treatment Essence with any $50 purchase. Their BB creams are all 30% off right now too, so this would be a good time to pick up some BB creams and score a $53 free thing. They’re also giving away additional gifts with purchases of $60, $100, and $200. The $60 gift is a set of 5 Pure Source sheet masks ($10 value), the $100 gift is a full-sized bottle of their Snowflake Essence Booster ($48 value), and the $200 gift is a full- sized Time Revolution Night Repair set ($66 value).
The SK-II Facial Treatment Essence is available on the SK-II US website.
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