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We investigate the question on why SK II Facial Treatment Essence is expensive and whether it holds the key to anti-ageing. 

A product so effective that you create an additional step to your skincare routine to accommodate it – that’s the power of SK-II for you. A Japanese cult product SK-II Facial Treatment Essence is world-renowned as one of the best products to use for anti-ageing. It’s an essence or a toner that is known to give you flawless skin in one swipe. And while most women don’t take essences seriously, this product will change your mind. Even for a skincare addict, we will admit that the only thing that stops you from adding it into your routine is its steep price point. At a cool 99 USD (Rs 7,500) for 75ml and a whopping 235 USD (Rs 17,000 and more) for 230 ml – it’s much more than a commitment. For an additional step that’s probably the least interesting in the skincare routine, is it worth the moolah? 

The only product that put Japanese label SK -II on the map is the Essence; though the company has more than a handful of products known for their brightening, anti-ageing, and hydrating benefits. Over the years, the company has introduced us to their many interesting ideas. The Facial Treatment Mask and the GenOptics Aura Essence Serum, but these could never match up to the popularity that the facial essence holds. There is a good reason for that – it’s the formulation that’s unique as well the ingredients. SK -II is the only company to use Pitera as an ingredient to create this iconic product. What exactly is Pitera? Playfully referred to as “Miracle Water” in Asia, it comes with a bucketload of beauty benefits. 

The story goes that in the 1970s SK-II scientists were feverishly looking for new inspiration and innovation to create an iconic product. While researching through Japan, they stumbled upon an interesting theory. At a sake factory, all of the workers seem to have young-looking smooth hands despite their ageing faces. The ingredient? The yeast in the sake brew that made their hands beautiful and soft, and by then, it was obvious that they had to harness this new-found vision and ingredient and the SK-II Facial Treatment Essence was born. With a bottle sold every two seconds around the world, it’s found its a sweet spot. Each bottle contains 90% Pitera, a natural bio ingredient that is cultured and created in Japan for SK-II, and it is the gold standard for anti-ageing for over 40 years now.

The steep price point then is the inclusion of Pitera and developing that formula to create an iconic product. Pitera is known to work towards glass skin; it reduces dark spots, tackles fine lines, gives you a brighter complexion in minutes and hydrates the skin. The big reason it’s popular? It is the only product that promises instant radiance. I have personally used the essence for over a year, and I have experienced its multiple benefits on my hyperpigmented skin. The acne scars fade, there is enhanced radiance, and it allows for the rest of the products to sink into the skin beautifully. Honestly, the price point and the fact that it’s not easily available in India makes it harder to invest in this product for me. Apart from that, a skincare minimalist like me has embraced an ‘essence’ seamlessly into my routine, yet another step, thanks to SK-II.

Pic via First Classe

What attracts you almost immediately to the product? It’s a light-weight, watery texture that you can see sinking and absorbing into the skin. Each bottle contains 90% of our natural bio ingredient and resembles your own skin’s Natural Moisturizing Factors (NMF). And once you apply, the skin assimilates it and recognises Pitera as it’s own, allowing it to work its magic. The essence is derived from a strictly-controlled natural fermentation process and is definitely one-of-a-kind. Pitera is a clear liquid and is exceptionally rich in vitamins, amino acids, minerals and organic acids that help rejuvenate the skin, tackle wrinkles and signs of ageing.

The reason why the price point makes sense is that the company SK-II has managed to isolate a particular strain of fermented yeast after carefully examining more than 300 yeast strains from that brew and they have trademarked it as Pitera. Being the first company to do this has given them exclusive rights and a first-mover advantage. Plus, let’s not forget the women that constantly speak of the benefits – Cate Blanchett, Chriselle Lim, Jourdan Dunn, Glee star Diana Agron, and more – they have managed to get a massive following without the usual aggressive marketing and advertising. Plus, look at the over-arching benefits – great for dry skin, beautiful on dehydrated skin, and best for women over 40.

But let’s not be too hasty, Pitera is just a brand name. The official ingredient we’re talking about is Galactomyces ferment filtrate, which is now very popular in Korean skincare brands like COSRX and Secret Key. The Secret Key Treatment Essence is seen as a perfect dupe for SK-II Facial Treatment – the jury is out on this one with many saying yes to it being a dupe and others just ignoring this comparison. We even saw a good tutorial on how to make it at home by our very own Dr Kiran Sethi of Isyaderm.

The Japanese label itself has reinvented the packaging, came out with new and interesting limited edition packaging over the years too – don’t miss the Mickey Mouse collection. The brand has also introduced us to a cool song called Oh Pitera’ by John Legend featuring James Corden, Naomi Watanabe, and Tang Wei.

The only gripe? It smells plant-based and slightly odd, but it also takes a week or two to fully assimilate into your routine. While everyone raves about Korean skincare, we’d like to applaud this Japanese beauty product that is hero-ing one ingredient and making sure we get that beautiful glass skin the east has always promised the world.

Latha Sunadh
Deputy Editor
When she's not trying on a new serum, researching on yet another classic fragrance and sharing lip balms with her 5-year old daughter, Latha Sunadh keeps it reined in with a nice song and a good book. Special skills include obsessing over handmade, home-made and handcrafted luxuries.