I recently picked up the small size of the SK-II Facial Treatment Essence which has become mythic in popularity. A friend of mine recommended it to me as a solution for increasing amounts of hormonal acne and fine lines, and since I had tried a ton of things that hadn't worked I figured it couldn't hurt at this point.
Then, I saw it's the price. I mean, I've always known SK-II was a crazy expensive brand which is why it never became a blip on my radar as far as purchasing, but man, did that initial order sting quite a bit. Not only was I not purchasing the standard size (which will set you back $179 for 5.4 oz) but it was still $100 for only 2.5 oz. Regardless, I went for it, figuring I could always return it if I really hated it.
Well, I didn't.
After using for just a week, my skin began to heal from all the breakouts and my skin was looking brighter, smoother, and was staying more hydrated. I loved the way it made my skin feel, but I couldn't help going into a panic every time I saw the bottle become emptier and emptier.
Finally, I did some research into the product, it's ingredients and possible (less expensive) alternatives because as much as I loved the results I was getting, it's just not a product I can afford to keep shelling out for.
What I came up with in looking for a dupe was COSRX Galactomyces 95 Whitening Power Essence ($20 for 3.38 fl oz) and I immediately purchased.
SK-II's Facial Treatment Essence contains 90% of an ingredient they have coined Pitera, and it is this ingredient alone that has given SK-II such a massive cult following.
So...what is Pitera? Pitera is Galactomyces Ferment Filtrate (GFF), a fermentation from a mold strain found in yeast. It is said to have been discovered after a skincare employee (from SK-II or Proctor & Gamble, who owns SK-II) visited a sake brewery in Japan 30 years ago.
Upon noticing that the sake brewer's hands were smooth and were visibly less aged than than their faces, they immediately recognized that there was something very special in the ingredients used to make sake that are highly beneficial for the skin.
After loads of tests they were somehow able to localize and single out Galactomyces Ferment Filtrate. Thus, SK-II's Pitera was born and remains their claim to fame.
GFF has been proven to diminish signs of aging, brighten and even skin tone, promote cell regeneration (which allows turnover to diminish scarring and wrinkles), firm and tighten the skin, tighten pores, and ultimately clear and beautify the skin.
Since SK-II's primary ingredient is GFF, I first looked for products that also contained GFF as the primary ingredient. COSRX Galactomyces 95 Whitening Power Essence contains 95% GFF, making COSRX's formula a HIGHER concentration of GFF than SK-II's 90%. Score!
SK-II also contains Butelyne Glycol, Pentylene Glycol, Water, Sodium Benzoate, Methylparaben, and Sorbic Acid.
COSRX's essence steps it up a notch with the inclusion of Niacinamide (Vitamin B3 which also has anti-aging benefits) and Panthenol (a nutrient derived from B vitamins that reduces redness and oxidive stress from the environment, and acts as an anti-inflammatory), and contains a few tweaks to it's humectants but also contains Butelyne Glycol. It contains a few ingredients that give it a thicker consistency like XanthumGum.
SK-II's Facial Treatment Essence is like water consistency wise (another reason I think it gets used up so quickly), whereas COSRX feels more like a gel moisturizer. It is on the lighter watery side as far as gels go, but it's not thin like SK-II's. To me, this is the biggest difference.
Because COSRX's formula is a bit thicker it has a tendency to pill up when something is applied on top of it, especially oil based products. For this reason it's a little more difficult to work with as far as figuring it out the best layering method if you're going to be using other products with it. The SK-II does not have this problem and other products apply easily on top.
I've found that waiting at least 30-40 minutes before applying anything on top greatly decreases the pilling.
Because of it's gel like consistency, COSRX's essence feels somewhat heavier overall and feels a bit mattifying, which is the complete opposite of how SK-II's essence feels on the skin. It's not bad, it's very just different.
I will warn you, do not apply GFF products to broken or irritated skin. Apply it everywhere else, but avoid broken skin like the plague. The warnings for this are listed on both products, but stupidly I didn't read the warnings.
When I applied to my irritated chin, almost immediately the redness worsened, my skin stung and a white head sprung up within an hour (no, I'm not joking). Once I removed it from my skin with Micellar solution, the redness started to go away. So, I do recommend proceeding with caution with GFF products if you have very sensitive skin or very inflamed and irritated skin.
Honestly, my results from using COSRX are almost identical in every way to SK-II. My skin still remains clear, bright, more even in tone, and my pores seem to really be minimizing. Lines are becoming gradually softer the longer I'm using it and my skin is retaining more moisture.
I wouldn't say that it's an overnight miracle worker. It's a product that relies heavily on consistency. However, the difference it has begun to make in my skin is un-freakin'-deniable. I can only anticipate that it will continue to benefit my skin, as long as I'm careful not to apply it to my chin (which has a temperament of its own and hates absolutely everything).
Admittedly, I do prefer the way SK-II's Facial Treatment Essence feels once it's applied and it's ease of use with other products over the COSRX, but for a $159 price difference? I'll totally survive.
I highly recommend COSRX Galactomyces 95 Whitening Power Essence as an alternative to SK-II's Facial Treatment Essence. It is THE closet product to SK-II's essence that you can currently buy. It may have it's slight differences, but when it comes down to GFF concentration...you just can't find anything higher.