4 Treatment Essence Formulas, Compared

The essential guide to this yeasty facial potion.
Publish date:
December 22, 2014
estee lauder, tony moly, sk-ii, missha, skin care, facial treatments, treatment essence

Six months after getting my skin analyzed by SK-II, I was gifted a full-size sample of their legendary Facial Treatment Essence. I used it day and night until the last drop, I truly have noticed a difference in my skin. So has the world at large. My congested nose looks 60% more clear, and my skin is plump. Consider me Frauline Maria in the valley.

What exactly in the brew could have caused this change? The primary ingredient is like kefir for your skin, in this case extracted from sake yeast, but I needed a bit more info on how this stuff actually improves the health of your skin. Yeast of any sort produces vitamins and amino acids, beneficial both internally AND externally. Vegetarians eat yeast because it is full of nutrients. The actives in these yeasty products do two awesome things for the skin: They prevent transepidermal water loss and boost production of hyaluron. They are rich in B vitamins as well as peptides, like those of a high-end moisturizer, and are supplemented with an artificial glycerol for added humectancy.

After trying other brands’ efforts in this category, I can say that the effects vary. I'm comparing them based on price, efficacy, moisturization, and concentration of active ingredient.

The Japanese OG: SK-II Facial Treatment Essence

SK-II landed on my Holy Grail list like so many others before. The first to use fermented yeast (theirs is called Pitera) to develop skin care products, SK-II is pricey, but lasts many months and has made a difference to me.

Percentage of active: 90% Pitera (Galactomyces Ferment Filtrate, also known as Saccharomycopsis filtrate)

Price per unit: 5 ounces for $165

Price per ounce: $33

Moisturizing factor: 5/10. I usually layer this under a moisturizing toner. Long-term, this is an epic moisture aid, in the short term you’ll still want to add moisture.

Impression: I don’t know if I can go on living without this product. I skipped a week while waiting for my new bottle, and I felt my skin deflate like a sad trombone.

The Western Dupe: Estée Lauder Micro Essence Skin Activating Treatment Lotion

Estée Lauder is a brand more accessible as a whole. This formula saves a step if you also use a moisturizing toner. The active in this one is a probiotic similar to the one in yogurt.

Percentage of active: Unknown, but odds are good as it’s the second and eighth ingredient, yeast used is Bifida Ferment Lysate and Lactobacillus Ferment

Price per unit: 5 ounces for $95

Price per ounce: $19

Moisturizing factor: 6/10. This formula also has some of my friend sodium hyaluronate in it. I didn’t require a toner after this, but it wasn’t too heavy if I wanted to use toner.

Impression: This is a great Western take on an essence. It’s significantly cheaper and has added moisturizers as well as caffeine and chamomile extracts.

The Korean Contender: Missha Time Revolution The First Treatment Essence With Zyosys

This one may have the best of both worlds. Missha nails the closest formula to the original, as well as extra humectants and botanicals.

Percentage of active: 80% Zyosis (Saccharomyces ferment filtrate)

Price per unit: 5 ounces for $49

Price per ounce: under $10

Moisturizing factor: 7.5/10. Not sticky, sinks in quick.

Impression: I REALLY like this one. It contains actual glycerin in the formula, not just synthetic glycerols, in addition to sodium hyaluronate, polyquats, niacinamide, and extracts of beet and rosemary.

The No-Frills Yeast Beast: Tonymoly Intense Care Galactomyces 96.5% Lite Essence

This is the most affordable formula; it's also the least moisturizing, but highest active concentration. If you have a heavy moisturizer habit or don’t want to add too much to the soup that is your regimen, this is a good choice.

Percentage of active: 96.5% Galactomyces Ferment Filtrate

Price per unit: 5 ounces for$45

Price per ounce: $9

Moisturizing Factor: 2/10. Barely moisturizing at all, in my opinion, but another formula by Tonymoly purports to be.

Impression: I wanted to like this more, but I am a moisture junkie. This doesn’t mean don’t buy it, as this is an individual concern. If you are satisfied with your moisture routine, this may be ideal for you! Adding yeast ferment without added weight is a good look for many.

Other Essence Products

Sk-II Facial Treatment Mask: $135 for a pack of 10 - $13.50 each

Missha Time Revolution The First Treatment Essence Mask: $7 each

Tonymoly Intense Care Lite Essence Spray: $10 (in store only)

Sheet masks need no further reverie from me. I rave about them all the livelong day. With a higher concentration of the active ingredient, the skin fairy will bless you with HD quality skin the next day, seriously. I save these babies for the eve of a big event or shoot, and they always do the job. I will be keeping the spray around for travel, since carrying a precious $100+ glass bottle product on the go is not ideal. I can’t complain about the high level of yeast in a convenient delivery. Also, it was crazy cheap at the Tonymoly store in Koreatown!

I use my essence immediately after washing, and would wager I will continue to do so for a long time to come. Adding these to your routine can make a huge difference, as it has for me. Fewer blackheads and a plump visage is a gift from Bacchus, the god of fermentation.

  • Who else is a devoted essence user?
  • Do any of you use products with yeast on the reg?

Photos by Darnell Scott