SK-II: Origins, Meaning, and Manufacturing

SK-II (pronounced ‘ess-kay-two’) has been a household name in Asian skincare since the 1980s with its iconic Facial Treatment Essence. Did you know that one bottle of Essence is sold every two seconds

After all, it’s been given the nickname ‘miracle water’ because of how well it works for skin - and trust me, ‘miracle’ isn’t an adjective that should be thrown around lightly when it comes to skincare! If you’re new to SK-II, here’s our introduction to this luxury Japanese skincare brand and exactly why their Facial Treatment Essence is so phenomenal

Introduction to SK-II

Sake Brewery Barrels

Originally from Japan, SK-II has roots in an incredibly unlikely place - a sake brewery. For the uninitiated, sake is a rice wine produced by fermenting said rice with yeasts to produce a smooth, clear drink. Traditionally, part of the process required mixing the fermenting rice by hand - something that would be crucial to the future creation of SK-II’s flagship product, the Facial Treatment Essence.

According to SK-II, their scientists were searching for the very best skincare ingredient for the Japanese market - something that promised to slow down the signs of aging, improve skin clarity, and firm up the skin. They were looking for the Secret Key (that’s what the ‘SK’ stands for!) to beautiful skin. Was there anything out there that could do this, or was it a fruitless search?

These scientists happened across a sake brewery that was traditionally producing sake - mixing the fermented rice and yeast mixture by hand. However, this wasn’t what impressed them - it was that the elderly sake factory workers had hands that well, didn’t look their age. Their hands and forearms were much less wrinkled than their faces, something that caused a lot of curiosity among the SK-II researchers.

They figured that there had to be something in the fermentation liquid that contributed to this - and they were right. After researching 350 possible yeast strains that were found in sake ferment, SK-II finally isolated the yeast strain responsible, called Saccharomycopsis. 

I know, it’s a mouthful - so the scientists at SK-II decided to give the fermented Saccharomycopsis Yeast Filtrate a trademarked name: Pitera. 

SK-II Facial Treatment Essence
SK-II Facial Treatment Essence | $210
The one that started it all: the 'miracle water' 90% Pitera Facial Treatment Essence.

What is Pitera?

According to the team at SK-II, Pitera is a revolutionary skincare ingredient because it’s a source of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and organic acids that benefit the skin. Most importantly, Pitera mimics the skin’s Natural Moisturising Factors (NMF). NMF isn’t a single molecule, rather it’s a group of molecules that work together to maintain proper skin hydration.

SK-II attaches some seriously weighty claims to their Facial Treatment Essence (and all of the other products that contain Pitera). Pitera is said to:

  • Renew and refine uneven skin texture
  • Reduce the appearance of wrinkles
  • Improve hyperpigmentation and sunspots
  • Enhance firmness and bounciness of skin
  • Help skin retain hydration and moisture better
  • Add a luminous, lit-from-within glow to the skin

Impressive, right? But what does the science say? (Spoiler alert: it says it works!)

SK-II Facial Treatment Essence Bottle on Red Background
Image from SK-II

Does Pitera Really Work?

Pitera works its magic on the skin by affecting NMF - remember how we just talked about that? It sounds minor, but it’s really not. Ensuring that NMF is maintained in the skin does more than just improve hydration. Here are the three crucial strengths of Pitera on NMF that result in all the benefits above.

  1. Pitera helps the skin to protect itself from damage.
  2. Pitera encourages enzymes in the skin to shed themselves (much like exfoliation).
  3. Pitera strengthens the skin’s natural moisture barrier.

Studies have also found that Pitera has anti-inflammatory effects on the skin. Did you know that there’s a link between inflammation and ageing? Ingredients with anti-inflammatory effects don’t just soothe skin - they can prevent inflammation from causing your skin to prematurely age. 

The SK-II researchers have also found that Pitera just keeps getting better for your skin the longer you keep using it. They performed a longitudinal study over 12 years and found out two crucial details: just one year of consistent use could undo 10 years of previous skin damage, and that over time, could help skin look consistently younger (by up to 20 years)!

Convinced yet? I mean, it’s obvious why Chloe Grace Moritz and Cate Blanchette are fans. The ‘miracle water’ really is a miracle - so what are you waiting for?

e’ve picked the very best from the current SK-II line, including sheet masks. Shop the full collection now

Need some help putting together the best skincare routine for your skin type? Try our skin quiz!

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Alexis Adrienne

Alexis Adrienne

Alexis Adrienne is a passionate beauty writer with over 10 years of experience. She’s incredibly keen on all things skincare, makeup and cosmetics, with a fingertip on the pulse of the latest global beauty trends at all times.

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