If you’re not already familiar with SK-II, there are arguably two things this Japanese skincare company is best known for. Its cult favorite Facial Treatment Essence, and its 2016 documentary video that went viral. The four minute long “Marriage Market Takeover” features interviews with single Chinese women and explores the societal pressures they face. The documentary, which has been viewed more than 2.7 million times, is part of the company’s global #changedestiny campaign, to shift the focus away from stigma and towards female empowerment. Videos and essences aside, SK-II is one of the best known Japanese skincare brands, along with Shiseido and Hado Labo. Here’s a closer look at SK-II, its products, and is it worth a try?
What Is SK-II?
SK-II is a luxury Japanese skincare company that debuted in December 1980s. Pronounced “s-kay-two,” the company is built around the ingredient pitera. According to company lore, SK-II scientists were searching for a key skincare ingredient when they noticed that the hands of elderly workers in a Japanese sake brewery looked extraordinarily soft and youthful. Since their hands were in constant contact with the fermented yeast, this encouraged them to look deeper into the fermentation process. After years of research the scientists created pitera, a naturally derived liquid from the yeast fermentation process that is found in every SK-II product. Proctor & Gamble acquired the brand in 1991, and an SK-II product line for men was launched in October 2011.
What is the SK-II Philosophy?
SK-II says it takes a holistic approach to skincare, based on skin type, skin concerns as well as lifestyle. Beyond the ingredients, Sk-II is also known for its innovative marketing campaigns. SK-II has also created lighthearted ads such as the 2019 “Pitera Masterclass” featuring John Legend, James Corden, Naomi Watanabe and Tang Wei. The company’s Change Destiny campaign includes the docuseries Timelines, where US journalist Katie Couric travels to the U.S., Japan, China and South Korea and speaks to young women about societal pressures, including marriage and cultural expectations.
What Does SK-II Sell?
The SK-II product line includes serums, essence, masks and creams. Here’s a breakdown.
SK-II GenOptics Aura Essence Serum – This best-selling serum is formulated to help make the skin feel smoother and softer, prevent dark spots and improve radiance.
SK-II LXP Ultimate Revival Serum – The Ultimate Revival Serum contains a high concentration of pitera as well as peptides to help hydrate and brighten the appearance of the skin.
SK-II R.N.A.POWER Radical New Age Cream – An Allure Best of Beauty winner, this anti-aging cream can be used twice daily. Packed with pitera, shea butter and niacinamide, it is meant to deliver hydration blast and lock in moisture, while reducing the appearance of fine lines.
SK-II LXP Ultimate Revival Cream – This rich, creamy moisturizer is designed for all skin types, and is formulated with pitera and niacinamide. The Ultimate Revival Cream helps give skin a little extra glow and leaves skin feeling softer.
SK-II Facial Treatment Mask – Another beauty editor and makeup artist favorite, the SK-II sheet mask is designed to hydrate the skin and improve radiance.
SK-II Brightening Derm Revival Mask – Sold in packs of 10, this sheet mask is infused with a gel serum that is meant to help deliver moisture to the skin, while reducing the appearance of dark spots.
SK-II Facial Treatment Essence (Pitera Essence) – Each bottle contains 90% pitera, and SK-II says that a bottle of it is sold every two seconds. The essence is designed to help reduce the appearance of dark spots, and brighten the skin while also making it feel soft.
SK-II LXP Ultimate Revival Essence – This liquid essence is formulated with the highest concentration of pitera, glycerin as well as centella essence, derived from the tropical tiger grass. The Ultimate Revival Essence helps moisturize the skin and leave it feeling smoother and softer.
SK-II Facial Treatment Cleansing Oil- This 2 in 1 product doubles as a facial cleanser as well as a makeup remover. About three to four pumps of the product should be used, and gently massaged into the face before rinsing off.
SK-II Facial Treatment Cleanser – The key ingredients in this foaming facial cleanser are the brand’s signature pitera as well as willow bark extract, which contains exfoliating salicylic acid to help whisk away dry, dead skin cells.
How Much Do SK-II Products Cost?
Sk-II is a prestige brand, and its products are priced accordingly. A 2.5 ounce bottle of Essence retails for $99 and a six pack of the SK-II Facial Treatment Mask is $95. The SK-II R.N.A.POWER Radical New Age Cream is $235 for a 2.7 ounce jar. One of the priciest products is the SK-II LXP Ultimate Revival Cream, for $385.
Is SK-II Cruelty Free?
Sk-II is owned by Proctor & Gamble, and according to the company, “We do not test our products on animals anywhere in the world unless required by law, and we are working hard to make animal testing of all consumer products obsolete.”
What Ingredients Are in SK-II?
The signature ingredient in all SK-II products is pitera, which the company says contains minerals, amino acids, vitamins and organic acids to help remove dead skin cells. Other ingredients include vitamin B3 derived niacinamide; ume extract from a Japanese plum; and centella extract, which comes from a tropical plant. The R.N.A.POWER Radical New Age Cream also contains RNArchitect Complex, which contains hydrolyzed soy and yeast extracts. Other more commonly used skincare ingredients include glycerin, a humectant; capric triglyceride (usually made from a coconut oil and glycerin combination), shea butter and jojoba seed oil.
Where Can I Buy SK-II?
SK-II products are available on the company’s website, Sephora, Net-a-Porter and Amazon as well as department stores including Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s.
Does SK-II Work?
It’s always tempting to try a cult favorite product (or brand) – but beauty and skincare is never a one size fits all approach. One person’s hero product may do nothing for you, so a little experimentation and a dive into reviews is always helpful.
SK-II has been around for decades and received plenty of press write ups. The Essence is a firm favorite, scooping awards from New Beauty in 2017; a Byrdie Readers’ Choice Award in 2018; a Nylon Beauty Hit List in 2017 and an Allure Best of Beauty Award Winner in 2019. Other products have received write ups in Vogue, Marie Claire, Yahoo Beauty, Style.com and celebrities ranging from Victoria Beckham to Kate Bosworth have voiced their love for the brand.
Allure magazine gave the SK-II Facial Treatment Mask a Best of Beauty Award in 2006 and 2007, noting “There’s a reason Allure editors and celebrities rave about this mask: It truly changes your skin, if only temporarily, after wearing it for ten minutes. Yes, you’ll look like Jason Voorhees while wearing it, but afterward, your face will be thoroughly moisturized and glowing. The Best of Beauty winner is perfect for blasting away signs of jet lag.”
The Facial Treatment Mask is one of the most reviewed SK-II products on Influenster, with a 4.4 out of 5 star rating from more than 3,000 reviews. Satisfied customers say that they love it and it’s worth every penny, like this user who wrote “My all the time favorite… can’t get any better than this” and “An amazing mask. The best I ever tried.” Several Influenster reviewers complained about the high price, and some people who gave it a low rating thought it was overrated, like Izzy S.- “I think this line of skincare is actually extremely overrated and therefore over-priced. This product works just as well as the sheet masks I purchase at the Daiso which come with 7 masks for $1.50!”
On Influenster, the Facial Treatment Essence has been reviewed around 3,700 times, with a 4.3 out of 5 star rating. Some users wrote they were disappointed with the cult favorite product, like Katherine Y.- “I really wanted to love this product since it is so hyped up but it is useless. It just gives a yeasty scent to my skin. Definitely a waste of money.” Many customers noted the high price of the product – but the people who called the Essence a “holy grail” were happy to absorb the cost. Julia D. called it “MIRACLE WATER…If I have nothing else in my skin care routine it will always be this. Shrunk my pores in like a week after years of me trying everything, reduced acne scars and redness, cleared my face of the little bumps I had. Amazing.”
One of the brand’s priciest products, the Ultimate Revival Cream, gets a 4.4 out of 5 star rating on Sephora, based on 57 reviews. Fans love the rich cream as well as the packaging, like this fan who wrote “This is a luxury product in every way.” Some people thought the cream was too heavy, especially for those who live in humid areas. “I thought that this would be just the thing, but it’s greasy, really greasy. It takes so long to absorb into the skin I can only use it as a night time cream.”
What Are Some Alternatives to SK-II Moisturizing Cream?
Although SK-II has legions of fans, it may not work for everyone. Perhaps the products did nothing for your skin or the high prices are a turn off. There are a few other brands to consider.
Formulyst’s philosophy is long-term and effective skincare. The brand wants to help its customers achieve their best looking skin. Formulyst’s Pro-Collagen Serum is formulated for aging skin and contains a potent mix of peptides and proteins. Gently pat a few drops of this hydrating serum on the face to help to minimize the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
For hydrated and dewy looking skin, try Formulyst Super Hyaluronic Water Moisturizer. Hyaluronic acid helps keep skin plumped, hydrated and dewy looking. This oil free formula is packed with multiple types of hyaluronic acid and it works as a moisture magnet by drawing water to the skin.
Fans of skincare kits, which take all the guesswork out of creating your own regimen, should try Advanced Dermatology. This no nonsense brand offers a pared down approach to skincare. The packaging is simple and streamlined, and the products bring skincare back to the basics. The kit contains just six essential items including a daily cleanser; serum; anti-wrinkle firming treatment; night cream; day cream and an eye cream. In other words, everything you need to achieve your best possible looking skin.