If you are anything like me, you’re always on the hunt for that Holy Grail (insert beauty product here) that makes every day a good hair/skin/makeup day. Driven by the endless optimism that the next product I try could be the one that changes my life, nothing is more satisfying than discovering something that does just that.
When I shifted the focus of my skincare from reducing hyperpigmentation to increasing hydration, my skin responded by becoming plumper and smoother than it had ever been. While hyaluronic acid serums played a major role in this, replacing my usual toner with a facial essence is what truly made my skin glow.
So what is a facial essence? Here’s what Vogue has to say:
“You might be mistaken for thinking essences are just toners by another name, but here’s the difference: while a toner is the last step to any good cleansing routine, an essence is the first step to moisturising. A long-standing part of Asian beauty regimes, an essence prepares skin for the products that follow by optimising the skin’s receptivity to them.”
SK-II vs. Missha
SK-II’s Facial Treatment Essence is probably the most iconic and well-known facial essence in North America. With Cate Blanchett (whose “famous complexion [is] so luminous it’s practically light reflective,” according to Elle Magazine) as their global ambassador, SK-II has a cult following akin to that of La Mer many years ago. Beauty editors, bloggers, celebrities, and makeup artists adooooore it, and I can personally attest to the fact that it works wonders. The only drawback? A 160 ml bottle of this “miracle water” will set you back $179 USD.
At first, I wasn’t ready to make such a big commitment. Serums and moisturizers? No problem! But would I actually stick to the added step of applying a moisturizing water? So I did what all reasonable beauty junkies do (is there even such a thing?!) and searched for a dupe. Lucky for me, the internet was awash with people claiming that Missha’s Time Revolution First Treatment Essence is an excellent replacement at only $49 USD for 150 ml. Although fifty bucks isn’t that cheap either, it’s definitely more manageable.
I fell in love with Missha’s FTE and decided to take the plunge and buy a full-sized version of SK-II. If the lesser known dupe was good, then the original must be even better, right? Now that I’ve had ample time to try out both, here’s my comparison in terms of price, availability, packaging, application and results, so you can decide if you want to $plurge or $ave.
SK-II’s Facial Treatment Essence:
SK-II’s signature product, the much-loved and most awarded bestseller, Facial Treatment Essence, has over 90% Pitera. Pitera™ is a clear liquid rich in vitamins, amino acids, minerals and organic acids. It’s the miracle ingredient discovered over 35 years ago that remains essentially unchanged till today. SK-II Facial Treatment Essence helps to improve the appearance of 5 dimensions of beautiful, crystal clear skin: spots are less visible, appearance of wrinkles is reduced, skin texture is more refined, firmness is improved, and radiance is beautifully elevated. Its irreplaceable formula gently exfoliates the face and helps moderate the skin surface renewal cycle. (Source: SK-II)
Missha’s First Treatment Essence Intensive Moist:
Missha’s best-selling essence has been upgraded to “Intensive Moist,” now formulated with 90% fermented yeast, its superstar ingredient. Fermented ingredients are at the heart of Korean skin care. This newly upgraded water-like essence is a cult favorite among skin care lovers because it’s well-known to repair damage and even out skin tone in just a few weeks. This newly upgraded formula contains over 90% fermented yeast extract from Himalayan purple barley to effectively plump skin, refine texture, and reduce pigmentation — even better than before! Ion fermentation process also ensures rapid absorption of moisture, allowing skin to retain moisture for longer and restoring skin elasticity. Niacinamide brightens and clarifies skin tone while adenosine energizes skin for more younger-looking skin. This essence will be your new holy grail! (Source: SokoGlam)
- There’s no comparison when it comes to price—SK-II is $179 USD for 160 ml ($1.12/ml) while Missha is $49 USD for 150 ml ($0.33/ml).
- WLV TIP: SK-II can be found at a pretty big discount on Sasa.com. Sasa is a large cosmetics retailer in Asia, but they are not an official SK-II retailer. Their products are authentic, but some have complained that they received products close to their expiration date. I took a risk and purchased mine from there (on sale for $126 USD for 250 ml = $0.50/ml) and checked the manufacturer’s expiration date on this website. My bottle was at the 1 year mark of its 3 year shelf life, and considering the discount, I was more than OK with it.
- SK-II has become more accessible than ever now that it is stocked in places like Nordstrom and Sephora. Bonus points for these stores having amazing return policies, if you feel the product isn’t right for you.
- Missha can be purchased on their website, or I got mine for a slight markup in the beauty section of H-Mart (a Korean grocery store) in Downtown Vancouver.
- Both products are packaged similarly in glass bottles with screw top lids. The lids open to reveal a plastic top with a small hole that dispenses a few drops with each shake. SK-II switches to plastic bottles for any of their larger sizes, which feels cheap, but makes sense in terms of added shipping weight and preventing accidental breakage.
- WLV TIP: Decant your essence into a quality spray bottle to maximize the amount absorbed by your face, instead of your palms. As always, I’m super picky and went through 3 bottles before settling on this one which:
- Is GLASS, obvs!
- Is amber coloured (filters out UV light)
- Has a fine, centralized mist—pick one with good reviews because the only thing more annoying than it clogging, is if half of each spray misses your face.
(…or neither? Why not include a spray cap instead of reducing the size and marketing it as a “travel mist”?)
- I’m sorry to confirm that what you’ve heard about SK-II is true—it does smell like piss! Well not exactly, but it smells like you left some sake out overnight. Applying it to your face is not entirely pleasant, but the scent dissipates in under 10 seconds. The essence itself absorbs into your skin quickly and easily.
- Missha, on the other hand, is practically scentless and is therefore significantly more enjoyable to apply. It also absorbs quickly and easily, but feels a touch heavier and more moisturizing than SK-II.
- For both essences, I’ve noticed that my skin is more comfortable and hydrated immediately after, but that real results start to show after a month. In fact, I noticed how much more of a glow I had and assumed it was because I was taking better care of my skin. Only after I ran out of my essence did I realize what it was that was making the difference.
- To be completely honest, I found the results to be pretty comparable between the two. Both SK-II and Missha have done an equally great job at smoothing my skin’s texture and making everything look extra plump and glowy.
- It is worth noting that SK-II’s yeast extracts are supposedly more effective at anti-aging than Missha’s (which I cannot actually speak to). I can, however, attest to the fact that Missha’s FTE had the added benefit of calming some of the redness on my cheeks (probably due to its inclusion of Niacinamide, a vitamin with anti-inflammatory effects). This makes Missha my top pick—at this point in my life anyway!
MISSHA FIRST TREATMENT ESSENCE INTENSIVE MOIST
So there you have it! When deciding whether to splurge or save on a facial essence, give your wallet a break and pick up Missha’s First Treatment Essence Intensive Moist! IMO it’s not only significantly more affordable, but I think it works even better than its high-end counterpart!
WLV TIP: Try the Korean 7 Skin Method! (Don’t worry, I’m not asking you to up your daily routine to 7 steps!) The 7 Skin Method is when you layer your facial essence (not toner!) up to 7 times after cleansing. The idea behind it is that when you apply cosmetics, some of it sits atop the skin or evaporates into the air before it has a chance to absorb. This way, your skin absorbs one thin layer of the hydrating essence at a time so that ultimately more of the product is absorbed. I’ve tried it, and it works like MAGIC! Feel free to adjust the number of layers as needed!