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Secret Key Starting Treatment Essence

Secret Key
Starting Treatment Essence

A fermentation essence that claims to soften, hydrate, and brighten skin while providing anti-aging benefits.
Uploaded by: somedayicarus on 02/06/2017

Ingredients explained

Also-called: Aqua | What-it-does: solvent

Good old water, aka H2O. The most common skincare ingredient of all. You can usually find it right in the very first spot of the ingredient list, meaning it’s the biggest thing out of all the stuff that makes up the product. 

It’s mainly a solvent for ingredients that do not like to dissolve in oils but rather in water. 

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Once inside the skin, it hydrates, but not from the outside - putting pure water on the skin (hello long baths!) is drying. 

One more thing: the water used in cosmetics is purified and deionized (it means that almost all of the mineral ions inside it is removed). Like this, the products can stay more stable over time. 

Glycerin - superstar
Also-called: Glycerol | What-it-does: skin-identical ingredient, moisturizer/humectant | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0
  • A natural moisturizer that’s also in our skin
  • A super common, safe, effective and cheap molecule used for more than 50 years
  • Not only a simple moisturizer but knows much more: keeps the skin lipids between our skin cells in a healthy (liquid crystal) state, protects against irritation, helps to restore barrier
  • Effective from as low as 3% with even more benefits at higher concentrations up to 20-40% (around 10% is a good usability-effectiveness sweet spot)
  • High-glycerin moisturizers are awesome for treating severely dry skin
Read all the geeky details about Glycerin here >>

Also-called: Pitera | What-it-does: moisturizer/humectant

A famous water-like, yeast-derived ingredient that the whole SKII brand is built on. As legend has it, SKII scientists in the 1970's discovered by chance that aged Japanese sake brewers have amazingly soft and youthful hands in contrast to their aged and wrinkled faces. They concluded that the secret must lie in the yeast that the brewers’ hands were in constant contact with during the sake fermentation process. 

So Pitera - obtained by a fermentation process of a certain yeast belonging to the genus Galactomyces -  was discovered as an anti-aging, skin-nourishing magic liquidThe company claims that the clear, water-like liquid is loaded with good-for-the-skin stuff and is rich in vitamins, amino acids, minerals and organic acids.  

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As for the science behind Pitera, SKII parent company P&G did an in-vitro (made in the lab) study that confirmed that Pitera-containing moisturizers do indeed help to protect the skin against damage. More specifically, they found that Pitera has antioxidant effects and increases hyaluronan production in epidermal cells. And more hyaluronic acid in the skin means better hydrated, plumper, healthier skin.

If that would not be enough, there is also a 2014 study showing that Pitera might be able to help with skin pigmentation and a 2015 study finding that Galactomyces Ferment Filtrate can activate aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR) that's important in epidermal homeostasis by upregulating epidermal barrier proteins. English translation equals: Pitera might be able to help with a healthy skin barrier

All in all, both anecdotal and scientific evidence show that Pitera is a skin goodie so if you are into essences and yeast-derived fermentations, it's definitely worth a try. 

What-it-does: moisturizer/humectant, solvent | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 1

Butylene glycol, or let’s just call it BG, is a multi-tasking colorless, syrupy liquid. It’s a great pick for creating a nice feeling product.  

BG’s main job is usually to be a solvent for the other ingredients. Other tasks include helping the product to absorb faster and deeper into the skin (penetration enhancer), making the product spread nicely over the skin (slip agent), and attracting water (humectant) into the skin.

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It’s an ingredient whose safety hasn’t been questioned so far by anyone (at least not that we know about). BG is approved by Ecocert and is also used enthusiastically in natural products. BTW, it’s also a food additive. 

Arbutin - goodie
Also-called: Beta-Arbutin | What-it-does: antioxidant, skin brightening

A pretty well-known and often used ingredient with the magic ability to fade brown spots. It's used traditionally in Japan and can be found naturally in a couple of plants, including the leaves of pear trees, wheat and bearberry

Arbutin seems to work its magic and hinder the pigmentation process at the second step of it. An enzyme called tyrosinase is needed to create melanin (the pigment that causes the brown spots) and while several other skin lightening agents work to inhibit the synthesis of tyrosinase itself (like vitamin C or licorice), arbutin lets tyrosinase be and rather hinders the melanin-forming activity of the enzyme. (So it might be a good idea to combine arbutin with some direct tyrosinase inhibitors for more skin lightening effect.)

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All in all, arbutin is one of the better-known skin brightening agents, that's probably worth a try if pigmentation is an issue for you.

Also-called: Aloe Vera | What-it-does: soothing, moisturizer/humectant

Aloe Vera is one of today’s magic plants. It does have some very nice properties indeed, though famous dermatologist Leslie Baumann warns us in her book that most of the evidence is anecdotal and the plant might be a bit overhyped.

What research does confirm about Aloe is that it’s a great moisturizer and has several anti-inflammatory (among others contains salicylates, polysaccharides, magnesium lactate and C-glucosyl chromone) as well as some antibacterial components. It also helps wound healing and skin regeneration in general. All in all definitely a goodie. 

Also-called: Epidermal Growth Factor, EGF, rh-Oligopeptide-1;Sh-Oligopeptide-1 | What-it-does: cell-communicating ingredient

Sh-Oligopeptide-1 is the famous molecule, which is also called Epidermal Growth Factor or EGF. Chemically speaking, Growth Factors are largish peptides or smallish proteins, or to put it in another way, medium-length amino acid sequences (EGF consists of 53 amino acids).  Biologically speaking, Growth Factors are cellular signal molecules that can stimulate cell growth, proliferation, healing and/or differentiation. 

There are lots of Growth Factors and EGF is just one of them. The topic of "Growth Factors and skincare" is a big, confusing and controversial one and we will try our best to summarize the story for you, including the pros and the cons. 

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EGF is a special snowflake when it comes to skincare as it was the first Growth Factor that made its way into cosmetic products and it is also the most common one. The American biochemist, Stanley Cohen discovered EGF and was awarded a Noble prize in 1986 for it. As the Noble prize may signify, the molecule is significant and powerful and directly stimulates the proliferation of epidermal cells. 

When it comes to Sh-Oligopeptide-1 in a cosmetic product, it has pretty well-established wound healing and skin renewal properties. It might even do more than that. According to a 2012 study on a serum containing barley bioengineered epidermal growth factor, "clinical evaluations showed statistically significant improvement in the appearance of fine lines and rhytids, skin texture, pore size, and various dyschromatic conditions apparent within the first month of use, and continuing improvement trends for the duration of the study" (which was 3 months).

This all sounds amazing, "give me some EGF Serum", we can hear you say! But as we wrote in the intro, the topic is complex and controversial so here are some of the questions that keep coming up around slathering EGF all over our face. 

The first and biggest concern is that if EGF is so good at stimulating cell proliferation, how does it relate to cancer? Is the definition of cancer not "cells proliferating out of control"?  Most experts agree on this answer: EGF is mitogenic (= stimulates cell proliferation) but not mutagenic (= does not alter the cell to make it cancerous)If you do not have cancer, you will not get cancer from EGF. However, if you have cancerous cells, EGF will help them to spread, just like it helps healthy cells. So if you have a lot of moles, excessive UV exposure in the past, or if you have any of the skin cancer risk factors, we suggest you should think twice about using EGF products. The same is true if you have psoriasis, a skin disease related to the abnormal growth of epidermal skin cells. You do not want to add fuel to the fire with EGF. 

Other (less serious) concerns are if EGF can properly penetrate the skin (as it is a medium-sized, polar molecule, so a special delivery system is probably needed), if it can affect collagen synthesis (or just works on the surface plumping up only the upmost layers of the skin) and if it has beneficial effects at all when used in isolation versus when used in a "conditioned media" that contains lots of growth factors resembling the synergistic balance found in the skin. 

Overall, our impression is that EGF is definitely a potent molecule. Some EGF products have a cult-like following adding anecdotal evidence to the clinical studies showing EGF has a beneficial effect on the skin. If you like experimenting, by all means, go ahead (unless you have psoriasis or high skin cancer risk factors), but if you are a better safe than sorry type, stick to daily SPF + a good retinoid product. This duo is still the golden standard of anti-aging.

Are you interested in Growth Factors and skincare? We have some more here:

What-it-does: emollient | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 1

Probably the cheapest and most common silicone of all. It is a polymer (created from repeating subunits) molecule and has different molecular weight and thus different viscosity versions from water-light to thick liquid.

As for skincare, it makes the skin silky smooth, creates a subtle gloss and forms a protective barrier (aka occlusive). Also, works well to fill in fine lines and wrinkles and give skin a plump look (of course that is only temporary, but still, it's nice). There are also scar treatment gels out there using dimethicone as their base ingredient. It helps to soften scars and increase their elasticity. 

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As for hair care, it is a non-volatile silicone meaning that it stays on the hair rather than evaporates from it and smoothes the hair like no other thing. Depending on your hair type, it can be a bit difficult to wash out and might cause some build-up (btw, this is not true to all silicones, only the non-volatile types). 

Also-called: German Chamomile Flower Extract | What-it-does: soothing, antioxidant | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

Chamomile probably needs no introduction as it's one of the most widely used medicinal herbs. You probably drink it regularly as a nice, calming cup of tea and it's also a regular on skincare ingredient lists.

Cosmetic companies use it mainly for its anti-inflammatory properties. It contains the terpenoids chamazulene and bisabolol both of which show great anti-inflammatory action in animal studies. On top of that chamomile also has some antioxidant activity (thanks to some other active ingredients called matricine, apigenin and luteolin).  

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Though chamomile is usually a goodie for the skin, it's also not uncommon to have an allergic reaction to it. 

Also-called: Gotu Kola, Tiger Grass | What-it-does: soothing, antioxidant, moisturizer/humectant

Centella Asiatica - or gotu kola as normal people call it  - has been used in folk medicine for hundreds of years. It’s traditionally used to improve small wounds, burns and scratches and it’s also a well known anti-inflammatory agent for eczema.

Recently science has taken an interest in Gotu Kola as well and it turns out it really has many active compounds with several benefits. Just for hard-core geeks, the main biologically active compounds are pentacyclic triterpenoid saponins called asiaticoside, madecassoside, asiatic and madecassic acid (also called centellosides).

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One of the biological activities of the centellosides is to be able to stimulate GAGs  (glycosaminoglycans - polysaccharides that are part of the liquidy stuff between our skin cells), and especially hyaluronic acid synthesis in our skin. This is probably one of the reasons why Centella Asiatica Extract has nice skin moisturizing properties that was confirmed by a 25 people, four weeks study along with Centella's anti-inflammatory effects.

Madecassoside can also help in burn wound healing through increasing antioxidant activity and enhancing collagen synthesis. Asiaticoside was shown to increase antioxidant levels on rats skin when applied at 0.2%. 

Centella Asiatica also often shows up in products that try to treat cellulite or striae. Of course, it cannot make a miracle but it might have some effect via regulating microcirculation and normalizing the metabolism in the cells of connective tissues. 

Bottom line: Gotu Kola is a great plant ingredient with proven wound healing, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties. Nice to spot on any ingredient list.  

Also-called: Green Tea | What-it-does: antioxidant, soothing, antimicrobial/antibacterial
  • Green tea is one of the most researched natural ingredients
  • The active parts are called polyphenols, or more precisely catechins (EGCG being the most abundant and most active catechin)
  • There can be huge quality differences between green tea extracts. The good ones contain 50-90% catechins (and often make the product brown and give it a distinctive smell)
  • Green tea is proven to be a great antioxidant, UV protectant, anti-inflammatory, anticarcinogenic and antimicrobial
  • Because of these awesome properties green tea is a great choice for anti-aging and also for skin diseases including rosacea, acne and atopic dermatitis
Read all the geeky details about Camellia Sinensis Leaf Extract here >>

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

What-it-does: soothing

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

Also-called: Reishi Mushroom Extract

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

Also-called: True Ginseng, Ginseng, Korean Ginseng | What-it-does: antioxidant, emollient

A  traditional Korean medicine used for more than 2000 years. Regarding skin care, its main thing seems to be enhancing skin nutrition and metabolism as a result of improving blood circulation.

It also contains biologically active components referred to as ginseng saponins (ginsenosides) that have potent antioxidant properties

What-it-does: moisturizer/humectant

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

Also-called: Witch Hazel Extract | What-it-does: soothing, antioxidant, antimicrobial/antibacterial

Witch hazel is a smallish tree (up to 5m) that's native to North-America, has nice yellow flowers and is similar to the hazelnut bush (hence the name).  

As for skincare, it's loaded with active components that have a bunch of magic properties, like astringent, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anti-bacterial. It's also a well-known vasoconstrictor (it makes the blood vessels narrower) and promotes the healing of broken skin by tightening up the skin proteins and thus creating a protective covering.

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The complication, however, is that different extracts and distillates can be made from different parts of the plant (bark, twigs, and leaves are typically used) and different extraction methods from different parts produce different results. So if you see only Witch Hazel Extract or Witch Hazel Water on the ingredient list, it's a bit hard to know what you're actually getting but we will try to summarize the possibilities to give an idea.

The main biologically active components in Witch Hazel are hamamelitannin (a potent astringent and antioxidant), catechins (anti-inflammatory and antioxidant) and gallic acid (antibacterial). The bark extract contains by far the most hamamelitannin and it has the most gallic acid and catechins. The twigs contain fewer catechins, less gallic acid, and much less hamamelitannin (4.77% vs 0.18%). The leaves contain hardly any tannins (0.04%) or catechins and contain a medium amount of gallic acid (compared to the bark and twigs).

Witch Hazel also contains tiny amounts of the essential oil and fragrance component eugenol, but the amount is so small that it's probably not significant for the skin.

Apart from the differences in active components in different parts of the Witch Hazel bush, the extraction methods also vary. Witch Hazel Distillate contains 14% added alcohol according to the USP specifications  and alcohol is, at best drying, and at worst skin-damaging. Luckily, there are also alcohol-free distillates, so if you prefer no alcohol check the ingredient list carefully. Witch Hazel Extracts can also be made in different ways: browsing Ulprospector, we could find hydroglycolic, hydroalcoholic and glicerine/water based extracts.

Well-known skin care expert, Paula Begoun rates witch hazel as poor and says,  "depending on the form of witch hazel, you’re exposing your skin either to a sensitizing amount of alcohol or to tannins, or both." This might be the case if you are dealing with an alcoholic witch hazel bark water or extract, but looking at CosIng (the official INCI name listing of the EU), witch hazel bark water or witch hazel bark extract are not listed ingredients. Bark and leaf or bark and twig or all three are used together to create extracts, so the chance that there is too much hamamelitannin in the final cosmetic ingredient seems small. Also alcohol-free extracts and distillates exist; actually, the majority seem to be alcohol-free nowadays. So all in all, we think "Hamamelis Virginiana Extract" on the ingredient list is nothing to worry about.

We even found a German study that compared the efficacy of Hamamelis ointment to panthenol ointment for soothing the skin in children (from 27 days to 11 years old). They observed 309 children and concluded that both ointments were similarly effective but the one with Hamamelis was even better tolerated (98.2% vs. 92.3% tolerated well the ointments in the two groups).

All in all, Witch Hazel Extract is a sloppy INCI name (btw, not in the CosIng listing), and you do not really know what you're getting. Most probably though, you are getting a goody with nice astringent, soothing, antibacterial, and even antioxidant properties.

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

Also-called: Purslane Extract | What-it-does: soothing, antioxidant

Portulaca Oleracea is a nice succulent with bright yellow flowers and edible nutritious vegetables. It's a famous plant in Korean traditional medicine to treat infection and irritated skin.

Modern research confirms that it's loaded with skin-goodies: it's the richest green plant source of omega-3 fatty acids (α-linolenic acid), contains NMFs (polysaccharides and amino acids),  vitamins (β-carotene), minerals, and antioxidants (yellow betaxanthins and reddish betacyanins). Thanks to all its beneficial components, Purslane Extract has several magic properties: it's a great anti-inflammatory and antioxidant agent and also has wound healing abilities

Also-called: Japanese Pepper, Korean Pepper, Sanshō, Chopi | What-it-does: antioxidant, antimicrobial/antibacterial, preservative

If you are into Japanese cuisine, you might know this guy as Japanese pepper or Sanshō pepper that is known for its unique fresh aroma and appetite increasing spicy sensation.

As for the skin benefits of Zanthoxylum Piperitum, it might have antioxidant effects (with active components called hyperoside and quercitrin), but more importantly, it is an antibacterial and natural preservative agent. It is pretty common in K-Beauty products, as it's one of the three natural extracts that make up the popular Korean preservative called EURO-NApre. 

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Combined with Usnea Barbata and Pulsatilla Koreana, these three extracts are claimed to form a natural preservative system that also has anti-inflammatory effects and might help with skin conditions such as blemishes, atopic dermatitis, and dandruff. 

On the flip side, Zanthoxylum Piperitum contains fragrant components (Limonene and Citrone), that might irritate sensitive skin. 

Adenosine - goodie

Adenosine is an important little compound in our body that has a vital cell-signalling role. Research on smearing it on our face is also promising and shows so far a couple of things:

  • It can help with wound healing
  • It’s a good anti-inflammatory agent
  • It might even help with skin’s own collagen production and improve skin firmness and elasticity
  • It helps with barrier repair and protection
  • It might be even useful for the hair helping with hair thickness and hair growth
What-it-does: preservative

It’s pretty much the current IT-preservative. It’s safe and gentle, but even more importantly, it’s not a feared-by-everyone-mostly-without-scientific-reason paraben.

It’s not something new: it was introduced around 1950 and today it can be used up to 1% worldwide. It can be found in nature - in green tea - but the version used in cosmetics is synthetic. 

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Other than having a good safety profile and being quite gentle to the skin it has some other advantages too. It can be used in many types of formulations as it has great thermal stability (can be heated up to 85°C) and works on a wide range of pH levels (ph 3-10). 

It’s often used together with ethylhexylglycerin as it nicely improves the preservative activity of phenoxyethanol.

What-it-does: chelating

Super common little helper ingredient that helps products to remain nice and stable for a longer time. It does so by neutralizing the metal ions in the formula (that usually get into there from water) that would otherwise cause some not so nice changes.

You may also want to take a look at...

Ingredients of Secret Key Starting Treatment Essence
INCI photo uploaded by: judit on 27/04/2019
what‑it‑does solvent
Normal (well kind of - it's purified and deionized) water. Usually the main solvent in cosmetic products. [more]
what‑it‑does skin-identical ingredient | moisturizer/humectant
irritancy, com. 0, 0
A real oldie but a goodie. Great natural moisturizer and skin-identical ingredient that plays an important role in skin hydration and general skin health. [more]
what‑it‑does moisturizer/humectant
A famous water-like, yeast-derived ingredient that the whole SKII brand is built on. It probably helps with a healthy skin barrier, hydrates and has some antioxidant and skin-brightening effect. [more]
what‑it‑does moisturizer/humectant | solvent
irritancy, com. 0, 1
An often used glycol that works as a solvent, humectant, penetration enhancer and also gives a good slip to the products. [more]
what‑it‑does antioxidant | skin brightening
One of the better-known skin brightening agents that's found naturally for example in bearberry. [more]
what‑it‑does soothing | moisturizer/humectant
The famous aloe vera. A great moisturizer and anti-inflammatory ingredient that also helps wound healing and skin regeneration. [more]
what‑it‑does cell-communicating ingredient
Epidermal Growth Factor - a smallish protein that works as a potent cell signaling molecule. It stimulates cell proliferation, wound healing and skin renewal. Do not use if you have psoriasis or high skin cancer risk factors. [more]
what‑it‑does emollient
irritancy, com. 0, 1
A very common silicone that gives both skin and hair a silky smooth feel. It also forms a protective barrier on the skin and fills in fine lines. Also used for scar treatment. [more]
what‑it‑does soothing | antioxidant
irritancy, com. 0, 0
Chamomile extract - has great anti-inflammatory and some antioxidant properties. [more]
what‑it‑does soothing | antioxidant | moisturizer/humectant
Centella Asiatica - or gotu kola as normal people call it  - has been used in folk medicine for hundreds of years. It’s traditionally used to improve small wounds, burns and scratches and it’s also a well known anti-inflammatory agent for eczema.Recently science has taken an interest in Gotu Kola as well and it turns out it really has many active compounds with several benefits. [more]
what‑it‑does antioxidant | soothing | antimicrobial/antibacterial
Green Tea - one of the most researched natural ingredients that contains the superstar actives called catechins. It has proven antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and anticarcinogenic properties. [more]
what‑it‑does soothing
what‑it‑does antioxidant | emollient
Ginseng - A traditional Korean medicine that has antioxidant properties, and is known to improve blood circulation. [more]
what‑it‑does moisturizer/humectant
what‑it‑does antioxidant | emollient | moisturizer/humectant
what‑it‑does soothing | antioxidant | antimicrobial/antibacterial
With Hazel - loaded with active components (hamamelitannin, catechins, gallic acid) that have astringent, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant or anti-bacterial properties. Also well-known vasoconstrictor and promotes skin healing. [more]
what‑it‑does soothing | antioxidant
Purslane Extract - a traditional Korean medicinal plant with skin-soothing, antioxidant and wound healing abilities. [more]
what‑it‑does antioxidant | antimicrobial/antibacterial | preservative
Japanese pepper extract that has natural antibacterial and preservative activities. Combined with Usnea Barbata and Pulsatilla Koreana, it is part of a popular Korean preservative system called EURO-NApre. [more]
what‑it‑does cell-communicating ingredient
An important compound in our body that has a vital cell-signalling role. It is wound healing, anti-inflammatory and can help with barrier repair. [more]
what‑it‑does preservative
Pretty much the current IT-preservative. It’s safe and gentle, and can be used up to 1% worldwide. [more]
what‑it‑does chelating
Super common little helper ingredient that helps products to remain nice and stable for a longer time. It does so by neutralizing the metal ions in the formula (that usually get into there from water) that would otherwise cause some not so nice changes. [more]