- What is it
- Boosting essence that is used at the first stage of skin care. Provides a plentiful nutrition, and treats a various skin concerns intensively.
- How I use it
- Immediately after cleansing, twice a day. If I’m using a chemical exfoliant (eg. AHA or BHA), I will use that first and then the essence after. I pour a generous amount in my palms and pat gently into my skin until absorbed, or occasionally I’ll soak cotton pads with this for a quick masking session.
- Best suited for
- All skin types except those with fungal acne as Galactomyces Ferment Filtrate is a potential trigger.
- Things to note
- Other than the possible fungal acne trigger above, the ingredient list is pretty simple with no major irritants.
- A frosted glass jar with a rose gold lid. Feels and looks as luxe as more expensive essences.
- No noticeable scent despite this being the rose edition.
- Exactly like water.
- A natural finish. Seriously just imagine splashing your face with water.
- Available For
- $16/150ml on YesStyle (get 5% off with code GEEKYPOSH), $21 on Amazon, $28 on StyleKorean
Ingredient Closer Look
Key ingredient Galactomyces Ferment Filtrate is the same yeast derived ingredient that’s featured in the famous SK-II FTE. I’ve discussed fermented skincare previously and the idea is that:
Fermentation breaks down actives into smaller molecules and releases components like amino acids and antioxidants that the skin can easily absorb.
In addition we’re seeing glycerin for hydration and the superstar niacinamide, making this a seemingly better ingredient list on paper compared to the SK-II FTE.
Personally I love that Secret Key just included a few additional beneficial ingredients, and not a whole smorgasborg of dubious extracts.
I’ve been testing this for 3+ weeks now and I’ll just say it up front: it’s not going to be an exact dupe for the SK-II FTE, but at the price you honestly shouldn’t expect it to.
What I really liked about the Secret Key Starting Treatment Essence is the value for the price. It’s one of the most affordable essences I’ve tried, yet it delivers brightening and hydrating results comparable to more expensive brands.
The only thing the SK-II does better is its ability to refine the skin and minimize the appearance of pores, which for me is a big deal. I’ve yet to find a product that does this as well as the SK-II.
Secret Key vs other essences
I’ve tried a TON of essences, and here’s my personal ranking so far:
- SK-II FTE (brand review) is still my top pick due to its incredible results. I’d highly recommend trying a sample first before splurging on the full sized product.
- Secret Key Starting Treatment Essence* for its value! If you want to try an essence but don’t know which one to choose, I’d highly recommend this one.
- Neogen Micro Ferment Real Essence* (review here) is slightly more expensive but its brightening abilities are better than the Secret Key, especially when paired with the serum!
- Naruko La Creme Face Renewal Miracle Essence* (review here) is another great all around essence that to me is a watered down version of the SK-II. Depending on the price you purchase this at ($37 or $90), this could be incredible or underwhelming.
- Innisfree Firming Energy Essence* is the most hydrating and plumping essence out of the list, but it doesn’t do much else. To me this is almost more like a hydrating toner and a treatment essence.
- IOPE Bio Essence Intensive Conditioning* (review here) was underwhelming used alone as a regular essence, especially for the price. However I’ve seen great results when used as a toner mask or with a ionic facial device. It’s up to you if the hassle is worth it.
- By Wishtrend Quad Active Boosting Essence* (review here) contains much lower fermented extract % but includes popular ingredients like honey and propolis. Personally for me this did nothing, but if you have good experience with propolis you might like this one!
- AMOREPACIFIC Vintage Single Extract Essence* (review here) was a huge disappointment for me. Given it’s just as expensive as the SK-II, it actually performed worse imo compared to all the above cheaper essences!
Secret Key Starting Treatment Essence
If you want to dip your toes into first essences or are curious about the SK-II one but aren't ready to commit, this is a great one to start with! Don't expect incredible results immediately, but give it a few weeks and you'll start appreciating its hydrating and brightening effects. Literally no complaints given its wallet-friendly price!