8 Apr 2017

Comparison Review of 16 Treatment Essence / First Essence Part 1: Estee Lauder, Hera, IOPE, Lirikos, Nature Republic, Primera, Secret Key, SK-II, and Tony Moly

I have talked about first serum, or skin booster before, which you can check out here. Basically, first serum is a type of skin booster that can prep, treat, and boost the skin so that it can better absorb other products you are putting on your skin later. First serum tends to be richer in consistency, and contains more skin benefiting extracts.

Treatment essence, or first essence, on the other hand, is a watery essence that you use to revitalize, rejuvenate, and exfoliate the skin. It can also do other things like hydrating, prepping, brightening, and anti-oxidizing. Treatment essence is different from first serum in the sense that it has lighter consistency and usually comes in the form of tall glass bottle. In addition, it often is made of fermented yeast extract, although some treatment essences are made of bio technology or other fermented ingredients. Treatment essence tends to be waterless (undiluted) without any fragrance added. A lot of treatment essences in the market are dupes for SK-II Facial Treatment Essence, but recently there are also a lot of deviants from SK-II when brands are coming out with their own essences.

In this review, we are gonna talk about several treatment / first essences I have used in the past few years. They will be broken down into two parts:
  • part 1: conventional treatment essence
  • part 2: non-conventional treatment essence

Treatment essence, or first essence is the "0" step in your skincare routine, where you use after cleansing, and before a toner, serum or moisturizer. It normally comes in the form of lightweight, watery, unscented liquid. Most treatment essences are so concentrated that they are waterless, which means they only contain undiluted skin-benefiting ingredients, thus justifies their higher price tags. Treatment essence has many functions, but it is primarily used to prep, hydrate, exfoliate and rejuvenate the skin, hence the nickname "miracle water" in Asia. You can also use treatment essence to replace toner if you practice double cleansing and use something moisturizing later. If you use a cleansing toner, then use this after the cleansing toner.

List of products included in this review, full review are linked besides each product:
  • Estee Lauder Micro Essence
  • Hera Cell Essence 
  • IOPE Bio Essence Intensive Conditioning
  • Lirikos Marine Triple Treatment 90.93% | Full Review
  • Nature Republic Saccharomyces Ferment The First Essence | Full Review
  • Primera Miracle Seed Essence | Full Review
  • Secret Key Starting Treatment Essence | Full Review
  • SK-II Facial Treatment Essence
  • Tony Moly Intense Care Galactomyces 94.5% | Full Review

Estee Lauder Micro Essence

Estee Lauder was one of the earliest among all Western brands to come out with its own version of treatment essence. It was only available in Asia when it was just launched, which kinda showed that treatment essence is an Asian concept.

I bought the Starter Kit from Estee Lauder because I wanted to try the miniature before committing into the real product. I don't want to spend some RM 415 / 200ml on this unless if I am sure that I like it. The one I tried was its 30ml version, but I got another 30ml one from my mom, so I used all the 60ml before sharing my thoughts with you guys.

Basically, this is an essence-in-lotion that can tighten your pores, refine your skin texture, and increase your skin's overall radiance. It is also quite moisturizing and will keep your skin plump and soft after using. Given its properties, this is definitely a complimentary product to the famous Advanced Night Repair as both can work really well to enhance the texture and strength of your skin.

The essence comes in a viscous watery liquid which feels kinda tacky on your face so you will need to use a toner prior to this essence to enhance the absorption. The product looks really pretty, housed in a frosted glass bottle with a golden twisted-open cap. It is about 2/3 the price of SK-II but is still considered expensive if compared to many other treatment essences. This is not a bad essence, but it is not something that I would repurchase in the future. But if someone gave this to me, I will still use it, but I wouldn't want to spend that much of money on it. I guess I still prefer SK-II over this. SK-II works much better at improving my skin texture and I like its texture better. As for the pores minimizing benefits, I can easily get those from my other essences such as IOPE bio-essence, Yuri Pibu Artichoke Power Essence, Belif Firming Essence, and so on at cheaper prices and much favourable textures.

Hera Cell Essence

Hera Cell Essence and IOPE Bio Essence are often put together and compared in the beauty community. Both costs KRW 60,000 (RM 200-250) and are made with bio enzymes/fluid with similar texture and claims. However, I personally find that they both work differently.

Hera Cell Essence is a cloudy liquid with relatively strong fragrance. It is formulated with cell-bio fluid sync, which is a combination of skin-benefiting minerals, amino acids, peptides, sugars (moisturizers) and lipids that can instantly quench and revitalize the skin. Hera claims that your skin will become more elastic, firmer, and lesser prone to breakout with regular usage.

I had used up 4-5 miniatures (15ml) of this product as well as a 45ml mist version of it, and I must say that I enjoyed it so far. It is a lightweight, hydrating, and nice scented product that can moisturize, revitalize and brighten up your skin tone. I wouldn't say that it has done much to improve my skin texture, but I can definitely see a remarkable improvement in my overall complexion. As such, I have already ordered a full size product from Korea which you can see in the image above.

I use this as the first step of my skincare routine after a cleanser, and then follow that up with toner, serum and moisturizer. I don't think that it is hydrating or moisturizing enough as a stand-alone essence, but you will see an overall improvement in your skin tone over time. I am not so sure about dewiness because I haven't used it long enough to really tell a difference, but it has definitely evened up my complexion. If you ask me its difference from IOPE Bio-Essence, I would say that IOPE one is more focusing on skin texture whereas Hera one focuses more on skin tone. I enjoy using both and will use them alternatively in the future. It is hard for me to pick one, so I get both.

IOPE Bio Essence Intensive Conditioning

IOPE was one of the earliest to come out with a treatment essence after Missha's one made a huge hit in the Korean market. IOPE is also claimed to be one of the most successful dupes for SK-II Facial Treatment Essence at only 1/4 of its price. It is made of 93.7% of bio-redox (bio enzymes) to brighten and smooth the skin.

I have been using this about 2 months and still have 1/2 bottle of it left. It is a mild, refreshing and hydrating liquid that feels the closest to SK-II essence. It doesn't have any noticeable scent, but if you try to smell hard it has a very very mild fermented beer scent like Missha. It is housed in a tall glass bottle with a frosted and twisted-open cap, pretty standard for a treatment essence.

In term of performance, I think this has done a great job at brightening and evening out my complexion. My skin is at least 2 tones brighter than I was 2 months ago and the difference can be seen by naked eyes. I am also lesser prone to breakouts despite hormonal imbalances. I wouldn't say that this is a moisturizing essence, but it has the right consistency that happens to meet my need for a first essence, which I would label as "hydrating and refreshing". In addition, the area under my eyes appear smoother and my pores appear smaller ever since I add this into my skincare routine.

In short, a lightweight and hydrating treatment essence that can brighten up my skin as well as refine my pores. It also has a wonderful consistency that is perfect for a first essence. Definitely a repurchase in the future!

Lirikos Marine Triple Treatment 90.93%

Lirikos Marine Triple Treatment is a toner, essence and treatment in one. It comes in a watery consistency that feels really hydrating and prepping on the skin. The packaging where it is housed looks absolutely gorgeous, and it won't break even if you drop it on the floor. A bottle of this can last you for about 2 months. It doesn't have any distinctive smell, maybe just slightly sour if you try to smell hard. Although it claims to replace your essence and serum, I personally still follow it up with a serum and then a moisturizer. But you can also use the complimentary Lirikos Marine Triple Concentrate, which is a serum and moisturizer in one, and just be ready to go!

Unlike SK-II, Missha and IOPE, which focuses more on skin renewing and texture-improving, this Lirikos essence seems to be only good at hydrating and prepping your skin. So, rather than calling this an "active", this is more "passive" and a defense type product in your routine. It is not useless, but it works slow and steady. It will build your skin foundation, making it stronger and healthier so that it can rejuvenate and regenerate on its own. That is also the properties of plankton, which are the ingredients used in here.

I can feel that my moisture barrier becomes stronger and my skin stays hydrated for longer after adding this product into my skincare routine. This may not sound like the treatment essence many people expect, but it is not completely a turn-off either. If you have dehydrated skin, looking for a good hydrator, or something lightweight that can replace your toner, then this will definitely be a good one to go for. But if you want something that works like IOPE, SK-II or Nature Republic, then you might be disappointed. If you ask me, I enjoy using this very much and will still repurchase if I go to Korea in the future!

Nature Republic Saccharomyces Ferment The First Essence

Nature Republic Saccharomyces Fermented The First Essence is my first bottle of treatment essence. I remembered how I was so impressed by its beautiful packaging and amazing scent. The product also comes in a lightweight, non-greasy and non-sticky watery consistency that I adore!

I treated this as a toner at first, together with the “Skin” and “Cream” from the same line. I often confused "Skin" with "Essence" because back then I was taught that toner is supposed to come before essence. So there are times when I tried to use the “Skin” before the “Essence” and ended up rinsing it off. I didn’t like the Skin from the same line, but I loved the “Essence”, probably because the “Essence” has lighter consistency.

In term of performance, this product had done a great job brightening up my skin as well as reducing my freckles. However, it could be quite drying if you didn't put on something moisturizing later. It has now been discontinued but I think Nature Republic just came out with something similar known as New Vita First Essence so you can check that one out if you are interested.

SK-II Facial Treatment Essence

SK-II Facial Treatment Essence is the staple among all treatment essences. It was the first treatment essence that ever came out in the market and also the first to raise the storm of "first essence" that swiped across Asian and Western beauty industry. You cannot do a comparison review on treatment essence without at least trying out SK-II.

SK-II is indeed expensive. It is retailed for RM 620 / 230ml in Malaysia, which means each ml costs about RM 2.70 (I drink 2,000 ml of water per day, so imagine 1ml). But even at that price, SK-II is still selling well across the world. Its sales record itself is very telling of the product's quality.

After trying out the product for about 2 weeks, during which my skin was at its worst state when I was in my hometown last year, I must say that I finally understand where all the hypes are coming from. This product, despite its funky scent (that gets less annoying overtime), was really really effective at everything it claimed to do. It renewed and rejuvenated my skin despite my body sluggish metabolism, resulting in a "deceivingly" younger and brighter look. My skin was at least a tone brighter after using. My pores also appeared smaller, texture more refined, blackheads were lesser and all that... in just 2 weeks. And it can also effectively calm and control my breakout. It is indeed a miraculous solution to all skin problems! No wonder Chinese is calling it "the miracle water 神仙水".

In short, I am vastly impressed and I will definitely keep a bottle with me all the time even though I don't use it everyday out of budget concern.

Primera Miracle Seed Essence

Primera Miracle Seed Essence is a soothing, hydrating, and brightening treatment essence formulated with 93.1% lotus seed extract. You use this right after cleansing to replace your toner. It is a lightweight, non-greasy and watery essence that feels and smells like water. It also comes with a box of cotton pads made of unbleached cotton where you can use them to exfoliate your skin and wipe away dirt and impurities.

This product is made of lotus seed extract, niacinamide, and some gentle moisturizing ingredients. It doesn’t contain any fragrance, dye or preservatives, making it pure and simple. Lotus seed has the fame of being able to germinate after 700 years, so it will deliver loads of vitality to your skin. It also contains linoleic acid, flavonoids, polyphenols and some other minerals to rehydrate, retexturize and replenish the skin.

Primera Miracle Seed Essence feels like a hydrating and soothing toner in my opinion. It is not actually the kind of treatment essence that can regenerate or exfoliate your skin. It is more like a skin soothing hydrator that will slowly increase the radiance and moisture-holding level of your skin, making it appears plumper, brighter and dewier over time. I also notice lesser breakouts and whiteheads after using this.

Ideal for all skin types, especially sensitive, dehydrated and oily skin.

Secret Key Starting Treatment Essence

This is the cheapest treatment essence I have ever bought. It is a dead-end copy of SK-II Facial Treatment Essence; even the initial "Secret Key" is "SK". The appearance, consistency, ingredients, and claims of Secret Key Starting Treatment Essence are also highly similar to SK-II. But the one I have here is its limited rose edition, which looks prettier and carries more characteristics of Secret Key than simply copying SK-II.

Secret Key Starting Treatment Essence Limited Rose Edition smells like fermented alcohol and rose flower water. The product is very watery and can hydrate and refresh your skin really well. A bottle of it is good for 2 months.

Honestly, I wouldn’t say that this one stands out among the rest having tried more than 10 treatment essences in the market. But it has a very high cost-performance ratio. This is probably the best that you can find at this price (if you can get a good deal). This essence works, although not amazingly, but it does bring some improvements to my skin. It will hydrate, refresh, and improve the blood circulation to my skin. I also notice my freckles become less obvious after using this.

In short, a great treatment essence at its price. This is wonderful for first timers or those who just starts to use a treatment essence. It is effective, economic and aesthetic.

Tony Moly Intense Care Galactomyces 94.5%

This is a treatment essence that resembles the look and texture of SK-II Facial Treatment Essence. This is the 94.5% red version for normal to dry skin. There is a 96.5% blue version for oilier skin. It doesn't have any funky scent like SK-II, just a mild fermented beer scent. The ingredients are pretty straightforward, with only fermented yeast extract, preservative and some mild moisturizers. Sounds like SK-II so far?

But if you use it for longer, you'll notice that this is nowhere comparable to SK-II, or other treatment essences. Its consistency gets oilier when you use it for longer, which I think is attributable to the moisturizing ingredients inside. Instead of hydrates and freshens my skin, it actually leaves an unpleasant greasy film that I dislike. It will moisturize, calm breakouts and brighten up your skin. It can also gently exfoliate and reduce blackheads and dirt on my skin. However, these benefits could not make up for its weakness of leaving behind a greasy finish. I am more willing to buy those that can produce better results such as IOPE, SK-II and Hera at friendlier consistency. Besides, Tony Moly retails at close to RM 200 in Malaysia and it is hard to get its elsewhere at more reasonable price unless if you pay to get it shipped from Gmarket, so it is not considered "cheap" either.

In short, a treatment essence designed for drier skin that can reduce blackhead, calm and moisturize the skin. But it will also leave behind a rather greasy finish so those who dislike product with this kind of consistency beware.


personal favourite: Lirikos, SK-II, IOPE, Hera
moisturizing: Lirikos, Primera, Secret Key, Tony Moly
brightening: Hera, IOPE, Nature Republic, Primera, Secret Key, SK-II, Tony Moly
texture-improving: Estee Lauder, IOPE, SK-II
skin renewing: IOPE, SK-II
soothing: Lirikos, Primera
high CP: IOPE, Secret Key

[Disclaimer] This is NOT a sponsored review. Products are purchased with my own money. All copy right of contents and images in this article is strictly mine.

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