What is up with essences and yeasts? Monique Lab and Secret Key essence review

When I first heard the word essence, I thought it was just a fancy word used to describe a toner or serum. I was only half right. While some serums contain the word “essence” in the name and some essences can be used like toners, it is really an inbetween product.

  • A toner, softener/refiner or balancing lotion is used to wipe off any makeup, dirt or oil residue after cleansing and to bring balance back to the skin (since cleansers are basic while skin is naturally slightly acidic). It feels like water and can be hydrating or exfoliating/oil-controlling depending on your skin type.
  • A serum is a treatment product applied after cleansing and toning. It contains concentrated ingredients that penetrate deep into your skin targetting a specific concern: hydration, anti-aging, brightening, eliminating blemish or firming. The consistency varies from liquidy emulsion to lotion or gel type.


The role of an essence is a bit less defined. The purpose of it is often to provide elasticity, deliver nutrients deep into the skin, and improve glow/texture by encouraging skin renewal. While that sounds more like a serum, essence is a bit less concentrated and have a more watery consistency like that of a toner. Another thing most esssence have in common is yeast. Here are the top 3 ingredients from two popular essences and two essences I’m using and will review today:

  • Missha Time Revolution First Treatment Essence: Saccharomyces Ferment Filtrate, Propanediol, Glycyrrhiza Glabra (Licorce) Root Extract…..
  • SK-II Facial Treatment EssenceGalactomyces Ferment Filtrate, Butylene Glycol, Pentylene Glycol…..
  • Secret Key Starting Treatment Essence: Water, Glycerin, Galactomyces Ferment Filtrate……
  • Monique Lab The First Skin Essence: Galactomyces Ferment Filtrate, Butylene Glycol, 1,2-Hexanediol…..

Galactomyces ferment filtrate and saccharomyces ferment filtrate are fermented yeasts used in alcoholic beverages. So what is so special about this yeast thing? Yeasts stimulate the skin to help with cell renewal (which promotes wound healing and production of collagen). It is moisturizing, contains antioxidants and has anti-inflammatory properties (details here, here, here and here). While it sounds wonderful, I have been hesitant in trying essences until Megan from EssentielleBeauty sent me Secret Key Starting Treatment Essence and Monique Lab The First Skin Essence for review. Disclaimer: Whether a product was provided for free or bought by me have no influence on my opinion of the product. Now then, are you ready to take a peek at some actual essence products?

Both products come in a sturdy glass bottle with a plastic cap and have this little plug thing for the opening, which you can save and plug back in when traveling to make sure nothing spills!….. Assuming you didn’t lose it 5 seconds after taking the picture like I did. *ahem* They also have expiration dates printed on the bottom (mine says 2017.07.13 so it doesn’t expire until July 13, 2017).

Secret Key Starting Treatment Essence


My take: I first tried it with a cotton pad per instruction, but the opening is on the small side and it is a bit difficult to saturate the cotton pad. After wiping it on, it felt just like a moisturizing toner, it did moisturize without leaving any residue but didn’t wow me either. After that, I decided to do it the essence way — pouring some into my palm and smooth/pat/press onto my skin. THAT produced much better results for me. It is liquidy and watery like a toner and sinks into the skin very fast. I didn’t notice any scent and it didn’t have any tingling/cooling sensation on the skin.

However, my skin texture did look nicer after a week. The skin feels calm, hydrated and there’s less oil around my T-zone. My skin also looks a bit brighter. I’m not sure if that’s due to the ferment filtrate tho since the essence also contain arbutin, an ingredient that brightens the skin and worked well for me in the past. I would say it’s appropriate for all skin type, dry, oily or sensitive, and layers well with most serums and moisturizers.

NOTE: I found out there’s another version of Secret Key First Treatment Essence with the same packaging/name but different ingredients list. That version did not have water, glycerin and arbutin but have a higher content of Galactomyces ferment filtrate (so not as much brightening but more yeast-y goodness). The products look legit but are from Asia based blogs with no English on the packaging, so I assume they reformulated/made this variation for the US market. I got mine from EssentielleBeauty, so if you got yours from elsewhere, you might want to check the ingredients list on the box to see if it’s the Asia or US version.

Monique Lab The First Skin Essence


My take:  I first tried pouring it into my hand and patted/smoothed onto the skin. It doesn’t really have any scent and while it is liquidy, it feels a bit more emollient and a hint thicker than Secret Key. Secret Key is a water liquid and this feels…..not greasy but has a bit more slip and it takes a bit longer to sink in. When I applied with a cotton pad, it sinks in better, perhaps because it’s partially absorbed into the cotton pad but I didn’t have to wait as long before applying the next product. It definitely softens and moisturizes, so it satisfies the claim it made. It’s great for combo, normal, or dry skin. If you have oily skin, then you might want to skip serum afterward like I did to prevent it from feeling too stuffy.

Conclusion: Secret Key is more calming and brightening while Monique Lab is more moisturizing. If you have dry skin then either should be fine. I have combination skin and feel that Secret Key layers better with my lightweight serums/moisturizers for the summer. Monique Lab essence is not that heavy either but I prefer to skip serum when using it. I also suspect the difference in texture is due to the fact that Secret Key has a water and glycerin base with Galactomyces ferment filtrate as the 3rd ingredient while Monique Lab is 96.8% Galactomyces ferment filtrate. If you are tentative about this ingredient, then Secret Key would be a good introduction since it have a lower concentration of it. However, I noticed that the first two ingredient of Monique Lab is the same as SK-II, which contains paraben and is $100+ more expensive. Right now I prefer Secret Key, but I need to pick up a bottle of SK-II and Missha in the fall to compare to the Monique Lab when my skin is drier and more receptive to heavier products.

To essence, or not to essence? Are essences an essential part of skincare? not as much as cleanser and moisturizer. Will they make a positive difference on your skin?……yes ish. If you are young with flawless, glowing, hydrated and poreless skin, there isn’t much room to make a difference. If you are at an age with a full arsenal of top notch anti-aging products already doing absolutely amazing things for your skin, I’m not sure how much more difference this will make. I feel that this is the best if you are in your 20-30s, when your metabolism slows down and your skin doesn’t look as nice, but you are tentative about anti-agers or intensive treatments so this provide a gentle boost deep in your skin (which make sense for the essences I reviewed since Monique Lab is owned by Privia, which targets women with age of 20-30. I can’t find any brand information on Secret Key, altho it seems to be a higher end drugstore brand???). Eitherway, <$30 to try something that provides lightweight hydration and possibly more good things for your skin is not bad. So, will you be trying any essence soon?


7 thoughts on “What is up with essences and yeasts? Monique Lab and Secret Key essence review

  1. It’s tiny as hell, but there is an SK-II essence in the sample selection at Sephora right now. As soon as I use up some of my insane stash, I am definitely going to try some of Megan’s offerings.

    1. Ohhh, I’m tempted…… lol, I got a deluxe sample of SK-II regular essence as a promo from their website weeks back and just got a TINY sample of Missha essence. Now, I just need to wait until my skin calms down from the serum/peel that I’m currently trying before sampling them. >.<

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s