Today I thought I might provide a bit of an introduction to a product type that's a bit unusual and largely confined to asian beauty - First Treatment Essences!
I’ve been sold on first treatment essences (or FTE’s, if you’d prefer them to sound like a sexually transmitted disease!) for a couple of years now. But I didn’t actually rate the very first one I tried - which was none other than the cult, and very expensive, SKII Facial Treatment Essence.
And then I found a dupe. Although I’m not sure that’s really the right word, given that I consider the dupe so much better than the original!
I’ve now gone through four bottles of my beloved FTE, but recently decided to change it up with a new slightly fancier one. So… I thought I’d take several steps back and provide my quick overview on what they are and why I think they are SO WORTH the extra step during my skincare routine.
What is an FTE?
A very light, water-like essence that is predominantly made of fermented yeast extracts, generally either galactomyces or saccharomyces (or ‘pitera’ if you are SKII).
The ‘story’ goes that the discovery of these fermented yeast extracts came about when people started to notice that folks working in sake brewing had extremely soft and unusually lovely hands. I have no idea whether that story is true, or a marketer’s fancy, but what I do know is that an FTE has a permanent place in my skincare regimen because it’s the one thing I can’t remove without my skin (1) reverting to my pre-K-Beauty days breakouts; and (2) losing a certain glow and refined texture to which I have now become accustomed.
What is the most famous example of an FTE?
Arguably the most famous FTE is the SKII Facial Treatment Essence. This luxe Japanese product is widely available and very expensive.
I was once get given (over a series of flights) a bunch of SKII FTE minis. I used them studiously but sparingly (I knew their price tag) and saw… very little of anything! At that time, I definitely wondered if there was any point to the whole FTE thing. And then I happened upon detailed reviews and research that seemed to suggest that FTE’s need to be applied very regularly and in relatively generous amounts to deliver (see below), which is just far too unlikely to happen at SKII's well over $100 price point.
How do I use an FTE?
These are different to most essences, which you would ordinarily apply after cleansing and toning. I apply my FTE prior to any hydrating toner or essence steps. On a freshly washed face and immediately after any exfoliating/acid steps or balancing toners you may be using. I use it at least once and sometimes twice a day, and apply it very liberally (which really does seem to give the best benefit for my skin).
What are the benefits of FTEs?
Brightening, clarifying and improving skin texture. Most importantly for me, it seems to keep my breakouts at bay (if I stop using it for more than 3-4 days, I generally get a spot or two returning). Light hydration/anti-aging benefits depending on any additional ingredients that may or may not be added (see below).
I do feel that the benefits of FTE’s creep up on you, rather than feeling immediate. And I really notice it when I don’t use them.
Which FTE’s do I recommend?
I adore the COSRX Galactomyces Alcohol-Free Toner, which is just $22, generally lasts me between around 4-5 months and comes with a spray nozzle ideal for dousing your face with its fermented goodness. It’s a purist FTE and in my opinion best suited to oilier/normal skin types, breakout-prone skin or warmer summer months (it’s not very hydrating).
I am now using the slightly-more-luxurious Missha Time Revolution The First Treatment Essence (Intensive Moist) as we enter the colder seasons. This includes anti-aging ingredients, which I am trying to stuff into my skincare routine wherever I can, including niacinamide and adenosine, plus a few gentle acids to up the brightening effect. This one’s $50, but I am finding it adds additional hydration that means I can skip some other hydration steps when my skin’s in good nick.
Who might most benefit from the addition of an FTE?
In my opinion, anyone with skin condition/texture issues - ie. those trying to prevent breakouts (including hormonal), improve the evenness of their skin tone, improve the softness and smoothness of rough or coarse skin or increase skin brightness and transparency.
Well there’s a short 101 on FTE’s from my perspective! Have you used FTE’s in your skincare routine before? I’d love to know your thoughts on these unusual essences!
Take care and sheet mask on!