Rediscovering the miracle of Pitera in SK-II
The front entrance of P&G KK Shiga Plant is bathed in sunlight. There is hardly a person in sight, but that is no surprise. Shiga Prefecture, approximately a 45-minute drive from Kyoto, is a vast expanse of factories and manufacturing plants parked alongside highways and sprawling country fields. Nearby is Lake Biwa, the biggest lake in Japan and a reservoir of pure, untainted water from the surrounding mountains.
The plant’s lab team leader, Masahiro Ozawa, tells us the reason why this is the only place that produces SK-II products, with highly stringent quality control and top secret formulations protected under lock and key: “The Shiga Prefecture is where water is purer compared to the rest of Kansai.” The water quality here is, of course, an important consideration in the fermentation process, and a crucial step in the production of one of the most trusted and best-selling skincare products across the globe.
MEMOIRS OF A SCIENTIST
marketing manager, when we meet at the plant just outside Kyoto. Contrary to popular belief, a beauty essence is not another glamorous product to be subsumed under facial toners. To be applied after cleansing, “essences actually infuse the skin with nutrients and moisture, unlike toners, which either help balance the skin’s pH, or have simple exfoliating properties.”
For 30 years, the luxury skincare brand kept its Shiga plant doors closed to all prying eyes. It is only recently that it started opening up to the media, and even then the closely guarded formula to the making of Pitera, the iconic ingredient found in all SK-II products, remains a mystery. The inspiration behind Pitera, the legendary liquid rich in nutrients,
SK-II’s success story began with its powerful
ingredient, Pitera. Li Ying Lim discovers the star ingredient right at its source: Kyoto,
where the tale of eternal youth unfolds.
First conceived in 1980 under Max Factor Laboratories – yes, the same man who founded the eponymous cosmetics line – the Secret Key was really a first in every sense. Known as Max Factor Secret Key II until 1984, it launched a brand new category in skincare. “It was known as a beauty essence,” recalls Kazumi Toyama, SK-II technical
is what has placed SK-II on the beauty map.
Led by Takashi Yoshii, SK-II scientists stumbled upon a sake brewery where they noticed the youthful and silky smooth hands of the weatheredfaced brewers or toji, prompting a closer look at fermentation processes similar to those used in sake production as the key to beautiful skin. “Our team began conducting further investigations into different kinds of microorganisms, especially yeast,” shares Yoshii. 350 yeast strains and hundreds of fermentation processes later, the team finally managed to isolate Pitera from a rare yeast strain.
The Miracle Water, or SK-II Facial Treatment Essence, contains more than 90 percent of potent Pitera. “No, it doesn’t contain sake,” smiles Yoshii. “Both Pitera and sake are created through a yeast fermentation process but there are similarities and distinctive differences. The yeast strain used to produce Pitera is a unique strain, different from that used to make sake. The important thing they have in common is the process of fermenting Pitera and sake. They are both very delicate and complicated.”
MADE WITH LOVE
Today in the Shiga Plant, there are 16 tanks in total for yeast fermentation. “Due to the fact that the conditions that promote yeast fermentation also work for bacteria growth, temperature and humidity are strictly controlled to prevent unwanted bacterial contamination,” explains Ozawa. “Usually it takes one week to cultivate Pitera.”
While the yeast is fed sufficient culture solution in the tanks, it produces the “metabolic fermentation fluid”, or in layman terms, Pitera. These fluids are obtained via a filtration process, followed by a complete removal of water so that what is left is the purest Pitera liquid concentrate: the miracle.
The rich nutrition that the yeast absorbs from the culture solution is instrumental in providing the naturallyderived nutrients of high quality in Pitera. “A lot of craftsmanship and effort that is based primarily on years of experience is required to start and complete the fermentation process,” declares Yoshii.
“Pitera naturally contains this delicate balance of vitamins, amino acids, minerals, and organic acids that is similar to the skin’s natural moisturising factor, so it can deliver these nutrients and moisture to skin, helping moderate its natural functions,” says senior scientist of SK-II research and development, Hiroyuki Kudoh.
Xianhong Yan, senior scientist of SK-II technical marketing, adds: “The extensive research on the miracle touch of Pitera does not stop here. Each year, our scientists work with external and internal scientists to continue delivering on the promise of crystal clear skin and to further realise the undiscovered benefits of Pitera.”
It is what makes the Facial Treatment Essence a constant companion for women throughout different stages of their lives, from the acne-prone, “oily-dry” complexion of their 20s to the wrinkles and crows feet of their 40s and beyond.
“I’m sure that in the next 10 years, we won’t be changing anything,” laughs Toyama confidently. “When we look at new ingredients to add or use, they must complement Pitera, but never replace it. Why change something that is already as good as gold?”
Soo- Jung Lim, Korean actress and SK- II ambassador
( From left) SK- II Facial Treatment Essence; and SK- II Max Factor Secret Key II Facial Treatment Essence
Lim and Takashi Yoshii in Osaka during SK- II’s Discovery press tour
SK- II ambassador Kate Bosworth observes as an SK- II scientist measures the skin quality of a subject