Harper’s Bazaar (Malaysia) - - Contents -

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.


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.”


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

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