SECRET KEY Starting Treatment Essence

Happy 2021 everyone, fingers crossed that this year will be much better than the last!

I’m starting things out right for my wallet this year with a budget-friendly “dupe” of SK-II. If you’re not familiar with SK-II, it’s an upscale skincare line that has been linked to many celebrities, including but not limited to Cate Blanchett, Chloe Moretz, and Behati Prinsloo. SK-II’s facial treatment essence is the most heavily marketed, but perhaps the price range is a little more suitable for celebrities only, coming in at a cool $100 for a 2.5 oz bottle. Secret Key, by comparison, is $16.

Behati holding onto a bottle of liquid money for dear life.

Right off the bat, I’m impressed by Secret Key’s packaging of their essence. I daresay the glass bottle is just as sturdy and aesthetically pleasing, if not moreso, than SK-II. A drop-check was also inadvertently completed: this has also fallen from my medicine cabinet to my floor without shattering the bottle.

But for as beautiful as the bottle is, the product inside is absolutely miserable to work with. Secret Key’s essence is basically… water. By the time you’ve dropped enough onto your cotton round or your hand, a lot of it will have absorbed leaving you shaking the bottle again for another dousing of product. The dropper is a shake dropper instead of a squeeze dropper, so it’s equally as difficult applying this directly to your face.

So with this being essentially… water… it absorbs really quickly, and you’ll need to shake the product out a few times to get an adequate covering. Now, granted, essences are generally the first step in a skincare regime, so it is not intended to be your primary moisturizer and thickness should be of no concern. But many essences I’ve tried — including SK-II itself — are of a little bit thicker substance, and are easier to spread around (keeping in mind that SK-II contains more chemically-based filler ingredients, whereas Secret Key doesn’t have as many, which may contribute to SK-II’s heavier weight. Pick your poison!).

Since it is so thin, this won’t affect the rest of your routine, or weigh you down as the day wears on. However, I am convinced that something within the product dries my pores out faster throughout the day, regardless of what I’m wearing over it. My skin tends to feel itchy more often than not when this essence is in my routine.

Though I did feel that this essence made my skin brighter within the first few hours of use, the dryness that inevitably ensued made my skin more inflamed by the end of the day, so any positive benefits would likely have been cancelled out. What I did discover was that this product is effective as a night-time makeup remover and toner — it’s gentler than most micellar waters or witch hazel toners I’ve tried.

If you’re not ready to drop the big bucks on SK-II, I would still recommend giving this a try, despite my lackluster experience. For a different skin type, I think Secret Key essence could be a great product, since I did notice subtle brightening. Also the ingredient listing is extract-based and free of sulfates and alcohol, so it’s also a good bet for those with acne-prone skin. ~A

Perceived efficacy: 4/5

Longevity: 1/5

How much I actually like this product: 3/5

Recommended for sensitive skin:¬†Sensitive skin, yes — dry skin, no!

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