The universe works in mysterious ways. Sometimes you encounter a product at the wrong time and pass it by, only for that product to come back into your life at a later date, when you’re ready to appreciate it. This is what happened with me and Kose’s SEKKISEI skincare brand.
I first encountered the SEKKISEI products a few years ago. I loved the gorgeous blue bottles and jars and found their emphasis on herbal ingredients compelling, but, at the time, not quite enough. I was too overwhelmed by other products and projects to give them a chance. I put them out of my mind. Until now.
Costco currently carries the brand, and SEKKISEI’s US representatives reached out to ask if I’d work with them to get the word out about two of their products in particular, the Treatment Cleansing Oil and Emulsion. The timing was right. I’d just finished my book and found myself with more time and energy on my hands than I’d had in a while. I was also in a cleansing oil rut. I have my old favorites but hadn’t found anything else I’d really loved in a while. So I said yes, a package appeared on my doorstep bearing the items in question, and here we are.
This post is sponsored by Sekkisei USA.
Intro to SEKKISEI: Claims and Ingredients
As you might have noticed from my love of brands like South Korea’s Sulwhasoo and Taiwan’s Naruko, both of which often use extracts and formulas inspired by traditional Korean and Chinese herbal medicine, I love the herbal concept in cosmetics. Scientific research into the topical use of herbs and extracts tends to be much thinner than it is for first-line actives like retinoids and vitamin C, but I’ve never let that stop me from giving the intriguing-sounding ones a chance on my own face. With that being said, I can’t remember trying any particularly herby Japanese products, so this is a first.
SEKKISEI emphasizes moisturization and brightening in their marketing, claiming that continuous use of their products will minimize existing dark spots, help prevent new hyperpigmentation, and increase the translucency of skin for an overall more luminous appearance thanks to the their “translucency recipe,” which includes coix seed, angelica, and melothria extracts.
I’m not really finding much solid English-language research into the potential skincare benefits of these ingredients. There’s a hint of evidence that coix seed extract may help inhibit the formation of melanin. Some research suggests that melothria may deliver antioxidant and anti-aging benefits. I also came across an additional hint that angelica may defend against collagen degradation in UV-exposed skin. It’s not a lot, but it is something.
My personal, anecdotal experience with coix seed extract has been very positive. I’ve used several Taiwanese products that contained this ingredient and resulted in a brighter and more translucent look, though it’s impossible to say whether that’s due to the coix seed or something else in their cocktail of extracts. Sulwhasoo uses it in some products as well. Likewise, angelica acutiloba extract appears in some Sulwhasoo products I’ve loved, most notably the Concentrated Ginseng Renewing Cream.
For the brightening claims, however, I’m pleased to also see ascorbyl glucoside, a milder and more stable form of vitamin C, in the SEKKISEI Emulsion. Ascorbyl glucoside converts to ascorbic acid in skin, and there’s no lack of research into the benefits of ascorbic acid. It’s an excellent antioxidant, making it preventative against skin-aging free radical damage. Vitamin C is also known to increase collagen production and inhibit melanin synthesis, improving firmness and elasticity and reducing dark spots and hyperpigmentation. And consistent use yields significant results.
So far, so good. Now on to the products!
SEKKISEI Treatment Cleansing Oil
It’s been a long time since I’ve truly fallen in love with a cleansing oil. I’ve been loyal to the Hada Labo cleansing oil as my budget staple and to the Sulwhasoo Gentle Cleansing Oil as my occasional splurge for years. I’ve tried others, sure, but I’ve hated even classics like the DHC Deep Cleansing Oil (which smells and feels exactly like rubbing cooking oil on my face) and found other luxury cleansing oils, like the Fresh Seaberry Skin Nutrition Cleansing Oil, just kind of okay. Then the SEKKISEI Treatment Cleansing Oil came along.
SEKKISEI Treatment Cleansing Oil ingredients: Mineral oil, PEG-8 glyceryl isostearate, cetyl ethylhexanoate, cyclomethicone, water, glycerin, angelica acutiloba root extract, carthamus tinctorus (safflower) seed oil, coix lacryma-jobi (job’s tears) seed oil, melothria heterophylla root extract, sesamum indicum (sesame) seed oil, tocopherol, alcohol, phenoxyethanol, fragrance
The first thing you’ll notice about the ingredients is that this is a mineral oil-based cleansing oil. While this might not sound super exciting, I actually really like cleansing oils with mineral oil as their first ingredient. Mineral oil has gotten a bad reputation in the past decade or so, in large part because mineral oil is a derivative of petroleum, which make it easy to frame as a bad thing by people pushing the popular “chemicals are bad; natural is best” narrative. (Although crude oil is a perfectly natural substance, so mineral oil is actually a very natural ingredient!) Mineral oil is also often perceived as risky for acne-prone skin.
Cosmetics-grade mineral oil doesn’t deserve the grief it gets. While everyone’s skin is different and there’s no such thing as a truly universal and reliable way to rate comedogenicity, research shows that mineral oil is actually very unlikely to clog pores and is also an excellent moisturizing ingredient, with molecules large enough to stay on top of skin to form an occlusive barrier against moisture loss. It’s also an inexpensive ingredient, so using it can bring the cost of a product down. On a personal level, I find mineral oil-based cleansing oils especially good for pulling out grits in my three-step pore cleansing routine.
SEKKISEI Treatment Cleansing Oil had my heart from the first time I used it: it hits all three of the main points I look for in a cleansing oil. It’s neither too thin and runny nor too thick and difficult to spread. The moderate thickness and excellent slip make cleansing with it an easy and pleasant experience. It breaks up and lifts off even heavy, water-resistant makeup and sunscreen thoroughly. Finally, it emulsifies well and rinses cleanly. I still follow it up with a gentle foaming cleanser out of habit, but my skin actually feels perfectly fine even if I don’t.
I demonstrated the cleanser with an explanation of why we use cleansing oils on my IGTV, but if you’d rather not sit through a nine-minute video that mostly involves me blabbering about the things I’m putting on my hand for the purposes of washing them off, I also made a short demo for this blog post. Behold:
To cleanse, just massage the oil onto dry skin. Once all the makeup and sunscreen is visibly dissolved, wet hand and massage gently again to emulsify. Finally, rinse. Easy!
Clean and moist and ready to go!
One aspect of the product that some users might have trouble with is its scent. To me, the vaguely herbal/floral fragrance of the SEKKISEI Treatment Cleansing Oil is noticeable, and it does linger for a few minutes if I don’t follow up with a foaming cleanser, but it’s pleasant enough, and I don’t find it excessively strong.
As a final note, the bottles sold in Costco are massive. 300 ml. For reference, most cleansing oils come in 150-200 ml bottles. Having a huge bottle of a good cleansing oil comes in handy, since I often use it for other purposes besides makeup and sunscreen removal. I use cleansing oil every few days to deep clean the cushion puff I use for my sunscreen, once in a while to clean my makeup brushes, and before washing my hands if I have something on them that’s hard to wash off. I also use it to soften up scalp flakes on my son’s head when he has a seborrheic dermatitis flareup, since it’s a gentle way to loosen them before washing and brushing them out.
SEKKISEI Treatment Cleansing Oil is available at Costco for $22.99 (regular price $35) until December 31.
So remember how I said I hate a lot of the cleansing oil classics? I hate even more emulsions. Until the SEKKISEI Emulsion came along, I’d only ever loved one emulsion (Sulwhasoo’s Concentrated Ginseng Renewing Emulsion) in all the six or so years I’ve been using and reviewing Asian beauty products.
Emulsions are liquid moisturizing products, roughly analogous to lotions in Western beauty parlance. (Japanese “lotions” are actually hydrating toners.)
You’d think, from their lighter consistency, that emulsions would generally be lighter than creams, right? But no. Almost every emulsion I’ve tried has left an unpleasantly heavy, oily film on my skin no matter how long I wait for them to dry. After a string of emulsion fails, I’d stopped giving them a chance altogether. I still wouldn’t have, if the SEKKISEI Emulsion hadn’t been one of the two products my friend with SEKKISEI US specifically asked me to try.
And then the Santa Ana winds happened.
For those of you who aren’t familiar, the Santa Ana winds “are strong, extremely dry downslope winds that originate inland and affect coastal Southern California.” When they’re blowing, they bring the temperature up and the humidity way down. The past couple of weeks here have brought humidity as low as 10-15% all day long. My face felt like it was going to shrivel up and fall right off my skull.
Desperate for an additional layer of moisture one night, I spotted the SEKKISEI Emulsion lying in a stack of newly unboxed products and thought, oh what the hell, why not. I slathered two pumps on after my sheet mask. The rest is history.
SEKKISEI Emulsion ingredients: Water, alcohol, butylene glycol, glycerin, dipropylene glycol, ascorbyl glucoside, propylene glycol dicaprate, dimethicone, cetearyl alcohol, dipentaerythrityl hexahydroxystearate/hexastearate/hexarosinate, squalane, angelica acutiloba root extract, coix lacryma-jobi (job’s tears) seed extract, gentiana lutea root extract, hamamelis virginiana (witch hazel) extract, inula brittanica flower extract, melothria heterophylla root extract, paeonia suffruticosa root extract, polyphosphorylcholine glycol acrylate, tocopheryl acetate, triticum vulgare (wheat) germ oil, C13-14 isoparaffin, cellulose gum, citric acid, disodium EDTA, disodium phosphate, ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate, hydrogenated lecithin, hydrogenated rapeseed glycerides, laureth-7, PEG-8, polyacrylamide, polysorbate 80, sodium hydroxide, sodium methyl stearoyl taurate, sorbitan stearate, ethylparaben, methylparaben, propylparaben, fragrance
This emulsion is nothing like the slimy, greasy emulsions I’ve tried before. It sinks in quickly and completely, plumping up and moisturizing my skin while leaving nothing on the surface but a gossamer-light film and super silky feel. It added a tangible dose of hydration to my skin and layered well with the cream I added on top that night; I woke up the next morning with softer, happier skin than I’d had since the Santa Ana winds blew back into town.
The next test was to see how well it would perform on its own as my day moisturizer.
I’m very picky about day moisturizers. In the morning, I generally don’t use more than one or two post-cleanse steps before my sunscreen, and on most mornings, I only use the one. Just moisturizer. So my day moisturizer needs to hydrate and moisturize well enough to keep my face feeling good all day long. It has to moisturize enough to compensate for the drying effects of my usual sunscreen, the alcohol-laden but marvelously cosmetically elegant Missha All Around Safe Block Aqua Sun Gel. Despite these moisture requirements, it has to also sink in completely, without leaving any oiliness. And it has to play well with my sunscreens–no pilling or flaking allowed.
Right before I started using the SEKKISEI Emulsion, I’d been enjoying a jar of La Mer’s The Moisturizing Soft Cream. I find the airy whipped consistency of that product delightful but occasionally felt it wasn’t quite enough moisture, especially with the Santa Ana winds active. It’s also extraordinarily expensive. So I switched it out for my new emulsion. And was wowed.
Even with the humidity levels dipping to lows I’ve never seen before, even under my alcohol-heavy sunscreen, even with the alcohol in the emulsion itself, my face looked and felt great. Balanced moisture levels that withstood long walks through the dry winds, an overall satiny finish, no flaking, no roughness, not even a hint of tightness even when the air was so dry that my eyes hurt. It will take me a longer period of consistent use to gauge whether the ascorbyl glucoside and the herbal extracts really do anything in terms of spot fading and tone brightening, but the product absolutely succeeds at fulfilling its moisture claims.
As with the cleansing oil, I do have a note on the SEKKISEI Emulsion fragrance. It’s lighter than the scent of the Treatment Cleansing Oil, and I personally like it–one of my readers pointed out that it smells like the classic Pond’s cold cream, and she’s right–but it is there. So if you’re sensitive to fragrance, this may not be the product for you. If you aren’t, though, wow. I think more people should try this product. I’ve been using it pretty much exclusively as my day moisturizer and also as an extra layer of moisture at night, and my skin feels so good.
SEKKISEI Emulsion is available in a pack of one full size and one travel size bottle at Costco for $44.99 (regular price $75) until December 31.
You might have noticed that I made a few comparisons to Sulwhasoo throughout this review. When I originally encountered SEKKISEI products a few years ago, I wondered if they might be a more affordable alternative to the Korean luxury brand. The herbal concepts and elegant packaging invited the comparison.
While my internal jury is still out on the long-term effects of the products, I’m so glad to have found that the product textures, experience, and immediate effects really do compare well to Sulwhasoo. It feels great to love and be able to recommend a brand that’s accessible to far more people, especially since this brand is currently sold in person at Costco, of all places. So if you’re looking for some affordably priced staple products that feel several steps above basic, definitely check these out!