Let’s start this off with a picture, shall we?
Say it with me now: OOOOOOOOOOH. PRETTY.
Now. Down to business. What’s this brand all about, and why am I reviewing it? Read on.
The Sekkisei line, from Japanese mega-brand Kose, is a skincare line that aims for roughly same market as hanbang products do in Korea; namely, consumers looking for traditional herbal remedies mixed with modern cosmeceuticals. Sekkisei is focused on “whitening”–or brightening, if you want a more accurate translation. The ingredients are focused on fading sun damage and scars and giving you that ever-present “glow” that no one in the Western beauty world can shut up about right now. I mean, who doesn’t want to glow? I certainly do, which is why I agreed to test these products and give my honest review. (And let’s face it, my cystic acne scars can use all the help they can get right now).
Seriously, these bottles are gorgeous. Note my own, unbranded sink set in the EXACT SAME COLOR. I am hella biased towards this shade of dark blue…but that doesn’t mean I’m not right.
Their current marketing campaign is called Save the Blue, This project is focused on conserving coral reefs throughout Asia, as well as working with local and national NGOs on a variety of conservation projects. The English site only contains information up to 2015, but as of that date Sekkisei had already expanded the project beyond Japan to include China (planting seedlings in the inner Mongolia desert), Taiwan (supporting the Kenting National Park and National Museum of Marine Biology), Singapore (supporting the Marine Water Quality Monitoring program run by Singaporean students), Hong Kong, Maylasia, and Thailand.
okay but tell me sea anemones are not the weirdest and coolest things ever
Now, there’s always a critical conversation to be had about the “greenwashing” of large brands, but considering how badly our coral reefs are faring lately…I’m inclined to let it slide here. As far as I’m concerned, any help is good help right now. This is also a fairly long-running project; at least 3 years by my count, but probably much longer. Who knows about the actual scale and impact of their donations, but at least it’s raising awareness.
happy coral vs non-happy coral. And by “non-happy,” I mean dead.
(LOOK I’M SORRY I KNOW IT’S DEPRESSING BUT IT’S IMPORTANT OKAY)
But the skincare! you cry, waiting for me to shut up about coral reefs and get on to more pressing business. It’s cool, yo. I hear you. Here’s a handy cheat sheet on the products I tested.
Real talk: I spent over a month and a half testing these (seriously, I used them a LOT) and I ended up LOVING some of them, feeling good about a few, and absolutely hating one of them, but for reasons that might not apply to everyone. So before we get into the details, here’s what you should know:
- Sekkisei is their “medicated” line, with extracts from traditional Japanese and Chinese herbs which are said to have brightening, moisturizing, and antioxidant products. However, unlike many hanbang products which tend to glorify their particular earthy, herbal scent (which I LOVE), the line covers it up with fragrance.
- As such, these products have what I’d call a medium-to-strong scent; some other reviewers have noted that it was too strong for them. I’m very sensitive to smells, but for whatever reason, this stuff doesn’t bother me. The level of scent also varies with each product. To me it smells a bit like herbs mixed with baby powder and a whiff of alcohol, but I’m notoriously terrible at describing scents. If you’re worried it might be too strong, grabbing a decant/sample from someplace like eBay or ABX is probably a good idea.
- There is a lot of denatured alcohol in these. Seriously. For some, this is a gift; denatured or isopropyl alcohols have incredible penetration and can be a godsend for clogged or oily skin, but they can also exacerbate damage to sensitive and/or dry skin. Experts go back and forth on this one all the time, everyone’s skin is different, etc etc. It’s a thing. You’ve been warned.
- Finally, these are currently only available in the US through their website, as far as I can tell. The prices have been causing a bit of of sticker shock, but to put them in perspective: they’re roughly the same as their competitor brand DHC, and less than many other imported Japanese skincare products. They’re only slightly more expensive on the US website than the corresponding MSRP for Japan (5000 yen is currently~$44.41), and you’re getting 2-day shipping and deluxe samples. I think the prices are reasonable when viewed in that light, but it’s an important consideration.
Product textures and consistencies, shown clockwise, beginning from the top: Cleansing Foam, Lotion, Emulsion, Clear Whitening Mask. The lotion is in a little cup because it has the same consistency as water and would have just spilled everywhere without it.
And now – on the to individual product reviews! CosDNA links are provided for each product in the body of the text, so be sure to check those out as well.
Sekkisei White Washing Foam
This is a thick, luxurious foaming cleanser which quite reminds me of Shiseido’s White Lucent line. As with many Asian cleansers, you only need a tiiiiny bit to make it work, preferably with some sort of foaming apparatus as well. I don’t have a foam-maker-thingy, so unfortunately this felt very stripping on my acneic and dehydrated skin. I did my absolute best to make ALL THE BUBBLES, but it just wasn’t working. It does feel absolutely silky when you put it on, though. I really liked that part…just not the part afterwards when my skin felt super dry.
My husband, however, gamely tests everything I hand him, and…surprisingly, he really liked it. He liked it to the point of mentioning it to me (rare) and saying we should keep it in the shower so he could use it again (even rarer). The price ($25) is way too steep for a cleanser, but as part of a set I’d say it’s a reasonably good product for oily to normal skin, especially if you regularly use fun foaming tools in your skincare routine.
Sekkisei Clear Whitening Mask
This is ABSOLUTELY the best product I tried out of the bunch. I’m in love with it. I kept using it over and over, expecting failure, and it worked every time. After 10+ uses, I can say that it literally does what it promises–clears up your skin, peels off in one giant glorious piece, and leaves your skin calmed and soothed afterwards. I couldn’t believe how well it worked on my cystic acne scars. I mean, sometimes they flare up using SHEET MASKS, for chrissake. My skin is cranky and angry and hates lots of ingredients and this stuff magically soothed it. This is also the only black mask I’ve tried that doesn’t hurt to peel off, which is another definite plus.
I’m honestly almost mad that I styled this photo this way, because it means I have less mask
left to go on my face.
Here are some pictures of my face. Note the second picture ,where I am peeling off the mask over what used to be a spot of hormonal acne. Seriously, this stuff is the shit. It’s amazing.
Conclusion: It’s on the expensive side ($32 for 76mL, ouch), and I don’t even care. It’s now my HG peeling mask, at least as long as this hormonal acne keeps eating my face alive. Go buy it.
Otherwise known as a toner. The lotion/toner/skin thing confused me for literal years, by the way. It’s a long story. We won’t get into it here. Just think of this as a toner for now.
If you can’t tell from the picture, this thing is MASSIVE. It’s 500 mL. I could
probably use it as a weapon.
I love that they continued the design on the bottle. I was super bummed when I realized that some products only had the Save the Blue design on the boxes, because this is gorgeous.
So this is The Toner That Started Everything, if you couldn’t tell from the size of this bottle. This is their multi-purpose, does everything, cleans your skin AND your house product, and I have to say, it’s not half bad…but I have some caveats.
It really depends on what you like in toners, to be honest. It has a strong scent (again, I’d call it baby powder mixed with a vague herbal and alcohol smell) and it’s very watery. The second ingredient is alcohol, so it penetrates VERY quickly, but it can be drying if you’re not careful. It works well with the “3/5/7 skins” method, although I wouldn’t recommend using it every day if your skin is dry, dehydrated or sensitive. It is awesome for putting on your scalp if you need your hair to look good and you don’t have time to shower. It really helped my skin absorbtion when I used it before sheetmasking. It may or may not have broken me out when I used it twice a day for a week, but using it once a day seemed to be just fine.
Basically, I’m on the fence. I JUST DON’T KNOW. I can’t decide if my feelings are “good product, but not for me,” “not sure if even good product” or “maybe all Japanese toners are just not for me? Maybe I am the problem?” Specifically, the amount of alcohol was really off-putting, until I realized that many popular skincare lines, both Japanese and Korean, have beloved products with similar amounts of alcohol.
So I think my final conclusion is – if your skin is okay with alcohol, I would recommend it. It’s not cheap, but if it’s your only toner and you’ll definitely use it up, then you’re getting a year’s worth for approximately 17 cents/mL. But if your skin ISN’T okay with alcohol, skip this one entirely. There are much better toners for dehydrated skin out there.
Alright, here’s where the claws come out. I hated this. I feel bad saying it, but what’s the point of reviewing products if I’m not honest? And honestly…ugh. Least favorite product I’ve tested in a while.
Strike 1: This product is HEAVILY scented, much more so than all the others, and it was just too much for me. Unlike the other products I tried, this scent also lingered, hanging around even after I’d attempted to wash it all off. It was overwhelming.
Strike 2: The consistency. This stuff is…weird. It’s thin, but doesn’t sink in easily, leaving you rubbing this watery stuff everywhere while wondering what you’re doing wrong. It says it sinks in easily, but my experience was the exact opposite, and it took forever for me to forcibly massage it into my skin.
Strike 3: The ingredients. I haven’t talked too much about ingredients in this review, because I wanted to focus on the user experience and results. However, it should be noted that both the lotion and the emulsion contain, not one, not two, but THREE paraben types. This includes propylparaben, generally considered one of the worst of the bunch. There is certainly still disagreement about this within the scientific community, but for me, the potential risks outweigh the rewards, especially in a product I already don’t like. As for the presence of propylparaben in their lotion – as I said, there’s conflicting evidence on exactly how much it can disrupt the endocrine system. In this case, considering the lack of clear FDA regulation, I think it’s up to the consumer to decide.
So to sum up: I think it’s fair to say that there’s a large range of variety and quality across this line. It’s also fair to say that it’s very “love it or hate it” – there are some aspects, such as the scent, that may be a dealbreaker for some and an instant attraction for others. I can wholeheartedly recommend their Clear Whitening Mask, recommend their cleansing foam and lotion for certain types of skin, and…well, I hated the emulsion, so I won’t be recommending that anytime soon. Thank you so much to Sekkisei for allowing me to test and review their products, and I hope this blog post and accompanying photos do them justice.
– Chi // @skincareblue