Starting a Korean skincare routine can seem a bit daunting sometimes, since there are so many ingredients to figure out. It can be difficult to know what these ingredients do, and which ones are best for your particular skin concerns.
Galactomyces ferment filtrate is an ingredient often used in Korean skincare products that many people starting a skincare routine (including myself) know nothing about. I found out that galactomyces can have huge benefits for your skin and that it’s a beloved skincare ingredient in Korea and Japan (as are fermented skincare products in general). So, I decided it’s time to share what information I could find out about galactomyces so that you can start benefiting from this ingredient too.
What Is Galactomyces Ferment Filtrate?
Galactomyces Ferment Filtrate is a by-product of fermented sake (hence why its use originates in Asia). Galactomyces is actually a nutrient-dense yeast and the story goes that it was discovered in Japan (in the 1970’s) after it was noticed that the hands of old sake brewers looked very young, wrinkle-free and smooth. People must have been curious (and envious) at the sake brewer’s youthful hands and the eventual laboratory analysis of fermented sake found galactomyces!
But what is galactomyces ferment filtrate then? Well, as the name suggests, it’s simply the filtrate of the fermentation of a food substrate by the galactomyces microorganisms. During the process of fermentation, the galactomyces yeast break down natural ingredients that they have been added to, making new compounds that are beneficial for the skin (such as amino acids, organic acids and antioxidants). So in simpler terms, the ferment filtrate is the liquid that contains all the beneficial compounds that were created during the fermentation process – and it’s these compounds that benefit the skin (not the yeast directly).
The Benefits Of Fermented Ingredients In Skincare
Fermented ingredients are pretty big in Korean skincare, and they have been for a long time. This is why you will see so many fermented ingredients in hanbang products (you can read about what hanbang is here).
Before I go on to talking about the benefits of fermented ingredients, there is something important worth mentioning: The benefits of fermented ingredients on the skin haven’t been as thoroughly researched as some other skincare ingredients. That’s not to say there isn’t any peer-reviewed research available, but there is simply not as much as other skincare ingredients such as vitamin A (retinol), vitamin B (niacinamide) and vitamin C. I was only able to find 3 peer-reviewed studies on the effects of galactomyces ferment filtrate on the skin (which I’ve referenced below if you’d like to have a look at them).
However, hopefully the increasing popularity of hanbang ingredients in skincare products will open the doors to more research in this area.
That disclaimer aside, fermented ingredients are becoming more and more popular in Korean skincare products that I think it’s really important to know a little bit about them.
While researching for this article, I found that there are 4 main benefits that fermented ingredients have for your skin:
- The vitamins and antioxidants created by the fermentation process help to strengthen the skin’s moisture barrier. This helps to keep the skin hydrated and prevent water-loss as well as helping to prevent damage from environmental stresses (such as UV light) from occurring (see the relevant study on galactomyces here).
- The fermentation process creates new substances (amino acids, organic acids and antioxidants) that are beneficial for the skin. This means that natural ingredients can be used in skincare products to produce substances that help to hydrate and nourish the skin.
- The fermentation process helps your skin to absorb nutrients more easily and quickly. This is because during the fermentation process, active ingredients are broken down into smaller parts by the microorganisms. This study compared the anti-aging efficacy of red ginseng and fermented red ginseng in the treatment of wrinkles – and it was found that the process of fermenting red ginseng increased its anti-wrinkle and skin-brightening efficacy.
- Fermentation of skincare ingredients decreases the likelihood of skin sensitization. The same study as I mentioned above also found that fermenting red ginseng resulted in a significant decrease in skin irritation – which the authors suggest is most likely due to the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant substances (such as flavonoids) that are created during the fermentation process.
The Effects Of Galactomyces Ferment Filtrate On The Skin
I’ve discussed what the general benefits of fermented skincare products are, but the effects can vary between ingredients within products and the microorganisms used in the fermentation process.
So what benefits does galactomyces ferment filtrate have on your skin? As I’ve already mentioned, the story goes that galactomyces was discovered in the 1970’s when it was noticed that the hands of elderly sake brewers didn’t look aged at all compared to their faces (since their hands are in contact with the fermenting sake).
The luxurious Japanese brand, SK-II, was the first brand to produce skincare products containing galactomyces ferment filtrate – and their Facial Treatment Essence is a favorite among skincare enthusiasts as it’s extremely rich in vitamins, amino acids, minerals and organic acids.
There are only 4 scientific studies (in the English language) that I could find, which have investigated the effects that galactomyces ferment filtrate has on the skin.
So far, these studies have found that galactomyces ferment filtrate:
- Reduces melanin synthesis, making it a suitable ingredient for reducing hyperpigmentation. This in vitro study for example, found that melanin within human melanocytes was reduced by 35% when treated with 5% galactomyces ferment filtrate, and reduced by 55% when treated with 10% galactomyces ferment filtrate (both over a period of 25 days).
- Strengthens the skin’s barrier by upregulating the differentiation of keratinocytes and activating the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR), therefore helping to protect the skin from water loss and UV damage – as shown by this study and this study.
- Decreases the number of enlarged pores and blackheads. This Korean study found that treating with an essence containing 97% galactomyces ferment filtrate reduces the number of enlarged open pores and blackheads by 15 and 21%, respectively.
- Reduces sebum production. The same study as above, found that treating the skin with the essence containing 97% galactomyces ferment filtrate decreased sebum production by 64%.
- Reduces acne. Again, the same study found the galactomyces ferment filtrate essence decreased the number of acne lesions by 9%.
Korean (and Japanese) Galactomyces Products To Try
I found that there is a growing range of Korean skincare products available containing galactomyces ferment filtrate, and I’ve listed the most popular ones below (they’re in alphabetical order).
Korean (And Japanese) Skincare Products With Galactomyces Ferment Filtrate
- Benton – Fermentation Essence (Contains 80% galactomyces ferment filtrate)
- COSRX Galactomyces Alcohol Free Toner (Contains 10% galactomyces ferment filtrate)
- COSRX – Galactomyces 95 Tone Balancing Essence (Contains 95% galactomyces ferment filtrate)
- Elizavecca – Witch Piggy Hell-Pore Galactomyces Premium Ample (Contains 97% galactomyces ferment filtrate)
- iUNIK Rose Galactomyces Essential Toner (Contains 10% galactomyces ferment filtrate)
- iUNIK – Rose Galactomyces Silky Tone-Up Cream (Contains 5000ppm galactomyces ferment filtrate, which is equivalent to only 0.5%).
- iUNIK – Rose Galactomyces Synergy Serum (Contains 50% galactomyces ferment filtrate)
- Manyo Factory – Galactomy Niacin Essence (Contains 97% galactomyces ferment filtrate)
- MIZON – Skin Power Original First Essence (Contains 94.5% galactomyces ferment filtrate)
- PURITO – Galacto Niacin 97 Power Essence (Contains 92% galactomyces ferment filtrate)
- SCINIC – First Treatment Essence (Contains 90% galactomyces ferment filtrate)
- Secret Key – Starting Treatment Essence – Rose Edition (Contains 94% galactomyces ferment filtrate)
- SK-II – Facial Treatment Essence (Japanese brand. Contains 90% galactomyces ferment filtrate)
- Some By Mi – Galactomyces Pure Vitamin C Glow Serum (Contains 75% galactomyces ferment filtrate)
- Some By Mi – Galactomyces Pure Vitamin C Glow Toner (Contains 88% galactomyces ferment filtrate)
That’s a pretty big list of products to choose from! As you can see, more than half of the products I’ve listed are first treatment essences (AKA fermentation essences), with the remaining ones being either toners, serums or creams.
The best skincare products with galactomyces are first essences (also known as first treatment essences, FTEs or fermentation essences) – which are in bold in my list above.
What Are First Treatment Essences?
First treatment essences are thin and watery, which makes them appear similar to toners. However, they differ to toners in that they all contain very high concentrations of fermented ingredients and that they need to be applied slightly differently in order for them to be effective on your skin (see how below).
Just to be extra confusing, first essences also differ to traditional essences (which are thicker and similar to serums AND don’t contain very high concentrations of fermented ingredients).
I’ve included one Japanese product in my list (the SK-II – Facial Treatment Essence), simply because it’s a cult favorite when it comes to fermentation essences and because the brand SK-II was the first brand to introduce galactomyces into skincare products.
Why Choose A First Treatment Essence Over Other Types of Skincare Products With Galactomyces?
As I’ve already mentioned, if you’re really looking to benefit from galactomyces ferment filtrate, it’s best to choose a first treatment essence. This is because as you can see from my list above, first treatment essences contain the highest concentrations of galactomyces ferment filtrate (mostly above 90%).
One of the studies I have linked to in this article (here’s the link again) used a first treatment essence containing 97% of galactomyces ferment filtrate. This study found that galactomyces ferment filtrate has various benefits on the skin at this concentration (including a decrease in the size of enlarged pores, a decrease in blackheads and acne, an increase in skin brightness AND a decrease in sebum production)! My point here is that to replicate the results of this study on your own skin, it may be best to use a first treatment essence with a concentration as close to 97% as possible.
What Are The Best First Treatment Essences With Galactomyces Ferment Filtrate?
So which of the 15 products above would I use? I’ve listed my top 3 choices below, with a bit more information about each product (and YES, they are all first treatment essences):
1. Secret Key – Starting Treatment Essence – Rose Edition
How much galactomyces ferment filtrate does it contain? Contains 94% galactomyces ferment filtrate.
Other notable ingredients: Niacinamide (skin brightening and anti-aging properties), Rose Water (anti-inflammatory properties that help reduce skin irritation and get rid of acne. It’s also been shown to help control excess sebum production), Acorus Gramineus Root/Stem Extract (a plant extract with anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antimicrobial properties), Perilla Ocymoides Leaf Extract (this plant extract has soothing and antioxidant properties), and Adenosine (a yeast-derived ingredient that has skin-soothing and anti-wrinkle properties).
Full ingredients list: Only 9 ingredients!! Galactomyces Ferment Filtrate, Dipropylene Glycol, Niacinamide, Glycerin, Citrus Grandis (Grapefruit) Seed Extract, Acorus Gramineus Root/Stem Extract, Perilla Ocymoides Leaf Extract, Rosa Centifolia Flower Water, Adenosine.
2. SK-II – Facial Treatment Essence
How much galactomyces ferment filtrate does it contain? Contains 90% galactomyces ferment filtrate.
Other notable ingredients: No other notable ingredients as this first essence is all about the galactomyces. It contains 90% of the brand’s signature ingredient – Pitera – which contains vitamins, amino acids, minerals and organic acids derived during the fermentation of a special strain of galactomyces yeast.
Full ingredients list: Only contains 7 ingredients!! Galactomyces Ferment Filtrate, Butylene Glycol, Pentylene Glycol, Water, Sodium Benzoate, Methylparaben, Sorbic Acid.
3. Manyo Factory – Galactomy Niacin Essence
How much galactomyces ferment filtrate does it contain? Contains a whopping 97% galactomyces ferment filtrate!
Other notable ingredients: Niacinamide (skin brightening and anti-aging properties), Zanthoxylum Piperitum Fruit Extract (commonly known as Japanese pepper and provides antioxidants to the skin), Pulsatilla Koreana Extract (hanbang ingredient with anti-inflammatory effects), Witch Hazel Extract (helps to shrink pores and has anti-inflammatory and skin-soothing properties), and Sodium Hyaluronate (the water-soluble salt form of hyaluronic acid and helps the skin retain moisture).
Full ingredients list: Only 7 ingredients!! Galactomyces Ferment Filtrate, Niacinamide, Zanthoxylum Piperitum Fruit Extract, Pulsatilla Koreana Extract, Usnea Barbata (Lichen) Extract, Hamamelis Virginiana (Witch Hazel) Extract, Sodium Hyaluronate
Where to buy: Amazon
How To Use First Treatment Essences Properly
Before I finish off this article, I thought it’s important to talk about how to use a first treatment essence properly so that you can be sure to get the maximum benefits from the product you’re using.
As their name suggests, first treatment essences are applied before everything else in your skincare routine (after you’ve cleansed your skin).
You can either pour some of the essence onto a cotton pad or onto clean hands and gently pat it onto your skin. Some people also like to decant their first essence into a small spray bottle and mist it onto their face. This ensures that every part of your face benefits from your first essence while also making your product last longer. These glass spray bottles from Amazon are perfect as they produce a very fine mist.
So the order of your skincare routine might look something like this:
Oil cleanser > water-based cleanser > FIRST TREATMENT ESSENCE > hydrating toners > serums, traditional essences, and/or ampoules > moisturizers > facial oil > sunscreen (AM) / sleeping pack (PM)
An Important Note If You’re Using pH-Dependant Actives In Your Skincare Routine
I just said that first treatment essences should be applied after cleansing and before applying any other skincare products, and you will find that these are the instructions that brands give with their products too.
HOWEVER – if you are using any pH-dependent actives in your skincare routine (such as vitamin C in the form of L-ascorbic acid, AHA, BHA, and retinoids such as retinol, retinal or tretinoin), you will need to apply these BEFORE you apply your first treatment essence.
So, if your skincare routine consists of one or more products containing actives, the order would look like this:
Oil cleanser > water-based cleanser > vitamin C serum (usually AM) > BHA (usually PM) > AHA (usually PM) > FIRST TREATMENT ESSENCE > hydrating toners > serums, traditional essences, and/or ampoules > moisturizers > facial oil > sunscreen (AM) / sleeping pack (PM)
Apply Your First Treatment Essence Liberally And In Layers For The Best Results
While reading many reviews and forum threads about people’s experiences with first treatment essences containing galactomyces, I found that people found the best results when they applied their product quite liberally and in layers.
I suspect that the reason for this is that the beneficial compounds in first treatment essences are present in quite minute amounts and that applying layers lets more of these compounds absorb into your skin.
Wow. I’ve really learned so much about ferments and their role in skincare products and I really understand why they are so popular in Korea and Japan now. Not only did researching for this article help me to better understand what galactomyces ferment filtrate is and how it can benefit my skin, but I found out so much about first treatment essences, which I hadn’t really considered incorporating into my simple skincare routine until now.
I really hope that I’ve been able to answer most of the questions you’ve had about galactomyces – or ferments in general. Please let me know in the comments below if you’ve tried any of the products I’ve mentioned in this post, and of course, what results you saw!
Hattori et al., 2010 “Effects of Galactomyces Ferment Filtrate On Epidermal Barrier Marker Caspase-14 in Human Skin Cells“, Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, Volume 62, Issue 3, Supplement 1, p. AB54
Hyun-Sun Lee et al., 2012 “Fermenting Red Ginseng Enhances Its Safety and Efficacy as a Novel Skin Care Anti-Aging Ingredient: In Vitro and Animal Study“, Journal of Medicinal Food, Volume 15, Issue 1, pp: 1015–1023
Lee et al., 2012 “Fermenting red ginseng enhances its safety and efficacy as a novel skin care anti-aging ingredient: in vitro and animal study“, J Med Food, Volume 15, Issue 11, pp: 1015-23
Lee et al., 2014 “The Effects of Essence-Formed Cosmetic Ingredients Containing the Galactomyces Ferment Filtrate on Skin Improvements in Keratinization, Pores, Sebum Excretion, Brightness and Acne“, Kor J Aesthet Cosmetol, Volume 12, Issue 1, pp: 77-84
Shin et al., 2018 “Probiotic fermentation augments the skin anti-photoaging properties of Agastache rugosa through up-regulating antioxidant components in UV-B-irradiated HaCaT keratinocytes“, BMC Complement Altern Med., Volume 26, Issue 18, p. 196
Takei et al., 2015 “Galactomyces fermentation filtrate prevents T helper 2-mediated reduction of filaggrin in an aryl hydrocarbon receptor-dependent manner“, Clin Exp Dermatol., Volume 40, Issue 7, pp: 786-93
Woolridge et al., 2014 “Galactomyces ferment filtrate reduces melanin synthesis and oxidative stress in normal human melanocytes“, Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, Volume 70, Issue 5, Supplement 1, Page AB127
Wu et al., 2018 “Evaluation of Tyrosinase Inhibitory, Antioxidant, Antimicrobial, and Antiaging Activities of Magnolia officinalis Extracts after Aspergillus niger Fermentation“, Biomed Res. Int. Published Online November 15, 2018, doi: 10.1155/2018/5201786