Almost everyone knows what a fungus is. Mushrooms are the first thing people think of. We eat them. People grow them. They show up spontaneously in our gardens after it rains. ‘Fungus is among us’ goes the old saying. As a mycologist I have tons of puns.
In all seriousness now, Pitera is a fermented fungal filtrate developed and patented by SK-II, a Japanese skin care company. A fungal filtrate is a very very broad definition. Typically its thought of as the growth media (or growth liquid) that contains byproducts fungus produce. I’ve used fungal filtrates to test for toxin production in a group of fungi I was testing. We can produce specific chemicals using fungal filtrates such as yeast that can produce insulin (although insulin is typically produced using bacteria. That solution is a bacterial filtrate).
Speaking of fungal filtrates and yeast, name an alcohol. Think hard of your favorite alcohol. It is a fungal filtrate. For beer, a growth media is made of barley, malt extract, and hops (maybe some other flavoring agents). Yeast is then added and the yeast ferment the sugars and create alcohol and some beer is filtered and some isn’t. Same thing happens with wine and sake. Liquors are a filtered fungal filtrate as well. Hopefully this is a clearer understanding of a fungal filtrate.
Fungal filtrates can include everything under the sun. Sugars, peptides, amino acids, vitamins, etc. all of it can be in a fungal filtrate and the concentration of that solution can likewise be all over the place. That’s why most ingredients lists will call it a fungal filtrate instead of naming the individual components. Scientifically, we’d call this an undefined medium, we cannot identify the concentration of the individual components.
SK-II is probably the best known company who uses fungal filtrates as a cornerstone of their product line. The Derm Review did a quick review of what Pitera is and how SK-II made the discovery. I’m copying the pertinent text here but the full write up can be found here:
The manufacturer claims that the uniqueness of Pitera comes from the nutrient rich organic compounds contained in the natural ingredient. Their research suggests that this chemical, which is a clear liquid, carries an abundance of vitamins, minerals and amino acids. Ingredients like this are generally thought to be helpful for achieving healthy skin, because they provide skin cells with the necessary nutrition to regenerate themselves, and provide amino acids for repair of damaged protein structures in the skin. Using this research, SK-II founders developed a variety of products to infuse skin with the Pitera compound in an effort to stimulate cellular repair and promote more efficient skin regeneration.
I won’t lie, I’d love to do a 60-day SK-II challenge. What the company claims is absolutely possible; however, this is with continuous long term use meansured in years not months. Remember these sake brewers have been ‘using’ this fungal filtrate for decades. SK-II began their fungal filtrate journey in the 1970s after observing the hands of sake brewers (see wine!) had smoother less visibly aged hands compared to their faces. Sake brewers in Japan begin at a young age and treat the profession as we would a trade in the US. There’s not a lot of bouncing around so these brewers have spent decades with their hands submerged in this fungal filtrate. Below is a YouTube video on traditional sake brewing methods which shows brewers playing making the koji (fungus + rice) and the final product, sake, and how they come into contact with the fungal byproducts. A less complete version is found on the Sake International Association’s YT page as well.
Numerous studies have been conducted look at the effect of fungal filtrates on specific skin conditions and overall skin appearance and perceived brightness. Acne sufferers rejoice, Galactomyces ferment filtrate (GFF; galactomyces is a fungal genus) shows a reduction in sebum productions, pore size, and keratin was significantly reduced when applied 3 times as a 97% solution. This study is published in Korean but even if you can’t read korean you can still gleam a little bit from the study since there is some English in it. The study used 100 participants and used what appear to be industry standard procedures so all in all, a well performed study if it was a blind study. GFF has also been shown to decrease melanization and oxidative stress in epidermal cells. It may also decrease UVB damage in skin, but I could only find a citation and not the full article.
Skin care is LONG term. The younger you start the better the long term results. Starting in your teens with sunscreen and damage prevention is a HUGE step that the Japanese also take very seriously. In fact you’ll see people who work with their hands regularly wearing white cotton gloves when outdoors to prevent sun exposure.
Lesson 2: The nutrients we add to our skin CAN play a huge role in how our skin ages. Fungal filtrates are stuffed with vitamins, proteins, amino acids, and everything our skin can use to age gracefully. Wrinkles will happen. But helping them occur as late as possible and as fine as possible helps to minimize how old we actually look. Angela Bassett is how old exactly? Not even close to how old her skin looks. She started to take incredible care of her skin in the mid-90s and that effort is showing off now. Thankfully it doesn’t have to cost a fortune.
Products that use fungal filtrates
Concentration is going to be key for fungal filtrates. If it’s too low, you’re not going to get any real benefit from the nutrient availability. For these fungal filtrates to be effective they need to be listed in the top 5 ingredients of your skincare product. With Essence it needs to be listed as the number 1 ingredient. Often an essence will list the actual percentage on the packaging. Look for those essence with greater than 95% fungal filtrate. Several fungal filtrates exist. The most utilized is galactomyces ferment filtrate or GFF.
SK-II a luxury product with a luxury price tag but the people who use it regularly swear by it. Their website claims cult following status and it is absolutely true. The entire Pitera line at SK-II includes a high concentration of GFF similar to those tested independently. To view that line including trial sets click here. The Pitera Essence retails for $99-$290 on their website. The pictured size is 230 ml which retails for $229 on their website. This can be bought from several distributors but I’ve found the SK-II website to be the cheapest. I double apply essence using approximately 5 ml a day. This bottle would last me approximately 3 months.
COSRX is a much more budget friendly Korean skin care line that offers a toner and essence with a high concentration of GFF. The essence also contain a high concentration of GFF in line with what has been tested independently. The toner however, only contains 10% so it’s effects aren’t going to come close to lining up with the science. If you choose one, choose the essence. You can check it out here. The essence retails for around $21.
Another easily affordable essence is Benton’s Fermentation Essence. It retails for around $27 for 100 ml. I haven’t used this product personally, but the reviews are generally positive. This product is vegan, cruelty free, and contains ceramides and hyaluronic acid in it’s formula which will help moisturize and rebuild cellular integrity atop what the GFF offers.
Secret Key’s Starting Treatment Essence Rose Edition is a 94% GFF essence. This also contain niacinamide (Vitamin B3) to help further decrease pore size and other plant extracts to decrease inflammation. The Rose Edition also contain rose flower extract which aids in hydration. This is my go to GFF essence.
Other fungi have been fermented and filtered for skin care use. One is Bifida. If that name is familiar, it should be. Bifida regularis is what helps keep you ‘regular’. Activiiiiiiaaaaaaaaa. Manyo Factory also produces a bifida filtrate such as their Bifida Ferment Complex Highly Concentrated Essence Serum which also contains lactobacillus filtrate and ginseng extract.
I’ve been using Secret Key’s Essence for around a year now. I can say I’ve seen a huge improvement in my skin texture, brightness, and clarity. I’m excited to see what happens over the next year as I continue to use it. This type of product isn’t going to be the one thing to solve every skin care issue and leave you with perfect glass skin. That being said, it can give noticeable improvement after long term use. I wouldn’t suggest dropping it after a month, this is a product you have to use for at least a year before you will see a benefit.