We consulted dermatologists to see whether skin care products with sake really live up to all the hype.
Woman using skin care product
Credit: Jamie Grill / Getty Images

When you think of sake, it's probably the traditional Japanese grain alcohol made by fermenting rice that's meant for sipping. But the sake you find in skin care products isn't the same type you drink—instead, companies call on sake's fermented yeast and its alcohol-free byproducts (including rice water) for their formulations. And here's the thing: Sake, which has been used in skin care products for decades, has incredible skin benefits, says Dr. Nava Greenfield, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group. Ahead, Dr. Greenfield, along with Hadley King, MD, and Shani Darden, esthetician and founder of Shani Darden Skin Care, explain all the ways in which sake can benefit your skin.

What are sake's skin care benefits?

Sake boasts antioxidants, Darden explains, which protect the complexion against environmental stressors—such as UV exposure and pollution—and oxidative damage, which is known to speed up the signs of aging. It also boasts brightening properties: "As a skin care ingredient, it is rich in enzymes that can gently exfoliate the outer layers of skin," says Dr. King. "Also, the fermentation process produces kojic acid, which can be used as a skin lightening ingredient for hyperpigmented skin conditions such as melasma and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. It works by blocking tyrosinase from forming, which then prevents melanin production." Sake—which is more commonly listed as rice water in products' ingredient lists—can also help your skin stay moisturized. "Sake is a powerful emollient, locking in moisture with its many amino acids," says Dr. Greenfield; she adds that it may also control sweat production, reducing the appearance of enlarged pores.

Are there any cons to using a sake-infused product?

According to our experts, sake-containing skin care products are generally safe for use. Those with sensitive skin, however, shouldn't combine this ingredient with other exfoliants, says Dr. King; doing so could cause irritation, as could pairing it with other brightening creams, says Dr. Greenfield. Those with delicate complexions, continues Dr. Greenfield, should speak to their dermatologists before starting a product with sake.

When and how should you apply formulas with sake?

"The benefits of sake begin when the stratum corneum, or the top layer of skin cells, are exposed to the sake and its nutrients," explains Dr. Greenfield. Sake can be found in a myriad of formula types, from essences and serums to moisturizers—and, ultimately, how you incorporate the ingredient into your routine depends on the product you choose. If you choose the essence (which often boasts the most advantageous concentrations of this agent, says Dr. Greenfield) or serum route, Dr. King says to apply your sake formula after cleansing. And if you choose a moisturizer? That should be your last step in your routine—before sunscreen, that is.

What shoppable products contain sake?

Darden recommends her line's Sake Toning Essence ($52, sephora.com), which is packed with sake and niacinamide for softer, more radiant skin. "Unlike other toners, it's an alcohol-free formula that is free of skin-stripping ingredients and full of skin-transforming nutrients," she says, noting that her essence boasts fermented rice water as the second ingredient. Dr. King likes the SK-II Facial Treatment Essence ($235, sephora.com), while Dr. Greenfield recommends the Hydropeptide Spot Correction ($39, hydropeptide.com); the latter includes fermented rice filtrate, lactic acid, and colloidal sulfur, and provides gentle exfoliation to treat acne and pigmentary issues.


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