The full name of the product is Black Sugar Perfect First Serum No. 1 Original (as opposed to No. 2 Fraud?).
>>Oct. 2016 Update: Skinfood discontinued this and in fact came out with a No. 2 version: 2X Essential for dry skin, reviewed here, and 2X Light for oily skin. 2X Essential is slightly reformulated and has a pH of 5 but is otherwise indistinguishable from the original, so everything in this post still applies.<<
It’s basically a first treatment essence that claims to exfoliate, brighten, fight wrinkles, and hydrate. As with other “first essences,” I use this as a toner. (Skinfood classifies this as a serum, not a toner, but its directions are to use immediately after cleansing.) I tested the pH to be between 4 and 5. There are a few physical Skinfood stores in the U.S. now. I picked up this Black Sugar Serum at one of the stores in Flushing. (It was my consolation purchase after pH-testing a bunch of cleansers that turned out to be alkaline.)
My experience with first treatment essences is limited. The only other one I’ve used regularly is the original version of the famed Missha First Treatment Essence. Compared to the Missha, I prefer Black Sugar Serum. Whereas the Missha has always felt like applying water, the Skinfood’s texture is slightly thicker and has more instantly gratifying hydrating and soothing effects (important because my skin otherwise dries out while waiting to apply PocketDerm). The Skinfood leaves a slightly sticky feeling (not nearly as sticky as Hada Labo Gokujyun though) and a residue–but in a good way, like it’s enveloping your skin in a veil of glowiness. Of course any stickiness goes away when I apply the next step of skincare.
Oh and did I mention the delicious scent of boozy sugar? I haven’t actually smelled black sugar, so maybe that’s just what black sugar smells like. In any case, I love the light fragrance (it fades quickly).
I wish I could say more about the exfoliating and brightening claims, but since I use stronger products than this for exfoliation and brightening, I can’t tell how much of a difference this product alone made. To be clear, it could have helped since it contains ingredients with those potential effects.
I’ll note that it did nothing to reduce or prevent pimples despite the presence of salicylic acid. Its concentration is likely too low to produce real results. I can’t find the link now, but I recall Paula’s Choice saying that 0.5% is the highest OTC concentration for salicylic acid in Korea, so even assuming the max concentration, that’s quite low compared to the 2% routinely found in U.S. products (and which I already don’t respond to).
Update: Paula’s Choice explains on YouTube here (tee’d up to start at 18:20) that 0.5% salicylic acid/BHA is the maximum concentration allowed under Korean regulations, and that’s why Paula’s Choice sells some different formulations in Korea.
Skinfood sells cotton pads intended to accompany the Black Sugar Serum that actually work very well. The pads are sturdy with a textured side (to exfoliate) and a smooth side (to press the product into the skin).
I was bummed when I ran out of these, but the Serum does apply just as well with any old pad. I actually sometimes drip it directly onto my face and smooth it on with my fingers if I don’t need the physical exfoliation of a cotton pad or if I want an extra dose of
boozy black sugar goodness. On my box, there is a silver sticker with a different ingredients list than appears on the box. This could just be a matter of different labeling requirements in the U.S. vs. Korea.
What jumped out was that the original list (on the box) has black sugar extract–the star ingredient–as the 2nd ingredient whereas the U.S. list (the sticker) doesn’t, but it does have sucrose listed as the 10th ingredient.
I would repurchase. It’s a terrific hydrating toner and is pleasant to use.
Pros: Hydrates and soothes. More instant gratification than Missha FTE. Light boozy sugar scent. Cotton pads are high quality.
Cons: “Active” ingredients could be in higher concentrations.