Singapore has its own share of superstar beauty mavericks – and they’re not necessarily products of the social media age. Skin Inc founder Sabrina Tan was originally an IT professional whose desire for a streamlined beauty regime led her to start her business of fuss-free, customisable serums in 2007. Two years ago, it became the first home-grown brand to be sold at Sephora in the United States.
And pre-Spa Esprit, Cynthia Chua was straddling work as a marketing executive for a bank, and a property agent. To open her own alternative to a traditional “zen” spa, she literally took things into her own hands and studied massage techniques. Two decades on, it’s an international conglomerate that includes waxing chain Strip, brow-grooming salon Browhaus and a namesake makeup line.
Sure, their wild card successes sound right out of a John Lee Hancock movie. For the everyday woman looking for perfect skin, their left field stories can also make their brands more relatable. Says Chua: “It doesn’t matter if you’re in the trade or not. In beauty, people come back to a product or service because it works for them. Spa Esprit started because I wanted a home-grown apothecary spa, and realised there was a gap in the market.” Now, add two more names who are bringing new meaning to the term DIY beauty:
Socialite Tanny Kea founded her all-natural, no-frills top-to-toe skincare brand Javaglow three years ago, after making a decision to overhaul her lifestyle. “I saw my friends suffering from all sorts of ailments. Some even lost their lives. I became really interested in healthy living and started by changing my exercise, sleeping and eating habits,” says Kea. “The only thing I couldn’t get was skincare with safe, natural ingredients – so I created my own.”
Toned and glowing at age 45, Kea is a walking testament of her lifestyle and products. Armed with an almost militant aversion to chemicals and synthetic ingredients (“the average woman is exposed to 168 types of chemicals every day just by living a normal lifestyle”), she launched her first product, Coffee Scrub, with the belief that exfoliation is the “number one key to anti-ageing”. Meant for use on the face, body and scalp, it’s made with antioxidant-packed coffee powder, mineral-rich Himalayan salt, extra virgin coconut oil, and a host of essential oils.
“I would fill up empty vitamin bottles with the scrub and hand them out to friends,” she says. “They kept coming back for more, and that’s when I realised that there’s a business to make out of this.
I was already 43 years old then, so it was now or never.”
Kea has since added to her line a Shower Oil and Body Lotion, which double as facial cleanser and moisturiser respectively. Along the way, she’s built a sizable following here: she’s stocked exclusively online at www.skin.works – as well as South-east Asian countries like Vietnam and Thailand.
Says local spa owner and customer Brenda Goi: “I’ve always struggled with eczema and psoriasis, and I’ve been desperately trying to find something to calm my itchy, irritated skin over the years. Javaglow is the only brand I’ve ever tried that’s given instant results. My skin has never felt more amazing, and my eczema has cleared drastically.”
#2: Allies Of Skin
Also breaking into the industry is 27-year-old Nicolas Travis, who founded skincare company Allies Of Skin last year. From his baby-smooth skin, it’s hard to tell that he suffered from acne as an adolescent – his main reason for wanting to start his own skincare empire since young. How good one’s skin is, he says, affects one’s self-confidence.
He went so far as to study biomedical and pharmaceutical science and – as an International Business Master’s student – wrote a thesis that was essentially a plan to launch a skincare start-up. Then, a job as social media manager at Ogilvy & Mather came calling post-graduation. It would take him eight months to return to his original calling. (Agency life, he says, just wasn’t for him.)
His first product: 1A All-day Mask ($99 for 50ml), which protects skin with a breathable anti-pollution shield. Created to work under makeup and sunblock without needing to be washed off, it’s also charged with 35 active ingredients said to hydrate and strengthen skin’s delicate barrier, as well as repair stressed skin.
Packaged in a sleek, minimalist black tube, it’s become a mini social media hit, with local women, including beauty vlogger/Female Collective member Guan Min, praising its efficacy on Instagram. (Just search for the hashtag #alliesofskin.)
In March, he revealed two other products, both also meant to be fuss-free skincare solutions for busy, modern women. Molecular Saviour Toner Mist ($69 for 50ml) is an antioxidant and probiotic-packed facial mist that hydrates, tones and refines pores. The 1A Overnight Mask ($109 for 50ml) works like the day mask – just slap it on and leave it – except that it detoxifies and nourishes skin while one sleeps. All are available on the brand’s website www.alliesofskin.com.
Kea and Travis might not be traditionally trained beauticians or aestheticians, but they’re no homespun beauty junkies either. Employing the assistance of scientists and doctors, both have undergone extensive research and conducted numerous trials to ensure that their brands are up to commercial standards.
Kea spent two years studying and doing her own research, before pairing up with doctors, chemists and naturopaths to develop Javaglow. Dr Caroline Low – a GP with an interest in anti-ageing – is her medical adviser, and all products go through rigorous testing before launch. (Her shower oil and body lotion, for example, were tested on patients with eczema and other skin problems for over
She says: “In fact, I first marketed my products through doctors and clinics. After all, doctors are the most difficult to convince.”
Meanwhile, it took Travis two years of clinical trials and 10 revisions to arrive at his 1A All-day Mask. The meticulous testing, it turns out, not only helped perfect the formula, but also proved its efficacy: Travis says that after 28 days of use, non-inflammatory acne lesions can be reduced by 36 per cent. True to his back-to-basics approach, all products are also said to be allergy- and dermatologist-tested, non-comedogenic and non-acnegenic.
The next step? To help transform Singapore into a beauty capital. Says Travis: “South Korea might be leading the industry in terms of innovation… but many companies there are just copying one another. With our small size and sophisticated consumers, we’re in a great place to test drive and create something truly novel.”
How you know the brand is set to achieve bigger and better things: In February 2017, Allies Of Skin became the first Singaporean beauty brand to be stocked on international e-tailers such as Net-A-Porter, Mr. Porter and Barneys. His advice? Be relentless: “I flew down to London to meet with the head decision maker of the Net-A-Porter team. He had the kit sitting on his desk for months and did not try them until that meeting in London, so having face time is super important.”
An adapted version first appeared in Female‘s May 2016 issue. Additional updates were added on March 1, 2017 by Isabel Ong.