In recent years, the beauty industry has seen a burgeoning rise of hyperlocal skincare brands — products formulated not only for our tropical climate and urban lifestyle, but also researched and formulated right here in Singapore.
One such brand is Sage & Ylang. Harnessing the power of microbiome-friendly products, Sage & Ylang’s claim to fame lies in the delicate dance of restoring skin health while also prioritising environmental sustainability. Founder and former registered nurse Irene Chong, 54, believes that everyone deserves access to skincare products that are not only effective, but also safe and eco-friendly.
“Our commitment to this idea has led us to design and formulate our skincare line, and even to manufacture them ourselves right here in Singapore. We stay true to our ethos by using cutting-edge actives that effectively target skin conditions, while ensuring that all our products are 100 per cent plant-derived and biodegradable,” says Chong.
THE SINGAPORE BRAND
Sage & Ylang harnesses the power of microbiome-friendly products
Sage & Ylang isn’t alone in easing access to high-quality, effective skincare. Est.lab, owned by Estetica Group and currently helmed by second-generation owner Karen Lam, 42, kicked off with an R&D collaboration with A*Star in the 2000s — the first beauty brand to have any level of active investment in local R&D.
“We have always believed in ‘brand: Singapore’; this city-state that is highly organised and efficient, informed by data and innovation, global in its outlook, and produces the very highest standards in safety and quality. By extension, we believe the local brands that grew out of Singapore would abide by these same values — Est.lab included,” Lam elaborates.
And while innovation and sustainability make for great origin stories, sometimes, great ideas are borne out of a deeply personal journey — just like what Serene Ang, 45, did. The former pharmacist founded Serene SkinLab out of the need for a solution for her pregnancy-induced vitiligo.
“I started to read up on traditional therapies and how they could help my skin condition. With the help of a TCM physician, I learned that TCM focuses on inner well-being, balance, and self-healing. This started my journey to explore how to create skincare with TCM that benefits users of all skin types,” Ang describes.
For Ang, producing a hyperlocal brand means only top-quality, natural ingredients are used. Additionally, she can completely oversee the entire production process. This decision also meant it would greatly reduce carbon footprint in the long run — a win-win if one could call it that.
THE SCIENCE OF SKINCARE
While all three brands’ bedrock lies in wanting to bring innovation and accessibility to all, their formulation strategies are distinct and thoughtfully curated. In 2019, Chong recognised the potential of the skin microbiome category and launched Sage & Ylang, a skincare line that harnessed the efficacy of microbiomes.
The skin microbiome comprises approximately a thousand varieties of bacteria and microorganisms residing on the human skin, which play a vital role in maintaining skin health. The existence of beneficial bacteria on the skin can limit the proliferation of harmful microbes, leading to a healthier skin environment.
Serene Ang, founder of SkinLab
Sage & Ylang’s extensive research was made possible through collaborations with local and overseas science institutions. Additionally, it’s committed to staying true to its ethos by using cutting-edge actives that effectively target skin conditions while ensuring that all its products are 100 per cent plant-derived and biodegradable.
For Serene SkinLab, Ang’s challenge lies in shattering the stereotype that TCM is only for medical aid. She observes that there’s been heightened awareness and a keen interest in harnessing the benefits of traditional medicines.
In fact, the last few years have seen a wave of international brands incorporating herbs into their formulations — some even developing a complete line of products using TCM concepts and methodologies. She takes pride in her products being free of preservatives, scents, parabens, and harmful and synthetic additives.
“Avoiding these means continuously searching for natural and organic alternatives to be used such that they are effective and safe while remaining affordable for our customers,” she says.
Ang shares an example of the Calming Repair Cream, a Serene SkinLab top-seller that customers frequently use to manage skin conditions such as eczema and sensitive skin — even on their kids, since the formulation is safe for younger complexions.
A TIKTOK HIT
Est.lab’s strategy slightly differs in that it leans on creating fuss-free, on-the-go, eco-friendly skincare essentials; it created its first waterless LumiGlow Enzyme Cleansing Pods. The pods use freeze-drying technology that removes moisture from the formulation for 100 per cent freshness and efficacy. It’s also a hit on TikTok.
SkinLabs LumiGlow Smart Buddy Device
“Freeze-drying decreases the molecular weight of the cleansing pods, hence reducing their carbon footprint during shipping — a push towards sustainability efforts,” Lam explains. “The pods combine a makeup remover, cleanser, and exfoliator all in a single product. Not only is it gentle enough for all skin types, but it’s also convenient for travel, post-workouts, in-flight, and more, so you’ll never skip a cleanse.”
Similarly, its LumiGlow Smart Buddy Device which was launched in July last year, has won three awards from various fashion magazines here. It features the use of different coloured lights as therapy (photo- and chromatherapy), galvanic ions and vibrations for cleansing, heat to stimulate microcirculation (thermotherapy), and cold to calm inflammation (cryotherapy). The revolutionary product resulted from community feedback for a no-fuss, easy-to-use self-care solution for a generation starved of time and needing a quick fix.
Still, choosing to maintain a hyperlocal brand comes with its own set of challenges, with expensive space rentals and Singapore’s modest market size being just two hurdles that Sage & Ylang has had to wrestle with.
Ang admits that Serene SkinLab’s struggles have more to do with fine-tuning its formulations to suit our tropical climate and unique skin concerns. “Many skincare brands that are developed overseas may not be suitable for our humid climate or our skin type,” Ang says.
Est.lab creates fuss-free, on-the-go, eco-friendly skincare essentials
“After all, we are ‘uniquely Singapore’, so we should use products specially developed for us. As a local brand, we understand the importance of using products specially developed for our unique climate and skin type, and we encourage other local brands to do the same.”
Beyond logistical obstacles, Est.lab believes that there’s a general perception that homegrown skincare products are of lower quality, and consequently, that ‘made in Singapore’ products should command a lower price point.
“That is probably our biggest challenge, branding-wise, and with every customer engagement, we aspire to convert one more fan to the Est.lab family.”
TO A BRIGHTER FUTURE
As all three brands look to the future, Lam reflects on one of the key factors that could potentially help thrust other local, formulated and made-in-Singapore skincare brands to renowned success.
“Many brands outsource their R&D and formulations, which handicaps their efforts to carve out unique competitive advantages — and consequently, unique brands. I think we can do a whole lot more by investing in local R&D to develop groundbreaking innovations that have the potential to drive global skincare trends,” she posits.
Chong, on the other hand, believes that while great outreach to influencers and a cult following of brands have led to local skincare brands’ achievements, a lack of emphasis on green and sustainable ingredients and holistic beauty is robbing them of increased success.
Sage & Ylang’s products are 100 per cent plant-derived and biodegradable.’s products are 100 per cent plant-derived and biodegradable.
What Sage & Ylang, SkinLab, and Est.lab have done is pave a new way of looking at hyperlocal brands — even beyond the beauty industry — by entrusting their brands’ research and formulation to other local businesses.
If one thing’s for certain, it’s apparent that all three brands share a common belief that innovation, product diversification, and strategic expansion are necessary to not only stay competitive, but excel in the global market.
Below, are three homegrown skincare brands. These three skincare brands are all born and raised in Singapore. Some boast clean skincare philosophies while others focus on cutting-edge skin rejuvenation technology.