Watermelon, pineapple, banana and papaya – in the hands of Sarah Lee and Christine Chang, they’re not just the ingredients for a refreshing fruit salad. The Korean beauty experts and Glow Recipe founders tell Zaneta Cheng why their fruit-based formulas are the ultimate multi-taskers and how to create your very own skincare ‘wardrobe’.
The mid-2010s may be best remembered as the era in which the 10-step Korean skincare routine swept across the US and the rest of the world. Thanks to experts like Sarah Lee and Christine Chang, co-founders and co-CEOs of Glow Recipe, concepts such as sheet masking, ampoules, PH-optimum toner, snail slime and bee venom infiltrated bathrooms and beauty habits as consumers everywhere sought out the secret to Korean women’s coveted “glass skin”.
Lee and Chang had been in the beauty industry for more than a decade when they joined forces to launch an English-language e-commerce site for Korean cosmetics. The following year, in December 2015, they appeared on Shark Tank and secured a US$425,000 investment from Robert Herjavec to produce their own line of skincare products. The hunger for fun Korean packaging and innovative ingredients, that in turn spawned thousands of YouTube tutorials, only continued to grow throughout the decade.
These days, however, K-Beauty has become largely normalised. Western conglomerates have picked up on trends and released their equivalents, trying to catch some of the enthusiasm for the K-Beauty market for themselves. Drugstores stock sheet masks next to magazines at the till and women are looking for a less arduous routine.
“K-Beauty touches on and informs every part of the global skincare industry through different brands, categories and retailers. It’s no longer limited to its label and is beyond a category. ”
“Korea is always at the forefront of the next big trend and has truly become a global phenomenon. K-Beauty touches on and informs every part of the global skincare industry through different brands, using into packaging to formula textures and overarching sensorial experience. We took viewers behind the scenes to our factory in Korea when making the Watermelon Glow Sleeping Mask, and our community loved that we utilise absolutely every part of the watermelon from extract and seed oil to flesh and rind.”
The focus on fruit is part of Glow Recipe’s bid to take K-Beauty back to basics. Lee – who grew up in Seoul and went to school in Hong Kong – recalls how when they were kids their grandmothers would rub cold watermelon rind (without the fruit) on their backs to cool and treat heat rash in the hot summer months in Korea and “our rashes would be gone by morning”.
Chang – who grew up in Louisiana but moved back to Korea for middle school – also shares with Lee a fondness for traditional bathhouse ingredients. “Throughout our childhood, going to Korean bathhouses was a weekly beauty tradition. This is where we first saw innovative hybrid treatments for the face and body using natural ingredients like green tea and milk to boost skin,” she says.
“Seeing natural ingredients used in Korean bathhouses inspired many of our fruit-based skincare products today. As we got older and began travelling back and forth to Korea, we would frequent Korean spas for their efficient, innovative skin pick-me-ups, like the Aqua Peel Facial, which would refine pores and hydrate skin at the same time, which inspired our Watermelon Glow PHA+BHA Pore-Tight Toner. We harnessed an equal balance of pore-refining actives and hydrating ingredients to give skin a dual benefit in one product.”
Even in a hybrid-style routine, however, there are basic steps. Cleansing, toning, moisturising and SPF remain the mainstays for a daytime routine. Chang recommends that in dry winters, focus should be put on hydration, pointing to the brand’s Plum Plump Hyaluronic Serum with its three types of plum and five molecular weights of hyaluronic acid to quench skin with intense hydration.
The varying molecular weights reach even the deepest layers of skin and the plum provides vitamin C and antioxidants to brighten skin. In summer she suggests a pore-refining focus with hydration that’s lightweight and oil-free, something the Watermelon Glow line is perfectly suited to.
Now stocked internationally, and available in Hong Kong via Sephora, Glow Recipe and its founders are looking ahead to even more innovations in Korean skincare. “After the stressful year 2020 has been, we foresee an emphasis on skin immunity and barrier- strengthening ingredients like ceramides,” Lee says.
“Be prepared to see products that are hybrids of different steps in your routine or have multiple purposes and usage. Consumers have become more and more educated about their skincare and know the value of having true hyphenate skincare and maximising their routines.”