White City Entrepreneurs: A Face Isn’t Just A Face

Originally published on White Noise

September 2018

As someone who battled with acne for over a decade before finding a peaceful resolution, skincare is one of my biggest passions. I’m very eager to meet someone who loves it just as I do. As Jin Kwon walks over with a warm smile, I notice how flawless her skin is, a vivid testimony to why Korean beauty has become so popular across the globe. Jin is the CEO of Tonic15, a company that scouts for the best Korean skincare brands and brings their products to the UK.

Korean-born Jin’s love of skincare was passed down from her mother. She gives me some contextual background on skincare in Korea, explaining that going to a dermatologist is part of everyday life in thFe Far East. Just like my own, her journey with skin cosmetics has been an on-going one. “I realise how important skincare is as I age. I’m 34 now, soon to be 35. A face isn’t just a face. It isn’t just about what brand you put on it. It’s how stressed you are, how you manage it and what you eat. Your lifestyle shows on your skin.” It’s true. Processed sugar, dairy and hormonal changes turn my skin into an angry, bulbous battlefield.

Much like myself, Jin has always had her heart set on starting a business; she tells me that she originally wanted to set up a Korean fried chicken place when immigrating to London, but her husband wasn’t so keen. Graduating with an MBA from the London Business School last year gave Jin the kick that she needed. “I felt it was my last chance to start up a business.”

She decided to take the plunge and utilise her network of beauty magazines, spa, professionals and friends in the beauty industry. Jin explains how the scouting and on boarding process works. “If I find an interesting brand, I’ll reach out to them and help to bring them into the European market. It’s quite difficult because we have to go through regulations and compliance,” she says. I’ll work with the brand on their branding and marketing in the UK using services like Scaffolding Wrap Advertising and others.

Finding a routine that works for you is a game of Russian roulette with your visage, which Jin knows all about. Her business partner in Korea works alongside a number of Korean beauty brands, meaning Jin always has plenty of samples to try out. “I’m the master guinea pig. I have panel including people with different types of skin. Everyone has different skin so you have to test it on a lot of different types.” She compares her skin to her husband’s. “He has oily skin with acne. I have dry combination skin. I can’t promo what I don’t believe in. My goal is to share high quality products that I like and that works.”

I’m interested to know Jin feels Asian beauty has become so popular in the West.

She says, “The quality of Korean products is outstanding. Korean beauty is such an interesting space and its customers are super demanding when it comes to beauty. They’re really well educated. People are always checking the ingredients of products. If a brand has really harsh ingredients like parabens, then people never buy it.”

Ever the eager beaver, I want to know more about the ingredients in skincare products from the East.  “In Asia, horse oil is very popular. It has a lot of vitamin E. I’ve seen seahorse as an ingredient. Korean products are known for ingredients like snails and those are good, but now you see a lot of plant-based ingredients. I’m more focused on that. I make sure there are no harsh ingredients in it.” Harsh chemicals are a no-no for me too. They can mess with the skin’s natural barrier, causing inflammation, breakouts, dryness and rashes. I steer clear of products with benzoyl peroxide, which make my skin dry and itchy.

Korean skincare is infamously known for its 10-step routines, which Jin doesn’t abide by. “It’s about making sure you clean, nourish and protect your skin. You don’t need to use 10 products. It’s about finding the right skincare routine that you can use within a short time and keep it simple.” That’s exactly what Tonic15 does with its 15-minute fixes. “Everyone’s busy. No matter how busy we are, we should have those 15 minutes of taking caring of ourselves.”

With autumn on the way bringing with it dry and cold air, it’s time for a skincare overhaul, but not all at once. Jin says it’s important to build a relationship with each product to see how it reacts. She gives me some more tips “You shouldn’t exfoliate seven days a week, but it’s good twice or three times a week to make sure you don’t have dead skin cells piling up.” She says, “It’s good to moisturise and mix a little bit of oil for a good hydration level. During the changing season, you need to use products that are thicker in texture.”

With enviable skin, I’m dying to know about Jin’s routine. “If I have make up on, I’ll use an oil cleanser and then I’ll use a foam cleanser and toner,” she explains. “It depends on how lazy I am, but I’ll use a sheet mask and moisturiser, or Essence and cream moisturiser. Twice a week I exfoliate. When my skin feels dull, it’s a bit of a psychological thing, I’ll use a sugar polish or mandelic acid.”

If you feel like jumping on the Korean beauty bandwagon, here’s a rundown of Jin’s favourite products.  “Black sugar polish from Klairs.When you use it, it’s such a treat. It exfoliates really well. You feel the difference. It has the oil in it as well as shea butter. After you exfoliate, it keeps your skin moisturised and balanced.” Toner? “The mandelic toner is milder than your typical AHA or BHA toners. It works for sensitive skin.” Serum? “Huxley has such good quality prickly pear seed oil. It’s not sticky but has a velvety texture.” What if you’re looking for a quick fix? “We have the Huxley sheet mask.” What’s the last step? “Mist with oil is important. Essence with lotus leaf extract by the Lotus is lovely with a lovely scent.”

Jin sends me away with my first taste of East Asian beauty. It’s a mini pamper kit including a scrub, a selection of masks, as well as a chemical exfoliator (to slough off those dead skin cells and clean out my pores). It’s too early to see the effects, as you should really commit to a product for at least 28 days (it takes roughly that amount of time for your skin to regenerate), but the difference in quality is obvious. I’ve completely fallen in love with sheet masks and I’m eagerly awaiting my next batch of Korean skincare products.

Ladies and gentlemen, I’m officially a K-Beauty convert.