During Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, TODAY is sharing the community’s history, pain, joy and what’s next for the AAPI movement. We are publishing personal essays, stories, videos and specials throughout the entire month of May.
From cushion compacts to BB creams to sheet masks — it’s hard to quantify the impact that trends from Asian beauty have on the global beauty sphere. And while we love a good stroll down the beauty aisle at the drugstore, it’s sometimes the indie brands who are revolutionizing the space.
For Asian American and Pacific Islander Month, we wanted to showcase and celebrate some independent AAPI-owned beauty brands doing just that.
We interviewed Yu-Chen Shih of Orcé Cosmetics, which first burst onto the scene with its foundation specially formulated with Asian skin tones in mind; Lauren Jin of CLE Cosmetics, the skin care brand with a meticulous focus on ingredients and transformation; and Erica Choi of SUPEREGG, the brainchild of a trained aesthetician that’s integrating cutting edge skin care technology and aesthetics.
Yu-Chen Shih, founder, Orcé Cosmetics
Yu-Chen Shih worked for several years in marketing strategy for beauty brands before striking out to launch Orcé Cosmetics, and in part, it was because she saw a hole in the market no one else seemed willing to fill.
“I founded Orcé out of frustration — as a lifelong beauty lover, I spent many years settling for products that were not made for my skin. I was determined to find a foundation that matched my complexion, so I spent my free time combing through drugstore aisles and beauty counters,” Shih told Shop TODAY. “As a young girl, I remember thinking, ‘These brands really need to produce more shades for people like me.’ I felt like I was too dark to be beautiful and that my needs were not important enough for beauty brands to care about."
And the name also comes with a powerful connotation. “Orcé is derived from the word ‘force,’” Shih said. “As a marketer, I've always had a huge issue with the way Asian women are portrayed by brands and the media. I feel that these stereotypes are not only unfair but also extremely limiting. Through Orcé, I want to portray Asian women as a force to be reckoned with.”
The Come Closer Skin Perfecting Serum-Foundation was formulated with clinical levels of hyaluronic acid to combat the transepidermal water loss, or TEWL. “Asian skin is particularly vulnerable to [TEWL],” Shih said. “Together with a top chemist and dermatologist, we developed a proprietary oil-free, non-comedogenic, and non-irritating formula that addresses the unique needs of Asian skin.” Orcé’s signature serum foundation also contains Tahitian pearl extract to aid collagen production and battle hyperpigmentation, while the Chinese herb evodia rutaecarpa boosts radiance and improves skin texture.
Developed specifically to complement the wear of the Skin Perfecting Serum-Foundation, the Setting Powder seamlessly locks your foundation in place. “The ultra-fine powder absorbs excess oils and moisture, while providing the skin with a smooth candle-lit finish like your favorite filter,” said Shih. It’s also talc free and cruelty free, and a portion of all sales go to Rise Justice Labs' Survivor Safe Haven program.
Lauren Jin, founder, CLE Cosmetics
The initial concept of CLE Cosmetics started when founder Lauren Jin was still in college. “ It was...my interpretation of the dynamic between our current society and the modern womxn’s lifestyle,” Jin tells Shop TODAY. “And then one day it hit me. Makeup and skincare are such a fundamental part of being a womxn. The daily ritual we go through is so personal and intimate.”
“Both my parents' teachings of beauty which were rooted in Korean culture and my own idea of what beauty from growing up in California shaped my interpretation of beauty which CLE heavily is founded upon,” said Jin, “Both cultures gave me the sensibility to create innovative products by not limiting myself to one perspective.”
“CLE itself is just a word that represents us as a brand. But the way I created the name came from playing with the word Play. Then soon, play turned into clay, the mailable nature of this material and constantly being about to adapt and interact with the user. Then clay turned into CLĒ with an American macron to emulate the pronunciation. Later on we simplified the name to CLE.”
Their top-rated CCC Cream, or Color Control & Change Cream, contains micro capsules containing pigment that release color that seamlessly blends when rubbed into the skin. “Each product is very unique in their own way, however, these three products all have one thing in common, transformation,” Jin said. The fact that this two-in-one primer and CC cream also comes with SPF50 PA+++ certainly doesn’t hurt.
The Melting Lip Powder is another metamorphosing product. “Melting Lip Powder turns from powder to liquid upon friction,” said Jin. “The transformative element of the product creates interaction and the user is ultimately able to have fun with the product.” A long-wearing matte lip tint that comes in five flattering shades, the Melting Lip Powder is also a multi-use product. Swipe it on the eyes or cheeks for a pop of color as well.
To get the full benefit of the Vitamin C Elixir, Jin recommends shaking the bottle to properly mix the antioxidant-rich serum and the moisturizing oil enriched with rosa canina oil, sweet almond oil, jojoba seed oil and phytosqualane. “For me, those interactions, the subtle change from one thing to another is what makes CLE products so fun and magical,” said Jin.
Erica Choi, founder, SUPEREGG
Erica Choi had already made a name for herself as a creative director and blogger in NYC with Egg Canvas before also becoming a trained aesthetician and launching vegan beauty brand SUPEREGG. The name is derived from the superellipsoid shape popularized by Danish polymath Piet Hein.
“Eggs symbolize birth, and we believe each new day is an opportunity to reset and start anew,” Choi said to Shop TODAY. “I have grown up observing my grandmother and mother apply different parts of the eggs onto their faces ... when we would take trips to the Jjimjilbang, AKA the neighborhood Korean sauna. The yolk was used as a moisturizing mask, the whites as a firming mask, and the eggshell membrane as a rejuvenating mask. Sharing these kinds of stories of traditional Asian beauty rituals and memories from my upbringing is essential to open up dialogues about the AAPI community further.”
Launching a new brand is a feat in itself, but doing so in a pandemic was a challenge that Choi never imagined. “From the formulations to the packaging, we faced quite a few challenges, which I see all of now as a valuable learning experience, and I find it to be gratifying,” Choi said. “As a small brand, and especially as an AAPI brand with a robust Asian beauty philosophy embedded in our roots, it is hard to get noticed amongst the crowd. We continually try to share our stories and educate people about historical beauty rituals and the immense nutritional benefits of the egg.”
“Extracting the different egg components ... is beneficial for replenishing elasticity and deep hydration to the skin,” Choi said. “This informed our decision to create egg duplexes (Yolk Duplex™, White Duplex™, Shell Duplex™), where each part features its powerful plant-based equivalent per egg component.” Their bestselling Sound Renewal Moisturizer contains skin barrier–restructuring panthenol, moisturizing squalane and their proprietary Yolk Duplex™ that hydrates and brightens.
This foaming cleanser ingredients list boasts of moisturizing moringa oil, exfoliating AHA and radiance-enhancing vitamin C. It also has their signature White Duplex™, which was developed to firm and smooth skin. “Balance is also the core of Superegg, and it is our key to naturally beautiful skin,” Choi tells us. “We believe smooth egg-like balanced skin starts from within, and maintaining healthy balanced skin is connected to a holistic sense of well-being.”
The hydrogel sheet mask has a unique shape that covers the cheek and undereye area. Centella asiatica and tremella mushroom pack a one-two punch to smooth and soothe sensitive skin.
More AAPI-owned beauty
Then I Met You was the brainchild of Soko Glam founder Charlotte Cho, and her years in K-beauty have certainly paid off. Their award-winning Living Cleansing Balm, which seamlessly melts makeup with a combination of antioxidants, fatty acids, and vitamin E, has almost a cult-like following.
This is another smash hit product from an AAPI-led beauty brand. Slather on this delicious-smelling sleep mask, let the AHA gently exfoliate and Watermelon Extract nourishes your skin while you sleep, and wake up with glowing hydration.
Founded by mom of two Julie Chon, Knours is EWG-verified clean beauty brand that pays extra close attention to each ingredient. The One Perfect Youth Cream has rejuvenating sweet almond oil and pore-minimizing niacinamide.
Another clean beauty brand, Beigic was founded in Korea but has found their audience globally. Their award-winning Regenerating Oil contains green coffee bean oil that moisturizes while revitalizing and doesn’t leave a residue on the skin.
Clean beauty brand Tower 28 was created by former beauty executive Amy Liu. After struggling for years with sensitive skin, she finally created a brand that addressed problem skin that was also non-toxic. The Milky Lip Jelly has apricot oil and raspberry seed oil and comes in 10 fun colors.
For more stories like this, check out:
- This K-beauty sunscreen sold out in a week — and now I get the hype
- 12 Asian American–owned brands you'll want to recommend to your friends ASAP
- These 9 new cookbooks celebrate AAPI history and cuisine