SINGAPORE - Self-confessed "science geek" Jasmine Kang is no beauty junkie.
Instead, the 38-year-old founder of skincare brand Skinlycious says it is her passion for science and wish to cure her lifelong acne that spurred her to create her brand in 2013.
Skinlycious offers products tailored specifically to acne-prone skin. While the brand got off to a slow start, it has gained global attention in recent years.
It was selected as the only Singaporean brand in beauty retailer Sephora's 2020 Accelerate programme, which incubates and mentors emerging beauty start-ups.
Ms Kang was one of 13 global brands selected to attend a boot camp and pitch to investors and retailers. Being listed with Sephora is not a guaranteed outcome.
Due to Covid-19, the initial boot camp in San Francisco and final pitching went virtual. "But I felt quite proud and honoured to represent Singapore and the whole of South-east Asia," says Ms Kang.
In September, Skinlycious will launch independently in the United States. The brand was also invited to list on China's Tmall and will launch in the same month.
It was a bumpy road getting to where she is today.
Plagued with different types of acne since her teens, Ms Kang tried countless costly products and treatments.
After graduating from the National University of Singapore with a degree in biomedical science, she worked in the pharmaceutical industry selling drugs to doctors, who would recommend her various treatments.
"I tried hormone pills, antibiotics, even blue-light therapy. They still didn't work. I just accepted that this was my life and I would never achieve smooth skin."
Things changed when she was introduced to a dermatologist before her wedding in 2011. He sold her a calamine cleanser and spot treatment which cleared her acne.
A year later, a friend and fellow sufferer of acne approached her to start a skincare business. Ms Kang had quit her job to follow her husband, who works in a multinational corporation, to Jakarta for work.
She would only back a product she herself could use, so she asked the dermatologist, then in his 70s, if she could sell his cleanser and spot treatment formulas. He agreed and after she improved the packaging and the formulas to make them retail-stable, she launched Skinlycious in 2013.
"I was so grateful to him. I really wanted to leave a legacy for him," says Ms Kang.
For two years, she grew the brand steadily. But in 2015, she parted ways with the dermatologist because of legal issues with his family.
Over the years, she continued reformulating the cleanser and adding products. She completed an online diploma in organic skincare formulation and set up a small laboratory in Singapore, working with a team of cosmetic scientists to formulate her products.
She is her own guinea pig in testing formulations and different concentrations of ingredients.
"I don't think any other brand on the market is formulated by someone who has fought acne for so long and personally tests on her own skin," she says.
Her products are priced from $29 for a facial oil to $99 for a kit of three core products that first cleared her skin.
Unique to the brand are its starter kits, curated according to "plans" to help first-time customers find which products work for them. True to her science background, the kits have instructions on how to carry out mini skin experiments.
Most of her customers are people suffering from adult acne, as well as mothers buying for their children.
Ironically, the pandemic has boosted her business as more are investing in skincare to combat "maskne" concerns, she says. Her sales in the first half of 2021 alone surpassed sales from the whole of last year.
She recently completed reformulating her entire range to pass the European Union's cosmetic regulations. Throughout her personal and entrepreneurial struggles, she has found strength in running the brand and being able to help others.
It pulled her out of depression.
Before giving birth to her son, seven, and daughter, two, Ms Kang went through five difficult pregnancies while growing Skinlycious. After one ended in an abortion, she "couldn't do anything and couldn't get out of bed".
One day, she received an e-mail from a customer thanking her for her product.
"It made me realise I had other purposes in my life. I woke up and started working again," says Ms Kang.
"When I get reviews and know I have helped people, I feel so happy. I feel their pain. I know their pain. So, when they have joy, I also know what that joy is."