If you're a fan of Korean beauty—or the reality TV show 'Shark Tank'—then you might be familiar with Christine Chang and Sarah Lee.
The K-beauty entrepreneurs, who met a decade ago as interns at L'Oréal in Korea, launched their online store, Glow Recipe, in November of 2014. Their mission? To bring the most effective and natural Korean skincare products to beauty-savvy customers in North America.
Just over a year after their website went live, Christine and Sarah got the chance to pitch their start-up to the notoriously hard-to-please "Sharks" on a December 2015 episode of 'Shark Tank.' Fast-forward to 9:00 to watch them in action:
As you can imagine, appearing in front of the show's 9 million viewers changed everything. Today, Glow Recipe has carved out a niche as one of the most successful (and only natural-focused) K-beauty e-tailers in the US.
A few months ago, I caught up with Christine for an article in the May issue of FLARE magazine (which you can read here). We chatted about all things Korean skincare—so if you're curious about the latest, hottest product innovations, here's the scoop!
What was your background before launching Glow Recipe?
Sarah and I started our careers at L'Oréal in Korea. We worked in the beauty industry in Korea for several years, and then moved to the US headquarters. Combined, we have more than 20 years of experience doing product development and marketing across both countries. I think that gives us a really unique perspective.
Five months into your business, you auditioned for 'Shark Tank.' What happened?
We won an episode of 'Shark Tank' in December. I think you guys in Canada have the original version of 'Shark Tank,' called 'Dragon's Den,' right? The Shark who offered us an investment was Robert Herjavec.
Why do you think Korean beauty has become so popular in Canada in the US?
I think it's a combination of things. K-beauty first gained credibility with BB creams. They were a bridge to skincare from the makeup market, which is why they were so innovative. It was about bringing skincare benefits to something that also had coverage and SPF.
Internally, the Korean market is also extremely competitive. Across the beauty industry, companies always source from Korean manufacturers when they want something really innovative in skincare. The local market is at a place where it's in hyperdrive, because of a highly skincare-involved customer and a very savvy market. Sarah and I go back to Korea every few months, and we're blown away each time. There's something amazing and new each time.
What makes Korean beauty products unique compared to products from North America?
Korean companies are really good at bringing in new ingredients, new concepts and new textures. It's remarkable how creative they are. There really are no boundaries. Here in North America, women do tend to be more practical and results-driven. Companies may say, "Oh, we have an idea, but it might not be right for this customer." In Korea, anything goes because the Korean consumer is so adventurous and so willing to try things on her skin.
At Glow Recipe, you focus on skincare. Why?
Skincare is really where the fundamentals of Korean beauty are at. Makeup is great, and there are some good cushion compacts and things like that, but honestly, the shades aren't really here yet. The heart of it continues to be skincare, and creating skincare products in innovative ways.
What do you think is the next big trend in Korean skincare?
We call it "skintertainment." So, skincare combined with entertainment. The great thing about K-beauty isn't that there are 10 steps or two steps, or that we have snail creams. That's just the tip of the iceberg. It's really about the fun textures and next-generation concepts. They make this amazing experience—skincare can be fun and sensorial versus a chore.
How important is cleansing?
Cleansing is the foundation of any good, solid skincare routine. Double-cleansing absolutely takes place, where you're using the combination of an oil and a foam cleanser. You're targeting all the oil-based makeup and sunscreen with your oil cleanser, and getting off the pollution and grime with your normal cleanser. It's important to make sure your skin is fully cleansed so that your next steps in skincare can really penetrate where they need to.
North American brands that sell cleansing oils don't usually recommend a second step. Does everyone need the foaming cleanser?
I think any company hesitates to recommend using too many steps, knowing that customers don't love doing that. But it does make a difference.
What are your favourite new cleansing innovations?
For a while, cleansers were lacklustre—there were the same old foam cleansers, and it wasn't really a category where there was much innovation. But there's a movement of new cleansers we like to call "cleansertainment."
Recently, we started carrying the May Island Bubble Bean Cleanser.
They're little pastel-coloured beans that you crush in your hands, and then you wet them and they turn into a foam. They have all the cleansing agents, but without the sodium lauryl and laureth sulfates that can be harsh on skin.
Carbonated cleansing is kind of like Perrier for your face. There are cleansers that bubble when they meet water to achieve that effect. It's great. The action is very sensorial. At the same time, sparkling water is supposed to be great for your skin because it's chock-full of minerals. So there are a lot of benefits to it, but it's also a very fun experience.
Cloud cleansers, which are also called marshmallow cleansers, are whipped, moussey cleansers that usually come in jars. You just take a scoop and foam it in your hand. It's literally like a marshmallow texture. We just haven't found one with the right ingredients list yet. The bulk that we've seen have parabens in them, and we don't carry products with parabens.
Are there any innovations in cleansing oils?
We have a cleansing oil from Whamisa that is really popular because it's fermented. Fermentation is a process that started in Korea, where you ferment ingredients in your skincare to help distill potency, but also to break down ingredients for better absorption. The oil is very light, and it's mineral oil-free, which is very, very rare for cleansing oils.
What about masking—what's next after sheet masks?
We recently starting carrying a mesh mask. It's the shape of a puff that you would find in your cushion compact, but it's pre-soaked with AHA and vitamin B. If you squish it, it actually starts to foam.
They're new to the market, so I wouldn't call them a category yet, but I think the self-foaming action that you can use to lather up is really interesting, and something we're seeing more of.
Splash masks are inspired by a tradition at Korean bathhouses where you go with your mom or your grandmother, and you splash milk all over your face after cleansing. It's supposed to help re-texturize the skin. Milk has lactic acid in it, which is why it achieves that effect.
So, a company called Blithe has created this new category called splash masks. It's a little bottle that has 30 uses in it, and it's an accelerated blend of lactic acid, skin-retexturizing ingredients and botanicals.
It smells fantastic. You just kind of splash it all over your face, pat it in, and you're good to go. Normally, we recommend it as a mask, so after your evening cleansing routine, you would use this, and then move on to your skincare. Lately, we've also been using it as a one-step morning cleanser.
You mentioned the fermented cleansing oil. Is fermentation something you're seeing in other skincare products, too?
I think Whamisa's Organic Flowers Olive Leaf Mist is such a great example. It's this beautiful formula with an olive leaf suspended in the middle.
The reason the olive leaf can remain fresh in the formula without a host of synthetic preservatives—because there are only natural preservatives in this formula; it's organic and EcoCert-certified—is because of the fermentation.
On 'Shark Tank,' you talked about pressed serum. Is that another big trend?
Absolutely. The pressed serum is actually the number one product on our site. The product we featured on 'Shark Tank' was the Blithe Tundra Chaga Pressed Serum.
It just went ballistic afterwards, because I think people love the fact that it's this really efficient multi-tasker. It's a serum and moisturizer in one. It has the concentration of a serum, with 60 percent chaga mushroom extract, but it's a very comforting, hydrating formula. So it really is the best of both worlds. It's best for anti-aging, but it works for any skin type.
Any other big predictions for Korean skincare?
I think pressed serums are going to continue to be big. We're also seeing a new category called "lampoule," which is short for "luminous ampoule." These are serums, but more concentrated versions that leave skin dewy and glowing.
Are you a K-beauty fan?
Have you tried anything from Glow Recipe?
What's your favourite Korean skincare product?