Not many brand owners can say that they’ve had an 8,000-person waitlist on their products. The founders of K-beauty skincare brand, Glow Recipe, however, wears that #achievementunlocked claim like a badge of honour. And rightfully so too, considering how K-beauty junkies and boss babes Christine Chang and Sarah Lee had managed to sell out their star product, the Watermelon Glow Sleeping Mask eight times, and chalking up an impressive track record of positive reviews along the way.
Drawing on their Korean heritage, Glow Recipe — with its name inspired by the menu of services offered at Korean spas or dermatologist clinics that describe different ‘glows’ — harnessed the powder hydrating and antioxidant properties of watermelon for their first products. The brand has since expanded its repertoire to a wider range of skincare, focusing on various superfruits like avocado, blueberry, pineapple and banana.
In late August, the brand finally started retailing at Sephora (online and in-stores) in Singapore. We caught up with Chang and Lee for a beauty chat on growing a cult beauty brand that reconciles East-meets-West philosophies, skincare beliefs, and their first beauty obsessions.
Please share with us the inspiration behind the brand.
Sarah Lee (SL): My co-founder Christine and I were bonding over sheet masks and wine after dinner one night and realised that we were the only bicultural, bilingual executives in our positions at L’Oreal. As global marketers, and having traveled to Korea multiple times annually, we were always astounded by the amazing innovations in Korean beauty but found that many Korean companies lacked the expertise to take their domestic success global.
When we first sought out to build Glow Recipe as an e-retailer for Korean brands in the US, we saw an opportunity to bridge the gap between Korean brands and the US consumer. By utilising our bicultural and bilingual beauty backgrounds, we saw the potential for Korean Beauty to skyrocket into a league of its own. In 2017, we started our own in-house namesake brand, Glow Recipe Skincare, which pairs superfruits with proven active ingredients for an effective glowing result.
Why the name Glow Recipe?
SL: Glowing skin is called gwang in Korea and it’s a true beauty ideal. We wanted our name to represent our mission: bringing over the best innovations and trends from Korea, paired with educational content to make that covetable glow accessible to customers around the world. Our first product was created by drawing upon the powerful hydrating and soothing properties of watermelon.
Christine Chang (CC): Growing up, our grandmothers rubbed watermelon rinds on our heat rashes during hot summer months and we experienced first hand the miraculous healing power of watermelon and how soothing and hydrating it was for the skin. This was the inspiration for our OG product for Glow Recipe Skincare, the Watermelon Glow Sleeping Mask. Since its launch, we sold out over eight times and had waitlists in the thousands! We never expected that the product would be so well received, the response was just amazing. Watermelon is incredibly rich in water content, amino acids, anti-inflammatory mineral, which is how it worked as such an effective skin soother.
What was your first beauty obsession?
CC: It’s very common in Korea to have DIY beauty treatments at home with simple, everyday ingredients from the fridge. I have memories of going to the bathhouse with my grandmother in Korea and splashing milk on my face. At the time, I didn’t understand why my skin was so soft afterwards but it was interesting to learn after joining the beauty industry that the lactic acid content in milk can have smoothing benefits on the skin. Using the leftover water after washing rice, or grated potatoes folded into honey and job’s tear powder, thinly sliced chilled cucumber were also some of the DIY recipes whipped up at home to soothe and hydrate skin.
How do you ladies reconcile Western and Asian beauty philosophies?
SL: In 2014, K-beauty was on the cusp of exploding in the US, and our expertise as global marketers and developers, combined with the experience of working for L’Oreal for over 10 years each, gave us the tools to bridge the gap between brands in Korea and the US consumer. When Christine and I were de-stressing many years ago with a bottle of wine and sheet masks, Glow Recipe was just an idea. We truly believed in our mission to make skincare fun, easy and accessible to everyone and knew that we’d uniquely be able to leverage our combined 20 years of bi-cultural beauty industry experience.
Many K-beauty brands at the time were being sold with a more promotional, discount-focused approach, instead of storytelling the performance and innovation behind the products. Despite K-beauty being a hot search term, people didn’t really know what it meant or were misinformed about it being an overwhelming, complicated 10-15 step routine. We wanted to break down what K-beauty was truly about, which is a holistic, fun, effective approach to skincare and self-care. We continue to create innovations inspired from Korean beauty.
In your opinion, what’s a beauty trend that will never die?
CC: Hydration is a key pillar of Korean beauty, as it’s vital that skin is hydrated at every step of your routine. It’s beyond moisturisation, essential hydration helps to fortify the skin barrier, balance over production of sebum, and is one of the most important ways to take a preventative approach to your skincare routine. We like to take a really modern approach to hydration and even include this in products such as cleansers and toners. We’re born with large reserves of hyaluronic acid in the skin and this naturally depletes over time and the technology in our products is the modern approach to recapture that youthful, bouncy, juicy, plump skin!
What’s a tried-and-true beauty secret that you practice?
SL: Always pat your skincare in to aid absorption. It goes back to the skincare philosophy of Korean women being as gentle as possible. Fast movements cause friction and over time it can cause micro-tears in your skin. Tugging and pulling at the skin can contribute to wrinkles, so we’re big advocates of patting our skincare into the skin.
way as it also minimises downtime between steps to avoid waiting for the product to dry. Patting helps drive the product deeper into skin’s layers and skin is plumped with hydration from within.
Another beauty hack is to ditch the towel after cleansing. Typically after cleansing, you would reach for a towel automatically, but that can cause rubbing and friction on your skin. It’s also impossibly hard to keep your towel clean in the bathroom, so instead of using a towel or constantly changing it out, just pat the moisture in after cleansing! It’s super easy and skin is plumped and slightly damp to adsorb the next steps of your skincare.
Share with us your personal skincare beliefs.
SL: Skincare should not just be efficacious, but fun. Not a chore, not an
obligation, but an escape. It’s a bright moment during your day, and something you look
forward to. Because I truly believe that if you love something so much that you look forward to it, you will continue doing it every day, and in the long run, you’ll see incredible results.
CC: I believe skin care and self-care should be joyful. As an entrepreneur and mom, my schedule each day is unpredictable but I know I can look forward to my skincare routine at the end of each day. The holistic ritual of a thorough double cleanse, from massaging away the tension in my face with a cleansing balm and washing the day away with a gel cleanser sets the tone for the rest of my night. Then patting in each step of skincare is almost like meditation to me, a calming routine.
If you could only pick three items to a deserted island, they will be…
SL: I would take my family (can this count as one bundle?), a hammock and a SPF product.
CC: We just played a similar game with our team during our latest Zoom happy hour! My choices (along with the team I was in) were the following: a rope to be able to climb trees for safety and use as a net to fish, a knife to cut down fruits for food and trees for shelter and a blanket to serve as protective clothing, a tent, bedding and a sack to carry items. I’m vigilant about SPF so I would most likely also cut a corner of the blanket and fashion it into a hat.
Pick your favourite child!
SL: Our OG Watermelon Glow Sleeping Mask will always have a special place in my heart. It’s Glow Recipe’s first ‘child’ and was the product that really put our brand on the map. We were the first brand to put an amazing superfuit like watermelon as the star of a product, while pairing it with proven actives for amazing results. It was the overnight treatment that granted post-facial results and baby soft skin by morning, which is why it quickly became a cult favourite product among the global community. It makes me so proud to see the success it’s had in the beauty community because the inspiration was so deeply rooted in our heritage and upbringing.
CC: My favourite product is the Avocado Melt Eye Sleeping Mask. We knew that retinol was a gold-standard ingredient but also were familiar with the potential side effects —redness, irritation and peeling. As someone with sensitive skin, there weren’t many retinol treatments that I could use without having skin issues. When we realised we could encapsulate the retinol for gentle time release in small doses, we knew this innovation would be a game-changer in terms of making the formula effective but gentle enough for everyone to use. Retinol has a multitude of benefits for the eye area including helping with dark circles, smoothing, and aiding with puffiness. I love using this cooling formula for the eye area (it’s my eight hours of sleep in a jar!) but also on the smile lines around the mouth.
Glow Recipe is available at Sephora and at www.sephora.com.