People

Singapore skincare brand blends beauty with tech

Skin Inc continues to develop new products, using big data, and moving into new markets

Nearly a decade after Ms Sabrina Tan started one of Singapore's most successful home-grown skincare companies, the feisty 43-year-old shows no signs of slowing down.

Her label, Skin Inc, is already an international brand with a cult following of celebrities and fashion insiders, but the company has not stopped developing new products - including some driven by big data - and expanding into new markets.

"Time flies - in the blink of an eye, 10 years have already passed. I haven't felt it because it seems there is something new and different happening every year," says Ms Tan, who launched the brand in 2007.

Skin Inc is known for its range of customisable serums and was born out of Ms Tan's frustration with a lack of personalised skincare solutions available off the shelf.

"Our skin is as unique as our fingerprints. The beauty industry wasn't sophisticated enough to customise that one-to-one experience," she says.

READ ALSO: Local beauty brands take on the world

The mother of two, who has sensitive, eczema-prone skin, also saw her children suffer painful flare-ups.

In addition, she had to go to great lengths to identify the right skincare products for herself.

"I had to do a 10-step skincare routine before stepping out of the house - not for vanity's sake but because if I didn't, my skin would flare up," she says.

"We are smart, educated women but we often don't know what works for our skin. There's a lot of trial and error involved, which I found very inefficient."

Ms Tan began her career in the IT industry - she has marketed computers at IBM and Hewlett-Packard, software at Symantec and data storage at EMC Corp.

As a time-starved working mother - her children were aged three and one when she started Skin Inc - she also wanted a fuss-free skincare routine which yielded results. So she married her IT expertise with research and technology from Japan.

"It's just natural for (people from the tech industry) to problem-solve and look for solutions," Ms Tan says.

Skin Inc is best known for its range of serums, each of which contains a main active ingredient.

The ingredients are encapsulated in seaweed globules - which burst when applied on skin - to keep them fresh and effective.

READ ALSO: Home-run beauty, skincare labels turn to natural products such as coffee ground

"The idea for this came from my experience working in IT and data security - if an e-mail is precious and has good data or is classified, you want to encrypt it. That gave me the idea of 'encrypting' the ingredients," says Ms Tan.

Customers fill out a digital questionnaire - called a "skin check" - about their lifestyle habits and skin condition. The serums can then be blended together into combinations which suit each customer's skin needs.

"That was the 'aha' moment and the way we differentiated ourselves, to allow people to customise their own serums," Ms Tan adds.

From a single store in The Central in Eu Tong Sen Street that opened in 2007, the brand now has a presence in more than 100 cities in Asia, Europe and the United States.

Asia makes up the bulk of its sales at 59 per cent, followed by North America at 24 per cent.

Skin Inc also became the first Singapore skincare brand to be stocked internationally at beauty retailer Sephora in 2013.

The company has quadrupled its revenue since 2013, with sales from e-commerce contributing 30 per cent of its total business. Revenue from the brand's own online store doubled from 2015 to 2016.

READ ALSO: Local beauty brands take on the world

Ms Tan is pushing ahead with ramping up the company's international presence.

Its global footprint includes Canada, the United States, Spain, Germany, Italy, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Australia.

There are plans to expand its presence in the US both online and through bricks-and-mortar retailers.

The company is also moving into Britain and North Asia.

In line with its North Asia push, Skin Inc received a strategic investment from Korean entertainment conglomerates Spackman Entertainment Group and Spackman Media Group in March.

South Korean actress Son Ye Jin, who is managed by Spackman Media Group, is now the face of Skin Inc - its first ever "brand evangelist".

Even as it takes on the world, Skin Inc is also integrating big data into its growth strategy.

The company is tapping its database of customer "skin check" questionnaires to come up with new products.

More than one million people have completed these online skin checks.

"We found out that half of our customers are millennials and their skin needs are different," Ms Tan says of the data collected from the skin checks.

"They break out more often and those aged below 28 might not be worried about ageing but have other concerns, like sensitive skin."

In response, Skin Inc launched the Optimizer Voyage Blue Light.

The device is a pared-down version of the brand's Optimizer Voyage Tri-Light introduced in 2015 - a handheld wireless device that uses coloured light-emitting diode (LED) chromotherapy to treat problems such as acne, redness and dullness.

The original device has three light settings, while the Optimizer Voyage Blue Light comes with just one and is targeted at sensitive, blemish-prone skin.

"We designed one with a single light and at a cheaper price (targeted at millennials) so customers in that age group can afford it," says Ms Tan. "We want our products to be relevant to you and to impact your life. The data is crowdsourced and we then bring that voice back to the lab."