Cover We caught up with Hong Kong beauty entrepreneur Christal Leung to discuss the inspirations behind her skincare brands and the importance of having a personalised routine (Photo: Affa Chan/Tatler Hong Kong)

Christal Leung, founder of homegrown beauty brands Skin Need and B.Y.O.B, talks to Tatler about her passion for skincare, her entrepreneurial journey, and why it's important to keep individuality in our beauty routines

Christal Leung listens to her skin. As someone who’s experienced acne, she offers care and gives what her skin exactly needs. “Skin is a dynamic organ that’s constantly changing every day,” she said. “It's important to adjust your routines to your current conditions with products that can target your unique skincare concerns.”

The pursuit of personalised beauty is always in the blood of Leung, whose mother used to be a beauty salon owner and skincare expert specialising in formulating bespoke beauty solutions. In Leung’s teenage years, she spent her after-school hours at the salon where she learnt how beneficial custom-made products are to the skin. The passion for skincare was instilled in her from a young age, and she knew she wanted to bring new perspectives to the beauty industry.

“The mainstream market is driving us down the same rabbit hole of looking for one miracle product to help us achieve a single manufactured concept of beauty,” she said. “You need to think more critically, choose your products wisely, and practice a personalised routine for not only better skin health but also for better mentality. I want people to feel more worthwhile as they are and celebrate their skin’s individuality.” 

Fast forward to today, Leung is an industry veteran with two successful homegrown skincare lines under her belt—Skin Need and B.Y.O.B (which stands for Build Your Own Brand or Blend Your Own Beauty), rolling out personalised beauty solutions formulated for Asian skin types in a variety of climates, including Hong Kong’s hot and humid weather. With a mission to change unrealistic beauty standards, Leung believes there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to skincare.

Ahead, we speak to Leung about the inspirations behind the launches of Skin Need and B.Y.O.B, the transformative power of personalised skincare, what self-love means to her, and skincare tips for Asians.  

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Tell us about your background. What inspired you to become a biochemist and how did you get started in the beauty industry?

I have always had an interest in skincare. When I was a teenager, I used to spend my free time at my mum’s beauty salon, helping to do all the chores from scheduling beauty appointments to washing equipment. So, it came as no surprise that my beauty philosophy is heavily influenced by my mum. I grew up seeing her adopting a personalised approach to help her clients achieve better skin health with tailor-made beauty solutions. Aside from using other leading brands’ products, the facial treatments offered at her salon also feature custom-blended formulas that target the clients' specific needs. Since then, I’ve learnt that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to skincare.

During my university years, I was lucky to have a chance to study beyond my major in biochemistry as an intern at a skincare manufacturing company. While acting as a middleman between my mum and the suppliers, my interest in biochemistry grew keener and I started learning more about the process of formulating skincare products. I realised then that knowing the properties of the products or ingredients is not enough, that you need to learn your skin’s specific needs and take external factors into consideration—think pollution, temperature and humidity to curate the most ideal routine.

My mother wanted me to take over her business after I graduated, but that wasn’t the job I want. I continued working towards a career as a biochemist to formulate skincare products and restructured my mother’s business by adopting B2B business models, promoting her products to beauty salons and retail shops in Hong Kong. I wanted to bring her skincare line to the world and eventually, Skin Need was born. 

Why was it important to you to create products with a personalised approach?

It's impossible to believe a product that you use on a daily basis is ideal for your skin day by day, month by month when the skin is prone to changes internally and externally. Skin is a dynamic organ that can be influenced not only by hormones or stress levels, but also by the environment. People are not aware of the importance of changing up their routines according to their skin conditions, and that’s part of the reason why I created Skin Need and B.Y.O.B.

Through creating personalised beauty products that can be mixed and matched to tackle your skin issues, I want people to listen to their skin regularly and feel beautiful in their own skin. Off-the-shelf beauty products are great, but people should think more critically about whether the functions listed on those labels are “real” skin problems. 

Naturally tan skin and freckles, for example, why and since when we had labelled these unique characteristics as beauty flaws? My brands were created in the hopes of empowering people to embrace their natural beauty, and we think it’s really important to be authentic and be ourselves. Take the time to understand your skin issues, and reflect on what you and the mainstream media considered to be pretty.  

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How did your new skincare line B.Y.O.B begin after establishing Skin Need? Can you describe more about the brand?

Both Skin Need and B.Y.O.B revolve around the concept of offering bespoke skincare solutions designed to target an individual’s specific needs, but there’s a slight difference between them. Skin Need has a wider range of products that can be mixed and matched for a truly personalised routine, which is perfect for people who pay very close attention to their daily skin conditions.

For B.Y.O.B, it’s more about taking a direct approach to your skin, delivering easy-to-use, effective solutions that can help tackle specific skin issues without having to go through a complicated routine consisting of multiple products. This line is created with urbanites in mind, who are often too busy to make skincare a priority.

I’ve always wanted to create a label with products that won’t take much time out of people’s busy schedules but can still beautify their skin, and it wasn’t until the Covid-19 pandemic that I put my thought into action, bringing B.Y.O.B to life. At that time, the skincare manufacturing sector was hit hard by the pandemic, where supply chains were disrupted and shipping costs had skyrocketed. This was a turning point in my business, that I realised our city was in need of a skincare brand that’s originally made in Hong Kong, and doesn’t need to rely on materials imported from foreign countries. The launch of B.Y.O.B is in the same Skin Need’s spirit of providing quality beauty solutions, which are all researched and made in Hong Kong.  

Can you introduce us to the masks and serums you created for B.Y.O.B’s launch? How were they formulated and why are they perfect for Asia’s hot and humid weather?

When designing skincare products, whether it’s for Skin Need or B.Y.O.B, I’m always aiming to formulate something that’s lightweight and easy to absorb. B.Y.O.B inherits the same philosophy with a continuous focus on Southeast Asian countries, where a small but effective range of locally made products is offered to cater to our consistent hot and humid climate and Asian skin. 

B.Y.O.B was launched with two skincare basics that every routine needs: masks and serums. In addition to being eco-friendly and cruelty-free, these products also promise to be highly effective and easy to use for visible results. 

We offer a variety of masks catering for different skin types—including Charcoal Purifying and Skin Clearing Mask and Hemp Seed Calming Mask for combination and oily skin; and Deep Sea Mask and Green Tea Detox Mask for dry skin. While for serums, all of them are specially designed to target skin problems, from acne to hyperpigmentation, sensitivity and more. It’s best to mix your selected serum into the mask to enhance the efficacy of the overall treatment.  

What are your skincare tips for Asian skin? What are some common skincare mistakes you see? 

Many Asians’ skincare routines are heavily influenced by western beauty philosophies and practices. But some of the most hyped ingredients in the industry today, such as alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) and beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) can actually do more harm than good to the skin, as Asians’ skin texture is significantly thinner than westerners’ and won’t be able to tolerate highly acidic products.

Excessive use of AHA or BHA products will likely result in irritation and inflammation as well, so we should always be wise when choosing products and should not blindly follow the beauty trends. Products that contain 5% of AHA concoction are ideal for daily use or exfoliation every two days.

Another common skincare mistake is over-moisturising. Asians tend to follow westerners’ practices of applying rich creams with glowing effects to the skin, but not many of them know that most of those creams contain high concentrations of oil-soluble ingredients. Asians’ skin water-hold capacity is much higher than westerners, and given they are living in a humid climate, rich creams with thick texture can lead to clogged pores and even resulting in blackheads and acne.  

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What does your morning and evening routines consist of? 

I usually do a medium chemical peel every two to three weeks to remove dead skin cells for better absorption of products and faster cellular regeneration.

Every morning, I cleanse my skin with Skin Need’s Light Cleanser, which is such a comfortable experience. The formula is so gentle and it also helps remove residue that’s built up overnight thoroughly. Then I mix Skin Need’s 100% Hyaluronic Acid and Nano-C Extract into Just Toner, to provide my skin with instant hydration and suppleness. Up next is the Aloe Vera Ginseng Extract Moisturiser, which I often use with a few drops of squalane to soothe dry skin. Lastly, I’ll apply the Oil-free Moisturiser and UV Perfect Snow White SPF 40.

For my evening routine, I’ll start off with Skin Need’s Deep Cleanser. Even though I seldom put on make-up, a thorough cleanse is needed as the skin is exposed to outdoor air pollutants during the daytime. Next, I’ll apply eye serum, followed by a blend of aloe vera gel moisturiser and squalane.

It’s important to pack your skin with nutrients at night, as it will undergo its natural repair process while you’re sleeping. Therefore, I would also use 100% Squalane+Vitamin E and F serum to give my skin enough nourishment for a more complete skin regeneration process.

What changes you’d like to see from the industry in the coming years? 

There’s a need for more honesty and transparency. Brand transparency is very important, as consumers need to know the impact of the ingredients they put in, and on, or their bodies. The brands should put more effort to make the ingredient lists of their products clearer, especially for those that claim to be vegan and cruelty-free. 

It’s also important for us to go green. We have contributed to the sustainability movement by using vegan ingredients and ingredients from renewable sources. We have also eliminated the use of petrochemicals in our products—a kind of substance that is derived from petroleum and often used as a moisturising agent in skincare and cosmetics. 

Improving packaging sustainability is another goal that should be on every brand’s radar. In the past, all products from Skin Need were packed in plastics, but we are now able to substitute 45% of plastic with ceramic and glass packaging materials to make things more sustainable.

These changes are what we want to see, something that my brands have been contributing to over the years. There's no use saying you believe in something but acting in another way, and we have a lot of work to do as an industry.  

What does self-care mean to you? What are some of your favourite self-care rituals? 

My skincare routine is very therapeutic which helps me feel my best. Although sometimes I get very lazy that I want to speed my routine as much as possible, I still find the process very enjoyable as I’m experiencing everything that I preach to my clients, which are rituals that honour my brands’ philosophies.

Self-care rituals are self-love in action, the “doing” part of self-love that takes care of yourself physically and mentally. Many of us tend to pay too much attention to people around us and forget to treat ourselves with the same kindness we offer to others. The person we need to love first is always ourselves. For me, my skincare routine is a form of self-care ritual that allows me to take the time to solely focus on myself. 

What advice would you give in terms of how to succeed as a female entrepreneur?

My advice would be to take a leap of faith in yourself, set your sights on the goals you want to achieve, believe in yourself and remain true to your original intention no matter what anyone else says. 

Is there anything you can tease about your upcoming projects? Will you be launching any new products for your brands?

B.Y.O.B will be adding cleansers, toners and moisturisers to its existing lineup soon. You can also forward to Skin Need’s new make-up remover, which will be offered in two different options catered to oily and dry skin types. Our approach is quite different from other brands as most of them usually offer only one type of make-up remover. A body line that includes products made with fair trade oils is also on its way. We will also be expanding our business to Malaysia, promoting our products to a wider audience, so stay tuned!  

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