The Ah Boys To Men actor co-founded Zyu skincare with his partner Tay Zoen just a month before Covid-19 hit

Those familiar with the beauty industry will understand the challenges that come with it. But thanks to how robust it is, we are never short of trends and new discoveries to aid us in our quest to achieve healthier skin and fancier makeup tricks. Even the local beauty industry has its fair share of players, including celebrity-founded brands. 

But if there is an unlikely participant amongst them, it has to be local actor Joshua Tan—who rose to fame after starring in the Ah Boys to Men movie franchise. Not quite what you would expect of a typical beauty brand founder. Right before Covid-19 hit the country, Tan launched Zyu skincare in December 2019 with his fiancée Tay Zoen. 

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On the decision to start a business, Tan was frank about his initial apprehension. 

“I always associated business with conflict and constant headaches. Seeing how several of my colleagues in the media industry branching out as entrepreneurs and witnessing the trials they faced first-hand was extremely intimidating,” Tan admitted. 

However, he found a good team player in his partner.

Tay, who is currently a medical student in her fifth year at the University of New South Wales, is no stranger to the beauty scene as she grew up in a family of aestheticians and her parents have been in the business for over 20 years. 

“I was always interested in the field of business, but I never planned to start a business during medical school, and definitely not with my partner!” Tay shared.

“Nevertheless, I cannot imagine my life without Zyu; it has been an extremely rewarding yet demanding journey and I love what I am doing.”

The gender-neutral skincare line consists of products made with ingredients sourced from all around the world and handpicked by the brand. These include nature extracts that are fragrance-free; its products are all certified to be cruelty-free, animal derivative-free, silicone-free and sulphate-free. 

Thus far, the range includes six products including its flagship item, the Antioxidant Nightmask, a leave-on night mask targets common skincare problems.

Below, Tatler speaks to the dynamic duo as they share more about their brand and what they hope to achieve next. 

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What inspired you to launch your own beauty brand? 

Joshua Tan (JT): We set out to create products we felt were lacking in the market. A skincare line with pure extracts and no nasties, focusing on real and effective solutions to skin issues.

Our first product is an all-encompassing, leave-on night mask that targets common skincare problems that many users face, while at the same time, avoiding typical problems other skincare products may come with. For example, our night mask targets a variety of skincare issues in just a single step. It aids with anti-ageing, prevention of acne, healing of acne and acne scars and hydration of the skin, all in one step. It also negates common issues, including thick masks that may cause the clogging of pores, slow absorption of the product, and a greasy finish that causes pillow stains. This is crucial to us because we found that many were neglecting their skincare routine because of the various issues they were facing from everyday product usage. 

We’ve curated our range with this in mind, including a sunblock that evens out the complexion, protects against UV rays and blue light, all with a multitude of skincare benefits without white cast or greasiness. 

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Were you always keen on being an entrepreneur?

JT: Growing up, I’ve always heard this saying “never do business with friends or family”, and yet, I never would have embarked on this entrepreneurship journey without Zoen. She is my muse, my inspiration, my drive and unfortunately sometimes, my lack of sleep! I don’t do well with conflict, which is inevitable over time especially when it comes to running a business. This journey with Zyu has taught me so much and helped me grow immensely as a partner. I think if anything, Zyu has helped solidify our relationship.

What were some challenges faced along the way? 

JT: Finding the right personnel who have the right mindset and share our vision about Zyu and where we want to take the brand sometimes can be a bit of a challenge. Zoen and I are extremely selective when it comes to who joins [the company], sometimes a little too selective that we end up having too much to do. I think when a brand is so close to your heart, having gone through the birthing process from conception to inception, it can be quite hard to let go and delegate. This has been one of our challenges this year in 2021, learning how to trust the people we have handpicked to carry out our hopes and dreams for the brand. 

Ironically, I’ve taken a couple of months off from acting since April this year to focus on Zyu. It’s not because we were short-staffed but it's because Zoen is approaching her last phase of medical school and I wanted to take some workload off of her in case she burns out. 

TZ: The inordinate amount of time spent formulating and perfecting our products has tempered the rate that we launch. Our expansion also heightened customers’ expectations of us and we receive frequent questions about when the next launch is going to be. [From] the desire to hold fast onto the brand’s philosophy to having our entire team incorporating our new formulas into our everyday skincare routines long before launching and combined with satisfying our customers’ requests, on top of juggling medical school—it’s a challenge, but, challenge accepted! The skincare market is saturated enough and we want to justify our existence by offering products that are worth being obsessed over.

What is your skincare routine for the day and night now?

TZ: In the morning, I use the Botanical Gel Cleanser to remove the dirt accumulated overnight, and then tone my skin with Revitalising Tonic, followed by Texture Aid if I think my skin needs a little help with its texture. If not, I would continue testing out new formulas (secret), and then complexion perfector (which is a tinted sunblock). I work at the hospital nowadays so I don’t use makeup on a daily basis, but I still end my day with afterglow duo, revitalising tonic, texture aid/ new products, and night mask. 

JT: I was horrendously uneducated before Zoen and her parents found out about my skincare routine. There was once I ran out of cleanser and used a bar soap for a few weeks. My skin got so dry and sometime later, I saw Zoen’s mum and she was mortified when she found out; she even joked that I might as well have been using the Mama Lemon dishwashing liquid to wash my face! Needless to say, my knowledge and application of skincare have changed dramatically since then. 

Day to day, my morning routine is extremely simple. I wash off the Antioxidant Nightmask from the night before and make sure I dry my skin with a tissue (letting the water evaporate really dries the skin more than you can imagine). If I have an informal shoot I will apply our complexion perfector which is sufficient to make sure my skin tone is even and cover minor blemishes. 

For my night routine, I alternate between Zyu’s Milk and Botanical Gel Cleanser depending on how much moisture my skin needs as different climates have different effects on my skin. I have been using our Antioxidant Nightmask religiously every night before I sleep since the start of 2019 (when we were testing it out), and honestly, it is my favourite product to this date. If I am coming back from a shoot, I make sure that I double cleanse, as when we are on shoot, we tend to put on heavy makeup to last a full 12- to 18-hour day of filming. I make sure to tone after my shower, and then apply the Antioxidant Nightmask as my final step before I go to sleep.

Tell us more about the products available so far. Who is the target audience?

JT and TZ: We currently have a morning and night range that includes cleansers, toner, acne cream, sunblock and a night mask. Our products are multi-functional and hence, the names usually include the purpose of the product, rather than having generic names. We had our first launch, the Antioxidant Night Mask, back in December 2019. Our second product is the Revitalising Tonic, which we recently changed to a mist bottle to aid with the application. It helps to hydrate and exfoliate, combating comedones without drying the skin. 

We recently won an award for our Complexion Perfector, which is a tinted sunscreen containing microbeads that expresses colour upon contact with your skin, with plenty of skincare benefits. It is made with Singapore’s weather in mind, considering how hot and humid it is, this sunblock is non-greasy, has no white cast, and evens your skin tone, giving you natural coverage.

Our double cleansers Afterglow Duo were actually launched as a Glow It Yourself kit back in 2020, during the circuit breaker. It was a limited-edition home treatment kit focused on professional-grade acids and exfoliation, made to help customers tide through the closing of beauty salons. Our customers loved the cleansers and we launched them in full sizes this year! They contain AHAs and BHAs to gently exfoliate the skin with every wash.

Our most recent launch is called the Texture Aid. It is a menthol cream that provides expedited healing of existing blemishes, lightens hyperpigmentation and boosts the skin’s natural healing process. Additionally, it prevents future outbreaks with bacteria-fighting and sebum-regulating botanical extracts. This unique concoction helps acne sufferers that are looking for a non-drying and non-irritating solution to their blemishes.

Our entire range is gender-neutral and we actually find that many of our female purchasers share Zyu with their partners, mothers and children! So I would say the main age range that purchases our products are between 18 to 55.

What is the best beauty advice you’ve received?

JT: I just have to look at Zoen’s parents to know how important it is to be consistent in our skincare routine. They’ve been in the beauty line for more than 20 years and while their nuggets of wisdom never fail to motivate me, whenever I see them I am reminded of the importance of consistency. 

TZ: Always, always invest in your skin! It will boost your confidence by 1000 per cent. 

What would you say is the most memorable moment in this journey so far?

TZ: One of our customers emailed us a collection of pictures she took over the course of a few months showcasing the transformation in her skin after using our products. I was really touched and extremely thankful that I have a loyal group of customers that love the brand as much as I do.

JT: For me, it was when I was scrolling through the orders we had one particular night and I noticed a familiar name and address. Upon further investigation, I found out that it was actually my cousin. It turned out that she had been our regular customer and was quietly purchasing our products fastidiously. I was so touched I immediately reached out to her and we caught up in person over a family gathering. She genuinely loved the products and even introduced them to my other cousins who also tried them. I was so touched because she genuinely enjoyed our products. She didn’t support the brand because I was her cousin, she supported it because she loved it. 

How will you be juggling acting and the business moving forward?

JT: Zyu has reached a point where it’s a stable viable business and I actually have considered an early retirement to just focus on growing the brand and taking it further! But, I love acting too much to be away from it for too long. That’s why we have a group of special people who share our vision that helps us with bringing Zyu to greater heights.

What can we expect from Zyu next?

JT: In the near future, we will continue researching and developing products that we simply cannot do without, and in the long run, with sufficient resources, we aim to break through the beauty industry in Southeast Asia and become a household name. 

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