Sabrina Tan sits down with Tatler Malaysia to share her journey from skincare enthusiast to industry visionary

After a decade in the tech industry, Sabrina Tan took a leap of faith off the corporate ladder and into the beauty industry, with the revolutionary idea of personalising skincare to each individual and streamlining the skincare routine.

More than a decade later, her beauty company, Skin Inc, has won 140 awards and amassed a global following with loyal fans, including Aimee Song, Son Ye Jin and Chriselle Lim. 

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"I was a beauty junkie," she confesses, "I loved trying new products. But I have incredibly sensitive skin, prone to eczema, so the trial and error process was a nightmare. One day, I looked at the skincare graveyard on my vanity table and I decided, 'This needs to stop!'" 

Faced with an age-old problem for beauty enthusiasts, Tan engaged troubleshoot mode: "I wanted to know why different skincare ingredients wasn't working for me." 

From her root cause analysis, she realised that many things affect the skin: "Every single person's skin is unique to them. It's affected by genes, climate as well as lifestyle, from how often they exercise to how long they spend sitting in front of a laptop screen. For me, I need ceramides to prevent eczema flare-ups and now that I'm growing older, my under-eye circles need a little brightening with Vitamin A and a little more collagen wouldn't hurt!" 

As a working mother of two, for whom time is a precious commodity, she went on to ask: "Why can't we just mix everything together?" 

That was the basis of the beauty brand's Skin Identity Check, a user-friendly quiz to input all these factors to generate one bottle of serum to address and adapt to individual skin concerns that may change over time. 

Personalisation is the best way to future-proof your skincare and ensure that it continues to work for you in the long-term.

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What is the science behind Skin Inc's famous serum cocktail?

Inspired by the mechanism of file encryption, Tan found a simple but revolutionary way to protect active ingredients from oxidation. "Ingredients like Vitamin C turn yellow or brown when exposed to the air," she says. "Using it when it's oxidised is like slathering rotten banana on your face." 

Encapsulating active ingredients in colourful caviar-like cases was the key to Skin Inc's customisation mission. Tan was able to mix and match active ingredients without exposing them to the environment or each other. So confident was she in her product that the enterprising Singaporean produced upwards of 70,000 bottles off the bat. "I call it insanity with a purpose," she says. "I had a tiny, 200 sq ft shop and I insisted on making sure that my serums came in six different colours—just in case women wanted pink for the summer or blue for the winter." 

I don't live with 'What If?'. I live with 'Why Not?'

From there, her journey has only been filled with more 'A-ha! 'moments on how to transform the skincare experience.

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For example, she was on a long-haul flight struggling with eczema flare ups when she dreamed up the Optimiser Voyage Tri-Light+++ device, a tear-drop shaped skin treatment device that uses UV-free LED lights—a skin healing technology used by NASA astronauts—to boost serum penetration deep into the skin, among other functions, such as reducing the appearance of pores and wrinkles. 

"I remember thinking to myself, 'How nice would it be to have a facial right now?'" she laughs. "That's why it was important to give a guide on how to use the device as a massager for lymphatic drainage, as well!"

And in the pandemic era, Tan stresses the importance of innovation that is proactive and preventative. True to this forward-thinking philosophy is Skin Inc's simple mask liner. 

"We've been wearing masks for a year and we already know that moisture and heat trapped under the masks is causing acne and increasing sensitivity. What about the long-term effects? It's likely that the lipid layer of our skin will be significantly weakened, opening possibilities of hyperpigmentation." 

Ever eager to learn, she teases that mental health and wellness is an area of skincare that is ripe for disruption. "There is a connection between mind and body. The easiest example is the cyclical nature of stress and acne." 

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When asked if personalised skincare will evolve from beauty trend into industry norm, she responds that consumers in all industries are coming to expect this level of specificity. She illustrates her point with an analogy:

"Think about how our parents used to tailor their suits. They would have to go into the shop, painstakingly explain what they want, get their measurements done, wait a couple of weeks, come into the shop to try it on, wait again for final adjustments and only then will they be able to have the finished product," she says, getting almost out of breath explaining the whole process. 

"But millennials? They can just go online, key in their measurements and personalise a suit exactly to their tastes," she says, before musing on the predictive algorithms on popular apps, such as Netflix and Spotify, "These days, it's hard to even find non-bespoke experiences!" 

As the interview comes to an end, she reflects on her last decade in the beauty industry as one of the pioneers in using data and technology to 'reboot' skincare. "I'm very proud that our mission hasn't changed since we started Skin Inc. We're all about that 360-degree approach. Incorporating technology, health and science, without forgetting the fun!"

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Skin Inc is available online and at Sephora. 

  • ImagesCourtesy of Skin Inc