This beauty brand owner's skincare journey is so inspiring that you will want to dive right into your own routine just to make sure you're doing everything correctly

Finding skincare and makeup that work for your skin needs time, patience and a whole lot of experimentation. Not all of us are lucky enough to find products that consistently work for our skin as we age. Yu-Chen Shih knows exactly how this feels. 

Born in Taipei and raised in Singapore, Shih's Chinese-Malay background and international upbringing may have exposed her to beauty rituals of different cultures and ignited her passion for beauty at a young age—but she never felt truly accepted by the beauty industry. She spent years settling for products that were not made with her needs in mind. Driven by her mission to break the barrier between luxury and inclusivity, Yu-Chen created Orcé to celebrate her Asian heritage with high-performance skincare-infused cosmetics that address "skin tones and skin types overlooked by the beauty industry". 

With the aim of meeting the unique needs of global Asian beauty lovers, she created the makeup brand Orcé Cosmetics in Los Angeles, where she has been based in since her teens. Pronounced as "or-say", the brand’s collection is specially formulated to reveal and enhance Asian complexions as it pays homage to Asian women.
 
Since its launch in February 2019 in Los Angeles, its Come Closer Skin Perfecting Serum-Foundation collection has proven to be a cult favourite of celebrity makeup artists in Hollywood, who have used Orcé on stars such as Michelle Yeoh, Olivia Palermo, Lana Condor and more. Each foundation was custom developed based on a real Asian woman’s skin colour.

But beyond makeup, Shih understands the importance of skincare. While living in humid Singapore, the beauty brand owner struggled with a skin problem that many of us can relate to: acne breakouts. Years later, she also encountered hormonal acne and worked hard to find yet another solution to solve her skincare woes. 

Fortunately for her, she figured out what works for her skin. However, it was not always an easy journey. Below, she shares more about her skincare tips as well as how she created a routine that protected and improved her skin. Plus, she also reveals her favourite facial salon and how she discovered retinol after meeting an aesthetician in Beverly Hills. 

How long do you typically spend on your skincare routine?

Yu-Chen Shih (YCS): As a solo founder, my days are packed with conference calls and meetings, so I only have about 10 minutes to spare for my morning routine. I typically spend a longer time on my skincare ritual at night (anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour) as I use that as an opportunity to decompress—incorporating face massage, face toning devices, and/or masks.

What is your skincare routine like for day?

YCS: I have typical Asian skin: sensitive, oily, yet dehydrated at the same time. I used to wash my face with a cleanser twice a day and found that it exacerbated the challenges I faced with my skin. Now, I only cleanse my face with (cold) water in the morning, then follow with an alcohol-free toner if I’m feeling extra greasy. Next, I apply a vitamin C serum layered with a hyaluronic acid serum, and seal off the hydration with a non-comedogenic moisturiser. Finally, a generous layer of non-pilling sunscreen and our Come Closer Perfecting Serum-Foundation to double-down on the skin nourishment and protection from environmental stressors.

What is your skincare routine for night?

YCS: My nighttime skincare ritual is definitely my favourite time of day, as it allows me to unplug and reconnect with myself. I start with taking the day off using a cotton pad soaked with micellar water, followed by a salicylic acid cleanser. I make sure I spend at least one minute massaging my face with the cleanser, focusing on hard to reach areas that tend to collect dirt and bacteria. Then, I apply a hydrating gel mask (my favourite is the Skin Inc Pure Deepsea Hydrating Mask) and either massage my face in a lymphatic drainage motion, or use a facial toning device. After removing the mask, I apply a niacinamide serum or growth factor serum layered with a hyaluronic acid serum, followed by moisturiser and eye cream. Once a week, I exfoliate my skin using a chemical exfoliator.

What was the last skincare product that you bought?

YCS: Skinceuticals Phloretin CF serum. 

Are there any new skincare trends that you’re excited to try?

YCS: The next on my to-try list would be retinol alternatives. A few years ago, I met an Eastern European aesthetician during a spa day in Beverly Hills and was immediately taken by the juxtaposition of her virtually wrinkle-free complexion with her silver hair. I complimented her skin and she shared that she was well into her late sixties but never had any cosmetic procedures done. Her secret: retinol and living like a vampire.

Although I take sun protection very seriously, I’m still a California girl at heart and love basking (safely and in moderation) in daylight. So, that very day, I purchased my first retinol product. I began incorporating it into my skincare routine and saw improvements in my skin texture after using it on and off for a couple of months. Unfortunately, after getting vaccinated for Covid-19, I suddenly developed an allergy to retinol and can no longer use it without my skin turning red, itchy, and swollen right away. With more brands releasing gentle exfoliants in recent months, I’m now looking into safe alternatives to retinol and can’t wait to find a replacement that delivers the same results!

When did you start paying extra attention to your skin?

YCS: When I was a teenager living in hot and humid Singapore, I struggled with cystic acne and closed comedones. As my skin worsened, I became self-conscious and wore a fringe/bangs to cover my bump-ridden forehead (which of course did not help with the breakouts). My mother became worried that I could develop acne scars if my skin was not treated properly, so she sent me to a dermatologist who put me on Accutane, along with other topical medications. My skin did not take well to the medications—Accutane caused my eyes and mouth to become so uncomfortably dry that I could not focus in class, while the topicals did not really help with my skin besides causing it to be chronically sensitized and peeling.

I lost faith in that dermatologist’s approach and was determined to fix my skin in my own way—I began receiving facials with thorough extractions, threw out all the makeup I bought with my allowance, and built a new skincare routine for myself with products containing salicylic acid (I used scientific research tools such as ScienceDirect that my school provided for science projects to study skincare ingredients I come across in magazines and on Taiwanese beauty TV shows). Watching my skin clear up was the most fulfilling experience for my teenage self and planted the seed that is now my passion in beauty. 

What’s one skincare must-have you’ve “influenced” others to purchase?

YCS: DIM (Diindolylmethane) supplements. DIM is a naturally-resulting compound that comes from eating cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage, and helps to prevent breakouts by balancing hormones. I first heard about DIM in 2020 when my friend Jessica Wu (@jessicazwu)—co-founder of fashion brand Peter Do, model, and fashion-beauty influencer. Her luminous skin is the first thing anyone notices when they meet her, so I took note when she posted a story about how DIM changed her life.

I was diagnosed with PCOS some years ago and have been struggling with hormonal breakouts ever since, despite trying everything just short of Accutane. (When I was a teenager, my dermatologist put me on Accutane and I hated how dry it made my skin, mouth, and eyes feel.) As someone who spends her free time studying skincare ingredients and treatments, I prided myself on doing everything right—from cutting trigger foods such as dairy out of my diet, to only using non-comedogenic products (yes, even makeup—our Serum-Foundation is non-comedogenic and oil-free) and receiving regular clarifying facials—so, I was truly at my wit’s end. I figured I had nothing more to lose and began my experiment with DIM. In a matter of weeks, my skin began to clear up and till today, I hardly ever get those painful cystic pimples on my chin, even around my period!

What’s a skincare product you can’t live without?

YCS: I absolutely cannot live without my Orcé Come Closer Skin Perfecting Serum-Foundation. On lazy days, it allows me to skip a step in my beauty routine since it contains a proprietary serum featuring three skincare powerhouse ingredients that address top concerns of Asian skin—clinical levels of hyaluronic acid for all-day hydration without the use of oils that could trigger breakout-prone skin, Tahitian pearl extract for stimulating collagen production and fading hyperpigmentation, and Chinese herb Evodia rutaecarpa for boosting radiance, reducing inflammation, and improving skin texture—all while delivering flawless dewy coverage! 

What’s the most important skincare step to you?

YCS: Now at 29, my most important skincare step is protection. I apply a vitamin C serum in the mornings to prevent photodamage, sunscreen for UV protection and seal off my skincare routine with my Serum-Foundation, which also acts as a physical barrier since it contains zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.

Where and what is your go-to facial?

YCS: Whenever I’m in Singapore, I see Shiori at Sona Skin Studio. Shiori is truly a master of her craft—trained in both Japanese and American approaches to skincare, she marries her deep understanding of Asian skin with research-proven products and cutting edge technology. My favourite treatment is The Reverse Facial—Shiori integrates microcurrent, radiofrequency, LED light therapy, multi-vitamin infusion with hyperbaric pressurized oxygen, and customised peels to deliver visible results. What amazes me the most is how skilled Shiori is at extractions—it’s completely painless (I sleep right through it) and I leave with zero signs of extractions (aside from squeaky clean pores)!

Is skincare the new self-care? What are your thoughts on this?

YCS: For me it definitely is! Skincare has always played an important part in my life, but I discovered how therapeutic it could be during the [Covid-19] lockdown. It gives me an opportunity to check out from all the stress and anxiety I deal with throughout the day and check in with myself.

What is one piece of skincare advice that you live by?

YCS: Prevention is better than cure!

What is your beauty tool of choice?

YCS: Our Come Closer Perfecting Makeup Sponge! When I’m on the go, I try to pack light and the makeup sponge is my one must-have tool. It’s perfect for all formulas from liquid to powder and I love how it delivers a seamless second-skin finish.

What is the most unique beauty treatment you tried overseas?

YCS: I tried a face lifting treatment in Taipei using acupuncture! Not the most relaxing but I did see visible improvement right after.

Have you tried out aesthetic treatments? Why or why not?

YCS: Yes, I have! I’ve tried Ulthera, Thermage, and RF microneedling. I typically avoid laser treatments as not many practitioners in the US are well-versed in treating Asian skin, which is more sensitive to heat and prone to post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation than Caucasian skin.

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