The business of beauty is inherently personal for the wearer, down to the pitch-perfect foundation shade. But the products that land in the medicine cabinet often reflect a broader story about shared values, experiences, and aesthetics, as well as which makers one chooses to support.
While the past few years of the pandemic have been hard on many, they’ve proven particularly challenging for members of the AAPI community in the United States, which has faced a horrific rise in racially-based violence. According to a report from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, the number of anti-Asian hate crimes increased by 164% between the first quarter of 2020 and that of 2021, resulting in an atmosphere of underlying fear and, by extension, rising solidarity.
Nonprofit groups like Stop AAPI Hate have formed to study and address such incidents, while existing organizations such as Gold House and Heart of Dinner have served as a touchstone for cross-cultural collaboration and representation. But it’s also imperative for those beyond the AAPI community to offer support in meaningful ways, too, particularly during AAPI Heritage Month.
One such approach is to champion the many AAPI-founded and -operated beauty brands on the shelves. From sustainable skin care rooted in Japanese tradition to makeup-artist essentials lighting up TikTok to saffron-inspired start-ups, they illustrate the richness and ingenuity of the many cultures that comprise the AAPI community. Plus, you just might find the product that takes your beauty routine to the next level.
After years of working with beauty brands, founder Amy Liu set out to create her own, with sensitive skin in mind. (Tower 28 takes its name from a lifeguard tower in Santa Monica that serves as a meeting spot for locals.) Every product in the line, including the range’s best-selling tinted sunscreen, blush balm, and a restorative face mist, is formulated in keeping with guidelines from the National Eczema Association to sidestep any potential irritants.
Soft Services may only be a year old, but the skin-care brand has already made an impact on the beauty industry, redirecting attention from the face to below-the-neck zones. Founded by two Glossier alums, it applies gold-standard ingredients at percentages high enough to treat the thicker skin on the body, targeting stubborn concerns like ingrown hairs, keratosis pilaris, and body acne—all with style.
House of M
After a stretch of postpartum depression led Anne Nguyen Oliver to the sleep-enhancing benefits of medical-grade saffron, the Vietnamese native dove into research about the ingredient’s topical uses—particularly as an ultra-gentle treatment for her hormonal melasma. That discovery inspired her to launch House of M in 2019, beginning with a serum featuring the purest grade of saffron (called negin), which has sold out three times. Nguyen Oliver’s California-based line has since expanded to include two additional skin-care products.
Following requests from her vast digital community, beauty influencer turned entrepreneur Deepica Mutyala launched an inclusive makeup line in 2018. It features products inspired by Mutyala’s own hacks (such as using red lipstick to color-correct under-eye circles) and has become a favorite of Phenomenal founder Meena Harris and dermatologist Shereene Idriss, MD, who’s particularly fond of the brand’s mineral sunscreen.
Japan has long been a player in the skin-care world (see: Shiseido and SK-II), but DAMDAM, cofounded by Giselle Go and Philippe Terrien, represents the next sustainably sourced iteration of J-beauty. Crafted entirely in Japan, the formulas in the line are infused with traditional ingredients like shiso leaves, rice, and konnyaku.
After making his name as a go-to makeup artist for the likes of Gigi Hadid, Camilla Cabello, and Joan Smalls, Vietnamese wunderkind Patrick Ta packaged up that bombshell aesthetic and established his own makeup line in 2019. Anchored in shades and textures designed to give skin a dewy, sculpted glow, the product range spans face and body. He’s put his professional pedigree to good use, pairing complementary colors in a best-selling blush palette to ensure a pop of color with lasting wear.
Woo Skin Essentials
Tattoo artistry is necessarily tied to skin care, so it wasn’t a complete surprise when Brian Woo, the L.A.–based tattoo artist better known as Dr. Woo, launched his own line of products in 2020. Known for his single-needle designs—and A-list clientele, which includes everyone from Bella Hadid to Zoë Kravitz—Woo focuses on the essentials for a healthy canvas, including a cleansing bar gentle enough for even freshly inked skin.
Eggs are known for their high nutritional value and have therefore been a mainstay in Asian skin care for centuries—but they’re decidedly not vegan. With Superegg, founder Erica Choi set out to replicate that nourishment using entirely plant-based formulations, bringing together proven ingredients with botanical extracts. The line includes all the elements of a comprehensive (but streamlined) routine, including a delightfully creamy cleanser.
A fixture behind the scenes at marquee runway shows (Marc Jacobs, Proenza Schouler), nail artist Jin Soon Choi is known as much for her carefully curated line of nail colors as for her namesake salons. In recent years, she’s branched out into sweet, seasonally inspired nail appliqués and a dedicated nail-care range, proving that there’s more to a finessed manicure than polish alone.
BagSnob founder Tina Craig introduced her inaugural skin-care product, the retinol-powered Resurfacing Compound, in a way fitting of a fashion influencer: by handing out samples during Paris Fashion Week. Once known for her multi-step skin-care routine, she sought to edit the process with her thoughtful, efficacious formulas, which use proprietary technology to deliver active ingredients exactly where they’re needed most.
Tatcha was among the first skin-care brands to bring a makeup artist on board; it was none other than Daniel Martin, responsible for Meghan Markle’s 2018 wedding makeup. It was a clever move for founder Victoria Tsai, whose products draw inspiration from time-honored, Japanese beauty rituals. The line also features decidedly modern, makeup-adjacent formulations, such as a new mineral sunscreen as sheer and smooth as silk.
Minimalist-minded CLE Cosmetics (short for Creative Lass Esthetic) applies cutting-edge Korean technologies to makeup and skin-care essentials, resulting in delightfully cushiony textures and hybrid formulas. CLE Cosmetics founder Lauren Jin rarely goes without the brand’s innovative lip powder, which she applies to both lips and cheeks for a naturalistic flush.
Therapist and life coach Tina Chow Rudolf was inspired to create a mindful beauty brand after seeing the mental benefits of a daily ritual firsthand in her practice. Through Strange Bird, she aims to encourage a regular practice of “positive impact skin care,” which melds Chinese traditions with efficacious formulations. Standout in the line are the gentle clay cleanser and a lightweight, hyaluronic acid–powered moisturizer.
Founded by three sisters who noticed a lack of makeup options for brown skin tones on the shelves, CTZN Cosmetics is an edited collection best known for its nude lipsticks, which come in 25 variations. The product offerings also include lip liners and glosses, all in a similarly sprawling shade range intended to accommodate each and every imaginable wearer.
Riki Loves Riki
While ring lights were game-changing for the beauty world, particularly on social media, Wanchen Kaiser and her husband, Erik, took the concept a step further with a line of sleek mirrors framed in bright LED lights. Riki Loves Riki’s mirrors also come with various levels of dimming, a magnetized phone mount, and even Bluetooth capabilities—making them ideal for both makeup experts and rookies alike.
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