8 Asian-Owned Beauty Brands to Shop and Support Now
Since the start of the pandemic, there has been a rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans in the United States. Stop AAPI Hate, a national coalition that tracks incidents of violence and discrimination against Asian American and Pacific Islanders, has reported more than 2,800 incidents of anti-Asian discrimination between March and December of last year (with many recent attacks being targeted towards the elderly).
As a Korean American woman who has faced racism growing up, I’ve got to be honest: Seeing these xenophobic attacks play across my social media feed has been deeply triggering and has made me feel both heartbroken and hopelessly uncertain about how I could possibly help my Asian community in any meaningful way during this time.
Then I remembered why I got into this industry in the first place. When I became a beauty editor at 25, it was a very intentional career move for me, and it was a decision that was largely based on my desire to connect with people through the seemingly surface-level world of makeup and hair.
Yes, the discovery of new products was fun, but what really drew me to this industry was the way it allowed people from all walks of life find common ground.
There is no denying that beauty is powerful on a personal level for many of us. But collectively, the industry is an even more influential space. I say this as much as a reminder to myself as I say it to anyone who is reading this: We all have the ability to affect change through what we choose to share and consume, and we can simply start where we are.
As someone whose job entails scouting the very best of beauty for people, I wanted to take this time to highlight some truly exceptional beauty brands that also happened to be Asian-founded and owned.
Knowing their stories and supporting their businesses is just one way you can help the Asian American community right now, because in the wake of this global pandemic and the continued fight for Black lives, it’s becoming increasingly evident that the only way forward is together.
Founded in 2014, cocokind has quickly gained popularity as a go-to skincare brand for all ages thanks to its high-quality formulas and accessibility. Rooted in sustainability, affordability and inclusivity, the brand began its journey in a single Whole Foods store in northern California (which CEO and founder Priscilla Tsai made happen by hand delivering samples of early products to regional buyers). It has since evolved into a fast-growing direct-to-consumer business that you can also find at other national retailers like Target, Anthropologie and Ulta.com.
As of March 2, 2021, cocokind is taking their sustainability efforts one step further by rolling out new labels on their packaging that indicate the carbon footprint of each product, as well as a scannable QR code that takes you to a page that offers more information on how its sustainability facts are calculated using a third-party research firm.
Start with: Sake body lotion (which we’ve written more about here).
2. Glow Recipe
It seems 2014 was a big year for beauty startups, as the next brand we’re about to spotlight was also founded that year. Two friends and former L’Oréal colleagues, Sarah Lee and Christine Chang, started Glow Recipe as a way to bridge the gap between Korean brands and their newest audience: all of us here in the States.
By leveraging their bicultural and bilingual backgrounds, the duo made K-beauty more accessible to the U.S. consumer through education and curation before eventually launching their eponymous skincare brand (which you’ve likely come across in your local Sephora). Glow Recipe has since evolved to become a leader in the space with their fruit-forward ingredients, sensorial textures and scents, and always shelfie-ready aesthetic.
Start with: Niacinamide Glow Drops
This clean beauty brand has made quite a splash since its initial launch in 2019. Founded by Amy Liu, a second-generation Chinese American mother of three, this industry veteran cut her teeth working at brands like Smashbox and Kate Somerville before starting Tower28.
The highly photogenic products are also some of the gentlest we’ve ever used. Rigorously tested for any potential irritants, each product adheres strictly to the National Eczema Association’s ingredient guidelines without compromising on performance or pigment.
Start with: BeachPlease Lip + Cheek Cream Blush
4. Em Cosmetics
It’s not hyperbolic to say that Michelle Phan invented the beauty influencer as we know it today. As a pioneering creator on YouTube, the Vietnamese American was, in fact, one of the first personalities to make it big on the platform (and by “make it big” we mean reach over 1 billion views all the way back in 2014), paving the way for future influencers for years to come.
Since uploading those early makeup transformations on her channel, she has since gone on to found two successful businesses: Ipsy, a beauty subscription service, which she sold her stake in, and Em Cosmetics, which she bought back from L’Oréal and relaunched in 2017.
From the sleek packaging to the innovative textures and ingredients featured in each product, the brand is redefining what makeup is to the modern consumer. Think: Makeup influenced by skin care rather than makeup as way to cover up your skin.
Start with: Daydream Cushion Tinted SPF
Few brands have achieved cult status in recent years the way Tatcha has, but when it first launched in 2009 with gold-leaf blotting papers, it was considered too niche and inaccessible to gain acceptance here in the States.
The brand, which was founded on centuries-old skincare traditions in Japan, offered a more holistic approach to beauty that centered around healing your skin and treating the rote acts of cleansing and moisturizing as a moment of self-care (before the term entered our collective lexicon).
Since its early days, when founder Vicky Tsai had to personally bootstrap the company to keep it going, Tatcha has become one of the most popular beauty brands in retailers like Sephora. With their acquisition by Unilever in 2019, we get the feeling we’ll see a lot more of the brand for many years to come.
Start with: The Dewy Serum
6. Then I Met You
If ever there was a need for more thought and care in our daily lives, it’s now. In that sense, Then I Met You was before its time, having launched in 2018 with a mission to use skincare as a way to connect deeper to ourselves and each other.
Rooted in the Korean concept of jeong, which is described as “a deep feeling of empathy and affection that one can develop for people, places and things,” founder Charlotte Cho wanted to create products that took us out of the day-to-day distractions whenever we used them.
To that end, the premium brand is made up of just six, streamlined products that are the antithesis to the “more is more” mentality we’ve come to adopt with the proliferation of online shopping.
Start with: Living Cleansing Balm
7. Henné Organics
Long before founding Henné Organics, Laura Xiao was a professional table tennis player growing up in Kansas City. (She even took the number one title for the 9-12 age bracket and was a member of the U.S. junior national girls’ team at 17.)
After graduating from college, Xiao spent several years traveling across countries like Denmark, New Zealand and Sweden. It was this nomadic lifestyle that made her more conscious about simplifying her belongings to just the essentials, which later became the ethos behind her minimalist beauty brand.
Xiao credits these diverse life experiences and the values that were instilled by her Chinese parents as key factors in creating and sustaining the growth of Henné (and thank God for that, because their tinted lip balm is one of our favorite products of all time).
Start with: Luxury Lip Tint
8. Kulfi Beauty
A relative newcomer having just launched last month, Kulfi is one of the first (but hopefully not the last) brands to put South Asian beauty at the center. Founded by Priyanka Ganjoo, who has a background in building brands like the aforementioned Ipsy, Kulfi launched with kajal, which was traditionally made in the kitchen by burning almonds and mixing their ashes with castor oil or ghee to create a creamy paste.
Ganjoo took cues from this classic recipe and spent a year tweaking it, adding ingredients like aloe vera and safflower seed oil, so that it would apply even smoother and deliver an even more pigmented color payoff than its predecessor. The result is a stunning five-piece lineup of kajal eyeliners in shades like plum and electric blue that truly complement deeper skin tones.
Start with: Underlined Kajal Eyeliner