With the opening of her Hong Kong lab next month, cosmetic chemist Christal Leung is on a mission to simplify skincare and bring it closer to home, while delivering supremely customisable skincare products through her brand, Skin Need.
In your opinon, where did your personal passion for skincare stem from?
It began at a very young age. When I was a teenager, my mum ran a beauty salon and I was there every weekend to help with bookings and scheduling. Seeing her approach to skincare – customising products with fresh fruits and vegetables – and watching the way she brought joy and confidence to her customers, I realised that this was what I wanted to do as well, to create this kind of positivity and joy no matter which industry I would dedicate myself to. Unsurprisingly, that turned out to be the beauty industry.
How did your skincare label, Skin Need, come about?
Actually my mother was the one to start it. A lot of the products she used in the salon were manufactured and imported from the United States and other Western countries, which meant they were geared more towards Caucasian skin types and environments. She wanted something that was specially created for the humidity and temperatures of Hong Kong, something that would suit the lifestyles of the city’s residents. So, she worked with cosmetic chemists in the States and brought over her own products for customers in her salon. When I became a cosmetic chemist and joined Skin Need 12 years ago, I began evolving, reformulating and upgrading them.
What do you think sets Skin Need apart from other brands in the market?
I think what makes Skin Need unique is that we didn’t come from a commercial approach – we weren’t thinking of what kind of gap we wanted to fill in the market or what ingredients we’d use to make it different. Our philosophy evolved from the experiences and skincare problems that my mother encountered over her career, and how she felt beauty products should actually be addressing those needs.
A lot of companies promote a hero product, a one-size-fits-all that everybody should be using, be it a serum, a cream or a sunblock. But my mother felt – and I concur – that our skin is always in a very dynamic environment of external and internal change, based on factors, such as weather, stress levels and hormones. So, at Skin Need we aim to create a skincare regimen that can really evolve with the needs and changes of your skin.
For example, when hormones cause the dermis to become dehydrated or oily, you need to customise your cream immediately to boost its moisture levels. On the other hand, when your skin is very dry or sensitive due to stress, you have to add emollients to nourish and rejuvenate it back to full health. Ultimately, the strength of Skin Need is our ability to create customised skincare regimens that can meet a customer’s unique needs. What’s more, we also empower users to observe changes in their skin daily, and offer a range of oil-based and water-based serums and different active ingredients that can be blended into their creams to suit their exact needs on any given day.
Do you have any upcoming projects on the horizon that you’re excited about?
Yes, I’m currently in the midst of a very hectic and exciting project, which is set to open its doors next month. I’m building a Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) certified lab in Kwai Chung, which will have five clean rooms and assembly lines for the bottling and filling of cosmetics. We’ll also have homogenisers and production capabilities to produce skincare that are ‘Made in Hong Kong’. Ultimately, while our products are still manufactured in the States, we’ll ship them en masse to the city to be packaged here, so we can greatly cut down our carbon footprint and fuel consumption.
Can you share one or two common mistakes people make in their daily skincare regimen?
The issue I face most often is that customers use too many products too often for no good reason at all. Because of all the information that is so readily available on the internet – you know, ‘you have to use retinoids, it does magic for your skin’ or ‘the salicylic acid concentration has to be one percent’ – everyone feels like they need a bit of everything. This, in turn, drives suppliers to produce in higher amounts than needed without educating consumers on which products should be used in tandem and which shouldn’t be used together at all.
So, one of the most common problems I encounter is users layering an amalgam of products like acids with highly purifying clay masks, and adding retinoids as a last step and so forth. It’s just crazy because ultimately, you’re compromising the barrier protection of your skin. You harm it by ignoring the fact that you need a balanced skin pH level so that it can fend off bacteria. Not only are you not going to get the results you want, you’re damaging your skin in the process, which leaves you open to a plethora of problems in the future that didn’t exist in the first place.
So, what’s your tip for simplifying skincare?
I think hydration is important for everyone. If your skin is dehydrated, then using humectants such as hyaluronic acid and natural moisturising ingredients like Vitamin B5 in your daily routine are a must. For those suffering from an oily dermis, these hydrants also help balance oil production. In fact, our body can’t produce its own water, so when it gets dehydrated, its automatic response is to create an oily barrier instead – this is what causes blocked pores and blackheads. Studies show that hydration can help counteract the effects of ageing skin and sensitive skin too, so I really can’t stress enough the importance of moisturising your skin properly.
As a balance to your busy schedule, how do you like to relax during your down time?
To be honest, work is pretty much my hobby. It’s something I feel so passionate about and find so much joy in that I don’t feel like it’s work. Having said that, last year my sister told me that I was too much of a workaholic and needed to find a pastime, so I joined the Entrepreneurs’ Organization. It’s a group of like-minded entrepreneurs who come together not so much to talk about potential opportunities and connections but rather to share and reflect on the hurdles that come with running your own business, and also to expand our collective horizons through learning opportunities conducted by experts. I was invited to their board this year and at the moment I’m spending my spare time curating learning experiences for our members.
Finally, what is your biggest guilty pleasure?
Junk food. I absolutely love tucking into a bag of chips or a box of chocolates, so I’m really lucky that I have skincare products that can counteract their side effects!
Interview: Tenzing Thondup
Photographer: Jack Law
Videographer: Kingsley Lau
Art Direction & Styling: Jhoshwa Ledesma
Jewellery: No. Thirty Three Joaillerie
Location: WULT, Central