Until recently, I’ve never been one to be too concerned about the chemicals or additives in a cosmetic or skin care product. But as more news comes out about the negative effects of just about everything on your skin and health — the sun, pollution, stress and now even deli meats — I’m thinking more about trying to decrease the amount of non-natural ingredients I eat or slather on my face.
Which makes Susan Wong’s new makeup line, HAN Skin Care Cosmetics, quite timely. With 100 percent natural ingredients, Wong’s succinct line of eye shadows, lip and cheek tints and lip glosses was born after she became pregnant and couldn’t find all-natural and healthy makeup at affordable prices. After three years of research and development, Wong perfected her formulations, which are 100 percent vegetarian and consist of super antioxidant ingredients like rice powder, argan oil and acai oil (the first three ingredients in her eye shadows, incidentally). All the work has clearly been worth it — unlike many “natural” cosmetics I’ve tried in the past, this line offers real color payoff, luxe textures and a smooth application. The eye shadow in Cool Coconut is a gorgeous opalescent, the perfect base for the other bronze and golden shades in the collection. The lip gloss is lightly scented with natural vanilla and super hydrating with argan and acai oils, coconut creme, shea butter, cupuacu butter and vitamin E (impressively, the first five ingredients listed). And the lip & cheek tint — I normally avoid anything called a tint because that usually means it’ll dry out my perpetually chapped lips — didn’t just hydrate my lips for hours, it lasted for hours, even through eating and drinking. Call me seriously in love.
What really impressed me, though, is the fact that Wong, like me, left a stable and “mainstream” career to follow her passion. Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, Wong is a first-generation Asian American with “traditionally strict” parents, especially with regard to her education. (“As an adult, I can appreciate their disciplinary style and see it was all in my best interest,” she says diplomatically.) After graduating from UC Berkeley’s HAAS School of Business, Wong spent years in corporate finance before making the jump to her true passion: beauty. I talk shop with Wong about her line and how she made the transition.
Q. My experience has been that if a beauty product is “natural,” that means it doesn’t work as well. I’ve been pleasantly surprised that your products have great color payoff and feel good on skin. What’s the secret?
Susan Wong: Thank you! I think there’s been a lot of advances and improvement in natural formulation through R&D and technology just over the last few years as interest in natural beauty continues to be robust. Because HAN Skin Care Cosmetics is small and nimble, we can take advantage of the latest and greatest innovations, and we aren’t biased towards old conventional ingredients that may perform but aren’t healthy or safe for you. New natural alternatives that are on par or better than their synthetic or toxic counterparts are an option today and in HAN Skin Care Cosmetics.
Q. Are you working on any other products, like eyeliners or powders?
SW: In terms of new products on the horizon, we have a few in development, including additional colors for our eyeshadow range in response to customer feedback, as well as a 100 percent natural mascara (that will wake up your eyes!) we plan on rolling out in 2016. The longer-term product mix will be more diverse and comprehensive.
Q. Was beauty something you’ve always been interested in? What made you want to transition into beauty?
SW: My foray into beauty began in college when I took a part time job on the cosmetics floor in department stores and Sephora. I was quickly intrigued and remember proactively studying ingredients on products, as if I were going to be tested on them in a final. Years later, I became even more discriminating when I was pregnant and acutely aware of everything I put in and on my body. So it was a confluence of factors, including my experience in the industry that began in college, a business plan on a cosmetics company I worked on in an entrepreneurship course, and my pregnancy which was the trigger for the transition to create and offer 100 percent natural and healthy cosmetics at affordable prices to the mainstream market.
Q. How did you make the transition, and was it difficult?
SW: I could see how the transition might appear to be difficult (and even a little crazy) — giving up a stable and lucrative paying job for a high-risk entrepreneurial endeavor with no set income stream. However, I was very eager and excited to launch and grow my business as I truly wanted to fill a product void and offer consumers the next generation of all-natural products to promote good health at reasonable price points.
Q: How has your background in corporate finance helped you as an entrepreneur?
SW: While a background in both beauty and corporate finance may seem like an odd combination, my experience in these industries has proven to be very complementary and enables me to look at HAN Skin Care Cosmetics from multiple lenses. My beauty experience expanded my product knowledge and has allowed me to be more technically savvy in terms of product development. In addition, my years in finance have helped me to think about my company more from a business and strategic standpoint. The intersection of these experiences has given me invaluable insight and a greater ability to launch and develop the roadmap for HAN Skin Care Cosmetics.
Q: What has been the best part of your journey with Han? The worst or most difficult?
SW: Our customers’ appreciation and requests for more shades and more products are our biggest highlights. We get excited when our customers get excited, and their positive reactions bring us the most gratification and the biggest validation of the merits and value of our products.
As the founder of HAN Skin Care Cosmetics, I wear many different hats that require shifting gears frequently and quickly to attend to an ever expanding to-do list. Limited bandwidth and resources are a challenge, which make it imperative that I prioritize and focus on the must-do’s before the want-to-do’s.
Q. What’s your advice for those who want to make the transition in careers like you did?
SW: Don’t resist your passion; instead pursue it and fire on all cylinders! However, it’s important to be realistic — make sure to have a prudent plan and sound strategy, be committed and give it your all!
Q. Finally — and perhaps most importantly — describe your skin care and makeup regimen.
SW: As an entrepreneur and busy mom, I do not have time for an intricate skin care routine that many Korean women perform, which can easily be 10 steps of beauty care and maintenance on a daily basis! Instead I incorporate three basic and essential steps: cleanse, tone and moisturize, and I think that routine works for me because I don’t cake on the makeup. On a typical day, I wear HAN Skin Care Cosmetics eyeshadow, cheek & lip tint or blush and moisturizing lip gloss in different shades on different days to change up my look and mood. They’re all very wearable and easy and quick to apply. I do like to glam it up now and then, and for those occasions I use my products in more dramatic shades and other all natural products in development. Stay tuned!
HAN Skin Care Cosmetics range from $11-$13 (I know, right?!). Get it here.