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Health, Beauty & Fashion

Tailored for your skin

Bespoke no-frills skincare brand The Skin Pharmacy opened its third store recently
The Straits Times - February 10, 2012
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Tailored for your skin -- ST PHOTO: ASHLEIGH SIM

When bespoke skincare brand, The Skin Pharmacy, opened in 2009, customers asked for their favourite products to be replicated.

But the owners, Mr Lau Min-Tsek and his wife, Ms Mah Mei Hui, took pains to explain they did not merely copy products, a stand they still maintain today.

Says Ms Mah: 'Many commercial formulations come with ingredients we feel can be substituted, such as alcohol, parabens, fragrances and artificial preservatives. So we recommend similar products that do the same job, but with fewer unnecessary ingredients.'

The no-frills philosophy of using as few additives as possible has proved successful.

In December, the couple opened a third outlet in Parkway Parade and there will be a fourth in Jem, an upcoming mall in Jurong East which is slated to open in the second quarter of next year. The other two stores are in City Square Mall and Nex.

They chose to set up in suburban malls as they wanted to be more accessible to the average Singaporean.

The Skin Pharmacy is believed to be the only brand here that offers truly bespoke skincare in Singapore.

If it does not have something suitable in the range of about 100 ready-made skin, hair and bodycare products, the couple, who were trained as pharmacists at Monash University in Melbourne, can whip up a personalised potion for the customer.

Ready-made products are priced from $30 for a cleanser or cream and from $60 for a serum. Prices for customised potions range from $5 for adding a fragrance to a cream, to $200 for creating a serum from scratch.

'We create the product from scratch, using raw ingredients so that even the concentration of a single ingredient can be adjusted,' says Ms Mah. In contrast, other brands have a fixed menu of pre-mixed lotions and potions that are blended together when an order is placed.

Mr Lau, 41, and Ms Mah, 39, concoct a formula after a consultation with a customer to ascertain his or her specific needs.

Before starting the business, Ms Mah spent 14 years at a French pharmaceutical company, where her last position was as head of the marketing department. Mr Lau worked as a pharmacist at a now-defunct pharmacy chain for three years before he left to join his family's pharmaceutical business in 1997.

His family, which owns a pharmaceutical factory in Toa Payoh, began focusing on manufacturing skincare products when MrLau took over in 2000. The Skin Pharmacy's ready-made products are produced here.

Personalised items are created in the retail stores, as and when a customer orders them.

The customisation process can be something simple, such as adding essential oils; or complex, like creating unique blends for chronic skin issues that cannot be treated with regular skincare products.

Mr Lau says: 'Some people have very oily skin which cannot be controlled by over-the-counter creams, so we increase the concentration of oil-control ingredients in the product.'

Similarly, people suffering from dandruff can benefit from a customised shampoo with just the right amount of anti-dandruff ingredients, because not everybody has the same amount of dandruff, he says.

The formula for every custom-made product is kept on record so that the same blend can be recreated or improved upon when the customer returns.

The Skin Pharmacy is especially popular with people who suffer from chronic skin conditions, such as dermatitis or eczema, says Ms Mah.

'Some people have tried many types of medication to treat their skin problems but to no avail,' she says, adding that she also makes it a point to explain to customers that a cream can only help alleviate the discomfort caused by the condition, and only a dermatologist can treat the problem at its source.

Even though the business has found a niche in the crowded skincare market, the duo say the biggest and most frustrating misconception they still face is that Singapore-made skincare products are inferior to those from Europe, Japan or South Korea.

'Being an entirely made-in-Singapore brand is an advantage because we understand the local climate and the needs of local people. Products have to be lighter and less sticky because of the humidity,' Ms Mah notes.

'Many foreign brands create skincare products to suit their own climates, which means they are great when used overseas. But they may be too rich or oily to be used here.'

Still, the couple enjoys the challenge of sharing the brand's philosophy with new customers.

When they opened their latest outlet in Parkway Parade, practically everybody they met had no idea what The Skin Pharmacy was about, and they had to spend lots of time talking to walk-in customers.

With a smile, she says: 'It is like entering a whole new world, which is the fun part.'


Mr Lau and Ms Mah debunk some common myths.

MYTH: Tea tree oil will heal acne

FACT: Although tea tree oil does have anti-bacterial properties, it is still an oil. Hence, Ms Mah advises against using tea tree oil to treat pimples, especially if you have oily skin, because oil build-up in the skin is one of the causes of acne.

Instead, dab benzoyl peroxide cream over the affected area. This helps to exfoliate dead skin cells and accelerate skin cell turnover. It also has anti-bacterial properties.

MYTH: Mineral make-up does not clog pores

FACT: As long as a product sits on the surface of your skin instead of being absorbed, it will cover up your pores and clog them. This applies to all types of foundation, including mineral make-up.

However, compared to make-up primers or liquid and cream foundations, which form a film on your face and prevent the skin from breathing, mineral make-up particles do allow some air to pass through. This makes mineral make-up less harmful to the skin.

However, Ms Mah says if you have clogged pores or acne, you should avoid make-up completely to allow your skin to breathe and recover.

MYTH: I can skip sunscreen if I use a blemish balm cream

FACT: Due to the thick consistency of blemish balm or BBcream, users tend to apply just a thin layer. But, as with all sunscreens, the key to getting sufficient coverage is to apply a sufficient amount. You will need at least a teaspoonful of sunscreen of at least SPF 30 over your face for effective results.

So, unless you apply a similar amount of BB cream to your face - which is unlikely as the cream would cake and look patchy - you are probably not getting enough sun protection.

Mr Lau advises using a regular sunscreen so you can tell when you have applied enough. You can then apply a layer of BB cream for coverage, if you like.

Do note that BB creams are not suitable for those with extremely sensitive skin or have problems such as acne and eczema.




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