Best Face Forward: Interview with Skin Inc.’s Sabrina Tan

We picked the brains behind Singapore’s most successful beauty export
Reading time 10 minutes

Sabrina Tan has had a busy year.

In 2017 alone, her cult brand, Skin Inc. — best known for its serums and customised approach to skincare — collaborated with Self-Portrait on the dewy runway look for its New York Fashion Week show, launched a limited-edition Beauty & the Beast serum with Disney, and found a new investor in South Korea’s Spackman Entertainment Group. Never one to slow down and take things easy, this month sees the announcement of award-winning actress Son Ye-Jin as Skin Inc.’s first brand evangelist and the launch of its Multi-Masking Facial In-A-Flash Sheet Mask series. 

So what's next for the tech guru-turned-beauty mogul? We caught with Sabrina as she shared with us her secrets to work-life balance, the philosophy behind Skin Inc. and the future of skincare.

You're famously disdainful of long and fussy beauty regimes. What is your optimal skincare routine duration?

I can manage one minute! Sometimes less. One of Skin Inc.’s biggest selling points is effortless beauty in minutes. On a normal day I just mist, apply my cocktail of four serums, one of which is our Skin Revival Infusion Serum, and put on my overnight mask. During the day I sometimes add Vitamin A Serum into my Pure Recovery Dew if I’m tired. 


How has the skincare industry changed in the decade you’ve been in business?

I think it’s changed enormously in terms of how consumers today shop. They carefully research products online and no longer respond to billboards that make promises or dictate to them what they should spend their money on. Spending is driven by authenticity and community-driven, trustworthy reviews.

Data collection and algorithms have also become a big part of the business. With our Skin Identity test, for example, I could randomly select 30,000 results and know exactly how many people suffer from breakouts, oily skin, or acne caused by hormonal fluctuations. That’s been a real game-changer.


Infused with Skin Inc Vitamin B3+ Serum, a potent blend of brightening natural floral extracts, and enhanced with rare Pure Platinum. Designed to bring life back to your dull, lackluster and pigmented skin, it improves overall skin tone, reduces redness and sallowness while diminishing the appearance of pigment spots. Platinum also boosts the mask's anti-oxidant effects to combat environmental damage for radiant, luminous skin.

$48 for a pack of three,

I actually tried the test for the first time yesterday, it’s quite comprehensive!

It’s a very smart tool! The whole idea emerged from my background in tech and my dislike of the beauty counter/salon experience. I think beauty should be all about self-discovery or learning what works for you. In theory you should leave a counter or salon knowing more about your skin, but somehow I always found myself more confused than before I walked in. It’s hard to determine what a salesperson really thinks of the product they’re selling. Do they really believe in it, or are they just trying to make a sale?

A big part of Skin Inc. philosophy is co-creating with our consumer, who usually discovers us online or through Sephora (our biggest worldwide partner) from searching for and reading reviews. At Skin Inc. we’re all about letting our clients customise their product; they can choose the colour of their serum bottles, or recalibrate their formulas after their initial dose to adjust to any changes, personal or even seasonal, that have happened since.


What do you think is the next step in skincare customisation?

Today’s consumer is more well-informed, selective and critical than ever. They also want everything now. How do you match their growing expectations and raise the bar over and over again? Beyond serums, we’ve been expanding into customisation with other products and really pushing the boundaries.

Take our Optimiser Voyage Tri-Light. It’s a wireless LED spa device that allows you to target sensitive areas with blue light, uneven areas with yellow light, and to sculpt your face with red light. It’s up to you to decide what each part of your face needs.

It takes a lot of time and trial and error to launch a new product. If I’m not wowed by the results, it’s right back to the drawing board! Our customers have been asking for a Skin Inc. sheet mask for nine years, and we’re only launching our Multi-Masking Facial In-A-Flash sheet masks now.


Infused with Skin Inc Vitamin A Serum and an innovative blend of anti-aging natural Rose and floral extracts, enhanced with precious Pure Gold designed to help reverse the signs of aging by plumping and invigorating the skin. Deep nourishing ingredients help smooth the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines, while Gold boosts the effects of potent antioxidants to protect your skin’s support structure for a lavish, skin-lifting experience.

$48 for a pack of three,

Tell us a little bit about your new, ten-minute Multi-Masking Facial In-A-Flash sheet masks.

The masks are the first Skin Inc. product to be produced outside Japan, because the best examples on the market are being produced in Korea. I’ve not traditionally been a fan of sheet masks as a lot of the active ingredients remain stuck in the sheet, and if you leave them on for more than 20 minutes, the sheet will not only re-absorb the formula but draw out moisture from your skin and cause dehydration, too.

Our formula base is a hydrogel, which has a similar structure to skin. That’s why it clings to the face comfortably and allows active ingredients to penetrate more efficiently. My husband is a big fan. Like many men, he’s been shaving regularly for most of his life. The epidermis in the lower region of the face tends to be damaged as a result, and needs something soothing. Crow’s feet, on the other hand, would require something more intense and anti-aging. The serum-infused, two-part masks offer up to nine combinations, taking into account those different needs.

Of course the most important thing for me was that the masks delivered results, and fast. If I’m known for anything, it’s wanting things now.


Do you see consumer demand accelerating in the future?

Definitely. People these days have very divided or short attention spans, and life is much faster in general. My son can listen to music, play a video game and text all at once. That’s just the new normal.


Infused with Skin Inc Vitamin C Serum and natural skin-loving plant extracts, enhanced with purifying Charcoal and precious Pure Gold. All these ingredients work together to provide instant relief and intense hydration for skin, repairing and strengthening the skin’s natural barrier, while purifying the skin of nasty irritants and regulating sebum production to minimize pores. 

$48 for a pack of three,

How do you unplug from it all?

I get more sleep these days than I used to, at least six to eight hours; it’s good to get beauty sleep. Last week I spent five days at the Nikki Beach Resort in Koh Samui with my kids, and I partied and enjoyed the beach. Everyone thought I was crazy and that I would come home with dull and sunburned skin. I wasn’t worried, though, because I’ve got my Skin Inc. products!


What does work-life balance mean to you?

It’s a state of mind. I don’t believe in controlling my timetable to force a balance. Balance is about staying connected, and being present emotionally and intellectually.

In this moment I’m connected to my daughter, although I’m here with you being interviewed. She keeps tabs on me through Instagram and vice versa, as do all of her friends! She tells me that they know where I am and what I’m doing long before she does! Between the two of us I tend to adapt to technology quicker, which I think is a reversal of how it normally goes. Aimee Song (of Song of Style) first introduced me to Snapchat around four years ago, and I was the one to introduce it to my daughter.


True to Skin Inc.'s belief in celebrating the uniqueness of your skin, the Facial In A Flash Multi-Masking Bento Set contains one set each of the brand's Soothe-n-Purify Black Gold Mask, Lines Be-Gone Rose Gold Mask and Get Glowin® Platinum Mask. A mix of both top and bottom halves offers a truly customised face mask like no other. There are up to nine combinations available with the Bento Set, depending on the user’s needs.

$48 for a pack of three,

How did your partnership with Son Ye-jin come about?    

I don’t believe in hiring a face, and the fact that Ye-jin had been a long-time user of Skin Inc. products and could share her experiences with a degree of authority made her the perfect partner. I prefer calling her an “evangelist” and not an “ambassador”, because beyond using our products she’s also invested in Skin Inc. as a shareholder. That level of commitment is the only way I think a partnership should be.


Did you always know that Skin Inc. would be this successful?

I knew from day one that we would be a global brand. I dreamed of building a kickass brand, and knew that if the product was right, no matter our price point, success would follow.



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