This Skincare Brand for Gen Z Launched During the Pandemic—and Is Selling Out

Sep 29 2020

As COVID changes the way Gen Z views skincare, this brand is making sure all young skin enthusiasts feel good about themselves…

Talking about chronic skin conditions like acne is also getting more normalized by young consumers. On TikTok, hashtags like #skincare have 18.1 billion views, while #acne has 3.2 billion views, and many are increasingly turning to “skinfluencers” for advice. Earlier this year, Cosmopolitan launched “Acne Sucks,” a newsletter to reach young skin enthusiasts after finding 74% of 18-49-year-olds have experience acne.

And skincare is getting more and more important to young consumers—especially during the pandemic. As they stay home more, makeup use has decreased significantly, and YPulse’s beauty and personal care report found that 52% of 13-39-year-olds purchased skincare products during COVID, compared to 25% who have purchased makeup. In fact, 51% of young females bought beauty and skincare products as retail therapy during the crisis—and 22% are actually researching skincare techniques more often since the pandemic started. During this time, skin care and beauty rituals have also become a major part of self-care for young consumers, who are looking for antidotes to the chaos they see in the world.

So while it might not seem like the middle of a pandemic is the best time to launch a brand, Gen Z-founded skincare newbie Topicals has found their mission, and their products are being embraced right now. Founders Claudia Teng and Olamide Olowe launched the brand in early August, from their apartment, and according to CNBC the line sold out on partner site Nordstrom.com in hours, and on their own site in days. Topicals focuses on “science-backed, dermatologist-approved” skincare products that help with acne, eczema, and other flare-ups. But beyond their (super eye catching) product line, the brand is all about being honest about imperfections, not “fixing” but “transforming the way you feel about skin.” The brand is building a positive community around skincare—calling their followers suffering from skin irritations and acne “itchy girls and spottie hotties” and sharing pictures of their fans on Instagram. 

And, in true Gen Z form, they’re also making mental health and inclusive representation a major part of their brand ethos. According to their site, “Topicals believes in making the world a healthier, happier place. People with chronic skin conditions are 2-6 times more likely to experience anxiety and depression. Why? Because we’re taught to aim for perfection when life (and skin) is fluid and messy af. Because only 12.2% of medical residency programs for dermatologists include skin of color-specific training. Misinformation causes alienation.” The brand is donating 1% of their profits to mental health efforts and speak openly and consistently about mental health issues and on their social platforms. 

For a brand that’s only a few months old they’ve already made a huge impact, not only donating $11K to mental health initiatives, but also getting spotlighted by Who What Wear and Forbes as a startup to watch. We spoke Topicals Co-Founders Claudia Teng and Olamide Olowe about how their own experiences growing up inspired the launch of their brand, how skin care is becoming a priority for young consumers, the importance of diversity in the industry, and more:

YPulse: How did Topicals start? 

Claudia Teng & Olamide Olowe: We both grew up with skin conditionsClaudia had severe eczema and Olamide had post-barbae folliculitisand never found a brand that resonated with us. We always felt embarrassed about our skin conditions and used to hide our ointments because they made us feel like outsiders. Topicals are transforming the way people feel about skin by making the treatment experience more like self-care rather than a burdensome ritual. We take the focus off of having “perfect” skin and put the onus on having “funner flare-ups.”

YPulse: You just launched last month. Why did it seem like the perfect time to debut your skincare brand? 

CT & OO: Our original launch was delayed because of supply chain disruptions that happened as a result of border closures in certain countries where we source our ingredients. We pivoted our go to market strategy to building community by creating content on social media that educated our customers on their skin condition in a way that was approachable and fun. When August rolled around, we felt like we were in a good position to take our learnings and launch with Nordstrom.

YPulse: How is Topicals approaching talking about skin care differently from other brands?

CT & OO: Topicals is transforming the way people feel about skin by making the treatment experience more like self-care rather than a burdensome ritual. We take the focus off of having “perfect” skin and put the onus on having “funner flare-ups”. Because of Topicals, people will have a healthier relationship with their skin that isn’t based on having clear skin. 

YPulse: As Gen Z founders, how do you reach Gen Z consumers? 

CT & OO: Younger generations, especially our target audience Gen Z, are always on social media platforms like TikTok and VSCO because social media plays a huge role in how people feel about themselves. That’s why it is important to us to create a brand that doesn’t focus on perfection or unattainable beauty standards. We want to transform the way people feel about skin and we do that on social media by showcasing people with visible skin conditions living life in full color.

YPulse: Have you seen that skin care has become a focus for many young consumers? 

CT & OO: We’ve entered into an era of wellness where people no longer want to cover up their skin. They’d rather get to the root of why their skin is flaring up and I believe that has led to the boom in skincare. Also, the idea of skincare as self-care has now been ingrained into our minds. Skincare offers a mini-escape from reality. 

YPulse: Your brand has been vocal about the importance of diversity and representation in the skincare industry. Why is it essential for brands to speak out more on those topics? 

CT & OO: There is an unattainable standard of beauty that 99% of people don’t fit into. Specifically, the skincare industry has forced everyone to think that clear skin is ideal and flare-ups are embarrassing and shameful. In addition, darker skinned folks have very rarely been included in the conversation. At Topicals, we know that you make skin look good—not the other way around. We are fluid, imperfect, shape-shifting, and real representations of you and your skin. We also test our products on all shades because inclusion is more than just visual representation.

YPulse: Topicals seems to emphasize community—do you feel that young consumers are looking for guidance and community in the brands they support? 

CT & OO: We believe that brands define the world. Movies, athletes, and artists all have a way of creating aspirations of what we want to be. We take our position as a guide for our commonality very seriously so we lead with transparency and empathy.

YPulse: On your site, you refer to yourself as a “space for connection and self-discovery” and have teamed up with organizations like JED Foundation and Therapy for Black Girls. How do younger consumers feel about brands talking about mental health? 

CT & OO: Growing up sucked! Most of us grew up feeling insecure about our skin and this led to negative thoughts about our self-worth. People with chronic skin conditions are two to six times more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety so we partner with and donate to mental health organizations like Therapy for Black Girls, Sad Girls Club, and the JED Foundation to address mental health. We’ve donated $11K to date.

 

Olamide Olowe is a recent graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles where she was a pre-Med student and received a B.A. in Political Science with a concentration in Race, Ethnicity, and Politics and a minor in Entrepreneurship. In 2015, Olamide co-founded the beauty brand SheaGIRL, in partnership with SheaMoisture. Sundial Brands, parent company of SheaGIRL, was later acquired by Unilever in 2017. Currently, Olamide is the co-founder and CEO of Topicals, a skincare company transforming the way people feel about skin through effective products for eczema and hyperpigmentation. Olamide is passionate about harnessing the power of culture, technology, and science to improve the relationship between women of color and the beauty industry. She has received notable recognition from Harvard Business School, Google, the PAC12, and the UCLA Alumni Association.

Claudia Teng is a recent graduate of the University of California, Berkeley where she was a pre-Med student and received a B.A. in Gender and Women’s Studies. She has conducted extensive dermatology research with a focus on non-melanoma skin cancers and a rare genetic disease called Epidermolysis Bullosa. Claudia is currently the CPO and co-founder of Topicals, a skincare company transforming the way people feel about skin through effective products for eczema and hyperpigmentation. Claudia is passionate about raising awareness around the disparities in healthcare, creating access amongst communities of color, and destigmatizing visible skin conditions. She holds 6 publications with another pending review from journals such as the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, the Journal of the American Medical Association, and the British Journal of Dermatology.