Meet The Next Generation Of AAPI-Founded Beauty Brands
This inspiring cohort’s contributions span the ingenuity spectrum.
In celebration of Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, Bustle has rounded up a bunch of brands and founders that we think will propel the next generation of beauty. Not only are they buzzy, but all of these brands were built with a thoughtful approach that attempted to fill a white space in the beauty sphere. "Necessity is the mother of invention” is a terrible cliché, but after interacting with 2023’s all-star class of Asian American Pacific Islander founders, we can’t help but use it.
Our inspiring cohort’s contributions span the ingenuity spectrum: from creating skin care powered by food waste to using NASA-funded technology or an MIT education to build more effective skin care science, they’re pushing the industry forward at full tilt. There are brands that are getting patients’ prescription skin drugs at lower costs, and others that promote personal care in a way that’s removed from the self-care industrial complex. They’re also solving problems that personally affect people of color: fighting hyperpigmentation is a focus, as is creating cosmetics and hair care that reflect a wider range of skin color and hair types. We can’t help but be madly inspired, and we think you will too.
1. CTZN Cosmetics
“Feeling excluded within an industry you love and promote is truly an IYKYK feeling that unfortunately spans across race, ethnicity, age, gender, and sexuality,” says Aleena Khan, co-founder of CTZN Cosmetics. Khan, who is ethnically Pakistani, co-founded the brand with her two sisters, Aleezeh and Naseeha, after the makeup-loving trio realized that inclusivity in beauty went beyond foundations and concealers. “Almost every single makeup item in your routine needs to be created to suit your unique skin tone and undertone, from the level of pigment needed for vibrant color pay-off to the wide range of shades required to find a perfect match,” says Khan.
CTZN’s collection of 25 lip shades showcases a diverse spectrum of nude hues, and the six shades of ultra-creamy, matte red lipsticks also expand the classic palette to include more nuanced rouge tones. “We’re perfectionists of pigment and proudly call our products one swipe wonders,” says Khan. Beyoncé, Demi Lovato, Doja Cat, Lizzo, and SZA have had them on their lips, and celebrity makeup artist Sir John, who serves as CTZN’s chief creative officer, says the brand is “all about moving the culture forward.”
2. Fable & Mane
This hair-care brand steeped in Ayurvedic tradition came into being after Nikita Mehta suffered chronic hair loss after the death of two of her grandparents. After trying several products without seeing results, she came full circle when she started mixing Ayurvedic herbs and making blended oils from recipes she had learned from her grandparents over the years. Fable & Mane then became the first Ayurvedic-inspired hair care brand to launch at Sephora — and Mehta is optimistic that they will not be the last.
Co-founded with her brother Akash, Fable & Mane’s lockdown launch coincided with the world wanting a soft landing place and a moment for self-care. The brand’s HoliRoots Pre-Wash Hair Oil went viral on TikTok several times over and introduced a whole new generation to South Asia’s celebrated hair oiling and massage ritual. “Hair oiling is an act of self-love, and through Fable & Mane, my brother and I wanted to share these rituals with the everyday consumer,” Mehta says. The brand’s lineup includes scalp serums, scrubs, and cooling masks, as well as finishing oils, all of which are formulated with Ayurvedic herbs — and an invitation to make moments for self-care.
Living in the United States gave Rael’s CEO Yanghee Paik and her two Korean American co-founders a first-hand view of the American feminine care market, which left a lot to be desired, as clean feminine care products were more easily accessible in South Korea. “I saw a huge gap in holistic solutions,” says Paik. “I learned that a lot of conventional pads and tampons were made with plastic ingredients that are not natural or healthy. It finally clicked that we, as women, can do something to disrupt this $4 billion market.”
Rael offers organic cotton pads, liners, and tampons, as well as acne patches, skin care and intimate washes and wipes, as Rael wants consumers to incorporate holistic cycle care into their daily self-care routines. “We started with sheet masks that people could use throughout their hormonal cycle to deal with different skin conditions and hormonal breakouts, and were inspired to offer a full skin care line with the same philosophy,” says Paik.
Amy Roe grew up eating her mom’s organic, superfood-rich cooking, but the leftovers were what she drew inspiration from. Produce scraps and unconsumed dairy products like yogurt and milk would get converted into impromptu face masks, as would rice water, and Roe was hooked to applying superfoods topically. When she moved to New York City, she experienced the city’s salad-eating lunch culture, and wished that nutrient-rich approach would extend to skin care. She decided to create it herself, resulting in the launch of Byroe’s superfood salad line.
She combined the potency of superfood-based ingredients with the efficacy of powerful actives, resulting in heroes like the Tomato Serum, which is made with upcycled tomatoes from the food industry to lighten dark spots and is boosted by peptides to help skin elasticity and glow. There’s also a Basil Dark Spot Correcting Cream, a Celery AHA + BHA Resurfacing Serum, and a Golden Carrot Overnight Relief Mask. Yum.
Therapeutics designer Madhavi Gavini and medical diagnostics developer Rathi Srinivas created Droplette when they set out to alleviate the discomfort of pediatric patients suffering from epidermolysis bullosa, a debilitating skin disease. The aim was to deliver a missing gene responsible for the disease, or pain relievers and antibiotics, painlessly into the skin. They built a prototype at home and realized their creation could successfully enhance drug delivery into the skin, and that it was applicable to skin care as well. Their first grant came from NASA (NBD).
Droplette, an aerosol misting device, can personalize skin care to the unique needs of each person’s skin. “The reason many products fail to deliver results is because they can’t get the ingredients in the skin where they need to go,” says Gavini. It comes with pre-dosed single-use capsules with ingredients such as retinol, glycolic and tranexamic acids, collagen, and growth factors, and pairs with an app offering targeted treatment modes.
Sophie Bai, an MIT chemical engineer and founder and CEO of B.A.I. Biosciences, believes skin care is healthcare because skin problems impact people on a mental, emotional, and psychological level. That’s why she founded Pavise, a comprehensive photoaging brand. “I want to create new molecules and products based on the latest scientific and clinical evidence to solve skin problems caused by UV exposure, including skin cancer and skin aging,” she tells Bustle.
The star of the show is Dynamic Age Defense SPF, an all-in-one treatment, moisturizer, and sunscreen, in which augmented zinc oxide delivers longer wavelength protection from UVA, UVB, and blue light, for a transparent finish on all skin types with no white cast. There’s also a lip oil featuring the same sun-shielding technology and a face wash that efficiently takes all of it off. There’s a hardware element, too: a UV Camera pairs with an app to reveal sun damage below the skin’s surface to detect emerging sun and age spots, hyperpigmentation, and melasma. Consider it the future of sun protection.
7. Skin Medicinals
What’s a derm to do when his patients can’t get the care they need because medication prices have skyrocketed? If you’re Dr. Dhaval Bhanusali, you get disruptive. The New York-based dermatologist treats a host of boldface celebrity names, but he wanted to make quality care available to patients who needed it most. And so: He founded Skin Medicinals, a digital platform that allows physicians to prescribe the oral or topical medications their patients need, which are then compounded and filled by licensed pharmacies at a fraction of the cost, often similar to the price of a co-pay.
Derms can prescribe medications for skin conditions like acne, eczema, psoriasis, rosacea, hyperpigmentation, and hair loss, which can all be mentally and physically debilitating in severe cases. The platform’s also super popular for its prescription-strength tretinoin compound.
Bhanusali also eased the way for his colleagues by building a platform that streamlined the process for doctors. “There was very little digital innovation in the space — we still were sending faxes to pharmacies,” he says. Skin Medicinals has so far served 700,000 patients and counting, and has donated over $250,000 to nonprofits supporting dermatology and patients.
A “rude awakening” is how Stephanie Lee describes her path to finding true self-care and mind-body health. When she was working in the beauty industry, she experienced a mental health crisis after dealing with immense pressure to cover up so-called imperfections. “I was surrounded by ideals of beauty and perfection that were unattainable and unsustainable, and it played a significant role in my relationship with my mental health and sense of self,” she says. The more she struggled, the more it showed in her appearance in the form of dark under-eye circles, dandruff, hair fall, breakouts, and general exhaustion. “I learned that trauma, stress, and emotions can have a profound impact on our physical health.”
Lee decided to create a platform to break down those barriers and champion a more inclusive perception of beauty, defined as a feeling and relationship to self, via Selfmade. “We develop each product to be a therapeutic practice with mental health experts and community members,” she says. It’s personal care that’s not co-opted by the self-care industrial complex, and a brand that prioritizes self-exploration and self-worth over societal beauty norms. For example: The Secure Attachment Comfort Serum+ is designed to promote a feeling of safety and comfort with one's skin while reducing cortisol levels and skin redness, and the Corrective Experience Comfort Cream is a jelly balm that embodies the psychological concept of what it takes to heal and thrive.
What does your next venture look like when you’ve spent over 25 years in biomedical research, your first foray into skin care produced an OG brand such as SkinMedica, and then you went on to co-found Alastin Skincare? Lauren Otsuki, co-founder, chairman, and chief innovation officer of GLO Pharma and Ourself, didn’t let her own impressive track record hold her back from aiming higher with her next venture. She wanted her future brand to address one question: Can clinical-level results truly be achieved with at-home topicals? “The main impetus for us was to address the need for an at-home solution with clinic-like results,” she shares. Thus, Ourself was born to bridge the gap between the worlds of traditional skin care and cosmetic treatments.
Ourself aims to define a new category of subtopical skin care, built by a team of biochemists, protein chemists, and clinicians, by using a proprietary portfolio of peptides (aka Intides) and a new way to deliver them into the skin. For instance, the Lip Filler and HA+ Replenishing Serum both contain a delivery system that allows large, hydrated HA molecules to penetrate through the skin barrier, resulting in hydrated, smoother, firmer, and brighter skin, while those patented peptides help stimulate collagen and elastin production.
10. Le Mini Macaron
All manicure obsessives know that their hobby takes a significant amount of time and monetary commitment, but it all seems worth it when you’re hyper-focused on getting that small piece of bodily real estate to really shine. “I could be having a bad hair day or a bad skin day, but when I look down and see my nails done, it instantly lifts my mood,” says Christina Kao. The co-founder and co-CEO of Le Mini Macaron was hooked on the look, but felt that the gel nail industry was ripe for disruption. The home-use gel manicure kits of the time were clunky and expensive, and Kao wanted a fast, convenient, and affordable solution that made gels easy to self-apply and remove.
Le Mini Macaron’s popular Gel Kits include an LED lamp designed to look like the diminutive French treat that it’s named after. It can accommodate one finger at a time, but that’s not really a deal-breaker as the brand’s polishes come in a three-in-one formula, with the base, color, and top coat all in one. Kao promises the whole process takes only 15 minutes. The brand also offers a gel Remover Kit with 100 self-contained wraps that remove Le Mini Macaron polish in 15 minutes, but are also capable of stripping off salon gels and regular nail polish. DIY girlies, assemble.
11. Shayde Beauty
Deeper-skinned folks are living their best life when the melanin is poppin’, but when those pigment-producing cells go rogue, as they often do in skins of color, that’s when we need reinforcements. Unfortunately for Shay Paresh, the CEO and founder of Shayde Beauty, those reinforcements never materialized. Fortunately for the rest of us, she built them from the ground up. Paresh has Indo-Caribbean ancestry, and the dated heritage products she was using to heal hyperpigmentation and acne left much to be desired. She worked in beauty marketing and found it hard to ignore that Americans with skin of color were being underserved.
She set out to change that with her brand that caters to Fitzpatrick skin types IV-VI, which less than 3% of brands in the industry do. The formulations were created to prioritize the needs of melanin-rich skin, treating hyperpigmentation, dark spots, and acne scars more effectively. Shayde’s Vitamin C Brightening Serum has the true and tested dullness busters ascorbic and kojic acids, while The Overnight Glow Up is packed with niacinamide, kojic, azelaic, and tranexamic acids, plus coffee bean and fruit extracts.
12. Mango People
You know Sravya Adusumilli’’s mom is South Asian when she tells you that she wasn’t allowed to wear makeup growing up because mama Adusumilli was worried the ingredients in makeup products would damage her skin. Moving out of home for college finally gave her the chance to experiment with makeup, but she soon learned that her fave lipstick (much of which she actually ingested because of a bad lip-biting habit) was made with petroleum by-products and colors derived from coal tar. “When I did find a brand that genuinely had great ingredients, their shade range was not very inclusive and made me look gray or washed out,” she says. “All I wanted was a nude pink that actually showed up on my pigmented lips and with ingredients that were good for my skin.”
Mango People was born out of this struggle. The bestselling Multi Sticks, which go on lips, cheeks, and eyelids, are formulated with botanical oils, Ayurvedic herbs, and natural pigments. What sets them apart is the shades: They’re uber flattering on melanin-rich skin. Oh, and they’re minimally packaged in recycled aluminum casings and post-consumer material.
ManiMe is the next best thing to a meticulous nail artist. These stick-on gel nails came about because founder Jooyeon Song was tired of losing valuable hours getting her nails done, and even more tired of the damaging application and removal processes with the strong chemicals, drills, and UV lights.
She even managed to do away with one of the biggest issues with standard stick-on nails: perfectly fitting non-standard-sized nails that are bigger or smaller than the average. ManiMe can be custom fit to every nail size and shape: Uploading five pictures of your nails when you check out is all it takes for a made-to-measure set. What’s more, Song says part of their core value is discovering new nail artists and bringing to life their incredible designs through the stick-on gels, so customers can easily access top-tier nail artists' designs at a reasonable price. We’ve never smashed the add-to-cart button faster.
Hawaiian trio Ty McLaren, Hiro Shinn, and Kapono Chung connected over their mutual love for the state’s spirit of connection and care, as well as its rich healing and wellness traditions. They built Koa to proudly show off some of the incredible botanical ingredients from the Pacific, but also wanted to use the brand as a platform to showcase how the state could add value to the global conversations around sustainability and multiculturalism, both of which are big parts of modern Hawaii’s identity. “Hawaii’s wealth of biodiversity and incredible history of healing and wellness practices felt extremely valuable to us, and we wanted to share these things in a way we didn’t see many others doing,” says Ty McLaren.
They took on one of the most challenging skin care products to formulate: sunscreen. Koa’s mineral formula is a lightweight non-nano zinc oxide fluid, offered in both a tinted and invisible finish, enhanced with wild chamomile and vitamin B. Other notable mentions are the Yuzu Facial Cleanser and Hinoki Rose Body Hydrator.
For new mom Sarah Paiji Yoo, the transition from breastfeeding to formula was a wake-up call. She was disturbed to learn about the amount of microplastics that were in the tap and bottled water she was mixing into the formula, and she emerged on the other side of a research rabbit hole determined to reduce her personal plastic consumption. “I realized how difficult it actually is to do so since many household items use single-use plastic in their packaging, and no one should have to sacrifice a clean home, clothes, or their personal care routine for a clean planet,” she says. That’s Blueland’s origin story.
Blueland offers refillable versions of personal and home cleaning supplies, including everything from hand soap and body wash to dish, laundry, and bathroom cleaners (and more). Customers buy the ‘forever bottles’ and refill them endlessly with cleaning tablets that easily dissolve in water to create the respective cleaning solutions. The packaging is cute and durable and the products themselves are free of a lot of the ingredients that often give people pause, like parabens and phthalates. In short: Blueland gives consumers small environmental wins that could have a big cumulative impact.
16. Matter Of Fact
Paul Baek, the founder, formulator, and CEO of Matter Of Fact, got into skin care because of his own complexion woes. In an effort to create clinically effective, beautiful formulas that were easy to understand and pleasurable to use, Baek was encouraged by his veteran cosmetic chemist advisors to get into the lab and formulate himself. “After getting over my initial fear of whether someone like me was allowed to create formulas of my own, I started to wonder if I could find new ways to deliver strong clinical results without intense irritation,” he says. Matter of Fact uses independent labs to test their final products, which is not a common practice.
The brand’s vitamin C formula, Brightening + Firming Serum (formerly known as Ascorbic Acid 20) was a hit, and some much-awaited new products have just gone live — like the Resurfacing + Hydrating Serum (a multi-acid serum with niacinamide and galactoarabinan, a hydrating extract from the larch tree) and the Barrier + Antioxidant Treatment, a nourishing face oil that supports the skin barrier function.