When Glow Recipe co-founders Sarah Lee and Christine Chang were newbies at L’Oréal Korea, they would check on each other when overtime turned into really late.
“I’d ping Christine at around 10 p.m., ‘Are you still here?’” remembers Lee, who worked one floor below Chang.
“Yep. I usually was,” laughs Chang. “We had lots of late-night gogi (Korean barbecue) together.”
In 2008, Lee and Chang both moved to NYC but remained in beauty. Lee joined the Matrix global team at L’Oréal; Chang was now at Kiehl’s. But their time in Korea, coupled with their new American vantage point and combined CV of eight international brands under their belt, sparked the beginnings of an idea.
“A lot of companies were testing their products and launching them exclusively in Korea back in the 2000’s,” remembers Chang. “The market was so competitive and fast paced. Basically, if you could make it in Korea, you could make it anywhere.”
“We knew K-Beauty was about to explode and we saw this huge opportunity,” adds Lee. “We’re bi-lingual, bi-cultural and we understand beauty in both markets. It was the right time and the right partnership.”
In 2014, they debuted Glow Recipe, a shopping destination featuring South Korean “natural” beauty products, free of frowned-upon ingredients (parabens, talc, mineral oils, synthetic dyes), rigorously tested and curated by the co-founders. “We transparently share all product-list ingredients on our site so that customers can make informed decisions. ‘Natural’ for us is a combination of strong natural ingredient stories and harsh-free formulations,” says Chang.
Three years later, a Glow Recipe skin-care line followed. This month, their newest baby, Sweet Chef, a collection of serums and sheet masks at more affordable price points, has landed at Target.
Chang and Lee spoke with the Cut about middle-school beauty hacks, their struggle for the perfect nude, and the difference between patting and rubbing.
Bath or shower?
Christine Chang: Usually showers, but I love to indulge in baths when I can. I multi-task with an exfoliating treatment, then a soothing sheet mask and a hair mask. And epsom salts always do the trick.
Sarah Lee: Bath, with SheaMoisture’s Coconut Milk Bath Powder — it makes my skin soft and supple.
Shampoo/Conditioner of choice:
CC: Briogeo Matcha Superfood Shampoo.
SL: L’Oréal Paris EverPure Sulfate-free Moisture Shampoo and Kerastase Reflection Mask to treat my color-damaged hair.
Body lotion of choice:
CC: Pure almond oil from the grocery store, I first used it to prevent stretch marks when I was pregnant.
SL: Jao Goe Oil.
Fragrance of choice:
SL: Serge Lutens Jeux De Peau Eau de Parfum.
Scented candle of choice:
CC: The Palo Santo candle from Chillhouse.
SL: Teo Yang’s Evening Glow.
What, if anything, is usually on your lips?
CC: Usually a pop of red. These days it’s Fenty Stunna.
SL: Sephora Collection’s 01 Always Red, after the Cut’s beauty director Kathleen Hou recommended it. The color really helps create a polished or vibrant look, and I love how affordable it is.
What beauty look do you struggle with achieving?
CC: I’ve never been able to do a smoky eye to my liking.
SL: I love a nude lip, but for some reason I can’t find the perfect nude and make it work for me.
What was your first beauty product obsession?
CC: John Frieda Sea Salt Spray in middle school. I used it instead of perfume.
SL: Sheet masks! I was obsessed since I was a teenager. I remember going to beauty stores in Seoul with my friends after school, buying bundles that cost less that $1 per sheet, and then masking together.
What fashion look do you struggle with achieving?
SL: Tiny sunglasses.
Fashion item you would never wear:
CC: Tank tops!
SL: Crocheted clothes.
Fashion item you can’t believe you once used to wear:
CC: White gloves with my all-girls boarding school uniforms.
What is your classic uniform?
CC: Blazer and jeans.
SL: Jacket, blouse and denim.
What was your first fashion obsession?
CC: Doc Marten boots with the yellow stitching.
SL: Scrunchies! I loved them so much I started making my own. I had hundreds of them!
Window or aisle?
SL: Window for long flights, aisle for short ones.
Favored scheduled day and time for work meetings:
CC: Late afternoon.
SL: Breakfast meetings; they’re efficient and enjoyable at the same time.
If you could have one ridiculous indulgence, what would it be?
CC: Being able to teleport to Korea so I can see my parents more often.
What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done?
CC: Leaving a job I really enjoyed to start my entrepreneurial journey.
SL: Being on Shark Tank! Pitching to incredibly successful business people (sharks), being grilled, securing three offers, and ultimately being on national television was the most exhilarating experience ever.
What could we use more of?
CC: Small acts of kindness.
CC: Anonymously attacking others online versus having an open dialogue.
SL: Bad manners.
Any random childhood claims to fame?
CC: I won second place in a wolf-howling contest at a country fair in Alabama.
SL: I was featured in a TV commercial of a ski resort in Korea.
What would the name of your autobiography be?
CC: Pat. Don’t Rub. Rubbing in skin-care products can cause friction, stretch the skin and ultimately lead to wrinkles and sagging. Patting is more gentle, and helps the product effectively penetrate more deeply into the skin. It also ensures even distribution, so you’re getting the most out of your skin care.
SL: My Glow Recipe.
Who would star as you in the film adaptation?
CC: Gemma Chan.
SL: Lana Condor, when she’s slightly older.
CC: Ginger shots and manuka honey in hot lemon water.
SL: Work out, stay hydrated, get easy chores done first .
Favorite meal and where:
CC: Spiga-to-go, a small, incredibly good pasta joint on the UWS.
SL: Mission Chinese, Rubirosa, 15 East.
Most impressive dish you make:
CC: Baked ricotta with lemon zest.
SL: Spicy lamb shanks, kimchi jiigae (a Korean soup).
What do you foresee as the top beauty trends in 2019?
CC: “Double-Serum-ing,” ie. mixing and matching serums based on skin concerns. Everyone has complex skin concerns and having a “wardrobe” of serums that you can rotate, customize, mix based on how your skin is feeling.
SL: Highly concentrated hero ingredients in skin care. We see a lot of natural skin-care products but sometimes it’s hard to understand if a product has specific ingredients that work for skin or what the product really does. K-Beauty will continue to harness the power of natural ingredients and make the most out of them.
What product in your domain is misunderstood and should be a best seller?
CC: Leegeeham Grow Hyal B5 Toner. It’s the epitome of a hydrating toner as it has five different forms of hyaluronic acid that quench skin, but people don’t always realize those benefits right away. It’s still super lightweight but extremely effective for achieving bouncy, hydrated skin.
SL: Blueberry Bounce Gentle Cleanser. It goes above and beyond a traditional cleanser, and can be used as a mask due to its highly concentrated and skin-loving active ingredients.
If you won the Power Ball tomorrow, what are the first five things you would do? (after, of course, donating the majority of it to your top charities…)
CC: Take care of my parents and travel the world with my family.
SL: 1) Invest in real estate, 2) Take a safari in Tanzania with my family, 3) Found an investment firm focused on supporting female-led companies, particularly in developing countries, 4) Start a fund to support female students to provide better education, 5) Help build better senior homes.