obsessive tester

25 AAPI-Owned Beauty Brands on My Vanity

Photo-Illustration: The Cut; Photos: Retailers

One of my favorite weekend activities is organizing the mess I make out of all my beauty products during the week. Each Saturday, I put my lipsticks back into their respective holders and store my hair and face masks in my bathroom mirror. Other products, like face oils, sunscreens, and moisturizers, earn high-end real estate on my desk.

As I was organizing a couple of weeks ago, I was struck by how many of my favorites are owned and developed by members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. So as AAPI Heritage Month comes to a close — and because support for the AAPI community should extend beyond 31 days of the year — I’m taking a look at 25 of the best AAPI-owned hair-care, skin-care, and makeup products that are scattered across my apartment. Read on for a foolproof bronzer, highly effective acne stickers, gentle retinol pads, and more.

The Cleansers

I know, foaming face washes have gotten a bad rap recently, but the Rice Wash from Victoria Tsai’s Tatcha suds up ever so slightly for a deep but gentle cleanse that leaves your skin soft and not stripped. The Cut’s beauty director, Kathleen Hou, agrees.

The Blush

This oil appears green in the tube but transforms into your own perfect shade of blush when it comes into contact with your skin. I use it on my lips, too, for a subtle wash of pink, but the best part is that Youthforia’s founder, Fiona Co Chan, set out to create makeup that you don’t have to wash off at the end of the night. So if you’re too tired and fall asleep, there’s no guilt — Co Chan and her husband slept while wearing Youthforia products for two months to make sure.

The Cleansing Balm

This balm was my introduction to double cleansing, and I’ve never felt compelled to look for an alternate. Created by Charlotte Cho, it melts every bit of makeup and grime from your face, and it smells (and looks) like delicious citrus sorbet.

The Resurfacing Serum

U Beauty founder, Tina Craig, promises that her Resurfacing Compound can replace toner, vitamin C, hyaluronic acid, AHAs, physical exfoliants, and retinol products while delivering glasslike skin. I was able to add it into my lineup without any irritation — though if you’re extra-sensitive, slow and steady is the name of the game — and saw a noticeable brightness a week in.

The Face Oil

Founded by Melissa Medvedich, Supernal’s face oil leaves my skin feeling silky and perfectly glowy but never greasy. It helps to fade pigmentation marks left over from pimples. And if you’re worried about the price point, you can stretch out the product for a couple of months — I use, at most, five drops in the morning and five at night, and it’s more than enough to pat it all over my face and neck. It’s also endorsed by NYC-favorite facialist Sofie Pavitt and Golde founder Trinity Mouzon Wofford.

The Vitamin C

Some YouTube beauty vloggers call this antioxidant serum a dupe for SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic, which retails for $166. And like C E Ferulic, it has ascorbic acid (a pure form of vitamin C), ferulic acid, and vitamin E to brighten dark spots and protect your skin. You only need a couple of drops every day, so you can make the bottle stretch for a couple of weeks.

The Pimple Patches

Hero Cosmetics makes a great Clarifying Prebiotic Moisturizer, but the true, well, hero of Ju Rhyu’s brand is the hydrocolloid Mighty Patch. The patches dramatically decrease the size of my pimples, but they’re especially good at preventing picking.

The Bronzer

This creamy bronzer from Amy Liu’s Tower 28 feels foolproof, especially if you, like me, struggle to use makeup brushes. I dot some of it with my fingers along my forehead, nose, and cheeks to create a subtle contour and lightly tap to blend.

The Perfume

Warm and, yes, salty, Ellis Brooklyn’s SALT perfume, founded by Bee Shapiro, reminds me of a perfect day at the beach. It’s just right for long summer days, especially those where you can’t actually get yourself near the ocean.

The Body Lotions

I know a product is especially good when my mom likes it too, and this body lotion by Marianna Hewitt’s Summer Fridays disappeared suspiciously fast from my desk. It’s lightweight but still moisturizing and smells faintly of coconut.

Co-founded by Rebecca Zhou, Soft Services wants to address body concerns like keratosis pilaris and dryness. Its daily toning lotion moisturizes while lightly exfoliating with urea, squalene, and colloidal oatmeal. It’s also scentless.

The Retinol Pads

Developed by board-certified aesthetic plastic surgeon Dr. Michele Koo, these pads are especially great for retinol novices and those with sensitive skin. After using them for a full month, I only encountered some slight purging on my chin, which Dr. Koo warned me about, and no dryness or flaking.

The Highlighter

This highlighter cushion by Michelle Phan initially goes on sheer, but you can build it to your desired level of shine. On a scale of one to makeup artist Nam Vo, I aim for a six with three subtle pats along my cheekbones.

The Moisturizers

Skin barriers are the latest hot beauty topic — many people find theirs are compromised after a year spent experimenting with strong acids and treatments. If you find that your skin stings with even the gentlest of products, you can pare it back completely to Liah Yoo’s Great Barrier Relief, which calms sensitivity with niacinamide and a trio of tamanu, safflower, and rose-hip oils.

This moisturizer saved my skin during 2020’s brutal winter. Co-founders Jina Kim and Chris Young combined some of the oils from their Pure Balancing Botanical Face Oil with peptides, snow-mushroom extract, and vitis-vinifera (grape-leaf) extract from the brand’s Waste-Not Sourcing Initiative, which aims to identify opportunities to find “biowaste and by-products of agricultural industries and test and formulate with them for skin-care purposes.”

Marketing director Jude Chao uses this moisturizer as an eye cream. She says, “It smoothed away the fine lines I used to have under my eyes and tightened up a bit of crepiness I’d started to notice on my upper eyelids.” I use it all over my face, and it gives my skin a slight bounce under makeup.

The Candles

Carol Han Pyle set out to build Nette as a “cleaner” alternative to the candles on the market. She says, “Not to call anyone out, but a much-beloved candle brand uses paraffin for its wax — it’s the cheapest wax out there and a fossil fuel.” Also: “Almost no candles offer 100 percent ingredient transparency. Masking your ingredients behind the all-encompassing ‘fragrance’ label seems so old school, you know?” My favorite of her products is “Another Life,” which has a subtle hint of lavender combined with vanilla and cedarwood.

The Eye-shadow Palette

I like to imagine that Patrick Starrr created ONE/SIZE’s eye-shadow palette by peeking into my brain. It’s exactly what I go for: a range of browns and terra-cottas along with some glittery shades for dramatic effect.

The Hair Mask

I’m attempting to learn more about my hair needs with Shaz & Kik’s Back to Your Roots Prewash. The whipped and creamy mask was formulated with over 25 herbs, oils, and flowers typically used in Ayurvedic practices. Post-application, my very thin hair feels soft but not oily or weighed down.

The Nail Polish

Jin Soon’s “Dotty” nail polish is a great topping over solid colors — I like to do a couple of coats over an orange-red shade like Essie’s “Geranium.”

The Calming Serum

One-third of Dieux, Joyce De Lemons is also the chemist behind the brand’s products, and she formulated this serum to target fine lines, irritation, and uneven tone with CBD and niacinamide. If you want to avoid the “retinol uglies” before incorporating a new retinol into your routine, this is the bottle to reach for. (It’s currently sold out, but you can get on the waitlist.)

The Capsules

Created by Stephanie Hon, these leakproof and magnetic capsules can hold just about anything — beauty products, jewelry, pills. I use mine to cut down on my (admittedly high-maintenance) packing.

The Lipstick

I became obsessed with wearing red lipstick on November 20, 2020. I know the exact date because it was the day I first tried on this lipstick by CLE Cosmetics, which was founded by Lauren Jin, and posted a photo on Instagram. It transforms from powder to a deep matte wash on your lips. You can also swipe it on your cheeks for blush or on your eyelids for shadow.

The Tooth Floss

This floss by sisters Chrystle Cu (a dentist) and Cat Cu (an artist) is the best. It’s somewhat thicker than other flosses, but it gets every bit of gunk out. It’s so good I asked for refill spools for Christmas.

The Hyperpigmentation Serum

Photo: Courtesy of EADEM

Eadem, co-founded by Alice Lin Glover, creates products specifically with melanin-rich skin in mind. Its first product, a serum meant to target hyperpigmentation, was actually tested on people of color in lab trials, a rarity in the beauty industry.

25 AAPI-Owned Beauty Brands on My Vanity