The Inkey List | Skincare decoded
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Photography: The Inkey List via Facebook

“The Ordinary taught the world that premium ingredients can be affordable. We’re telling the world how to use these ingredients. We just happen to be affordable.”

Remember the first time you were introduced to skincare? As a novice, selecting the right skincare can be overwhelming. Common thoughts like “Is retinol too strong for the skin?”, “What is vitamin C skincare?”, “Can I use this with that?”, “Why are there so many darn acids?” come to mind all the time. So when we heard that The Inkey List’s accessible, uncomplicated and simple skincare is launching in Singapore, we were intrigued.

The UK-based brand which was launched last year is all the rage right now, selling one product every 30 seconds. The compact 19-product skincare range doesn’t go crazy with ingredients – hell, each product highlights just one key active ingredient. Another mind-blowing plus point? Nothing is over S$22.

We had an amazing chat with co-founder, Colette Newberry as she gave us some great insights on the importance of skincare education, transparency and the true meaning of clean beauty. You’re going to love this one.

Hi Colette! How would you describe The Inkey List in one sentence?

We make ingredients simple to understand and easy to use so everybody can give it a go.

How did the brand come to be?

My co-founder, Mark Curry and I worked at Boots (a UK-based beauty retailer). We’ve been in the beauty industry for a long time but for us, there was still a huge gap in skincare because people are very curious but there are so many choices and marketing jargons.

Everybody gets so confused on what to use. We were looking on Reddit forums, Facebook communities and social media, and people were saying, “Oh, I think I should be using retinol but somebody told me this; somebody scared me with that. I feel like I should be using it but I don’t know how.”

So we realised there’s a gap. There aren’t any brands that are telling the story simply for everyone. We coupled that with the ingredient trend. People are starting to search by their skin type and their needs. They are also very curious about ingredients so we said if we could make these ingredients very simple then more people would give it a go.

Premium skincare with no price tag | The Inkey List
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Colette and Mark. Photography: Sephora SG

How did you and Mark meet?

At Boots. Mark was a scientist and I was in charge of marketing and we came together. So yeah, it just worked! And we’re both very passionate about putting the consumer first. We wanted to create a brand that was really for customers. If that means we don’t make money sometimes that’s okay. We really want to make sure we’re helping people with the skincare.

We love the straight-forward, minimal and foolproof labelling and packaging. What made you guys decide to go with this route?

Two things – firstly, it’s about making it accessible to everyone so doing crazy packaging or making it really girly would segregate people. Whether it’s men, women, young or old, we want everybody to be able to go, “I’m comfortable with trying this”. Making it as simple and as easy to pick up as possible is key.

Second is the cost. If we’re going to do affordable skincare, the money needs to come from somewhere. We’d rather spend more money in the formulation of making incredible, quality formula than spending loads of money on say, glass dropper bottles.

We have to acknowledge the elephant in the room. Two words: The Ordinary. How does The Inkey List stand apart from the brand?

*Laughs* No, it’s not the elephant in the room at all! We acknowledge the comparisons. The Ordinary taught the world that premium ingredients can be affordable. What we’re telling the world is how to use ingredients. We just happen to be affordable. So the price wasn’t the number one factor. Educating and helping people was number one but also if you want to make it accessible, the price has to be good too.

If I taught somebody all about retinol but we tell them it’s $100, they might say they can’t afford it anyway. We begin with education and then accessibility and price. That’s how we’re very different from The Ordinary.

What was the deciding factor that brought The Inkey List to Singapore?

Oh, good question! We’re fascinated by Asia actually. It’s very, very different from the UK. A lot of people in the UK do not wash their faces properly. They use face wipes – yes it’s crazy! For the UK, what’s selling really, really well is that we’re using core ingredients and telling people how to use things like hyaluronic acid and retinol. We’re telling them to give us a go with these simple ingredients.

But what I’m excited about in Asia is that we can go crazy. Asians are so advanced with skincare. A lot of Asians are already using the basic ingredients so we’re introducing things like polyglutamic acid. I think what’s exciting for us is that yes, we want to make traditional ingredients simple but we also want to make crazy new ingredients simple. In Asia, it’s our place to come play and try new ingredients.

Yes, we totally agree. We think Asians are willing to try anything and everything.

Exactly! So yes, we’re excited about selling in Asia!

Which product(s) would be a hit in Singapore?

The polyglutamic acid serum. I think it’s a really good product because of the climate. A lot of people we’ve spoken to in Singapore have combination skin. That means you need to stay hydrated but people are always scared of using hydrators as they think it makes them greasy. The reason I think this product would be great for Singapore is because it’s extremely hydrating when applied but when it dries down, it’s matte. Since it’s also mattifying, it’ll help with oil control.

The polyglutamic acid serum | The Inkey List
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Photography: The Inkey List via Facebook

You’re the beauty guru. Tell us some beauty trend predictions?

*Laughs* I don’t know where that came from but let’s go with it! I think a trend that’s only going to get bigger is transparency. We are clear with what products we’re using. You can ask me a lot of questions and I will answer them. And I think brands that are ignoring this are going to be in a bad position. You may not be able to have completely recyclable packaging. We are at 91% which we’re very proud of. For an affordable brand, that’s hard work. Being aware and transparent about our position and telling customers we’re going to get to 100% or why we’re not there yet, for me is a huge deal.

Also community and influencers are a huge trend. Influencers really came out and everybody’s looking at their reviews. Part of transparency, I think authenticity is getting bigger. Customers now know that these influencers are getting paid and they might not actually use that product. Getting that authenticity is key.

Rather than paying someone $50,000 to put our products on YouTube, I’d rather work with 50,000 people that actually buy my product; give them samples to try it. It’s better value for me. They get to try it, review it and give honest opinions.

So does the company apply these comments in your research?

All the time. The beta hydroxy acid exfoliant and salicylic acid cleanser are some examples. Our customers were asking us for acne-prone skin products. Prior to the launch, we sent them samples to test and built the product with them using their comments and suggestions. When we launched these products, we sent it to this group of customers first as a thank you for helping us.

We know the usual acids. What are some new “acids” that are going to be huge in the near future?

We’ve got one coming! You got the world exclusive on this. In winter, we’re going to be launching a PHA which is a poly-hydroxy acid. Acids are quite scary for people to use but we’re going to be launching a poly-hydroxy acid toner for sensitive skin. So that’s going to be a big one for us. This is super gentle and good for sensitive skin. We’ll be launching in the US in September, and hopefully we can get it in quickly in Singapore.

That’s excellent! What’s a common skincare mistake that ticks you off?

I panic every time someone uses our hyaluronic acid as an exfoliating acid. It’s a hydrator, not an exfoliator.

Also, my personal bugbear is something I use to do which is terrible. I had terrible acne and was even on medication. I was using too many products to strip moisture off my skin. I was so scared of being oily that I would strip it. And then would be so sore that I would chuck on so much moisturiser. I was stripping it, over-oiling it and back and forth.

Now when I see people not wanting to hydrate their skin when they’ve got acne prone skin, I’m like, “you need to hydrate!”

One skincare tip you wished you knew sooner?

I wish I had started using retinol a little earlier. Side note: What we did with our retinol was to create something easy and gentle for beginners as it can be really harsh. Ours is really gentle.

I also wished I knew about the power of skincare earlier. Although I knew about beauty for a long time, I thought as long as I knew my makeup looked good, it didn’t matter. It’s also a bit challenging to get young people use good skincare. You don’t need to cake your face with too much makeup. Get your skincare right, and the whole thing will look better.

What’s in your skincare cabinet?

For daytime it’s salicylic acid cleanser, hyaluronic acid, vitamin C serum, which I love, caffeine under-eye serum, polyglutamic acid; retinol, kaolin clay face mask which I use twice a week, and if I’m feeling clogged after travelling, I use lactic acid, every now and then.

Salicylic acid cleanser and vitamin C serum | The Inkey List
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Photography: The Inkey List via Facebook

We strive to live a conscious life here. What are your thoughts on clean beauty?

I think there’s a long way to go. Packaging is one thing. Like I said, we’re trying our best to do a 100% recyclable packaging but there’s a lot of work to be done in the industry as a whole. You might have recyclable packaging but there’s also the carbon footprint. It’s a lot of work like getting the packaging from the product, where you formulate your product, where you manufacture your product, shipping products to a retailer, a retailer shipping it to store, the store then giving it to the consumer, there are a lot of steps that could go on.

We mostly need to lift the lid on the entire process and think about how many countries the product goes to before coming to you. That’s something we need to highlight more.

The clean beauty phenomenon is great. I think The Inkey List lives by trying to be super transparent and not put fillers in our products so we only have ingredients that are needed. Honestly, “clean” is a bit confusing as a definition at the moment. I think people aren’t clear what “clean” means so there’s a lot of education to be done. Vegan was also a huge trend so people aren’t really sure what they are, to be honest. But I think by next year, people will have more of an understanding about these terms.

What’s next for The Inkey List?

Wow! Continue world domination *laughs* We’re launching in Asia at Sephora. We’re launching in Thailand, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Australia. I think it’s about learning the market, about what they want and working with consumers in each market. We want to hear and learn from the world and give people more of what they want. And also just getting more products out there. Some work, some don’t but you know what? It’s just about getting out there and having fun and experimenting. Our next phase of the brand is let’s go wild, experiment and have fun.

The Inkey List is available at all Sephora stores and online

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