Lean, clean, green and litter-free, Singapore’s notoriously stringent approach to its urban layout applies to its inhabitants as well (myself included). With the clean beauty movement conquering the lovely little red dot, business is booming among beauty entrepreneurs. Looking no further than our kitchen cabinets, a handful of green beauty brands have tried to capture our attention with its all-natural ingredients and Glossier-esque packaging to build a steady market. Though I have previously featured Rooki, it was time to get to know its founder Hayley Teo, an ex-digital content creator turned skincare queen (who is still making killer content on Rooki’s Instagram!).
While we have yet to meet in person, we go deeper than our love for good skincare to talk about how she build her brand, why we need to listen to our skin, men’s vs. women’s approach to skincare, what to do you when you procrastinate on your skincare routine and her three upcoming superhero serums.
What made you start Rooki as a clean beauty brand?
HT: Like many millennials, I had a little bit of a quarter-life crisis. During that time, I was putting in long hours at an ad agency but struggled deeply with finding meaning in my work. I worked with big brands to create content, but I guess I felt that deep down inside, I could do more. I wanted to do something that could make a real difference. That ‘something’ turned out to be creating my own
line of clean, superfood skincare.
It was really tough at first because I knew next to nothing about the beauty industry, let alone how to access it. It took me months and lots of convincing before I had my first formulators on board and working with me. It took countless revisions and trial and error before I settled on my first formula – which was for Green Pulp Paste Masque! And it took me flying to another country before I could finalize my packaging. Doing everything from scratch meant that there were some inevitable mishaps, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Before creating your own brand, what were some experiences you dealt with conventional skincare products?
HT: I have sensitive skin that gets inflamed easily. There were times when I would wake up to splotchy red patches on my face. Naturally, I thought there was something wrong with me. It never occurred
to me that there could be something wrong with the skincare I was using, or the beauty brands I loved. After all, they were the experts and I was just a rookie. It was only after I started a hobby of making and selling lip balms, and educating myself on ingredients that I started to realize that many of the conventional skincare I was using was full of
unnecessary and toxic ingredients that helped products feel better rather than work better. That was my lightbulb moment.
Some brands want to produce their lines for cheaper, but I like how you put in a reasonable price for your products even though they are made in Japan. How did Japan become your go-to spot for production?
HT: What I like about Japan is that it is a country with strong beauty principles. You know how the French have their own way, the Koreans have their own way, and the Japanese also have their own idea of how skincare should be approached. Japanese skincare focuses on anticipating problems and preventing them before they occur. Their philosophy that skincare is a marathon, not a sprint is something that really resonates with me – which is why even after courting labs from Korea and Taiwan, I still decided to produce Rooki in Japan. Quality speaks for itself. Japanese formulators also understand the meaning of restraint. It’s a mindset that’s deeply entrenched – a few methodical steps go further than an endless array of products. For example, Japanese beauty companies actually encourage women to soak essences in cotton pads and
leave it on their face, to get the most out of their essence products. This is why I enjoy working with Japanese labs, because their principles are actually very complementary with the goals of clean
Your line is mainly targeted towards women like ourselves, but I also feel that men also need to be introduced to clean beauty as well. What differences have you noticed between men and women’s skin textures and routines? How do you plan to incorporate your line to
make it suit both sexes?
HT: Men’s skin tend to be oilier and is almost always thicker than women’s skin. They also have larger
pores and are more prone to acne than women. There is no denying that men and women’s skin are different, but the biggest difference of all is psychological. The biggest hurdle is that men tend to have an adversarial approach to skincare. They are more likely to believe in aggressive tactics like washing your face 3 times a day, rather than preventive ones like applying sunscreen. This usually results in shorter, but harsher routines. The only way to really get around that is consumer education, which is something that Rooki really champions.
What’s your skincare routine like?
HT: It’s actually very simple. Every night, I cleanse my face with Honey Matcha Cleansing Drops and then treat it with my serums. Then, I seal it all in with Superfood Saviour Creme. The serums that I am using are from my own line, but they have not been released yet. I also use Green Pulp Paste Masque thrice a week to hydrate and give my skin an added boost of nutrients.
I feel like the Korean beauty routine is so big here, especially with the whole 7 to 10 skin steps (tried doing it once and it fucked up my skin!) routine that I feel is completely unrealistic for our climate. What were your experiences with it like? And if anyone follows
the routine, how can they incorporate Rooki products into it?
HT: Actually, when the Korean beauty routine first got famous, I was quite fond of it. I liked the idea of practicing a routine with multiple steps. Perhaps I found the ritual to be soothing. But something
that seems to have started as an act of intention seems to have morphed into something else entirely – the message of being gentle to your skin and precise application seems to have gotten lost, replaced by the mantra of more, more, more. And this is where the problem really starts. You start having one or two products with one or two ingredients that your skin really doesn’t groove with and over time, your skin weakens – leading to breakouts that can take months or even years to recover from. I myself have experienced this. I didn’t listen to my skin, and this caused my skin to become so sensitive that I had to stop using nearly all products for months.
For those who are on the routine, if it works for you – that’s great. If it doesn’t, then try to cut back and listen to your skin. It’s not about how many products you use, it’s about finding what works,because every person is unique. Not every routine has to be taken as the gospel truth.
Conventional wisdom can easily be thwarted by aging, changes in the environment, and advances in skincare technology.
To be fairly honest, I have to say that there were moments that I became too lazy to maintain my routine. Like, I’d forget to put in my serum or phase out my mist / essence. Were there moments when you forgot to maintain your routine? If so, what’s your advice for
people who struggle to maintain their routine?
HT: My advice would be to take it easy. As long as you continue to use sun protection and remove your makeup before sleeping, nothing you miss out on is going to irrevocably damage your skin. Also, try to focus on the philosophy and not the routine. If your philosophy is prevention, use the simplest routine you can put together that focuses on prevention. That way, even if your routine has ebbed and flowed over the years, it will still work because your philosophy is sound.
I am a firm believer that we eat for our skin. But, our derms warn us to avoid pizza, ice cream, sushi and alcohol! If you have a cheat day, what’s the one thing you’d be caught eating?
HT: I love carbs and sweet things, so bread pudding with vanilla sauce!
Lastly, what products should we anticipate this year?
HT: We’re actually launching 3 serums this year! It took us over a year to develop these serum, and the concept behind them. We actually surveyed women to find out the most common lifestyle risk factors affecting their skin. The top three most common answers were lack of sleep, sun exposure and pollution so we have came up with serums that address the visible effects of these lifestyle risk factors.
All photos courtesy of Rooki Beauty