In The Path™, we spotlight different women making a difference in the fashion, beauty, wellness, medical aesthetics, and more industries. Here, Peach & Lily founder Alicia Yoon shares her road to success.
For most people, the term “K-Beauty” is synonymous with skincare. From new buzzy ingredients to the 10-step regimen, the Korean beauty market is an authority when it comes to our never-ending quest for healthy, glowing skin. However, until fairly recently, it was a challenge to acquire some of Asia’s best products stateside. Aside from shopping at a few specialty boutiques or dropping serious cash on shipping charges from foreign retailers, the main option was flying thousands of miles to get that life-changing essence or snail mucin serum.
That all changed thanks to Peach & Lily® founder Alicia Yoon. The South Korea-born, New York City-raised 30-something is a lifelong skincare fanatic. As a teenager, she attended beauty school, where she gravitated towards lessons on skin because of her eczema. However, after college, her interest in beauty took a temporary backseat: she attended Harvard Business School®, and went on to pursue a career in finance and consulting. During her time at Boston Consulting Group®, though, her passion was reignited. In 2012, while working on a consulting project for a beauty company, she noticed that a lot of Western brands sourced their formulas from Korea.
It was at this point that she saw an opportunity to cut the middleman out and bring those products directly into the U.S. market. She created the wildly successful e-commerce site peachandlily.com to bridge that gap, and the rest is pretty much history. Now, Peach & Lily even has its own product line with more than a dozen SKUs.
To get insight into what it takes to run a successful beauty empire, we chatted with Yoon on everything from how she picks the formulas featured on her site to how she creates beauty products from scratch, and of course, her intensive skincare routine. If you want glassy, glowing skin, get ready to take notes!
Spotlyte: What made you want to start your own skincare brand? Was it always part of your plan?
Alicia Yoon: It was definitely in my heart since I was 18. Just like fashion designers sketch out their designs, I write down my dream products that I wish existed. The best way I can describe it is this: when you open your refrigerator, you have your ice cream, which isn’t great for you; you have a non-organic apple that’s okay, but not super healthy; and then you have your special farmer’s market item. You talked to the farmer, and know it’s carefully grown and thoughtfully created. We started to realize that there weren’t a lot of [product] options on the market that are that farmer’s market item: clean, toxin-free, [formulated] with clinically-proven ingredients that give results.
Spotlyte: How did you come up with those formulas and what products to make?
AY: When I met with the labs, they asked if I had a comp product of something similar that I wanted to create. I said, “Not really, it doesn’t exist.” Instead, I gave them this thick binder of notes and ingredients that I had been playing around with. It was very Willy Wonka.
We had an extensive list of ingredients that are a big no-no. Then, we had a list of ingredients that are clinically proven to give results. But we wanted the texture and the pH level to be right — and it still had to be delightful. It was a very tall order, [but] I was able to convince our manufacturing company to work with us by telling them we didn’t have a timeline. [A product] could take 10 years — we just wanted to make it right.
We did a lot of research ourselves, too. Not only did they commit to working with us, but [today], all 40 chemists in their labs will test and create with us. Usually, a brand gets only a few chemists.
Spotlyte: You’ve said the goal of launching the Peach & Lily website was to showcase innovative products from all over the world. How do you decide which products to put on the site?
AY: Our curation process [is] months long and all about the product, formulation, and results. We’re completely agnostic to a brand’s big social media following or how well-known it is. If we look at a hundred different brands, only a handful make the cut. We meet the executives of that brand, see their points of view, and look at the actual formulations themselves. Then, our team of in-house estheticians will vet them.
We also look at the claims the products make; we want to see that there are proven ingredients that are really going to help those results. We test products with focus groups; we have people try them and give them an extensive survey to see if the product is delivering those results.
Spotlyte: What advice do you have for someone who wants to start a beauty brand? How can she or he differentiate themselves in a space that can be seen as oversatured?
AY: Don’t think about what everyone else is doing; make sure your brand has a perspective, and stick to that. One brand we work with on the site is all about floral extracts. The founder is in love with flowers and believes in the healing power of them. [She] has such a clear point of view and is so authentic. She’s not worried about what everyone else is doing, and I find that to be very powerful.
Spotlyte: Walk us through your skincare routine. What are your favorite products?
AY: In the morning, I still do a two-step cleansing process. I use a little of Shangpree™ S-energy™ Cleansing Gel, which is an oil cleanser, and then move on to my second cleanser, the Lagom™ Cellup™ Gel to Water Cleanser. After, I apply the Be The Skin™ Botanical Nutrition Power Toner, which is really hydrating, gentle, and soothing. I always use an essence next, because lacking moisture is the root cause of so many of our skin issues. I use the Peach & Lily Wild Dew Treatment Essence, which has an interesting hyaluronic acid blend that sinks deep into skin, but also has yeast ferment and radish to brighten and firm.
Spotlyte: What do you layer over that?
AY: I use the Peach & Lily Glass Skin Refining Serum™; I cannot live without it. It’s packed with peptides for firming and brightening, and hyaluronic acid for hydration. It also has centella asiatica extract, which tigers roll around in to heal their wounds. Typically, I put an oil after, because I need a supplement, like the Peach & Lily Pure Beam Luxe Oil™. For my eyes, I put on the Eco Your Skin™ Volufiline™15 Eye Essence. I seal it all with a moisturizer, which I sometimes switch up between the Peach & Lily Matcha Pudding Antioxidant Cream and the Peach Slices® Citrus-Honey Aqua Glow. Both are filled with antioxidants, which is so key. I keep it the same in the morning and at night, except for an SPF in the morning, like Lagom Sun Gel.
Sometimes through the day, I’ll be misting if my skin is dry. I love the Ground Plan™ 24 Hour Secret Mist; it’s not only super hydrating, but it soothes and conditions the skin as well.
Spotlyte: Any masks?
AY: For exfoliation once a week, I use the Peach & Lily Super Reboot™ Resurfacing Mask. This is my personal Willy Wonka dream come true; it’s a chemical peel that doesn’t cause irritation. We’ve developed this technology where this soothing mask goes in with the peel.
Last, I use sheet masks all the time. I do a lot of different kinds. I do the Peach & Lily 3 Sheet Mask Set pretty regularly. I do eye masks a lot; I struggle with undereye circles. I even do them in the mornings if I want to look more awake. I love the Shangpree Gold Black Pearl Hydrogel Eye Mask.
Spotlyte: Let’s talk about aesthetic treatments. Do you find the perception of injectables is different in Asia than it is here in the U.S.?
AY: People are definitely more open to talking about injectables in Asia. There’s a lot of conversation about [aesthetics] in general. When it comes to [treating facial] features, there’s an openness about the conversation of fillers because you can see the changes in those features, and there’s no way around not talking about it.
[Editor’s note: Injectable wrinkle reducers temporarily smooth the look of moderate to severe wrinkles in certain areas of the face, including the forehead, frown lines, and crow’s feet; they should not be used more frequently than every three months. Injectable filler is a temporary treatment that adds volume to areas of the face such as the lips, cheeks, and laugh lines. Like any medical treatment, both injectable wrinkle reducers and injectable fillers have potential risks and side effects. Talk to a licensed provider to see if they’re right for you. And learn more now by chatting with a trained aesthetic specialist.]
Spotlyte: What’s your stance on them?
AY: If done safely and the way you like it, more power to you. When fillers are done properly, they can look very [subtle]. It’s all about finding the right doctor who can do that.
I haven’t gotten any [aesthetic treatments] yet, and haven’t felt the need for it. For me, personally, I think if you’re very diligent about your skincare, you can keep [yourself] in top condition.
Spotlyte: You said you learned a lot about nutrition when going to beauty school. How has that affected your diet?
AY: I am careful about what I eat because it shows up right away on my skin [when I don’t eat well]. [I have] lots of water, dark leafy greens, salmon, avocados, turmeric powder, and sardines. I like this one [brand] that’s doused in olive oil. I just put it on quinoa with some pumpkin seeds on top, and that’s my breakfast. I used to drink coffee, but one day, I woke up, and [I found] it made my stomach hurt. It’s green tea for me.
Spotlyte: Are there any foods you like to indulge in?
AY: I’ll eat brownies and ice cream. I’ve talked to lots of nutritionists in the past, and [they’ve always conveyed] that if you [eat well] 80 percent of the time, that’s good. You’re still going to be in great shape, and you’re not going to be a disaster over the one dessert you had. It’s about being aware of the three meals you had and what you’re doing more consistently. Your body is pretty resilient, and you don’t have to be militant about it. It’s hard when you have no freedom.
Spotlyte: We can only imagine how busy you are, with running such a successful site and skincare brand. How do you manage the stress that comes with having a million things to do?
AY: There are a few things in the morning I’ll do to start my day calmly. I’ll take a few minutes to pray or reflect. I won’t check my phone once I get up. First, I’ll have a little quiet time and write a list of all the things I have to get done during the day, so that I have more control of my day. Then I check my phone, so I can triage everything, rather than react to it.
Spotlyte: Do you have other tips for staying calm?
AY: My husband also told me we feel anxious or stressed out because of wrongful thinking; overgeneralizing or listening to those voices in our heads that trigger that anxious feeling. When you write on a piece of paper why you’re feeling anxious, you can identify the problem of that way of thinking. He explained that we don’t realize this because of the way our gears are set up. Once we write [those feelings] down, we can switch those gears and the anxiety [can] dissipate. How you filter and perceive something is 100 percent going to be your reality. You just have to have the right filter, rather the default one you normally go to. It’s really helpful and encouraging; the more you do it, the more your mind will change its mindset.