Skin problems are hardly enviable — but for Vicky Tsai, a bout of dermatitis may have positively impacted her life. It was while she was at Harvard Business School® that it happened; Tsai found herself stressed and overly-experimental with an array of skincare products. “I had given myself acute dermatitis while interning at a big beauty company,” she recalls. “At the same time, I became disillusioned with corporate work.” This perfect storm of misfortune spurred Tsai to leave her 9-to-5 and eventually build one of the most lauded skincare brands in the biz: Tatcha®.
The Japanese-inspired skincare brand has amassed a cult-like following of celebrities, beauty gurus, and skincare buffs. (If you’ve yet to try the brand, peruse these top sellers to get started.) Tatcha is special for many reasons, one of which is its refreshingly gentle approach to achieving glowing skin. You will not find harsh acids, chemicals, or gimmicks; instead, expect exotic plant extracts like indigo and Hadasei-3® (a blend of rare algae, green tea, and Akita rice), which is found in every single one of the brand’s formulas.
Of course, there’s more to the story than dermatitis and disillusionment. Tsai’s journey to success began with a literal one — to Kyoto, Japan. “There, I was introduced to beautiful, time-tested [Japanese] ingredients and classic rituals that have been used for centuries,” she shares. Practicing these rituals, she says, not only restored her skin to its pre-dermatitis state, “They also introduced me to a new way of viewing skincare as an extension of self-care.”
Below, Tsai elaborates on the exact skincare rituals she follows day and night (with her daughter, nonetheless!). Plus, how blotting paper helped her make some of her best friends in the beauty biz, and the candid advice she has for business owners hoping to enter the skincare space.
Spotlyte: You were inspired to start Tatcha after learning about Japanese traditions in Kyoto. Was that trip the first experience you’d ever had with Japanese skincare?
Vicky Tsai: My mother had a cosmetics boutique that I worked in as a teenager, where we carried Japanese skincare. It wasn’t until I started traveling to Japan in 2009, though, that I came across classical Japanese beauty rituals, which form the foundation of the modern Japanese brands we know today.
Spotlyte: How does the Japanese approach to skincare differ from, say, the approach we have in the states?
VT: In Japan, it’s recognized that your skin is the outward reflection of your health. Instead of targeting a pimple or a wrinkle, they take the time to think about the deeper causes in addition to treating the skin. This beautiful approach transformed the way I think about my skin.
Spotlyte: How so?
VT: For example, if you’re happy, it will shine through in your skin. Diet is also important — ingredients that are good for your [overall] health are also good for your skin, which is why [Tatcha’s] formulas are built on ingredients like green tea, rice, and seaweed.
Spotlyte: You famously sold your engagement ring to support Tatcha. Would you mind sharing how you arrived at that decision?
VT: Tatcha is the result of a journey I began to heal my skin and soul. In the beginning, it was important to bootstrap to keep the company free of outside influences and innovate in the areas that are important to us. I worked four jobs, went into heavy debt, and sold anything of value — including my engagement ring. Don’t worry — I still have the husband!
Spotlyte: As someone who has given her all — quite literally — to build a massively successful brand, what is your best piece of advice for someone starting a business, particularly in the skincare or beauty sphere?
VT: Either stand for something, or you stand for nothing. Develop your core values and make sure that, whatever you do, you are always being authentic to yourself and your clients.
Spotlyte: You seem to travel a lot. Any tips for keeping your skin hydrated in the process of catching flights?
VT: I travel 70 percent of the year! Maintaining my skincare routine while on the road is always a priority. To keep it simple and keep my skin hydrated, I always apply a LuminousTM; Dewy Skin Mask while in-flight (which gets quite a few looks from my seatmates), followed by a few spritzes of our Luminous Dewy Skin Mist to refresh the skin.
Spotlyte: You’ve been open about struggling with dermatitis before you started Tatcha. Do you have any advice for people struggling with similar issues?
VT: For dermatitis and eczema, I would recommend colloidal oatmeal, which is beloved for its soothing properties, and natural Japanese indigo, a powerful anti-inflammatory ingredient that helps calm and soothe irritated skin.
[Editor’s note: As always, talk to your doctor before starting any new treatment.]
Spotlyte: What does your morning skincare routine consist of?
VT: I love starting my day with The Classic Rice PolishTM;. It’s a two-in-one cleanser and exfoliant that is gentle enough to use every day, but effective enough to resurface the skin in moments, so you start the day with baby skin!
Then I use The EssenceTM;, which plumps the skin dramatically with intense, deep hydration, and makes anything I use after work better. Then I use the Violet-CTM; Serum, which is packed with Vitamin C and Japanese beautyberry for brighter skin every day. I stopped using foundation, because this has made my skin tone so even.
Spotlyte: Noted! And moisturizer?
VT: Of course! I love The Water CreamTM; and The Silk Peony Eye CreamTM;. Finally, The Silken Pore Perfecting SunscreenTM; — because SPF daily is a must. I finish with The Silk CanvasTM;, which is a skin-protecting, makeup-perfecting primer. When you use it alone, your skin just has this pretty, filter finish. When you wear it under makeup, your makeup looks amazing, wears beautifully all day, and doesn’t get into your pores. I have stopped getting congestion-related breakouts, thanks to this last step. Obsessed.
Spotlyte: What does your evening skincare routine consist of?
VT: In the evening, I remove my makeup using the One Step Camellia Cleansing OilTM;. Then, I use the Classic Rice Polish to gently exfoliate my skin, followed by The Essence, the Violet-C Brightening Serum, The Silk Cream, and The Silk Peony Eye Cream.
Spotlyte: What’s your husband’s favorite Tatcha product?
VT: I make him use everything I do, but I’m guessing his favorite is The Silken Pore Perfecting Sunscreen, because he loves being outdoors.
Spotlyte: You’re clearly passionate about your products. Are there any other skincare brands that inspire or excite you?
VT: In creating Tatcha, I’ve been lucky to have met so many wonderful female mentors whom I deeply admire along the way, three of whom are Leslie Blodgett (who created Bare Escentuals®), Janet Gurwitch (who founded Laura Mercier®), and Cristina Carlino (who founded Philosophy®). I also love Carisa Janes (Hourglass®) and Jane Wurwand (Dermologica®) — they are visionaries who express their love for their clients through their products, which I think is the foundation of any great brand.
Spotlyte: Have you made any other friends in the beauty world?
VT: We’ve met so many wonderful people since starting Tatcha, but some of our longest-standing friendships are within the beauty industry. At the beginning, we had trouble finding a PR agency that would work with us, so as a result, we sent packages of our Original AburatorigamiTM; Blotting Papers to makeup artists, influencers, and editors that we admired, hoping they would return our emails. That group of people — including Daniel Martin, Mario Dedivanovic, Matthew VanLeeuwen, and Yolanda Mata — all remain lifelong friends.
Spotlyte: How do you speak to your daughter about beauty? Is skincare something you discuss with her?
VT: One of the most important lessons I learned during my travels to Japan is that true beauty begins in the heart and the mind, and this is something I try to instill within my daughter as she continues to grow older. She may only be nine, but she already has taken this advice to heart. She also knows that skincare is self-care, and takes a little time morning and night to do her own little rituals. It’s the cutest thing.
Spotlyte: Any skincare rituals you practice together?
VT: My daughter and I do our skincare rituals together at night!
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