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The Unexpected Story Behind Cult Favorite Skincare Line Tatcha

These days, it’s not uncommon for moisturizer to have an ingredient list of over 20 different chemicals—many with the potential to cause allergic reactions, especially on those with sensitive skin. This was a problem for Victoria Tsai, who developed acute dermatitis after working for one of the world’s largest beauty companies. After suffering through a year-long reaction that caused her entire face to blister, requiring topical and oral antibiotics and antihistamines to treat, Tsai became much more aware of what she was putting onto her face. “I became serious about learning about ingredients,” she said. “Even now, my skin will flare within moments if I put on an offensive ingredient.”

Original Aburatorigami Blotting Papers, photo courtesy of Tatcha

But the consequences of using these harmful ingredients go beyond skin-deep: About 60 percent of what you put onto your skin—including chemicals like parabens, which are found in skincare products—will permeate the body. Some of these chemicals can be stored over a long period of time, including in breast fat. Tsai was especially concerned after she gave birth and started breastfeeding. “It’s one thing to have hives on your face because of cheap ingredients, but impacting the health of my newborn is unacceptable,” she said.

This discovery led her to start Tatcha, a skincare company that has since received raves from glossies like “Vogue,” “Harper’s Bazaar,” and “Marie Claire.” Tsai began by searching for a solution for non-damaging skincare, looking to history for inspiration. “Women have been trying to take care of their skin for thousands of years, so I knew there must be effective solutions predating these chemicals,” she explained. She came across many references to a Japanese beauty bible written in 1813.

“We found the book after quite a lot of searching and had it translated,” she said. The book was the key to what she was looking for, and she now uses the text as a “source code” for Tatcha’s Eastern ritual-inspired approach.

The Classic Ritual for Normal + Combination Skin, photo courtesy of Tatcha

Tsai chose these methods for protecting the health and vitality of the skin very deliberately. From her perspective, Western beauty solutions fail to address the root of problems like Eastern solutions do. “In Asia, if you see a wrinkle, you modify your diet, stay out of the sun, sleep more and make sure you’re using the right skincare,” she said, contrasting that with the extremely artificial treatment of Botox that is so popular in the States. Ultimately, Tsai hopes to share not only Eastern beauty treatments but also the people and places who have inspired her: “My dream for Tatcha is to introduce the Eastern approach to a beautiful life.”

While some women have as many as 11 steps in their beauty routine, busy students and young professionals will be glad to learn that Tatcha consolidates the essentials into a four-step ritual — “Pure,” “Polished,” “Radiant” and “Supple” — with all the tools needed to remove makeup and exfoliate, brighten and moisturize the skin. While the products in the core ritual are designed to work together, Tsai also loves her Polished Rice Enzyme Powder, a great multi-tasking extra that cleanses, exfoliates and tones.

“It boosts the efficacy of any treatment products that you use afterward by sloughing off surface debris,” Tsai said. “It appeals to all women because it is simple and effortless.”

As a mom and a business owner, Tsai knows how hard-pressed it can be to find the time to take care of your skin. In addition to managing the big picture as Tatcha’s CEO, Tsai is also responsible for every one of the company’s formulas. “We work with a brilliant, independent chemist and develop each piece,” she said. Together, they carefully oversee the sourcing and extraction of each ingredient to ensure high-quality products. “I think of a brand as a promise,” she added.

Rice Enzyme Powders in Classic, Deep, and Gentle, photo courtesy of Tatcha

“No matter what your skin type is, it’s crucial to cleanse and exfoliate religiously, stay hydrated and stay out of the sun,” Tsai emphasized. She swears by the Akari Crystal Massager, which she keeps in the fridge, to fake a good night’s sleep.

Although Tsai finds Tatcha incredibly rewarding, time (or lack thereof) is a big challenge. She’s not only dedicated to creating miracle skin concoctions but also managing teams in San Francisco, Seattle, New York and Japan. Her biggest lament is that work and travel keep her away from her family. But, as she said, “If it were easy, everyone would do it.”

Header Credit: Miki Chishaki

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