The skin is a sensitive organ. It seems to respond to every external and internal stimulus — the dry and cold bursts of wind from the air-conditioner, the rays and heat from the sun, the oils from the foods that you eat, the mind's stress, and the body's own hormones.
Most often, the skin responds in predictable ways — breakouts, acne, fine lines, flaky and dull skin. When we see these surface symptoms, we pop into drugstores, pick out products and swipe our cards, slather the products on our faces for weeks on end — only to find that nothing has improved.
"Your skin has a lot of dead skin cells, that's why nothing is getting into your skin," a skin consultant once explained that there were barriers on the skin. She was right to some degree. The skin on its own is, in fact, a protective barrier for the body. It primarily prevents the loss of water and the entry of unwanted compounds. There is, constantly, a layer of interlaced dead and live skin cells which forms this barrier. Little wonder why the products are not working — they cannot find their way through the body's complex protective mechanism.
When there are complications, for instance, hormonal imbalance from pregnancy, the situation becomes tricky. Singaporean Irene Tan found herself in this catch. She went through an in vitro fertilisation procedure and the hormones administered left her with extremely sensitive skin and breakouts. Over-the-counter products did not work for her. Desperate for a solution, she came together with her husband, Eric Tan, founder of the Ikeda Group, and they reached out to a polymer chemist named Dr. Loh from A* STAR.
The trio ran tests with "different ingredients to figure out which works," Eric Tan recalls. Their greatest takeaway was a realisation about the skin's barrier function. "Many ingredients may not be potent enough to penetrate the 'thick' barrier and deliver results."
The issue was not found in the list of ingredients but the delivery method. How do you come up with a product which can bypass the human body's clever protective mechanisms?
From left: the anti-aging, clearing, whitening, soothing, hydrating, anti-acne, and anti-wrinkle serums.
"Dr. Loh harnessed a newly-developed skincare science which 'shrinks wrap' the active ingredients and compacts the size — so tiny that it will slip through the gaps of the thick skin barrier," Eric Tan continues. Eventually, with this research, they came up with a serum for Irene Tan. The active ingredients were shrink-wrapped. "She used it for a month and the occurrence of eczema break-outs reduced significantly."
Over the next two years, the trio continued their research and trademarked their shrink wrap process, otherwise called Ziplock Encapsulation™. Now that Irene Tan's own skin issues were solved, they wanted to make this technology available to the public.
Dr. Loh came up with seven concoctions targetting common skin ailments of Singaporeans, namely wrinkles and deep lines, acne and oily skin, dehydrated skin, sensitivity, pigmentation and uneven skin tones, sagging skin, and clogged pores.
The formulas were designed to be safe for all, even individuals with sensitive skin or pregnant women — so mainstream harmful chemicals were eliminated. "From our research, I know that perfume — even essential oils — is detrimental to the skin. And the same applies to the colouring. They might help to enhance the sensory experience for some, but it causes more harm to our skin in the long term."
Every product description comes with a full list of ingredients, available on the brand's website.
The seven formulas were made into serums, and their ingredients shrink-wrapped for efficacy. They were launched in December 2017 under a skincare label called Irén.
"Serums contain a very high concentration of active ingredients, which makes it an excellent product for targeting specific skincare concerns... The effects of serums tend to arrive quickly due to its highly concentrated nature," Tan explains.
In a beauty landscape where consumers are often bombarded with superfluous adjectives and marketing gimmicks, Tan wanted Irén skincare to offer hard, scientific facts. "I do not believe in hocus-pocus and miracle ingredients," he asserts. On the Irén website, every serum is simplistically presented with a problem and solution. It is either alpha hydroxy acids for clogged pores and dull skin, anti-bacterial and anti-microbial compounds for acne, or antioxidants for fatigued, ageing skin — nothing else. "It was not a magical potion... We use science-proven ingredients backed by facts and research."
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