'I was born in Seoul, and then I came to the states when I was 1. We lived all over—Nashville, Atlanta, Queens…When I was 12, our whole family moved back to Korea. So it was definitely a culture shock to be in such a homogenous city after living in New York. Even though I am Korean and I look Korean, I didn’t feel very Korean at the time. Part of that was that the culture’s a lot more direct and open there. People will just say things to your face that you wouldn’t imagine anyone ever saying to you in New York—even regarding your own personal beauty aesthetic or when you go in for treatments. Throughout most of high school, I wasn't particularly interested in all that, but one night I went out with friends and did my makeup, and a woman approached me and told me I should go to beauty school. I figured, why not, and started taking classes after school my senior year. It was a small, hole-in-the-wall place where we really got a crash course in skincare. I would give my family facials, and I saw how immediate the results were once you found out what actually worked.
After that, I went to college at Columbia University in New York and beauty was really more of a hobby for me—I was sharing with friends what I was seeing coming out of Korea, and bringing products back from Korea for them to try. When I graduated, I went into finance, then consulting, and eventually applied to Harvard Business School. I was accepted, and that’s when I really decided I wanted to pursue entrepreneurship in some way. While I was in school, I started a project that was like a showroom for designers from Korea to debut in the US. This was in 2009, and a lot of my initial customers were not Asian and, interestingly, they kept asking me for beauty products from Korea. I was like, 'Huh, why?' and they actually were just like, 'I don't know. You guys just kind of look younger. What do you use?' That was kind of the very simplistic thinking behind it, and I made a mental note of it but didn't pursue anything with that yet.
By 2012, I incorporated Peach & Lily and left my consulting job to work on it full-time. It was around the time where there was a growing demand for Korean products from bloggers, and I wanted to help bridge that in the States. It was really hard—I thought it would be easy to sign on beauty brands to sell on my site. It wasn't. It took me five months to get our first brand to work with us. I was in Korea knocking on everyone's door just explaining the opportunities. Now we have the exclusive rights to sell a lot of these brands, and we can do that because we'll work with them to create a US strategy for their products. The goal is to build a brand that people can really access, love, and get to know. It's a very different kind of mission—we're not just thinking of building the site and having the product purchasable and that's it. Beyond just the site, we're distributing in partnership with Urban Outfitters, Space NK, Sephora, Target, and QVC. So we really act as a one-stop shop and strategic partner for retailers and brands—kind of like a merchant-stylist role.
I’ve struggled with eczema my whole life. It’s taken a lot of learning to figure out how to manage it and keep my skin hydrated. I grew up just with Cortizone 10, taking baths in baking soda, my mom putting oatmeal packs on me, and me drenching myself in lotion. It was never a scientific approach. But in beauty school, the first thing you learn is how to take care of all different types of skin. It’s all about the science of it—like how moisturizer doesn’t actually moisturize, it just seals in moisture. The one thing I’ll never forget was when my teachers compared skin to a sponge. When it’s dry and not hydrated, it’s very brittle. So when it moves, it’s more prone to cracking, acne breakouts, and general irritation. When your skin is hydrated, it's actually a little plumper and can absorb products better. Having super well-hydrated skin is the key to a healthy skin environment.
That’s also the key to not getting wrinkles—it’s about moisture, antioxidants, and SPF. Keeping a really consistent routine is important. I do a lot of testing because of my job, but I try to only test things that are right for my skin type and my schedule. My routine is always the same, even if it's with different products. It's actually important to go through every step rotating different products for maintaining healthy skin.
I’ve got a bunch of cleansers in rotation and more at the office. Right now I’m using this Japanese brand called Hacci. They started as a bee aviary where they just had so much honey—which has so many skin benefits—that they started a skincare line. I've been using their Honey Oil Cleansing as a cleanser, and it really nourishes my skin. We’re also launching the brand Shangpree on our site, so I’ve moved on to using their products as well. It’s from this spa in Korea that’s considered one of the top spas by the government there, actually. Then there’s the Son & Park Beauty Water—it’s actually a cleanser, but I like to use as my last step of my cleaning regimen. It leaves me with this skin that’s extra refined and smooth without being dry. Very addicted.
After I cleanse, I use a toner for sure. I keep coming back Be The Skin's Botanical Nutrition Power Toner. It has royal jelly in it, no alcohol, and it’s really hydrating and smells really good. Recently, I started using fermented soy bean essence to help my skin stay hydrated. If I were to go from washing my face straight to serums, without using an essence in-between, my skin would feel more irritated and the product wouldn't seep in as well. These days I’m also using Re:NK Cell to Cell Essence. Sometimes I even put it on in the shower because the steam will help it soak in better.
Then I use concentrated hydrolyzed marine collagen. Collagen is super silky. It is this controversial thing because people say the collagen particles are too big to be absorbed into your skin. But when it's hydrolyzed, it's chopped up finer. It’s also marine-based versus animal-based—all of which makes it more likely to be effective. No one's quite sure, but I use it and hope for the best. And lately EGF, epidermal growth factor, has been getting me excited. It really helps rejuvenate. It’s not going to make you super photosensitive. Even if you’re younger or in your late twenties, you can use it, but it’s definitely strong enough that very mature skin types would also really love it.
For creams, it's Cremorlab's Hydro Plus Snow Falls Melting Cream. It’s definitely better in the winter for those with very dry skin. I love this, but I know that I have to try new things, so I've been forcing myself to use this Kat Burki Vitamin C Intensive Day Cream and I like it. It’s feels like a traditional cold cream. I put that all over my face, especially in the evenings. I lather it on and then go to bed. Every week or so, I’ll do a sleeping mask. So instead of a cream, I’ll do the Mizon Good Night White Sleeping Mask or their Snail Wrinkle Care Sleeping Pack. You just put it on, go to sleep, and wake up glowing a lot more. I also started to try this Dr. Jart Premium Firming Sleeping Mask. That’s my whole system. It’s not too bad, I think.
For some reason, I’m one of the weird Asian girls born with very wavy hair. The shampoo and conditioner I use are Uka Wake Up and Uka Nighty Night—their haircare is amazing. When it’s really hot out, I’ll use this Tea Tree Purifying Shampoo from Aromatica because it’s clarifying but not super drying. Then, once a week, I’ll use a carbon dioxide deep-cleansing scalp treatment to take care of any buildup.
Usually after I shower, I just curl outward with my fingers, and I’ll go upside down and blow dry my bangs. That's usually enough—I don’t like to use product because it feels so heavy and funky, but I did buy this Drybar Money Maker Flexible Hold Hairspray product because they used it on me there when I got my hair done once. It was very lightweight, so I figured I could use it and not hate how my hair felt. Their Southern Belle Volumizing Mousse helps maintain my curl.
I don’t wear a ton of makeup because I just don’t think I look that good with it. Some people are really meant to wear it, but a lot of color on my eyelid looks a little crazy. If I'm going out, I might do a bold lip—I really like Espoir’s lipsticks. They have really good lip products that are nicely pigmented, and they don't crack on your lips.
Everything else I do is pretty low-key. I'll put Too Cool for School Dinoplatz U.F.O. Multibox in N23 on my bare face, no primer or anything. Then I really just focus on my eyebrows. They're super sparse and thin, so it's time consuming to draw them in and make them look good. I love my palette I use for them—it's just some no-name product I got off the street in Korea.
Then I’ll use an eyeliner sometimes, just below my water line, with the Espoir Stick Eyeshadow Sequin. It has this cooling effect, and you do it underneath or above—it just brightens up your eyes. Sometimes I’ll do this for my slightly fancier days when I have more time to do my makeup.
I do not use mascara because I have extensions on. They save me so much time. Because my hair is so fine, mascara is such a process for me. I have to really coat it again, and sometimes it gets clumpy. The extension place I go to is this girl in Korea called Lash Queen. I like it because it lasts for four to six weeks. But if I’m not in Korea for six weeks plus, the one place in New York that I think does a great job is called Lash Forever in Midtown. Having lashes is pretty low maintenance. I would just say you don’t want to rub an oil cleanser on your lashes a lot, especially if you're wearing a lot of eye makeup. I don’t wear a ton, so it’s not that bad. But if I were, I would probably use Q-tips around it just so it lasts longer.
After I do all my makeup, I put Espoir Pure Radiance Glowrizer on the parts that I want a little more shine or dewyness, and it blends right in. It’s not a look every body wants because it’s not matte, and I know that women here especially sometimes prefer a matte look. But I tend to be so dry that I'll take anything with moisture in it.”
—as told to ITG
Alicia Yoon photographed in New York on April 10, 2015 by Tom Newton.