Scrolling on TikTok as I often do before bed (healthy habits), I remember pausing on a video of a woman applying blush with the caption “Why did I make the first color-changing blush oil that works with all skin colors?”
Intrigued, I stuck around to find out. While blending pink perfectly onto her cheeks, Fiona Co Chan went on to explain the proprietary, oil-based formula and why she founded her beauty brand, Youthforia. Others were clearly intrigued, too — the video has nearly 200,000 likes and 1.4 million views.
Youthforia has become one of the hottest beauty brands to watch, and one of the most loved by Gen Z after videos took off on TikTok. The company is less than a year old, dreamed up during the pandemic while Chan, 30, was holed up in a Hong Kong apartment.
Before the pandemic struck, Chan was working in enterprise sales, flying between cities in “the middle of nowhere” Asia where big data centers are located. Many of the towns were heavily polluted, and she noticed that she was breaking out in acne all over her face.
“I remember going to sleep with an N95 on because it was so polluted, and I realized I was really reacting poorly to the environment,” said Chan. “The skincare I was using in San Francisco wasn't working anymore.”
When COVID hit in March 2020, she found herself stuck in Hong Kong (she was living in SF at the time, but had been visiting her then-boyfriend, now-husband and unable to return) and decided to use the time to start her own business focused on beauty that is actually good for your skin. She joined fellow pandemic entrepreneurs that started more than 4.5 million new businesses during 2020, the highest total on record.
Chan had realized that before the pandemic, makeup, for her, was about going out, feeling good, and seeing friends — the anticipation of a good night to come. And she was the kind of person who wouldn’t bother to wash her face before going to sleep, which she says could wreak havoc on her skin.
“I'm just someone who, if I have a sip of wine, I'm just going to sleep in my makeup. I've been doing it for years and would feel guilty,” she said. “I would even have allergic reactions to it sometimes. One year I had to go to the hospital and miss Christmas because of that.”
After researching production and distribution facilities, as well as formulas, Youthforia was born — with the mission of making make-up so good for you that you could sleep in it and have better, not worse, skin in the morning. Immediately, she knew she didn’t want to use any fossil fuels or chemicals (which make up the vast majority of products) and instead go route of bio-based beauty and green chemistry, which “no one was doing.”
“I had this realization that the bigger negative impact of what you're consuming in beauty can actually be in the formulas more than the packaging — for example, there's more liquid plastic in a lot of shampoos than the actual container,” she said.
While some companies like Seventh Generation have used these sustainable methods in their soaps and detergents, the innovation wasn’t happening in beauty. “No one was talking about this,” chan said. “No one was doing anything about it.”
The reality is that using plant-based ingriedients have both less negative impact on the planet — and great skin benefits. She got to work Googling, talking with experts, and finding sources for ingredients. “It was a lot of like WhatsApp messages, sending notes through video, developing the language to describe textures or feels and function without actually being there,” she said.
Before launching, Chan slept in the products for two months and had her husband do the same thing. “The morning after, my skin was really nice,” she said. Finally, Youthforia launched in March 2021 focused on building an organic following. When coming up with the branding, Chan wanted the company to feel fresh, from the packaging to the organic social marketing.
“I always intended to be a TikTok native brand,” she said, noting that since Hong Kong bans the app, so she needed to move back to San Francisco to launch the business. “The week we launched, I had no furniture. I was like, okay, I'm ready to be on TikTok. I hadn't really been on it before, but was just like ‘I’m going to just learn’.”
For the packaging, Chan wanted something vibrant: the colors are neon, the font bold. “I liked what the luxury fashion houses are doing right now, and I just didn’t see that in beauty packaging,” she said. “I just remember looking at my bathroom counter and everything was black and white or pink and white. I wanted more color.”
Youthforia first launched with a line-up of lip glosses and its now-famous blush, which has a formula that changes based on your skin tone — an idea she came up with the idea after completing make-up training. “I realized make-up artists learn how to blend things really well because the formulas don't make it easy. I wanted ours to be,” she said.
“I really wanted to make a universally flattering blush that worked for all skin types and skin tones, that gave a dewy effect. I didn’t see a blush oil out there exist. A lot of blush can look cakey or powdery, especially on more mature skin types and. I know my mom always complains about, so I wanted to make a blush that I knew that she wouldn't complain about that.”
Despite being billed as a Gen Z brand that’s gone viral on TikTok, a large percentage of its customer base is over 50. Instead of focusing on synthetic materials that are supposed to be
“anti-aging” like the rest of the beauty industry, Chan wants to source ingredients good for any age and create a youthful flow.
“They just love that the products, and have worked really well for their skin,” she said. “And that was something that was pretty surprising for us. “The name Youthforia nods to that feeling of the utter bliss of youth, like when you're an adult and you're just reminded of your favorite childhood memories.”
Moving forward, Chan is focused on growing Youthforia’s customer base while expanding the product line. “Next year, we’re moving more into face with new products in January to help develop the fuller routine philosophy that I've developed,” she said. “I've been working on these formulas for a long time, and I'm pretty excited to expand.”
Chan continues to seek inspiration and look for what’s next in beauty. She thinks China beauty trends (such as having more fun with eye shadow and different ways to contour) will make a US appearance soon, along with Y2K comebacks.
“I'm looking at a ton of references from things that I liked growing up, which is a pretty fun thing to do,” she said.
Overall, she’s excited to stay fresh and keep pushing boundaries in the industry. Chan’s ads and branding are inclusive, with many skin tones and gender fluidity with men and women featured.
“Our customers don't have a certain look that they do every day. They change their make-up, their outfits,"she said. "I always wanted to make sure that we had in a brand that wasn't so prescriptive.”