How Cocokind's Founder Turned Her Acne Struggle Into a Wildly Successful Skincare Brand
"I wanted to create a more transparent, affordable brand that wasn’t playing off the terrible emotion of desperation."
While some things in life are too good to be true, finding effective, but inexpensive, skincare products are one of the exceptions. Just take cocokind founder Priscilla Tsai's word for it.
Not only did she single-handedly turn her struggle with adult hormonal acne into a successful skincare brand now sold at major retailers such as Whole Foods, Target, Ulta.com, and Nordstrom, but they're all under $25.
However, Tsai says she was met with skepticism when she first launched in 2015.
"I had so many people tell me in year one that I should charge way more for these products and that people aren't going to believe us at this price point," she tells InStyle. "I knew that the clean category was going to grow very quickly, and that there was a place for more affordable options. I wanted to be able to reach more people."
The brand's products are built around tried-and-true superfood ingredients like matcha and plant-derived innovations such as bakuchiol. While cocokind has become known for their formulas designed to be effective, but gentle enough for sensitive skin, the brand has also built a following thanks to Tsai's transparency about her "worst skin days" and interaction with its social media followers.
Here, we caught up with Tsai to find out how she turned her biggest insecurity into a successful brand, why she created the brand's products, and her advice for small business owners.
Tell me about your personal skin journey.
I dealt with such bad hormonal and cystic acne as a teenage and in my early 20s. I was on really harsh topical prescriptions, including antibiotics and birth control, to treat my skin and it was just a really bad experience both physically and mentally. If I had a really bad breakout, I wouldn’t even do simple activities during the day. I felt desperate and tried to “fix” my skin by buying expensive products. When I started to have some stomach issues because I was on antibiotics every day for three years, I ended up having to quit those prescriptions, and with that came the discovery of learning about what ingredients I was consuming and what was in the skincare products I was using. I started doing DIY face masks, oils, and things like that, and it was the first time I applied something to my skin that didn’t sting, make me red, or dry me out.
How did your experience inspire you to start cocokind?
These ingredients were so simple and working for me, but I couldn’t find anything with them in it. However, it took me a couple years to decide to start this company because my skin was still such an insecurity of mine. This was over five years ago, before the acne positivity movement we’ve seen on social media. While that’s one of the reasons why I started cocokind, the second was that I wanted to create a more transparent, affordable brand that wasn’t playing off the terrible emotion of desperation. I was inspired by a lot of the food companies at that time who were doing clean and sustainable better, and wanted to bring the same level of transparency to the beauty industry.
What's your approach to creating products for your brand?
We always try to balance giving people what they want from us with trying things that are new, unexpected, and test the boundaries of our brand. Generally, with innovation, we’re always looking to our demographic because we know them very well. We want to innovate in a way that makes us continue to be the go-to brand for our customer.
The clean beauty space has evolved so much since you started cocokind. What do you think still needs to change?
I think complete product transparency is still missing, from how you build it, how you set pricing, to what the packaging is made of. We do a lot of that, but it’s something we’re going to continue lean in on that to make sure that when it comes to education, we can be one of the go-to brands for consumers.
What product from the line are you most proud of?
Our Daily SPF is one of our most recent wins. It’s a physical sunscreen so it won’t ever be as transparent as a chemical sunscreen, period. However, I think we did a very good job and it’s one of the best we’ve seen on the market. We were committed to producing a physical SPF and struggled for three years to get to the point where it was the best we could possibly do. I feel great about how well the formula performs for a wide range of skin types.
What is the most important lesson you've learned about running a small business during a pandemic?
I think resilience is just so important for anybody who’s starting a business. Sometimes you have a plan, but you can’t always execute that plan. You have to figure it out and be resilient and ok with the different paths you might have to take.
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Shop cocokind's Fan-Favorite Products
Mymatcha All Over Moisturizer Stick
This stick might look like the average lip balm, but it's so much more. Use the matcha-infused moisturizer to quickly treat dry patches, puffy under eyes, and of course, chapped lips.
To buy: $9; target.com.
Oil to Milk Cleanser
When it comes to cleansers, there's a fine line between "clean" and "too clean." Centered around fermented oat, this oil-to-milk face wash rinses away makeup, excess oil, and other impurities without leaving skin dry, tight or with a filmy residue. It's packaged in a recyclable tube made from sugarcane-derived materials.
To buy: $18; target.com.
Organic Rosewater Toner
This single-ingredient toner is the epitome of a multitasking skincare product. Use it to double cleanse, as a refreshing mist, or to set makeup. The organic rosewater soothes, hydrates, and helps maintain skin's pH balance.
To buy: $17; target.com.
Resurfacing Sleep Mask
A face mask that works when you sleep, this overnight treatment contains bakuchiol, wild indigo extract, and beta-glucan. Together, these ingredients can improve the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, redness, and dryness.
To buy: $22; cocokind.com.
Physical sunscreens are notorious for leaving a white cast, which is what makes cocokind's Daily SPF exceptional. Made with reef-safe zinc oxide, this lotion absorbs into skin with minimal residue. It also offers protection from potential blue right damage.
To buy: $24; cocokind.com.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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