Wo Skincare founder: ‘Simplicity’ is key for our brand – a far cry from the world of ‘fast beauty’

By Kacey Culliney

- Last updated on GMT

Wo Skincare offers a small range of daily facial care mono-dose creams and serums designed to be used as a two-step routine [Image: Wo Skincare]
Wo Skincare offers a small range of daily facial care mono-dose creams and serums designed to be used as a two-step routine [Image: Wo Skincare]

Related tags Indie beauty sustainable beauty Sustainable packaging Personalisation beauty tech D2C active skin care

D2C UK indie brand Wo Skincare wants to empower a new wave of consumers that use only what they need, when they need it – very different from traditional mass buys and trial and error routines, its founder says.

Launched in August 2020, Wo Skincare offered a small range of multifunctional daily facial creams and active serums, designed to be used by women and men in a simple two-step routine. Individually packaged in mono-dose vials or blister packs, consumers selected suitable SKUs using the brand’s online skin diagnostics tool.

Wo Skincare’s range was currently available on its own-brand website as the company was direct-to-consumer (D2C), though it was currently looking into partnership options to launch on the high street soon.

Building a brand that moves away from ‘fast beauty’

Karen Lee-Thompson, founder and MD of Wo Skincare, said she developed the brand to plug a gap in the skin care market – sustainable simplicity.

“My dream was to create a brand that would really help people to make everything simple,”​ Lee-Thompson told CosmeticsDesign-Europe.

After 20+ years in the corporate beauty world, most notably working as part of the NPD team for Walgreens Boots Alliance, she said the aim was to only produce products for specific consumer needs.

“My job has always been about creating NPDs, beauty innovations. And every single day we’re chasing innovations and launching products – some whether the consumer needs it or not. That whole decade of fast beauty really hit me in the end.”

That was why Wo Skincare had designed its skin diagnostics tool and tested its proof of concept in collaboration with the UK’s University of Bradford pre-launch, she said.

Diagnostics to develop the ideal ‘skin care wardrobe’

Wo Skincare's digital diagnostics tool recommended products according to real-time consumer needs [Image: Wo Skincare]
Wo Skincare's digital diagnostics tool recommended products according to real-time consumer needs [Image: Wo Skincare]

The online tool created a personalised skin score for consumers based on eight core concerns, including sebum production and sun exposure, among others. Using an algorithm designed to look through a raft of published scientific data, the tool then matched active ingredients and formulas to personal consumer needs.

Lee-Thompson said the diagnostics tool was a means for consumers to select the right amount of product, for any given fortnight or month “because your skin is changing all the time”.

“It depends on lifestyle, diet, the environment, the key is to be able to pick up on those cues. …We’re thinking like a wardrobe – a skin wardrobe with lots of different combinations for your skin.”

What this then enabled, she said, was for consumers to reduce the overall number of skin care products they used.

“Industry still encourages people to use lots of products, lots of steps; they continue to create loads of NPDs and I think the opportunities are for the brands that really understand that consumers need a simpler lifestyle.”

Personalised, efficacious, and simple were the future of skin care, she said, because these concepts directly catered to beauty consumer needs today.  

Reduce, reuse, recycle – ‘our packaging is a key differentiation point’

Wo Skincare's founder said its packaging was sustainable not just because of the material but overall reduction concept [Image: Wo Skincare]
Wo Skincare's founder said its packaging was sustainable not just because of the material but overall reduction concept [Image: Wo Skincare]

And this tied into an important company value, Lee-Thompson said, to reduce, reuse and recycle, most notably via packaging. “Our packaging is our key differentiation point.”

The whole range, she said, was packaged using 100% recyclable PET plastic; fully recyclable due to sustainable printing methods and no stick-on labelling. Wo Skincare's vials were also made using 80% recycled PET. The mono-dose format then reduced waste typically seen when consumers used larger-sized bottles or jars of active skin care products, she said.

“When it comes to sustainability, especially packaging, a lot of the time people only look at one element, which is the material itself. But for me, sustainability is a much broader thing. Reducing waste is the biggest thing, I personally 100% believe, in this industry.”

“…The beauty industry has a habit of building beautiful products, but my approach is how can we strip all that back and make it as simple as possible?”

Wo Skincare’s mono-dose concept not only managed consumption at consumer-level, she said, it also reduced any stability, efficacy or safety concerns for the active formulas.

The brand also delivered its products via the UK’s Royal Mail postal service in a recyclable bag that doubled up as a bag to dispose of each of the empty doses, and every order came with one single product leaflet explaining the contents and how to use each SKU.

“Sustainability is the biggest challenge for everybody’s agenda. I know a lot of the bigger companies are coming together, trying to form a collective and tackle issues together, but I do think between the ‘big boys club’ and indie brands there needs to be a bridge in between, to elevate everyone in this industry to be able to achieve the greater good,”​ Lee-Thompson said.

Beyond the UK – Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and the US

Over the next three to five years, she said Wo Skincare would continue to expand its footprint and presence in the UK and would eventually look to expand beyond its home market. Countries like Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore had already shown interest, she said, but the sizeable US market was also a long-term goal for expansion.

Karen Lee-Thompson, founder and MD of Wo Skincare
Karen Lee-Thompson, founder and MD of Wo Skincare

“In the UK, I’m determined in the next year (…) to put out more experience-based space, to connect with consumers more. Because I think, at the end of the day, skin care is such a sensorial product – you have to let people experience it, play with it. And our product is designed to stand the test of texture for all kinds of people.”

Asked how the brand would remain competitive in a surging sustainable skin care market, Lee-Thompson said: “Our whole design, from being a multifunctional product to the packaging choice and ingredients we picked that give the best performance (…) I think we are way ahead of the game. I can confidently say that.”

Wo Skincare would also continue communication on its clinical trial data for the brand’s hero products – the four daily base formulas and its revive oil – along with results from a 60+ strong consumer panel for the rest of the range.

“As an indie brand, we’ve gone above and beyond. I came from Boots, so the only way I know how to develop products is Boots quality,”​ she said.

Moving forward, however, it would be good for the skin care category and wider beauty industry as a whole to stop seeing each other as competition, she said, and act more as “allies that can do the right thing for the next generation”.

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