Skin Deep

ABOUT FACE: Amy Liu

by Carissa Zadwarny

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Skin Deep

ABOUT FACE: Amy Liu

The founder behind Tower 28 talks all things clean beauty.

It seems like all great beauty brands blow up virtually overnight. One day you hear about them and the next, they’re suddenly everywhere. Although this idea of overnight success couldn’t be further from the truth, it’s a testament to how incredible the visionary behind the brand is. Amy Liu is exactly that for Tower 28 Beauty. She’s the powerhouse founder that took the idea for a clean but fun beauty brand and made it come to life.

Amy has an impressive marketing background, having worked for some of the top beauty brands including Smashbox, Josie Maran and Kate Sommerville. Take one look at her branding and it’s pretty obvious that Amy knows a thing or two about standing out in a competitive market. 

We talked with Amy about everything from why clean beauty to how her perspective has changed since having kids. She dishes on the secret ingredient that made her number one product and what’s up next for Tower 28. 

CZ

How did you become passionate about clean beauty, and about providing quality products for those with sensitive skin?

AL

It sounds cliché but it’s true — once you get pregnant, you start feeling very aware and responsible for what you put on your body and in your bloodstream. For my kids, I tried to make sure they ate local and organic, but even though I live a decently healthy lifestyle, the cost differential held me back from doing those things for myself. Then one day I was wearing a liquid lipstick and my daughter wanted to kiss me in hopes of getting it to transfer to her own lips. I remember so vividly how much I did NOT want her to have that on her lips, but then I thought — wait, I’m eating it! That moment, plus working at Josie Maran Cosmetics (which was an early pioneer of clean beauty), made me realize how important clean beauty is since it is currently so poorly regulated.

CZ

What was it like to launch your own company? What was the first product you launched at Tower 28?

AL

It’s been an incredible journey. Starting my own company, Tower 28, is literally a dream come true. I am so grateful to have the opportunity. Growing up, my dad was (and still is!) an entrepreneur, and from a young age it’s been my dream, too. The problem is, I’m naturally risk-averse. I don’t even like to play slot machines! So instead I prepared myself — I got my MBA from USC with a concentration in Entrepreneurship, then worked for founder-based beauty brands for 15+ years so I could learn on someone else’s dime. I read books with titles like “The Lean Startup” and “Zero to One” and listened to every episode of “How I Built This.” Basically, I kept preparing and hoping, but I wasn’t DOING anything. Then one day I had coffee with an old friend from business school (and also my co-President of the Entrepreneurship club!). He encouraged me to raise money and get started, reminding me that I wasn’t getting any younger (Yikes. But true!). He offered to be my first investor and I am eternally grateful because without his initial vote of confidence, I don’t know that I would have done this. We launched on April 16, 2019 with three products: SOS Daily Rescue Facial Spray, SuperDew Highlighter Balm, and ShineOn Lip Jelly in shade Chill. All three products are universal, without any shades. I wanted the assortment to be a tightly curated representation of the philosophy, including both skincare and makeup, without initially adding the confusion of shade choice.

CZ

Some of your products have the National Eczema Association Seal of Approval. Why was that important to you to have as a feature of your products? What exactly does it mean to have that designation?

AL

Out of personal need, I had used the NEA to help guide my own purchases and screen out potential irritants. It was only natural to also use their seal of approval guidelines to help shape our formulations for Tower 28. I realize not everyone has eczema like I do, but I think many people want to avoid potential irritants, and NEA does an extremely comprehensive job of that. In order to get their seal of approval you must follow their no-no list. Then once you have a formulation, you have to have it third-party tested (on humans, not animals!) to verify it is not irritating, and then a dermatologist verifies it. It takes more time and money, but it’s important to me that our consumer feel safe. Currently, all our products meet the seal of approval guidelines, but only SOS and SuperDew actually have the NEA seal because they have not decided to move into color cosmetics just yet. We are hopeful! Having the NEA seal of approval helps our customers, whatever their skin issues, feel safe using our products. 

CZ

How did you develop SOS Daily Rescue Spray? How did you discover its star ingredient, hypochlorous acid? What are its benefits?

AL

As an ingredient, hypochlorous acid has been around forever. In fact, hospitals have been known to use it for wound care because of its soothing, antimicrobial, and healing properties. The issue with it historically has been its stability, so the shelf life was questionable. I got turned onto hypochlorous acid by a friend who heard about it and recommended it because of my eczema. My team and I scoured labs to find someone who could make it stable, and once we found someone, tested different pH and concentration levels. Once we found a formula that worked on my skin, both face and body, we got 100 bottles to send out to anyone who was willing. The feedback was amazing, and we heard testimonials about how it helped to instantly calm redness, destress and help heal a myriad of skin issues — from acne to sunburn, post-procedure (lasers, etc), piercings and tattoos, etc. It’s really through testimonials and reviews that we have learned so much about what the product does. Speaking for myself, not until I started using SOS has my skin ever been so reliable. I still get bouts of eczema, but SOS stops it in its tracks, and I haven’t used any oral or topical steroids since I started using it… which says a lot!

“I am a big believer that you are what you eat. Inflammation (and genetics) is the root of all skin issues, in my opinion.”

CZ

What other skincare/wellness tips do you have for those with sensitive skin?

AL

I am a big believer that you are what you eat. Inflammation (and genetics) is the root of all skin issues, in my opinion. I try to avoid white sugar, gluten and dairy. I don’t always succeed, but I try! Like anything, moderation is key.

CZ

What do you think is the biggest beauty myth?

AL

Exfoliation is for everyone! I really think it depends on your skin type, and for sensitive skin peeps, I think it can be too much. Skin is only so thick and as we age it thins, loses its ability to hold in water, etc. With sun damage being so brutal these days, I am very careful about exfoliation. My focus is more on maintaining skin health, including a healthy skin barrier, maintaining a happy pH level, and keeping skin calm, clean and moisturized!

CZ

 What’s next for Tower28? How is the brand evolving?

AL

I’m well aware that there is so much product in the world already, so we will only continue to add products that fill a void (non-toxic, non-irritating, $28 and under) and our community is asking for. We regularly poll our IG community to understand what they are looking for, and definitely use that feedback as a North Star for product development.

CZ

How has your beauty routine and outlook on beauty changed since having kids?

AL

Having kids makes you much more conscious of your time, because you just don’t have as much. Especially when they are little, you have to do so much for them. My beauty routine has gotten simpler; meaning I use fewer products, but I demand more efficacy from them because I need them to work AND be multi-purpose. I’ve always had a pretty “safe” skincare routine because I was so afraid of upsetting my skin, but now that my skin is more under control, I’m able to experiment more. For instance, I am loving the Mara Beauty Oil with retinol. So good!

CZ

What is your holy grail beauty item?

AL

SOS! It has honestly saved my skin, which is the inspiration behind the name. I use it every day, both morning and night, and if I’m going through something, I use it throughout the day, too. Bar none, nothing else has worked more effectively on keeping my angry skin at bay, and I love that it’s only three ingredients and 100% natural, too. I even use it on my kids!

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