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How Topicals Skincare Founders Won the Gen-Z Fanbase | Interview

It started with Mean Girls. In the cult comedy, the titular girls keep a Burn Book filled with photos of their classmates and epithets describing them. Budding skin-care company Topicals, a brand formulated with chronic skin conditions top of mind, wanted to co-opt the Burn Book’s psychological message and flip it on its head. 

So on October 3, 2020 (Mean Girls fans will recognize this date immediately), Topicals released its own version filled with relatable acne experiences from a diverse array of young influencers and takedowns of the beauty standards they wish didn’t exist. In this book, skin descriptives like “ugly” and “bad,” even the glorifying “perfect,” are banned. 

“Our whole goal is, how do we help people transform the way they feel about skin?” says Topicals cofounder Olamide Olowe, 24, who has had hyperpigmentation, pseudofolliculitis, and skin inflammation issues. “But it also is just unlearning a lot of the negative thoughts that we have because the beauty industry has drilled a certain message,” Olowe adds. 

The brand’s tagline? “Funner Flare-ups.” 

Olowe and cofounder Claudia Teng, 24, launched Topicals in August 2020 with two products: Like Butter, a hydrating mask, and Faded, a gel to help minimize hyperpigmentation and brighten skin. They formulated the products using what they call “medicated botanicals,” packing them with naturally-occurring licorice root and colloidal oatmeal chosen along with other tried-and-true synthetic skin care ingredients like niacinamide and azelaic acid with the aim of agreeing with all skin types and tones. 

Olowe and Teng, who met through a mutual friend, are part of a new generation of beauty consumers turned entrepreneurs who are fundamentally changing the industry. If millennials are all about the well-staged, filtered, often homogeneous Instagram aesthetic, Gen Z is about unfiltered TikTok videos, championing inclusivity in beauty while challenging brands that don’t embody it, and openly accepting what might be considered flaws. To help get their message out to consumers, Olowe and Teng tapped into the burgeoning Twitterverse of aestheticians and beauty influencers. They also use Twitter to get feedback about their products, recently improving Faded after they got complaints about the smell. (There were so many complaints that it became a running joke for the brand, which tweeted self-deprecatingly about the stinkiness.)

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