How much is good quality skincare worth? The founder of The Inkey List makes a case for minimalistic skincare at modest prices

How much is good quality skincare worth? The founder of The Inkey List makes a case for minimalistic skincare at modest prices


Text: Emily Heng

Image: Instagram | @theinkeylist

If there's anything to unite the numerous factions within the beauty community, it is the sentiment that skincare is an investment. Agreed by makeup gurus and skincare savants alike (because all the foundations in the world won't grant good skin, henny) it explains why so many of us are willing to go carte blanche on our bank accounts for a tub of Crème de la Mer. After all, the higher the price, the closer to a god(ly) complexion... or so they say.

Colette Newberry, founder of affordable skincare range, The Inkey List, begs to differ. "From what I can tell, the appeal of luxury skincare has a lot to do with buying into a brand's image. You wouldn't believe how cheap perfume is to make, for instance. It probably costs less than £5 to 10... and yet people are still paying loads and loads for it because they're buying into the brand. They're buying into what the brand stands for."

Brilliant a strategy as it might be, it is not one The Inkey List employs. Priding themselves for advanced formulations, utilitarian packaging, and 'give-it-a-go' prices (no product costs more than $20), they've quickly earned cult-status around the globe, rivalling established online labels The Ordinary and Lixir Skin. Some of you might wonder how the brand makes a profit — and for good reason, considering they aren't exactly scrimping in the ingredients department, which begs the question: how much is good quality skincare really worth? We sit down with the (wo)man of the hour to find out.

The Inkey List utilises a unique single-ingredient concept. How did you guys come up with the idea?
I met Mark Curry — that's the other founder of The Inkey List, by the way — while working at Boots. We've worked in skincare and cosmetics for a long, long time and we just found that there were just so many brands and products out there that it left consumers feeling very confused and overwhelmed about skincare. People got to a point where they didn't know what to buy, so they just don't do it. So, we said, "Okay, what if we could be the brand that makes skincare simple to understand and use?" And The Inkey List was born. It's basically a straightforward take on skincare's most wanted ingredients. If it's called Retinol, it's literally going to be just retinol acid. [Laughs].

'Skincare's most wanted ingredients' don't come cheap. How do you guys manage to price The Inkey List products so competitively?
I worked at Boots, so I know all the main manufacturers that the premium brands use. We acted very differently from most brands, because we cut the middle man out and source the ingredients ourselves. We also save a ton on packaging. We get asked all the time, "Why don't you do some dropper packs? Or fancy glass packs?" and it's because we'd rather spend our money on our formulations than our packaging. That's all there is to it.

That's a pretty revolutionary mindset.
We modelled our business after fast beauty. Our key premise is innovation and getting things to market. A lot of brands I've worked with previously spent 18 months launching a product. They'll get an idea, they'll talk to manufacturers, they'll do some consumer testing... it's just a really long, drawn-out process. I was determined that we'd be different. Our premise focuses more on getting as many people to try out our stuff as possible, gathering their opinions, and such. We choose not to be too precious about things, and it works for us.

Do you struggle with the stereotype that affordability equates second-rate products?
Oh yeah, definitely. It's really hard, and we're so lucky to be partnered with Sephora because everyone knows that Sephora only takes in brands that are of great quality. That's been really helpful. Our main strategy, though, is really just to get people to try our products. Because it's the best way to change people's minds. We send out samples, we get on social media to spread awareness so people understand our brand better... Oh, and the reviews on the Sephora site helps a lot too! We have 20,000 'Sephora Loves' on our Caffeine product.

Have there been products you are dying to develop, but have been unable to due to the challenges you face while sourcing for ingredients?
Good question. We wanted to launch a product quite early on but it took a while to get it right, and that's the Bakuchiol. It'll be launching quite soon in Asia. It's basically a natural alternative to retinol that can be used even on pregnant women. We nailed that, but right now we're looking at this new generation of vitamin C; though it's amazing it'll cost us double the price to sell it as it is. We're looking at different sources, but it's truly a challenge every day. [Laughs] We struggle to make money on the brand! We're bad business people. It's a lot of give and take. Each time we launch, we just hope it sells well. For a few of our products, we end up losing money even when it's selling. But the view is that, once we're get bigger and get into all Sephora stores, people will be buying so many that we'll eventually make money. We just want to start with what's right for the customers, right from the start.

What is The Inkey List's star product?
The Hyaluronic Acid. I'm so proud of our texture! It is a multi-molecular which means your skin just drinks it immediately because it penetrates well. You don't get any tackiness, or stickiness... it's perfect for the weather here. A lot of our products are super lightweight, actually, and sit impeccably under makeup.

What is the future of skincare?
Oh, big question. People want to know what's in their products, now, and in the future. I don't think you can do the whole smoke and mirrors marketing anymore. People want to see the ingredient list. Our brand is called The Inkey List, and it's a play on words because every product has an in key list. I think that's the future — transparency. Transparency is huge, and so is sustainability. We've got another challenge coming up soon because we're going to try ensure our packaging is 90% recyclable over the next six months.