Acne affects millions of Americans, but while skincare has made huge strides in recent years, treating acne has remained largely the same over the past few decades. Hero Cosmetics founder Ju Rhyu stumbled across hydrocolloid patches to help alleviate acne in Korea, and realized they were not only compatible with her sensitive skin but also highly effective. Seeing this functionality missing from the marketplace in the US, she launched Hero Cosmetics, a start-up cosmetics company which released its initial product, Mighty Patch, to an eager audience. As the Mighty Patch proved a huge success, I spoke to Rhyu about her expansion plans this year and why the Mighty Patch resonated so well with the consumer.
Why were you interested in tackling the acne market and what do you think was missing from the marketplace?
I was living in Korea and discovered this concept of acne patches I hadn’t known about before. As someone that has dry and sensitive skin, the treatments out there were too harsh and drying for me. When I realized that these acne patches were really effective but without any active ingredients and worked for my dry and sensitive skin, I knew that there could be a market for this in the US too. We launched with Mighty Patch in September 2017 with this hypothesis and pretty quickly, saw product-market fit. The reason why I think Mighty Patch resonated in the marketplace is that it’s really effective and a lot of our customers love that it’s not drying and is really gentle on skin. When I think about acne care there aren’t a lot of new products formulated, a lot of them are old, from the 1950s even. Customer tastes and needs have changed and even the way they buy has changed. So, when I thought about the broader goal of the company, I thought we could bring new formulations and be a lot more ingredient-forward. So, not use a lot of ingredients that people have flagged as no-no ingredients—alcohol, fragrance, or parabens. We envisioned acne care 2.0 to provide our customers with alternative and better-for-you acne care products.
What is the functionality of it for somebody who has never tried the product?
It’s a hydrocolloid acne patch. It’s a type of gel that absorbs fluid so when you put it on a pimple that has pus or fluid in it, it’ll absorb the pus and inflammation from the pimple onto the patch. It has an origin as a type of bandage or a type of wound dressing. If you think about it, acne and pimples can kind of be like wounds because they can get inflamed or infected. People have different recipes for their hydrocolloid. We don’t use any animal products—there are ones that use gelatin, but we do not use gelatin.
How do you communicate this technology to the consumer?
We try to educate the press and influencers on our various channels. On our website, we have a whole page where we talk about how the hydrocolloid works, what types of pimples and acne it works on and what it doesn’t work on. Then we partner with media as well as influencers to get the word out. We’re also starting to get into paid media, to broaden the reach and awareness so that more people know about what it is and how it works.
I saw that you are part of the skin positivity movement. Can you tell me more about that? How do you embody that in your branding and marketing?
When it comes to acne we live in this Instagram-driven world where everyone feels so much pressure to have perfect skin or wear the perfect outfit. We want people to be okay with the fact that they have acne. Over 60 million Americans at one point will have it, it’s a very common occurrence. Unfortunately, a lot of people feel the need to have the perfect face on for the public. We really try to convey the message that everyone gets acne, it’s totally fine. We want to provide a solution for it, but we don’t want people to feel insecure about it. We just really want to promote a message of acne positivity and inclusivity. We don’t want people to feel pressured to have that sort of perfect airbrushed skin and try to share that a lot on her Instagram. We’ll show a lot of faces with acne or people with the patch. By showing these images we want people to feel like it’s okay for them to post an image where they have, for example, a big pimple on their chin.
That actually raises my next question. What role does Instagram play in your business?
Instagram is one of our most important channels. We get a lot of inbound requests from different people and I always ask, how you find, how did you hear about us? And probably the number-one or number-two answer is Instagram. For us as a discovery aspect, it’s huge. Obviously like for a lot of other brands it’s a marketing channel for us to be able to communicate with our followers and our customers about new product launches, new things that we’re doing and different educational messages that we want to communicate. Instagram is really important for us to grow our community and really create a community of people of acne positivity. People can feel free to share tips or share that not-perfect photo of their skin.
You had a very successful year in 2018. What are you expecting for 2019 sales-wise?
Last year was our first full operating year, and we were all really surprised by the success that we had. We got revenues in the seven figures and I think this year the run rate is probably going to be about three times what we did last year. I see a lot of opportunity with our DTC website. We’re in talks with some pretty big retailers and we’ll probably launch with them on a smaller scale after we can prove that we can do well in store. I think that these partnerships will be really important not just in terms of revenue but also in terms of increasing the brand reach and brand awareness. We’ve been really happy and surprised with our performance.
What are your next steps for the brand in terms of product and growth?
This year we’re going to launch lots of new products which are going to be non-patch products. We’re still finalizing exactly what they’re going to be, but the idea is that the patches are great and we have all different sizes and types for very different needs. However, there are so many other concerns out there that touch acne that I personally think aren’t addressed. This year we’re going to be doing a lot of products for what I call post patch. We’re going to be coming out with some products for people to apply to their routine to really create a regimen for their acne care. With acne when you have the pimple, that’s only one part of it—there are a lot of other issues around hyperpigmentation, redness, or inflammation that aren’t well addressed by today’s solutions. This year you’ll be seeing some new products from us that address some of those things.
Will you be looking to get more funding for your brand to create these new products and accelerate your growth?
At the moment we’re really lucky because we’re bootstrapped and profitable, so we’ll be self-funding the new product launches. I think we’re really fortunate to be in that position, but I do think there’s an opportunity to take out some strategic funding at some point. I don’t know exactly when, but for us it wouldn’t be that we’re raising money because we are running out of money. We’d be raising money because we would just want to add fuel to the fire and grow a lot faster than we are. If we did raise money, it would probably go towards future product launches and also a lot towards marketing growth and marketing expansion. At this point, we’re not raising money, but that could change next year or so.
Photo: via Hero Cosmetics