When James Sun was 12 years old, he would rub the insides of orange peels on his face.
He had read that orange peels had acid that neutralized oil, so he thought he had discovered an all-natural remedy to combat pre-teen acne.
“It’s too strong, but I didn’t know it at the time,” Sun said. “But it felt good doing it, and that’s the thing with beauty products — it’s gotta feel good.”
Sun is the CEO of the popular Korean beauty website Beautytap, which opened its first retail store at South Coast Plaza last weekend.
Special guests included K-pop star and fashion icon Jessica Jung, whose Blanc & Eclare skincare line is featured in store; Young Kim, the Korean American politician running for California’s 39th Congressional District; and beauty influencers Fei Yang of HeyitsFeiii and Fifty Shades of Snail’s Jude Chao, who is also Beautytap’s director of marketing.
Chao began experimenting with Korean beauty products in 2013, around the time Korean beauty started to become more mainstream in America, with the formation of e-commerce companies like Peach & Lily, Glow Recipe and Soko Glam.
As a blogger, Chao amassed an avid following by writing reviews and educating readers about popular K-beauty ingredients like snail mucin (slime), which keeps skin hydrated and dewy. Recently, she's been recommending donkey milk-infused water drop creams, which are full of antioxidants, and turn into tiny beads of water when they touch the skin.
“I think a lot of Asian cultures are more texture-driven than Western ones,” Chao said. “And it’s such a competitive market in Korea that they work so hard to create products that are fun to use, whether it’s the packaging, the interesting textures, or the cute animal characters.”
Sun wants Beautytap to become a physical version of the welcoming community they’ve built online. He wants beauty fans to come hang out, use their Wi-Fi, read curated skincare books, attend events and try new products they’ll bring in every month without the pressure to buy.
“If you’re reading advice from a professional who’s working on Kim Kardashian’s face, it’s intimidating,” Sun said. “But if someone is saying, `You have oily skin, and I also have oily skin, let me tell you what works for me.’ That’s way more open and transparent and enjoyable for everyone.”
Ultimately, beauty is about self-care, said Anna M. Park, Beautytap’s editor in chief.
“When you take the time to learn what makes your skin healthy, and you do that ritual every morning and night, this is time you are taking to focus on yourself,” she said.
Sun knows there’s a male audience for his products as well.
“My male friends think I’m nuts because I do it all: the double cleansing, the toner, the serum, eye serum, definitely the masks,” Sun said. “But in Korea, every man does skin care. If you think about it, Koreans put pictures on their resumes, even when they are applying for a normal job. That’s why Koreans care so much about how they look and taking care of themselves.”
Back in 2005, Sun gained some fame as a finalist on “The Apprentice,” Donald Trump’s reality competition show featuring entrepreneurs. According to Sun’s account, when he asked why there hadn’t been an Asian guy on the show before him, the casting directors told him Asian men don’t make for good TV.
“It just made me realize that even now, Asian Americans still have a hard time breaking through to mainstream audiences,” said Sun, who comes from the tech industry. “So after selling my last company, I made it my personal goal to become a bridge between Asia and the U.S.”
Beautytap’s grand opening is coming only a few weeks after an Irvine attorney’s Facebook post complaining about “all the Asians who flooded into Orange County and then took over our mall at South Coast Plaza” went viral.
“She’s saying that Asians taking over South Coast plaza is a negative thing,” Sun said. “But I think this just shows that she’s wrong. In working with us, South Coast Plaza is saying, ‘We want to work with this community.’ ”
Sun’s theory is that if Americans love Chinese food, they can’t say they don’t like Chinese people. If they love Korean beauty, they can’t say they don’t like Koreans.