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This CEO Cares About Your Sensitive Skin

by Hannah Smith

Though the beauty industry might seem like an expansive field, the options for sensitive skin are slim to none. Enter Tower28, a beauty brand that prioritizes safe skincare for all. Founder Amy Liu is really a force of nature, and her emphasis on inclusivity, accessibility, and efficacy is changing the face of the growing non-toxic beauty industry. Get to know more about Amy’s entrepreneurial journey ahead.

You’re a veteran in the field – tell us about your first foray into the industry. 

After graduating from college, I entered the workforce as a consultant at Accenture. It was a great first job, but I never loved it because you can’t be as vested since you are only a consultant on a project. My whole life, I’ve been drawn to the way beauty products can change the way a person walks through the world. I decided to let my passion lead my career path, and spent the next 15 years working for really inspiring indie brands like Josie Maran, Smashbox, and Kate Somerville. I’m so grateful for my time at these companies where I honestly made some of my best friends (who gratefully answer questions for me, too!). Working so closely with other founder-based beauty brands when they were growing quickly gave me a lot of insight into what I’m doing now. I learned so much! Plus, I’d like to think all my time as an employee will help me be a better employer! 

What was your “Aha!” moment for Tower 28? Did you find a gap in the market, an underserved demographic, what was that? 

As someone with a history of sensitive and unreliable skin, I couldn’t even enjoy the best part of working in the beauty industry: trying out all the products! Even the clean alternatives were either sensitizing, super expensive or too clinical, like they were coming straight from the doctor’s office. For some people, skin sensitivity is a flare-up here and there so they treat it temporarily with some colloidal oatmeal product or a steroid – when it’s over they go back to their regular routine. But for me, using clean nontoxic products and caring for my sensitive skin is an ongoing thing and I didn’t want to be stuck reaching for products everyday that made me feel like a patient. I try to lead a decently healthy lifestyle in general and realized it wasn’t carrying over to my personal care life. This is the white space I hope Tower 28 can serve: as an approachable beauty company inclusive of all skin tones, skin types, budgets, and beauty philosophies – but still FUN and reflective of the healthy LA lifestyle I know and love.

What are your words of advice to an aspiring beauty entrepreneur?

Don’t Let Fear Rule You, and learn from everything you do. I have always wanted to be an entrepreneur. When I was younger, I was afraid to go out on my own because I thought I didn’t know enough (I didn’t!), and I told myself I needed to learn on someone else’s dime. In my case, I think that was absolutely the right path. It was invaluable for me to wear so many different hats, which I had to since these were small companies. I learned the “right” way to do things, along with many mistakes along the way. 

But once I got experience, I was afraid to fail for a million different reasons – what would people think? What if I fail? Am I too old? I’m a mom with three kids, how can I handle this? Btw, those are all really valid fears! Instead of feeding into the fear though, I tried to work with them. For instance, instead of worrying that I’m too old, I hire smart, capable young people who are way trendier and cooler than me! When I started Tower 28 I realized (ironically) that I knew less than I thought I did, even though I’m well aware I know more than a lot of other people who don’t have the benefit of my experience. I think the goal is really to gain confidence and then just take your shot! I’m so grateful I didn’t let those fears hold me back (even though they are still there, if I’m being honest with myself!)

What’s the one thing you’re most proud of in your career?

My network. The beauty industry is a small one, especially on the west coast. I used to teach at FIDM, and I would always tell people my #1 piece of advice: Be Kind. You never know when you will run into someone again, and in what capacity. That doesn’t mean to be fake, of course! Generally speaking, I subscribe to the idea of being generous first and giving before you get, and I truly think it’s come back tenfold, especially since starting Tower 28. I feel grateful that I’ve been able to mix business with pleasure; I like to say that the beauty industry is my adult sorority (including men, of course!). I love that now I get to choose who I work with, and have access to amazing talent who are amazing people, too! I’ve never been the kind of person who is different at work than I am at home, so it’s nice when the worlds can collide.

What was the lowest moment of your career and how did you get past it? 

I quit one of my jobs without having a plan for what’s next, and that was the scariest thing I’ve done professionally (which I realize also means I’m pretty privileged). Turns out it was the best decision I ever made! I was unhappy for a long time, and while it was the right thing to do, it was the first and only time I had veered away from my very linear and almost perfect resume at that point. My identity felt very confused for a period of time, and so did my schedule. Work was everything! I took some time off and consulted for small, digitally native brands so that I could keep my toe in the water. But I also just spent time being a mom! I had my third child, which I probably wouldn’t have done had I kept working. We bought our first home and completely gutted it, which I was in charge of, and that oddly gave me a lot of confidence to start my own business. I spent time with friends and myself. I recharged. But I always missed working full time and had this dream of starting my own brand. A friend told me, “You can have it all, but you can’t have it all at once,” and I believe that. I’m so grateful to have had that time and experience, but I’m loving this one, too!

What does clean beauty mean to you? 

For Tower 28, “clean” means that our products are made with non-toxic, non-irritating, good-for-you ingredients. It means no essential oils, no fragrances, and no animal by-products. We have an extensive blacklist on our site that lists toxic, harmful ingredients we avoid that can wreak havoc on your health. Since the beauty industry in the US is wildly unregulated, we formulate our products to comply with EU Regulation, California Prop 65, and Credo Beauty Standards AND the National Eczema Association’s seal of approval guidelines to ensure our products are non-irritating, too.

One misconception about the term “clean beauty” is that it doesn’t necessarily mean “non-irritating”; I think a lot of people don’t realize that. We are proud to be the first beauty brand that’s 100 percent clean, vegan, and free of every known skin irritant.

How would you define your skin?

I have had sensitive, problematic skin my entire adult life, which generally presents as eczema. Over the years, I’ve realized that for my body, these flare ups are a reflection of diet and genetics (my dad has it, too). There was actually a period of time when it was so bad that I wouldn’t wear shorts or skirts because my legs were so scarred. I lived near the beach in Santa Monica, so this was problematic! 

Before I created our SOS Daily Rescue Facial Spray, I was relying heavily on topical and oral steroids to manage my eczema for longer than I care to admit. Gratefully, with the help of this miracle product, I no longer have to take steroids to keep my skin under control. My eczema still flares up but SOS stops it in its tracks so it doesn’t spread.

What are some of the biggest struggles you’ve faced with cosmetics and skincare?

Even within the clean beauty space, there has always been a really beautiful selection of skincare products that are specifically designed for sensitive skin, which is great progress. However, it was difficult (actually impossible!) to find options for makeup that wouldn’t irritate sensitive skin. This was super frustrating, because when you have a skin condition like eczema you want to cover it up with product, but that actually makes it worse since the ingredients can be super irritating!

Feature Image via Tower28 Beauty

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