Thursday, December 12, 2019

Interview: Zhao and Ronald of Tea.L

Zhao and Ron (photo courtesy of Tea.L)

As I've gotten older, I've become picky about my skincare. I'm always looking for natural products that don't have any harsh ingredients. Recently the folks from Tea.L reached out to see if I'd like to try their tea-based skincare products. A company that sells natural products made with tea? And we're talking, real, loose leaf tea with minimal processing? I was all-in.

I've been using the eye cream, face lotion, and body lotion for a few weeks, and I've really enjoyed them. I love the texture and scent (they really smell like tea!), and my skin feels super-soft. Over these last few weeks questions about the products have popped into my head, so I thought it would be fun to do an interview with founders Zhao and Ron. Below you'll find out all about why they made tea-based skincare products, the importance of using real tea, and the beauty of tea and self care.

photo courtesy of Tea.L

The skincare industry is a crowded space. Why did you decide to make tea infused skincare products?

It is indeed a very crowded space. Per NPD group, the past two years have seen over 100 new luxury skincare brands debuting in department and specialty stores. Many of these brands have tea claims in their products, however as tea lovers, we are having an extremely hard time finding one authentically made with real tea, everybody seems to be hiding behind ‘tea extracts’ and ‘fragrance’. We found ourselves asking, why can’t we treat tea in skincare as who they are when we drink them? That was really the genesis of TEA.L, if we can’t find one, let’s create our own! As we started our R&D process, we learned that each tea has its unique profile when it comes skincare benefits, just like their profile of color, texture, aroma and taste. Who knows rooibos and yerba mate each contains polyphenols not found in green tea? And this further reinforced our belief that all the tea lovers, regardless of where they are in their tea journey, they deserve to enjoy tea on their skin with the same authenticity in their drinks.

How did you choose the types of tea you use in your products?
We did the intuitive thing which is diving into our root as tea lovers. Ronald worked for a major Canadian tea brand for years when the loose-leaf tea movement just started to take hold in the US consumer market. Zhao came from a Chinese family with tea drinking habits that lasted for 3 generations (one of the things he packed with him when he moved to the US was a jar of his family’s favorite dragonwell). We have our favorite teas to drink but we knew from early on that we need to put in the hard work and expand our knowledge in understanding how these teas can benefit our skin. So, we spent 2 months digging into academic papers on dermatology and cosmeceuticals to learn everything there was about studies on tea’s effect on skin (with some help from friends in the skincare industry). And we lined up about 8 tea candidates including 3 green tea varietals (Gyokuro, Dragonwell and Sencha) based on our research. The next 6 months was endless trial and error on the other ingredients (oils, butters and extracts) and the infusion process. We had friends and families who volunteered to test our early prototypes, so we were very fortunate to have their feedback to improve on. The biggest challenge was to retain the scent of the tea while maximizing the effectiveness of the antioxidants. 8 months later, we finalized the teas and tisanes that are currently in our product: dragonwell, rooibos, guayusa and yerba mate.

photo courtesy of Tea.L

How do you source the tea and herbal tea used in your products?
We work with local vendors who demonstrated sufficient knowledge in tea and passed our own taste and infusion test. Once we reach the scale with early adaptors of our products, we plan to expand our partnership to work directly with farmers from the tea’s origin countries.

What sets your products apart from other skincare products that include tea?
The fact that we are a tea-first skincare brand who uses organic loose-leaf tea and tisanes with minimal processing and maximum preservation in our products. And this is driven by our vision to bring tangible value to our customers’ self-care routine, whether they are looking for more ways to benefit from tea or introducing tea as a new element in promoting a youthful look. There’s so much hype and so many new trends out there in skincare, and we aspire to help our customers create authentic self-care rituals that actually work for themselves.

How long did it take to create your formulations?
The formulas we put into production took about 8 months to develop, and formulation process does not end there. We’ve already received feedback from early adaptors and started improving certain aspects of the formulation.

photo courtesy of Tea.L

Your website mentions you also include ‘tea infused oils’ in your products. What kind of oil do you use, and how does it get infused with tea?
We infuse 7 different types of premium oils with organic dragonwell green tea, including Cranberry Seed Oil, Rose Hip Oil, Squalane, Jojoba Oil, Kukui Oil, Oat Oil, and Argan Oil. We chose these oils as they are proven to promote a youthful glow without causing acnes. You can check out the ingredients page on our website to learn more about the benefits of these oils. We use the warm infusion method which involves soaking tea leaves in these oils at a precise temperature for at least 2 hours to help extract polyphenols, catechins and other vitamins from tea leaves. We have a short video on our Instagram showing the end result, the infused oil takes on a gorgeous amber color!

On your site I love that you mention in your About Us, ‘Everyone deserves self care and every tea has a role in providing that care, regardless of how they are commonly labeled (yes, the tea and the people).” Can you elaborate a little more on this?
This statement came from a place really close to our hearts. Both me and Ronald learned the importance of self-care, both physically and mentally, while growing up gay in small towns. And I personally immigrated to the US 10 years ago from China with limited language skills and zero acquaintance. As we stumble and tumble to establish an authentic self in our adulthood, we have to fight the stigma and prejudice associated with the labels put on us. I think a lot of people nowadays can relate to that experience to a certain extent, and that experience continues for all of us. Through TEA.L, we want to empower everyone with labels on their backs by giving them an authentic way to heal after they work so hard to establish their true self. Tea, for the longest time, instead of being known by their names, origins and unique profiles, carries a color category and lives in a teabag. So I can’t think of a better vehicle to carry that message.

Zhao and Ron (photo courtesy of Tea.L)

Do you have your own personal tea rituals?
Yes! I (Zhao) usually have 4 cups of dragonwell a day and I changed it up once in a while with Guayusa (if I need more caffeine) or some sort of Chinese black tea. Ron, on the other hand, prefers Gyokuro or Yerba Mate in daytime. We do enjoy Rooibos together after dinner to aid digestion or mellow down before bed.

What do you see for Tea.L in the future?
We hope that TEA.L will lead another wave of tea awakening for its role in skincare, just like how loose-leaf tea did with drinking tea. We believe this can be achieved when we connect with the tea lover community through their skincare routines and refresh the definition of tea in people’s lives.
Thank you to Zhao and Ron for taking the time out for this interview! If you are interested in trying the Tea.L products, they are currently running a holiday promotion of 30% off your entire order which is taken automatically at checkout, no minimum. The sale ends at 12am on 12/26. These are great products to give as holiday gifts, or to keep for your own self-care.

1 comment:

  1. Hey this is a great interview! I just added these products to my Christmas wish list! Thanks for the introduction!