How the Korean beauty expert and entrepreneur became the retailer go-to for curating the best in K-beauty.
Written By JAYME CYK
Photography By ANTHONY GOBLÉ
Makeup By JAMIE KELLER
Hair By ROBERT LOPEZ
In a new series, VIOLET GREY profiles female beauty entrepreneurs who are considered industry game changers for their individual approach to business. Each one entered the conversation in her own manner and maintained a steady, if not unparalleled, trajectory with her indomitable spirit. Here, we talk to the founder of Peach & Lily.
Alicia Yoon can remember accompanying her mother and grandmother to the family facialist in Korea when she was 3 years old (Yoon was born in Korea, moved to the United States at age 1, and returned to Korea when she was 12). She wasn’t there to receive a treatment, of course, but—not wanting to miss out on the action—she tried to emulate the process by playing with dollops of moisturizer while lying on one of the facial beds. Little did Yoon know that this experience would become part of the fabric of her love affair with Korean beauty.
As a high school student in Seoul, 17-year-old Yoon also attended a separate beauty school and received her aesthetician license. “In school I learned what really worked for my eczema-prone skin,” she explains. “It gave me the knowledge to feel more empowered in my own skincare routine.” By the time she went off to New York City to attend Columbia University, she was somewhat of a beauty guru and became the skincare adviser to her friends and confidantes. Yoon went on to Harvard Business School, and then worked for the Boston Consulting Group, where she had a career-changing conversation.
“I was walking down the hall one day, and a cosmetic chemist asked if I was Korean,” explains Yoon. “He said, ‘Your country makes the best skincare.’ A light bulb went off. I [had always] loved Korean beauty because I grew up there, but to hear an expert really validate it, I figured there was an amazing opportunity to bring K-beauty products to the U.S. that weren’t widely available in the States. I ended up going to HR that day, and I told them I wanted to finish the project I was working on, but then I needed to leave to start my own company.” And that’s exactly what she did.
Yoon unveiled Peach & Lily, a curated Korean beauty e-commerce site, in 2012. Naturally, because she didn’t want to bring products to the market that could easily be found in the United States, her curation process involves extensive research. “It has to be results driven and it has to be very straightforward,” says Yoon. “We always test these brands on focus groups made up of people who have a specific skin type or skin concern or who are in a certain age range. Then each tester is given a very detailed survey. We want to know about their experience. If it’s bad or if it seems like a chore, people won’t stick with it.” This extensive research, product knowledge, and understanding of what products work best and for whom have placed Yoon in the superior position of all-knowing Korean beauty expert. Just ask companies such as Target, Macy’s, and Barneys, all of which have enlisted her to curate their rapidly expanding K-beauty selections. The secret is out: Korean beauty is IN. #Bigtime.
What is the atmosphere of your bedroom?
It’s cheerful and airy, and sunshine streams in all day long. There is white furniture and a panoramic view of the Hudson River. My husband keeps the apartment stocked with freshly cut flowers and always puts a bunch by my side of the bed. We also keep our phones outside the bedroom in a charging station when we go to sleep. It’s serene and feels like a meditation zone.
Please describe your bed and your favorite thing about it.
[It’s] a Japanese bed that has been pieced together like a jigsaw puzzle without any screws or a box spring. It has a low frame, and I love that it is soft on top but has full firmness and support. The bed has this super Zen vibe.
What time do you wake up?
Either 6:15 or 7 a.m. I have an alarm clock with these two preset settings and it’s a hassle to change, so I choose a time based on how late I go to bed. The 6:15 alarm makes bird noises and the 7 o’clock one makes ocean sounds, so before going to sleep, my husband and I will say to each other, “Bird or ocean tomorrow?”
How many hours of sleep do you require?
Six is plenty for me. If I sleep four hours, I’m tired but it’s not too bad. I’ve never needed a lot of sleep.
Any bedside beauty essentials?
Flowers, alarm clock, whatever book I’m reading, and my bedside beauty products for those nights when getting up to do a skincare routine is not happening. These include Koh Gen Do Cleansing Spa Water Cloths, the S-Energy Long Lasting Concentrated Serum (my favorite anti-aging serum), and the Peach Slices Citrus Honey Aqua Glow, which is a buildable serum-and-moisturizer in one so I can apply one layer on more humid nights and three layers for dry nights, and I wake up glowing.
I also have a box of the Peach & Lily masks with all three kinds to use when skin has different needs: Good Skin Day for total radiance, Chubby Cheeks to brighten and plump up, and Reset Button. I love sheet masking in bed—it’s so relaxing—so this is a necessary staple.
Do you drink coffee or tea, eat breakfast?
Tea, always. A Korean barley tea or a Japanese green sencha tea. And breakfast 99 percent of the time. Eggs and avocado drizzled in sesame seed oil with a little bit of salt. And sometimes bacon, and also kimchi, which I think goes with everything.
Do you work out in the a.m.?
No, unless you count my 25-minute brisk walk to work.
What is your morning skincare regimen?
I use an oil-based cleanser to remove my oil-based night cream and any impurities on my skin. I love the Cremorlab Cleansing Gel Oil because it’s super lightweight yet removes everything.
I follow up with a water-based cleanser. This two-step process is key to cleaning pores without stripping skin dry or disturbing the skin’s moisture barrier. I have been using the Shangpree S-Energy Facial Mousse Cleanser for a couple of years. It has a low pH so it keeps the skin barrier intact and sulfate-free, and it is so great that it actually doubles as a treatment. You can leave it on skin for around five minutes instead of washing right off—I love that it doubles as a wash-off mask. Lavender, oxygen, and herbal extracts totally energize skin, and I’m always really radiant and supple after this treatment.
Next comes a hydrating toner. I use the Be the Skin Botanical Nutrition Power Toner because it contains royal jelly, which soothes my eczema-prone skin. Korean toners usually don’t include alcohol, so unlike an astringent, it’s really all about balancing your skin’s pH for optimal skin health and kick-starting hydration for your skincare routine.
An essence is a must in a Korean beauty routine. I’ve used an essence for as long as I can remember. It is formulated to super-soak your skin with hydration, which is one of the best ways to keep skin functioning in an optimal way. I switch between the cult favorite Cremorlab Mineral Treatment Essence and the Cremorlab Aqua Essence Water Fluid.
Next comes my favorite serum, the Shangpree S-Energy Long-Lasting Concentrated Serum. I started using this a couple of years ago, and then I stopped wearing makeup because over time my skin texture became really refined and firm.
I sometimes mix in the Dream Age Radiance Powder Essence to combat any sunspots.
I also mix in an oil because I have dry skin and lack lipids. I rotate through a lot of different ones. Currently I love the Drunk Elephant Virgin Marula Luxury Facial Oil.
I struggle with undereye dark circles, so I’m constantly on the hunt for eye creams that help with this. The Cremorlab Shadow Off Eye-Cream is incredible for hydrating, firming, and illuminating the eye area—but most of all, like its name says, the shadows come right off. If I want a more intensive eye treatment, I first use the Shangpree Gold Black Pearl Eye Hydrogel Eye Mask, then follow up with this cream.
A moisturizer I reach for often is the Shangpree Bitgoa Hue Rich Cream because it’s intensively hydrating but light. And makeup wears well over this, with no pilling.
The Kicho Ultra Moisturizing Sun Cream is my go-to for SPF because it’s totally invisible and weightless.
If I had a late night or have any important meetings or events, I like sheet masking in the mornings. The Peach & Lily Good Skin Day mask always lets me pull off the ultimate good skin day.
While I put on my serums, I do some facial massages to stimulate blood flow and work out the muscles. I also do a very quick facial yoga routine. This all sounds very involved, but without the sheet mask, the whole thing takes five minutes, and it’s a part of my “me time” each morning, so I savor each moment.
What’s your hair situation in the a.m.?
I have long, naturally wavy hair. It gets tangled when I sleep, so I usually braid it or tie it loosely so there’s no need to brush it to get the tangles out. I run my fingers through my hair, and I'm out the door! I rarely use product, but when I do it’s the Ouai Texturizing Hair Spray for more volume.
If I shower in the morning, I either air-dry for my more naturally curly look, or I’ll twist hair in two big sections as I air-dry hair for looser waves. I like both looks, so it depends on my mood. Unlike my skincare routine, I am pretty low-key about my hair.
What business do you conduct before 10:00 a.m.?
Because of the need to touch base with the team, brand partners, and other suppliers in Korea, this early morning is usually reserved for Korea calls.
What time do you head to your office?
I like to be at my desk by 8 a.m. at the latest, so I’m usually out the door by 7:30. A layering Korean skincare routine can be pretty quick! As soon as I head out, I have my headphones on and I’m talking to folks in Korea while I walk to the office.