This New Beauty Subscription Box Company Is All About Normalizing Acne
When 26-year-old Nia Lee was hit with acne at 18 years old, she over-exfoliated to such an extent that she damaged her skin barrier. She says, “I wish I had known that pimples are fine, oily skin is fine, you just need to make sure it’s taken care of and healthy.”
To ensure others don’t suffer her same fate, Lee’s new Toronto-based subscription box company Oilee Skincare is spreading the message that acneic and oily skin is totally normal. Full-size products within its quarterly boxes, which are priced at 99.99 Canadian dollars on a one-off basis and 379.96 Canadian dollars on a yearly basis, don’t go to battle against blemishes. Rather, they support long-term skin maintenance.
“People just want to know that their skin is healthy and what healthy skin looks like. The beauty industry has ingrained in our minds that healthy skin looks like flawless skin with no bumps and no texture—and that just doesn’t exist, ” says Lee. “We have to get that out of our brains because healthy skin is what is beautiful.”
Lee has a lot of experience in the beauty industry. Four years ago, she broke into it as a sales associate for NYX Cosmetics, and went on to work for Deciem and Bite Beauty. As the pandemic took root last year, beauty retail and services came to a halt, and Lee found herself without a job. It was the first time she’d been laid off, but she didn’t allow it slow her down. She promptly established the firm Socialee Media Agency to amplify beauty companies’ social media reach and began thinking about starting her own beauty venture.
“I knew I wasn’t going to be able to come up with a brand that hadn’t already been on the market,” says Lee. “So, in order to stop the saturation, I said to myself, ‘I love the idea of a subscription box, and I love the idea of curating dope indie and POC-owned brands that may have great products for oily and acne-prone skin, but may not be getting love because they aren’t in Sephora or being peddled by influencers.’”
“The beauty industry has ingrained in our minds that healthy skin looks like flawless skin with no bumps and no texture—and that just doesn’t exist.”
Launched Dec. 1, Oilee Skincare’s debut box contains five products from brands Lee had already been incorporating into her skincare routine. The products are Evreda’s Oiliness & Breakouts Cleansing Oil, ÖKO Skincare’s Purifying Gel Cleanser, Take Me Away Essentials’ Charcoal Bentonite Facial Mask, Cheri Mai Skincare’s Orange Blossom Stimulating Toner and Baha Lux’s Bimini Blue Facial Oil.
Named for Lee’s surname as well as oily skin, Oilee Skincare is kicking off as conversations about acne have been shifting. In a 2018 article on celebrities and influencers fighting the stigma around acne, The New York Times asked, “Is Acne Cool Now?” Brands like Starface, ZitSticka and Hero Cosmetics celebrate rather than hide pimples.
Still, prior to Oilee Skincare, Lee hadn’t run across a multibrand platform that made acne acceptance its modus operandi. “There’s boxes for haircare. There’s a box for perfume, but there hasn’t been a box for oily and acne-prone skin,” says Lee. The gap in the market was surprising to her given the prevalence of acne. “Acne is the No. 1 skin condition in the U.S.,” says Lee. It’s estimated 50 million Americans deal with acne annually. During the pandemic, incidences of acne have only increased.
Subscription box sales jumped at the outset of the pandemic. They’ve ebbed since then, but indie beauty brands continue to rely on them to promote trial. Lee’s goal is to place about five products in each Oilee Skincare box and, for future boxes, she’s been hunting on social media for indie brand possibilities that stay away from ingredients that aren’t the best for acne. Her preference is for cruelty-free, vegan brands that feature natural ingredients. While some products in Oilee Skincare’s boxes will be relatively high priced, she’s aiming for the brands included in them to be affordable for customers to replenish. Brands with products priced at roughly $20 are ideal.
“Our mission with Oilee Skincare is to be the No. 1 destination for those who have oily, acne-prone skin.”
“I’m letting them know that you being part of this box isn’t just you being part of this box. It’s you being part of the community,” says Lee. “People are going to want to know you and support you. I really look at the box as a gatekeeper. We are the gatekeeper for products you should use—or avoid—if you have oily and acne-prone skin.”
With the help of graphic design studio Azetta Designs Co. and photographer Tatiyanna Williams-Britton, Oilee Skincare has created a bold aesthetic for an audience that doesn’t shy away from being bold. Lee envisions its core customers as 18 to 20 year olds not timid about sharing their acne history and the products they depend on, but also not interested in banishing every little imperfection.
“This box isn’t looking for the end-all, be-all solution. The person looking for this box is looking for a place to belong and be at home,” says Lee. “The acne and oily skincare world can be clinical and cold, but I’m the opposite of that. I’m like let’s do color. Let’s show real skin. Let’s make some noise. Let’s get feisty. Let’s have some fun.”
Oilee Skincare is attempting to make noise with its content. Lee is active on Instagram and TikTok highlighting its box and the products within it. Demonstrating how to apply the products in videos is an important strategy. Lee is going to be growing a content library featuring tips, expert interviews and consumer profiles.
Lee’s sales objective for Oilee Skincare’s initial year of availability is fairly conservative. She’s building it as she concentrates on her social media agency, too. Her target is to sell 250 boxes. Eventually, she says, “Our mission with Oilee Skincare is to be the No. 1 destination for those who have oily, acne-prone skin because we feel not enough brands focus on embracing it, but, instead, focus on getting rid of it altogether.”
Feature image photo credit: Tatiyanna Williams-Britton