As a high-schooler in Singapore, Yu-Chen Shih remembers poring over scientific journal databases for information, but, unbeknownst to her teachers, not for class papers. “Many times, I was supposed to be gathering data for a project, but ended up spending hours looking up research on skincare treatments and ingredients,” she recalls. “That’s how I discovered hyaluronic acid, which, when used at effective levels, provides a multitude of amazing skin benefits.” Those early days of research helped lay the groundwork for Shih’s makeup line, Orcé Cosmetics, formulated specifically for Asian woman across the globe.
Pronounced “or-say,” the name of her company is a made-up word derived from the word “force.” “I’ve always felt that the media and many Asian beauty brands tend to portray Asian women as soft-spoken, shy, and submissive, often an object that exists for male desire,” Shih explains. “I think this is an unfair portrayal, because many of the strongest, most inspiring women I know happen to be Asian. Through my brand, starting from its name, I’d like to challenge this outdated misconception. Orcé was inspired by the force of nature that we are!”
A citizen of the world born in Taiwan and raised in Singapore, the half-Malaysian, half-Taiwanese Shih is clearly a force of nature herself. Look back at Shih’s past and you’ll see that Orcé was in her inevitable future—“I’ve always been a beauty product junkie and love dissecting ingredients,” she says—but the idea only started germinating in 2016. While studying at Pepperdine University in Los Angeles, Shih worked at a media planning agency that specialized in diversity marketing. By day, she helped with strategy for several international brands, including a well-known beauty company. And in her free time, she pursued her passion for beauty by studying makeup artistry alongside several esteemed artists. The more Shih learned, the more she was disappointed to find that few beauty brands catered to Asians.
“Despite Asians representing one of the largest ethnic groups in the world, most American beauty brands don’t offer makeup suitable for Asian skin tones and concerns,” she says. “I found that even purportedly ‘Asian’ beauty brands are not actually catering to Asian consumers and lacked relevance among younger people in general. I became increasingly passionate about creating a brand that honors women like myself.” So Shih kicked off Orcé with her Come Closer Skin Perfecting Foundation in six shades—custom-created to cover both light and dark ends of the spectrum, ranging from people of Japanese and Korean descent to Cambodian and Indian. Already in the works? More shades to better serve diversity in the global Asian community. Shih’s also in the process of creating another breakthrough formula: a complementary translucent loose powder that will blur the appearance of fine lines and pores.
Shih is determined not only to develop formulations that enhance Asian complexions, but also to utilize ingredients that address Asian skin concerns. “For example, Asian skin has thinner stratum corneum, which tends to be more sensitive,” she explains. “Since fragrance is a leading cause of skin irritation, we formulated our liquid foundation without any added fragrance. We use Evodia Rutaecarpa [a fruit-bearing plant used for thousands of years in Traditional Chinese Medicine], which has been clinically proven to protect skin from the effects of environmental stressors and pollutants. Also, Asian skin is oilier due to the presence of more oil glands. This causes our skin to be at risk of pore clogging and enlargement, which may lead to the development of acne. Keeping this mind, our foundation is oil-free and we don’t use ingredients that are comedogenic.”
Shih’s Come Closer Skin Perfecting Foundation also includes hyaluronic acid—the powerful humectant she first remembers learning about in her high school research days. “Asian skin is more prone to transepidermal water loss,” she says. “Hyaluronic acid not only boosts moisture in skin, but also helps to retain moisture. It brings other amazing benefits to the table, such as reducing the appearance of wrinkles, plumping and toning, supporting healing, and strengthening the protective barrier, which is so important because skin with thin stratum corneum tends to be more vulnerable.”
But there’s one star ingredient blended into the liquid formula that Shih’s particularly proud of: Tahitian pearl powder. “Our skin is prone to hyperpigmentation,” explains Shih. “We have more melanin, which puts our skin at risk of conditions like melasma, freckles, and sun spots. Pearl powder, which has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for centuries, is revered for its antioxidant properties and is known to brighten, encourage new cell growth, and help repair sun-damaged skin and scars.” Beyond its many superficial gifts, pearl powder also boasts incredible significance to Shih. “When I was a young girl, my mother used to feed me a teaspoon of pearl powder every day,” she remembers. “To her, this was the Rolls-Royce of all beauty treatments. I used to think this was something odd that only my mom did, until I started having conversations with some Asian woman. Many of them shared their own pearl powder experiences; some would have it in their daily smoothie, others would have it mixed into a face mask. But one thing in common was that this was something special their mothers did for them. I realized then that pearls have a strong cultural significance as well, especially for the Chinese community, so I’m very proud to feature this ingredient in our foundation.”
Although Shih owns a makeup company, her philosophy is less about masking imperfections and far more about making women feel beautiful in their own skin. Her outlook is shaped by two contrasting cultural attitudes toward beauty: “I grew up in Asia, but feel like I truly blossomed after moving to the United States when I was 18. When I was living in Asia as a young girl and teenager, I had very low self-esteem and lacked confidence. I felt there was a narrow standard of beauty imposed on me. I was constantly criticized for being too short, too fat, or too dark—due to my mixed background and love of being out in the sun. In Asia, ‘I think you’ll be much prettier if you lose some weight’ seems to be viewed as less of a hostile statement and more as constructive criticism, although it’s no less hurtful to the receiving party!”
Shih’s eventual move to the United States, where she first came into contact with new beauty perspectives and being yourself, was a game-changer. “Of course, American women struggle with the same body image and self-confidence issues,” she says. “But I feel that the standard of beauty here is more flexible than in Asia, especially with regards to weight and skin tone.” Shih recalls how a woman complimented her appearance the year she moved to Los Angeles. “I bashfully disagreed with her,” Shih remembers. “Instead of just going on with her day, she stopped to tell me, ‘When someone tells you that you’re beautiful, accept it and say thank you. Because you deserve it! You are beautiful and you are enough. Don’t ever let anyone convince you that you’re anything less.’ I was completely taken aback by this stranger’s unexpected pep talk, but I remember being so impacted by her words that I was holding in tears when I thanked her. I wish to see more of this not only in Asia, but everywhere in the world.”
Surely that’s a sentiment Asian women the world over can appreciate. And though it will take more than a cosmetics line to help drive this shift, Shih is ready to be at the forefront of it all. Because even though she’s obsessed with ingredients and supercharging her formulations, Shih’s influenced by her own principles. “I’m guided by the Buddhist saying 相由心生, which means that one’s appearance stems from the heart,” she explains. “My interpretation of this is that true beauty radiates from the inside out in the form of kindness, gratitude, and compassion.” We can’t wait to see what this force of nature does next!
For more information, visit the Orcé Cosmetics website.