A Better Way To Rate Skincare

Catherine Tan, founder of local skincare brand Crystal Tomato, is no biochemist or skin scientist.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel
Catherine Tan, founder of local skincare brand Crystal Tomato, is no biochemist or skin scientist. What she has, though, is a keen sense of what an effective product should have: a comprehensive ingredient list, solid science and credible clinical trials.
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Entrepreneur Catherine Tan, 69, has a knack for spotting potentially great skincare, addressing emerging needs, and getting clinical results that other products can’t better.

One only has to look to her brand’s first offering: Crystal Tomato skincare supplements. Introduced in 2012, it came about after she got wind that a group of scientists in Israel had cultivated a breed of non-genetically modified white tomatoes with a high content of colourless carotenoids for skinwhitening benefits. When consumed, the carotenoids reportedly accumulate in skin to help absorb UV rays and provide antioxidant protection.

The hitch: the tomatoes were not sold for normal consumption, and one has to eat a lot of them to achieve meaningful effect. Tan wasn’t put off by that. She was convinced that it was a gamechanger, and secured the exclusive rights to the powder version. Then, she appointed an FDA- accredited lab in New York to turn it into oral supplements. Each tablet has a carotenoid content that’s roughly equal to three white tomatoes.

For a product to be credible, Tan knows it needs to have impartial clinical tests and proof – which was why she sent the supplement for voluntary clinical trials at SG’s National Skin Centre (NSC) to prove it can lessen hyperpigmentation and treat melasma. It passed with flying colours. Now, it’s sold exclusively at doctors’ clinics and hospitals, including NSC, NUH Aesthetic Plastic Surgery Centre, and Tan Tock Seng Hospital. If you take it once a day, you’ll reportedly see visible results after two to three months.

More recently, the brand developed the first clinically proven blue light sunscreen, Crystal Tomato Beyond Sun Protection. The idea came about when Professor Steven Thng, the expert who conducted the NSC tests on the supplements, said how blue light is more damaging to skin than UVA and UVB.

Taking five years to create, including lengthy trials and clinical testing in various countries, the sunscreen is a comprehensive shield against not just UV rays but also blue light, infrared and pollution. Its HEV 54 per cent rating means it’s proven to block out 54 per cent of blue light – a feature Tan says no other sunscreen on the market offers.

She says consumers should be aware of one thing when buying skincare: “A product’s efficacies are not necessarily the same as those of its ingredients, since the amount of ingredients a product has can be much less than what was used for the raw ingredients test.

“Besides, when other ingredients are mixed together in the finished product, that can affect the raw ingredients’ efficacies too,” she says.

“The problem with a lot of skincare trials now: they have become consumer care trials, which ask users to rate a product’s effects,” Tan says. “That’s poor evidence.

Using sunblock as an example, she says it’s important to check the score rating. “A sunblock may claim to have blue light protection but at what percentage? If the percentage is very low, that’s as good as having no protection.”

It’s important to learn to read the labels too, “to avoid products with toxic substances such as coal tar, benzene, ethylene oxide, chromium, cadmium compounds, arsenic and mercury”, she says. – GYH