This Local Skincare Company Owner Spends Her Nights Learning Martial Arts

Adeline Koh, owner of a Korean-beauty inspired skincare company, runs on yoga, martial arts, and kombucha.


After a rigorous training session, Koh poses with Ish, the owner of Martial Posture. / Photograph courtesy of Adeline Koh.

Welcome to Sweat Diaries, Be Well Philly’s look at the time, energy, and money people invest in pursuit of a healthy lifestyle in Philly. For each Sweat Diary, we ask one area resident to spend a week tracking everything they eat, all the exercise they get, and the money they spend on both. Want to submit a Sweat Diary? Email [email protected].

Who I am: Adeline Koh (@adelinekohphd, @sabbaticalbeauty), 40

Where I live: Graduate Hospital

What I do: I founded and run Sabbatical Beauty, a luxury, handcrafted Korean-beauty inspired skincare company. I formulate all my serums, cleansers, toners, and masks myself and we hand-make everything in our lab/studio in the Bok Building.

Before that, I was a tenured English professor at Stockton University, and I’ve also held fellowships at the National University of Singapore, Duke University, and the University of Pennsylvania. I left academia for Sabbatical Beauty in 2017. It all started when I went on sabbatical and started to formulate my own Korean beauty products because I was unhappy with the existing formulations out there. Many mainstream Korean beauty products proclaim they have things like Ginseng in them, but the botanical active ingredient is usually low on the ingredient list. I started making my own products and my skin got so much better that my other professor friends wanted in on the action. I started an online shop and did well enough that I saw a way to focus on running my own company full-time.

What role healthy living plays in my life: It would surprise most people who I grew up with that I’m as active as I am, given that first of all, I was the sickly kid who always sat out gym class because of asthma, and secondly, I’m very uncoordinated and have a terrible sense of balance. I would say, though, that what I do have is a dogged ability to work hard, and a lack of embarrassment at how bad I look when I’m doing something. I find that these two qualities have helped me move across different fields throughout my life — from transitioning out of a tenured English professor position to becoming a small business owner to trying to learn martial arts when you get right and left mixed up a lot.

Health memberships (and what they cost):

  • Martial Posture — $110 per month
  • Amrita Yoga — $66 per month for eight group classes (I get a discount because SB is a retail partner.)
  • Classpass — $39

Monday

In between writing content to promote on Sabbatical Beauty’s social platforms, Koh makes an Asian rice and tuna bowl for lunch. / Photograph by Adeline Koh.

7 a.m. — Up slightly later today because my rescue pup Cooper had an upset stomach last night and I had to get up in the middle of the night to clean up his accident. Wake up and offer the poor pup a smaller breakfast today because he’s under the weather.

7:30 a.m. — I make myself a raspberry passion perfect energy Yogi tea and start working immediately. I set aside most of today to do a lot of web design, including creating a new blog post on my upcoming Crystal Queen skincare collection. Other things I have to work on today: updating my social media ads, creating and scheduling Facebook and Instagram content, and a whole lot of other things like renewing business insurance.

11:45 a.m. — Still working and there’s so much I have to do that I’m barely making a dent yet. I drink a Brew Doctor Kombucha (I can’t get enough of kombucha). I usually try to intermittent fast on most weekdays because it helps me to think more clearly, so my first meal is lunch, and kombucha gets me through the mornings. I also do a quick skin refresh with my micellar beauty water on a cotton pad, add some donkey cream and sunscreen (the single most important step to preventing further signs of aging).

1:30 p.m. — Not really hungry but I know I need to eat. I make my own Asian rice bowl with good quality canned tuna, short grain white rice, sesame oil, green onions, and masago, plus some nori on the side. I follow that up with a few slices of pandan honeycomb cake made by Monmoney Prak from my skincare brunch party with Caphe Roasters last weekend.

2 p.m. — My poor pup just started throwing up red chunks. I’m worried and call the vet. I was supposed to check out Freehouse Fitness for a class with my friend Nicole Rossi, my Bok neighbor who creates the most gorgeous floral arrangements. But since Cooper is sick, I cancel my evening plans to take him to the vet.

6 p.m. — Our vet at World of Animals is giving him an anti-nausea injection and some fluids, and says he should be okay. Thank goodness! My husband says, “I came with an dog, I left with a camel” because he’s got a little bit of a hump on his back where the fluids were injected.

6:45 p.m. — I stop by the grocery store to pick up canned chicken for Coops as he needs a bland diet for the next week. I also grab chili toppings for my husband’s dinner tomorrow and some Greek yogurt for myself ($24.23).

7:20 p.m. — I do an at-home martial arts workout since I missed my other planned one. Warm up with jumping jacks, mountain climbers, pushups, regular and jump squats. I do a bunch of drills (flutter kicks, regular kicks, my studio Martial Posture’s version of the Dirty Dozen), and do a bunch of hip stretches. It takes me about 40 minutes with some rest in between drills.

8:30 p.m. — I make Tamago Kake Gohan with instant dashi, leftover katsobushi, and green onions with soy sauce. Topped with masago and nori. Tastes amazing, looks…not so much. I then have a few leftover pandan waffles from last weekend, plus another kombucha.

10 p.m. — Time for my shower and skincare routine. I use an oil cleanser (my vacuum cleaner cleansing oil), my inflammation reducing Chang E’s silver moon pearl serum, my cannabis sativa balm (no THC), and then do my Guasha facial massage routine to settle down before going to sleep.

Daily total: $24.23

Tuesday

As a thank-you for helping cover the counter, Koh is treated to complimentary lunch at Poi Dog Philly. / Photograph by Adeline Koh.

6 a.m. — I wake up, but am too busy snuggling my dog child in bed to actually get up until 7 a.m.

8 a.m. — I was scheduled to go to a women in food and hospitality meeting at Barbuzzo (my philosophy is that my skincare is basically my grandma’s soup on my face) but Coops is being clingy and a little off, so I decide to work from home instead to keep an eye on him.

8:30 a.m. — My manager calls in sick. Everyone is sick or getting sick. Really hoping I’m not next! I drink a Yogi tangerine stress relief tea followed by a kombucha to try to keep the germs away. I get back to work on my insurmountable pile of to-dos.

11 a.m. — I take Coops with me as I drop off some Sabbatical Beauty goodie bags to Kiki Aranita at Poi Dog Philly for a party that she’s catering. Kiki also hooks me up with a free lunch because I helped her cover her counter last week for a few hours as her counter staff is in the hospital for a broken leg. I tell her that for her food, I will work for her whenever she needs me.

11:30 a.m. — I said to myself that I’d try to not eat fried chicken during this Sweat Diary but obviously I lied to myself. Poi Dog’s mochi nori chicken with red cabbage and short grain rice is incredible. I eat half the plate lunch and two coconut butter mochis and feel instantly happier.

12 p.m. — It’s snowing out, although that wasn’t in the forecast. I make chili using this recipe for my husband’s dinner and shredded chicken breast for Cooper’s treats this week.

1 p.m. — Back to computer work. I write copy, create graphics, and schedule a few social media posts. Coops is doing better, now bugging me for table scraps which I can’t give him because he needs to stick to a bland diet. I boil some chicken and shred it to give to him as replacement treats.

3 p.m. — I head over to Bok to prep for a skincare party I’m throwing for some of the Philly Mag staff.

4:30 p.m. — The staff arrives and I give Gina Tomaine a hug as we’ve been fans of each other’s work for a while now, despite never having met. We enjoy some wine as they try all the steps and mask. Once they leave, I clean up and head over to my martial arts class.

7 p.m. — I arrive at Martial Posture. I started learning martial arts here a few months ago and am addicted because of how challenging it is, and because it melds so many different aspects of physicality: flexibility, movement, cardio fitness, strength, and precision. It’s hard AF, but my instructors Vicente and Thomas are super sweet and always encouraging, making it easy to want to keep learning. In tonight’s adult class, I learn a new Judo technique called O-goshi, a major hip throw. I really suck at it but I get better the more I practice. That’s what I appreciate about it, working at the drills piece by piece means eventually I can execute the movement, just with enough patience and relentlessness.

8:30 p.m. — I am home and starving. I eat my leftover mochi nori chicken with additional rice, top it with masago, one spam musubi, three little chocolate wafers and the rest of the coconut butter mochi. I am sad that the mochi is gone and make a mental note that I need more in my life. I have another kombucha.

10 p.m. — I shower and realize I totally forgot to do my skincare routine this morning. Bad beauty boss. I do the same routine as last night, watch MSNBC as I play Angry Birds Match to wind down, and then go to bed.

Daily total: $0

Wednesday

To start off most weekday mornings, Koh rolls out her mat and flows at Amrita Yoga. / Photograph by Adeline Koh.

6 a.m. — I wake up, pet Coops, feed him and take him out, and thank the stars that yoga is 5 minutes away. I think the universe listened when I said that I needed a yoga class I had no excuse not attending when Amrita Yoga opened up so close to me.

6:30 a.m. — Yoga with Tracy Phoenix. I love this space so much. I usually come early to sit in heart bench for a while. Tracy is amazing as usual, super tuned in to the class’s energy. She leads us through an energetic, challenging flow that heats us up and stretches us out for the day. I leave in a good mood.

7:45 a.m. — I hit the grocery store to stock up on kombucha (there’s a special going on!) and more chicken for Coops ($21.52). Coops is doing better, although his GI is definitely still stressed out (let’s just say someone has been stinking up rooms a lot).

8:15 a.m. — Back home for another work-from-home day. I vow to get my crystal skincare collection blog finally written today. I open and consume one of the new kombuchas I just bought.

12 p.m. — Been making some headway on copy, finally. I eat my last spam musubi and make a rice bowl with plain rice and these *amazing* seitan red-braised “meatballs” that Ange from the amazing Malaysian restaurant I’m obsessed with, Sate Kampar, made last weekend. I get full a few bites into the rice bowl and put it away for later.

4:45 p.m. — I snack on a Greek yogurt, some toasted nori strips, and the last few slices of the pandan honeycomb cake (*sob*).

5:30 p.m. — I’m still behind in work, so I decide to skip my evening martial arts class and continue working.

6:30 p.m. — I stress-eat a few chocolate covered cookies and almonds which makes me realize I need breakfast for dinner to satisfy my sweet tooth: I have rolled oats with protein powder and maple syrup topped with almond butter. I then make myself a berry orange tea with some hydrolyzed collagen.

9:30 p.m. — I have another kombucha and decide to head to bed in half an hour. Exhausted.

Daily total: $21.52

Thursday

Koh’s evening skincare routine includes her hand-made oil cleanser, inflammation-reducing serum, THC-free cannabis sativa balm, and a Guasha facial massage. / Photograph by Adeline Koh.

7 a.m. — Still exhausted despite sleeping in a bit. Feed Coops who is upset he can’t have his regular treats yet. He’s doing a lot better, though.

8 a.m. — I reschedule some appointments originally happening today for next week since I need to get my online work finally completed. It’s another day in a creative hole. I also need to plan out updating my customer touch point journeys. I’m overwhelmed with everything I have to do, but I usually am! I get started with some Yogi tea.

10 a.m. — I’m finally on a roll, hoping it keeps going! I have a great idea for Instagram engagement and just posted it.

11:30 a.m. — Still on a roll. I have another kombucha. Did I mention I was working on a kombucha skincare line for spring 2020 as a collaboration with Inspired Brews? It’s going to be awesome!

1 p.m. — I get stuck with a photo editing issue, so I decide to take a break and make lunch. I make a quick dashi broth with kombu kelp and anchovy stock and make a pumpkin tofu miso soup.

3:45 p.m. — I finally finish my behemoth project: the crystal collection blog post. Now for all the plugging and scheduling. I’m exhausted, but the biggest thing is done for the week. Now for all the fires that have been waiting for me…

4:45 p.m. — I eat a few handfuls of dark chocolate covered almonds and a little dish of Annie’s cheddar bunnies.

6 p.m. — I arrive at Martial Posture to join the teen class because my usual instructor Vicente isn’t around. We do conditioning for most of the class, and then work on some kickboxing drills after. I have a really nice partner named Triona.

7 p.m. — I stay for a second class because enough people come for an adult session and Thomas the instructor says it’s okay to stay if I want to work out more. I basically can’t get enough of martial arts so I’m like heck yes! We work a lot more on techniques in this class, ending with working a lot on the O-goshi throw I started learning on Tuesday.

8 p.m. — Stop at Tsuki Sushi to pick up dinner for me and the husband. I get the three roll special ($47.80).

9 p.m. — Craving some sweetness, so I eat three chocolate covered cookies and have a kombucha.

10:30 p.m. — I shower, realize again I am a bad beauty boss because I forgot to do my morning routine. I end the evening with my go-to skincare regimen.

Daily total: $47.80

Friday

Koh’s Sabbatical Beauty space in the Bok / Photograph courtesy of Adeline Koh.

6 a.m. — I’m up and the dog wants to snuggle so it’s hard to drag myself out to go to yoga.

6:30 a.m. — Yoga with Tracy again. I’m always amazed at what an amazing teacher Tracy is and what command she has of the physical body and how to explain how it works to people. This morning she basically has does do flows with every yoga lunge you can think of, and the final flow has vinyasa thrown in between each lunge. It is obvious and fitting then that I leave sweaty af. I think sweatier than after my two-hour martial arts sessions yesterday.

8 a.m. — Check in at work on my laptop, then take a shower and do my morning routine. This morning it’s my vacuum cleaner cleansing oil, the brightening Carol’s sake and rice serum, and donkey cream followed with sunscreen.

11 a.m. — I’m at Bok meeting Jessica Weaver because I’m starting to research traditional Chinese medicine more and developing TCM-influenced products like the Chang E’s silver moon pearl serum. Jessica tries on all the SB (you can do that too if you make an appointment for a “Skincare Party for One” with us). We also plot putting together an Asian skincare event where folks come and wear masks while getting acupuncture at the same time for 2020.

1:30 p.m. — I walk a few blocks from Bok to get to I Heart Cambodia. Their food is amazingly done with care and attention I don’t often see outside of Southeast Asia. I get the Cambodia seafood rice soup and fried dough (really similar to the Chinese fried crullers I grew up eating with congee) ($13).

5 p.m. — My staff left but I’m still editing photos for Instagram and working on some content in the office.

6:15 p.m. — I get to Martial Posture, super excited because I get to work with Ish, who is the owner. I’m always amazed by how he executes postures without even really seeming to put effort into it. Today he’s working with me on the spinning back kick, and some moves that will lead into some pretty intense spins. I do a starter version of what will one day turn into fake-out kicks with one leg and kicks with the other leg all while spinning around. We then end by practicing sets one through 10.

7:30 p.m. — I pick up dinner from Rosy’s Taco Bar ($73.56). I get a tequila shot while waiting because why not.

9 p.m. — For dessert tonight: a chocolate Pejoy (basically filled Pocky sticks) packet and two kombuchas.

Daily total: $86.56

Weekly totals

Money spent: $180.11
Workouts completed: Seven
Kombuchas consumed: 10

Want to hear more from us? Join Be Well Philly at:
FACEBOOK | INSTAGRAM | NEWSLETTER | TWITTER