Sabbatical Beauty’s Adeline Koh on How She Develops Her Powerhouse Skin-Care Products

The ingredient obsessive shares a peek inside her process in her Bok Building studio.

sabbatical beauty skincare

Adeline Koh, founder of Sabbatical Beauty, in her in her studio/shop in the Bok Building. Photograph by Nell Hoving Dixon

Ingredient obsessive Adeline Koh — founder of Sabbatical Beauty — on the powerhouse potions she mixes in her Bok Building studio

What I make: Asian-inspired skin-care products that have high amounts of active botanical ingredients.

How I got started: I moved from the tropical climate of Singapore — where I’m from — to zero-degree Michigan to go to school in 2002. My skin was terrible. After school, I got a job as an English professor at Stockton University and moved to Philly. A dermatologist here told me moisturizers are basically scams, so I started researching and discovered Korean beauty.

About my company’s name: I went on sabbatical and started reading more about skin-care ingredients. I was frustrated with how products contain so little of certain helpful ingredients — like ginseng — so I bought a chemistry set and started formulating my own. And my skin finally got better.

The concept behind Asian beauty: It’s all about layers. There can be three to 12 steps. It’s like a skin-care wardrobe: Put on what you need. In Asian skin care, you’re encouraged to play around.

How I launch a new line: I’m always improving and adjusting my formulas. I have a group of testers who give me great feedback. I can go through three to four iterations of something before it’s ready.

Standout ingredients: This summer, I released a cleanser and toner with kombucha made by local company Baba’s Brew. I went down a research rabbit hole and learned a lot about the skin microbiome and how kombucha makes it happy. Koreans are also obsessed with donkey milk for its renewing and anti-aging properties. I get mine from a small family farm in Greece where I know the animals are treated well.

Best-sellers: Vacuum cleaning oil. I called it that because it vacuums out your pores. And the Asian Powerhouse and Marine serums.

Published as “Gimme Some Skin” in the September 2020 issue of Philadelphia magazine.