A Woman With Her Head In Her Hands

Skin Synergy


Conversation 5 minute read

Unlocking the secrets of good skin isn’t quite as complicated as it seems. According to Irene Chong, founder of Sage and Ylang, it comes down to one fundamental concept surrounding the skin’s microbiome — keeping the good and the bad in perfect balance.

A Woman Smiling For The Camera

Irene Chong is the founder behind Sage and Ylang, a Singaporean skincare brand that’s also the world’s first customisable microbiome-friendly skincare brand — and now available at COMO Shambhala Singapore. Having trained in Australia, the UK, and Singapore, she’s dedicated to creating skincare that is safe, effective, sustainable, and ethical. 

A Person Pouring A Liquid Into A Container

How did you start your skincare journey?

Having children – five of them! I was always very particular about what they ate. But when my four daughters entered their teenage years, they suffered from a mix of acne and sensitive skin. We were trying everything, from eating organic food to being gluten-free. Through my research on skincare forums online, I realised that there were toxic ingredients in most of the skincare formulations available in the market — but I also knew that some of it could be misinformation. I enrolled for an Advance and Specialist diploma in Cosmetic Science. I started to put together some simple oil-based products for my children. And that’s where Sage and Ylang started — out of a problem I needed to solve for the people I love.

A Hand Holding A Baby's Foot
Louise Delos Reyes With Her Hand On Her Face

What is the skin’s microbiome? Why focus on it?

Most of my children has sensitive skin, so I wanted to create something within that category. In 2016, I discovered  — much to my surprise — that skincare brands which focused exclusively on nourishing the microbiome didn’t yet exist. While the gut microbiome is widely understood, the skin microbiome was more of an up-and-coming field. Yet the concept is so straightforward. The word ‘microbiome’ simply refers to the ecosystem of bacteria, viruses, and fungi that live in and on the human body; they exist on the skin’s surface too. I wanted to create a skincare line that was made with microbes in mind, that was also clean, organic, and effective.

A Person Holding The Head

How does a modern lifestyle affect the skin’s microbiome?

It might sound counterintuitive, but one aspect is actually over-cleansing. A flourishing skin microbiome is one with a balanced diversity of microbes — think of it as tiny warriors that form a protective barrier. When you cleanse with acids or harsh soaps, it disrupts the ecosystem of microbes, and this forms a ‘break’ in the barrier. Opportunistic bacteria then moves in to irritate the skin. That’s why sensitivity often starts with a single red spot. You need a little bit of the not-so-good microbes, to make the good ones even stronger. Or put another way:  There is a healthy balance of good and bad bacteria on our skin. When the skin microbiome balance is interrupted, this will cause dysbiosis, which will result in sensitivity.

A Couple Of White Eggs
A Person Holding A Black Object

What does microbiome-friendly skincare look like?

At Sage and Ylang, our BiomeCare range taps on prebiotics and postbiotics to enhance the skin’s microbiome. The prebiotics, which are derived from chicory roots, feed the microbes on skin, making them happy and healthy, while postbiotics — byproducts of live bacteria — can reduce inflammation, accelerate cell renewal, and enhance the skin barrier. We use a specific strain called lactococcus ferment lysate. There are only three main steps in our range, and everything is intentionally designed to be suitable even for the most sensitive, atopic, eczema-prone skin. All our products have been certified to be good for the skin’s microbiome by two independent labs in Germany and Singapore.

The customisable aspect, where we can really work with skin issues, is enabled by our Beauty Boosters — we wanted the base to be universal, but you’d be able to tailor it to your concerns. For example, one of my daughter just uses the Beauty Essence on its own, but if she has a breakout, she would add a clarifying booster to it. A 50-year-old skin has different needs. My son’s skin demands a different focus again. Our facials are exclusively available at COMO Shambhala Singapore, and the therapist will diagnose the skin type and concern before using the Boosters to personalise each facial experience. The facials also use our new Revitalising Eye Serum.

A Woman Lying On A Couch

How does a less-is-more approach stay relevant in an era of tweakments and trends?

Those with normal skin can typically get away with piling on the products, so they might not be convinced to do something simple for a healthy skin barrier and microbiome. But for our clients, we understand that most of them have tried all kinds of treatments and products — and have developed some kind of sensitivity from that.  Sensitive skin can look like an itchy spot, a burning sensation when you use certain products, or full blown eczema. It’s a spectrum, and addressing it when it's in the very first stages can prevent it from progressing into atopic dermatitis.

A Woman Holding A Broccoli

What are some holistic lifestyle tips to get skin glowing?

Skincare is still purely topical, so nutrition, hydration, good sleep, and exercise is still imperative for getting and maintaining healthy skin. Avoid processed foods, and taking care of your own gut microbiome with probiotics and fermented food can help too.

A Person Holding A Gold Medal

Sage and Ylang’s microbiome facials are available at COMO Shambhala Singapore. You can enjoy nutritious dining from the COMO Shambhala Kitchen choices available at COMO Cuisine on the building’s second floor. You can also explore solutions for better sleep with health-tech therapies when you book an overnight stay at COMO Metropolitan Singapore — all at COMO Orchard, 30 Bideford Road.