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Q&A: CS12 co-founder Ashley Ong on the enduring importance of sensitive skincare

Launched in 2010 by mother-daughter duo Heng Cheng Sim and Ashley Ong, CS12 is a boutique Malaysian skincare brand that’s been steadily on the rise for its impactful take on potent products that work for sensitive skin.

Starting out with its hero product, the German lab-grade Miracle Mask — an uber-hydrating and form-fitting silk mask made for Asian skin — CS12’s repertoire now ranges across all skincare categories, from cleansing and toning must-haves to essences and serums to pack in hydration and nutrients; moisturisers to plump and seal in water; lifting and invigorating eye products, as well as sun protection for every kind of skin type and activity.

CS12 - Ashley Ong
CS12 co-founder Ashley Ong.

We catch up with co-founder Ashley Ong to discuss her decade-long journey as a beauty entrepreneur, her take on skincare trends of the day and how to tackle pesky ‘mascne’ blemishes that have cropped up as a result of daily mask wearing in 2020.

Together with your mother Heng Cheng Sim, you founded CS12 in 2010. Can you take us back to the start — what inspired you to want to create your own beauty brand and share how you’ve been able to take the brand forward into 2020?

It all starts with my mother Madame Heng, an experienced beautician with over 35 years of expertise, who looked for solutions in treating sensitised skin. Treating our own skin was the main concern [at the start], but as time went on, we realized that people around us shared the same concern and CS12 became something that worked for them, too.

What’s the significance behind the name CS12?

C for Cleaner, S for Skin, 12 for 12 months, or one full year.

What were the key takeaways you’ve been able to learn from the past 10 years as an entrepreneur?

The strong mentality that you need to do as an entrepreneur. It is extremely stressful indeed, running the company and at the same time to keep an eye on all operations to make sure it runs smoothly. It ain’t about how much you earn for the business: it’s more about you pursuing your dreams and visions yourself. It’s like raising a baby, witnessing growth, its glories, and ups and downs.

CS12’s best-loved Miracle Mask, Calming Ampoules, Infinity Aqua Essence and Infinity Aqua Care moisturiser.

How have the skincare trends over the past 10 years changed your approach to your own personal skincare philosophy? For instance, what are some steps, products or ingredients that you still use, would not use any more, and are there any new technologies that you are particularly interested in?

I see trends as a cycle. The majority of people [these days] are into skincare trends, especially from Korea or Japan — from multi-million-dollar high frequency clinical tools, to plastic surgery, to micro-aesthetics treatments which everyone loves! Still, everything will go back to basics eventually: fundamentally, clean-looking skin.

I will never give up on double cleansing and hands-on facial treatments. I don’t fancy aesthetic treatments or direct injections to accelerate the path to beauty. I always believe that our own skin can do much better but it’s just that it takes a longer time. The consistency of facial treatments done by hand, and yes, some help from science, such as ultrasound enhancements, are acceptable. Sounds classy eh?

CS12 - Serum
CS12’s Eternity Miracle Essence and Fluid feature the CellRevEx anti-wrinkle formula, which increases the skin’s ability to absorb moisture.

The emphasis on ‘clean beauty’ or natural skincare has seen an explosion of growth in recent years. What’s your take on this?

It all started from my mother, who looked for solutions for both our skin issues. I’ve seen numerous cases and exposés of customers who were able to treat their skin problems such as eczema, dryness and rosacea. CS12 skincare was created to treat sensitised skin, for users with sensitive skin, and the result has been proven. We aim to continue the vision, to truly understand what solutions and permanent cures people are actually looking for.

Can you share a little about what ingredients and functions you chose to focus on to achieve non-irritating but effective formulas for sensitive skin?

We have no secret ingredients, however what we mostly use are calming, floral-based extracts. Primula Veris Extract, Mallow Extract, Veronica Officinalis Extract, and at least seven other different types of plant-based extracts and technologies. But what we discovered is that different combinations of these amazing extracts and of course their hydrating and soothing elements can effectively help more than 80 percent of different sensitive skin concerns. This culminated into our patented calming formula, CalmEX.

CS12’s Miracle Glow Tone Up Sun Cushion offers SPF30 and PA+++ sun protection.

Share with us your own daily skincare regimen — any special tips you can recommend to Lifestyle Asia readers?

Step one: Double Cleansing using the CS12 Hydro Milk and the CS12 Refreshing Cleansing Gel. This is so important: please pay more attention to your cleansing routine after wearing face masks to avoid ‘maskne!’ I strongly recommend readers to go for double cleansing — trust me, you’ll feel the difference in just three days! Your skin will be extra soft and feel more breathable.

Step two: The Calming Ampoule.

Step three: I use the Miracle Mask once every alternate day or night.

Step four: Serums, depending on my skin’s main concerns.

Step five: Moisturiser.

Step six: Suncare.

What’s next for CS12 in 2021 and the near future?

Apart from dealing with the recent pandemic, we are expanding to wider horizons: We are doing full inspections on our existing products and will keep updating and improving their formulas. And yes! We will actually launch some new products soon in 2021 — stay tuned for more.

Evelyn Lok
Managing Editor
When not trying out the latest beauty and wellness trends, Evelyn is likely enjoying a perfectly balanced negroni or exploring some of Hong Kong's best new places to eat and drink. At Lifestyle Asia she covers everything from the biggest events in town to interviews with Hong Kong specialists, with topics spanning art, food and drink, health, tech, and travel.