The recent boom in the skincare industry has led to a barrage of products in various categories, from skincare to wellness. Besides celebrity-owned beauty brands, dermatologists are also pushing their products in India, claiming to offer several solutions after years of studying the Indian skin.
We spoke with five such skincare experts, who have self-funded their own brands, to understand the process of launching a skincare company, the learnings and what gap are they filling in the market.
In her decade-long career, Mumbai's Dr Aakriti Mehra has been consulting with consumer skincare brands, an experience that made her deeply study over-the-counter ingredients and combinations. While doing so, she noitced some gaps in the prescribed skin routines. “Often I had to prescribe two steps when just one product should've been able to solve the need,” says Dr Mehra. That's what pushed her to launch Derma Decode in 2023.
Her products are designed to reduce the number of steps in your routine. For instance, her sunscreen is designed specifically for ease of reapplication because sunscreens generally need to be reapplied every two hours. In addition to other face serums, she has also designed a beginner’s retinol, having seen many of her patients struggle to use retinol the right way. She also offers two scalp serums.
While the product curation is the fun bit, launching a label is quite a rollercoaster ride, says Dr Mehra. She's kept the initial marketing budget low and focussed on organic and word-of-mouth growth so far. “Enter this market to solve a consumer problem, not because it seems cool or feels like a growing market,” she says. Trademarking is important, she says.
"We have not yet applied for any patents because they are using existing molecules in unique combinations. Formulating is a challenge only in terms of experience. The lab has a certain experience from studies on the actions of ingredients. The clinic is the front end where this is actually tested. You need to have good knowledge of both, otherwise you may hire the best team in the world but would be clueless about what they are doing. Marketing has more pre-defined success paths; the challenge comes in managing the budgets,” she says.
For a country with over one billion population, there are only around 30,000 dermatologists, says Bengaluru-based Dr Chytra Anand. This means many Indians don’t have access to a good dermat, and a majority of popular products are formulated to work for Caucasian skin, she adds. These two issues prompted her to create a brand that offered dermatologist-formulated skincare in a bottle.
Her brand currently offers 14 products in four categories, based on skin and body care concerns, like acne, pigmentation and dry skin. These include face masks, sunscreen, serums, facial kits and cleansers. All have been designed to give multiple skin benefits with only one product. They launched in November 2021; the haircare lane will be out later this year.
In addition to being dermat-formulated, getting international certifications such as the Made Safe certification makes a difference, says the expert.
“The fact that we are a derma-cosmetic brand increased our difficulty, as skincare awareness is low and people are more dependent on natural remedies. Most skincare brands in the market are not formulated for the melanin-rich Indian skin and hence, not as efficacious; this makes a lot of potential customers doubt the brand,” says Dr Anand.
Another challenge is that the Indian market is price-sensitive, so established mass-market skincare brands have a loyal customer base because of low costs, and a promise of providing fairer skin. “Indians only experiment with their skincare routine when it comes from either a verified source or is based on public reviews. To cater to an audience like that needs a development of trust, which only comes with time,” says Dr Anand.
Navigating copyrights and patents in India can also be complex, requiring careful attention and legal guidance to protect intellectual property and avoid infringement, she warns.
Through consultations at her clinics in Mumbai, Delhi, Pune and Bengaluru, Dr Geetika Mittal Gupta realised that patients miss out on following a skincare routine at home despite getting expensive clinic treatments. And ingredients play a big role in maintaining the results of an in-clinic treatment or facial.
That’s when Dr Gupta decided to launch SkinbyDrG (in 2021), designed for Indian skin and weather. Her products include masks (specially designed to treat pollution-troubled skin), mists, sunscreens, face oils, creams, lotions and serums focussing on different vitamins and actives. “The skincare segment is a crowded market, but it is also a growing market. There is a lot of potential for new entrants, but it is important to do your research and create a strong brand. It also takes time to build a successful skincare brand,” reiterates Dr Gupta.
Getting the formulation right is the key, she believes. “The market is fragmented. There are a lot of different sub-segments, and it can be difficult to reach your target audience. The regulatory environment is complex. You need to comply with a lot of regulations to launch a skincare brand in India. There seems to be a lack of industry check whenever a new skincare brand launches, leading to fake claims going unnoticed by consumers,” she explains, adding that it is important to register to “protect your intellectual property”.
Rashmi Shetty, cosmetic dermatologist, Ra Skin & Aesthetics, and founder of SolSkin
Skincare today isn’t just about serums and creams. Supplements, too, are important. That's what Dr Rashmi Shetty wants to highlight through SolSkin.
“Although supplements are now a viral trend, dermatologists always stressed on the fact that the skin is essentially a reflection of one's internal well-being. Prior to SolSkin, whenever I prescribed supplements to my patients, there were times when they would not work or I was left to wonder what the problem was until I eventually understood that those supplements were not FDA-approved. Hence, companies would get away with using ingredients that were not topnotch,” says Dr Shetty.
As a skin expert, she wanted to take full control of what her patients took in the form supplements, and that led to the birth of SolSkin a decade ago, much before collagen supplements became viral in India. The brand's focus is to offer supplements that correct micronutrient balance and minimize damage to the body.
She now plans to expand the product line with ingredients such as peptides, NAD+ and resveratrol, which help with self-repair and reduce the effects of ageing. For the first five years, these products were available exclusively to her patients. Once patients started requesting supplements for friends and family, she launched her own website.
Patients often don’t understand that one shouldn’t look for a bargain for supplements, she says. “Formulating those ingredients together requires quite a bit of lab work, none of which is truly affordable per se. Hence, if a product is incredibly attractive in its price points, you must proceed with caution,” she warns.
Dhara Vora Sabhnani is a Mumbai-based journalist.