updated 13 Sep 2012, 16:48
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Thu, Sep 13, 2012
Mind Your Body, The Straits Times
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Skincare made for you
by April Chong

It is a pharmacy with a difference. The pharmacists here do not just dispense medication.

They also blend and concoct skin and hair care products tailored for individual customers.

Newly opened, The Skin Pharmacy at City Square Mall in Kitchener Road will assess each customer's needs before putting together ingredients for, say, an anti-ageing moisturiser, whitening cream or shampoo.

Walking inside, one comes across a see-through laboratory in the middle, complete with jars, bottles, beakers, mortar and pestle, among other paraphernalia.

The pharmacy stocks more than 100 ingredients, many of which are not commercially or easily available. They include amino acids, vitamins, liquid silk, essential oils, whitening agents and compounds that tackle skin problems like acne and itch.

The pharmacist can create a formula based on the customer's skin type and needs and will discuss it with the customer before mixing the product on the spot. Fragrance and colour can be added.

Customers who are unsure of their condition can get their skin analysed by a machine.

The pharmacy, run by a local husband-and-wife team who are both Australian-trained pharmacists, is believed to be the first here.

A pharmacist's background is in blending and making products, but that science has taken a backseat here with retail pharmacies usually just recommending or dispensing medication, said Mr Lau Min-Tsek, 39, one half of the team.

While compounding work in a retail setting is more common in countries like Australia and the United States, it is not so here.

'Retail pharmacies here usually don't even have a sink,' said Mr Lau.

He and his wife and partner, Ms Mah Mei Hui, 37, are no strangers to this trade.

Mr Lau's family business has run a pharmaceutical manufacturing facility for four decades.

After the business decided to focus on skincare products in the last 10 years, it was approached by beauty salons and doctors to produce skincare products for their clients - under the brand name of the salon or clinic.

'As a pharmacist, it has always been my dream to start a pharmacy,' said Ms Mah.

Their shop - other than offering custom-made products and its own skin and hair care line - functions as a regular pharmacy too.

It carries oral and applied medication for a variety of dermatological ailments like fungal growth and hair loss. But, for now, it does not carry standard drugs like Panadol or cough mixtures.

The range of pharmaceutical products is set to grow as the shop establishes itself, said Ms Mah.

However, the couple does not want their shop to become a general pharmacy or compete with the giant pharmacy chains. They will focus on being a boutique skincare pharmacy.

With prices starting from about $30 for a 230g tub of moisturising cream, its customised products can cost more than what one can get off the shelf elsewhere.

Much depends on what and how many ingredients - and the concentration - a customer wants. There is also a service charge.

It takes about five minutes to inject simple ingredients into a shower gel, to half an hour preparing a concoction from scratch, especially with time needed for blending, heating and weighing ingredients.

However, more does not necessarily mean better. The pharmacists will give their advice on getting a balance in the compatibility and stability of the ingredients. Too many components make it harder to identify the source of the problem if a customer reacts badly to a product, said Ms Mah.

Customers can also go back to get a product tweaked.

Mr Lau noted that the majority of customers can get what they need off the shelf, but he added that some have specific problems for which they have not found solutions.

For such customers, for example, those with very dry skin or stubborn spots, a specialised product which cannot be found commercially would help, he said.


The Skin Pharmacy can tailor products for customers as well as tend to a range of skin and hair care woes such as pigmentation, acne, itch, very dry skin and oily scalp.

After looking at the needs of a customer, ingredients are selected, weighed and mixed (above), to make products like face and body creams, shampoos, conditioners, cleansing oils and eye serums.

Examples of ingredients used include hyaluronic acid for anti-ageing, benzoyl peroxide to prevent pimples, and sodium PCA, an amino acid derivative, to keep skin moist.

The pharmacy can also modify its existing products such as add extra moisturisers to a sunscreen, or an essential oil or colour to a shampoo.

The pharmacy has come across customers who need help for anything ranging from stubborn spots on the face to itchy skin to scars from allergy breakouts on the feet.

Tailored products start with a service fee of $20, plus the cost of the ingredients used.

A 230g tub of basic moisturising body cream costs about $30. However, if expensive ingredients such as serums are used, the price tag can run into the hundreds.

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This article was first published in Mind Your Body, The Straits Times.

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