Rachel Ho’s introduction to beauty was through experimentation. In her childhood kitchen, she would mix together green tea powder, honey, water and clay for a face mask, or play around with honey, henna and brewed black tea to make masks to dye her mother’s hair.
“When I was young, I would experiment with at-home masks and at-home ingredients. I really found a passion in the skincare world,” said Ho, the founder of Kirkland-based skincare company Rho Cosmetics. "When I went to college, I did biochemistry as my major and found a lot of interest in the science behind creating skincare, combining things, thinking about how that all works.”
It was going into science that gave her the opportunity to explore the alchemy behind ingredients.
“Being a biochemist, we would study a lot about how things work in the human body. When we work with ingredients, we learn how ingredients react with the skin,” she said.
In the Bay Area, Ho spent five years working as an R&D chemist, with the majority of them specifically focused on clean beauty. Behind the scenes, she was the force behind products on the shelves of Ulta, Sephora, and Whole Foods - reveling in the challenge and triumph of creating something that helped other people. As an avid creator, her products were her "babies."
In 2019, Allure’s Best of Beauty Awards recognized her for a product she had developed for a client. After working with the products in the lab, encountering them neatly packaged on shelves of major stores was always a moment of pride.
“It’s really awesome to see and it always brings a smile to my face,” she said. But while in the clean skincare industry, Ho had noticed a discrepancy between what she was observing in the lab and the messaging that greeted consumers. An idea of a product line of her own began fermenting.
“Clean skincare is a great movement with a really good intention, but what clean beauty is portrayed as is not always what consumers think it is," she said. "There’s a lot of misconceptions around it. I want to clear up some myths in the beauty industry."
So what’s at the intersection of science and clean beauty? Education and transparency.
Upon moving to Bellevue, Ho realized she had an opportunity: to create her own business, like she’d always wanted, and start to demystify the clean beauty industry. Rho Cosmetics debuted in June 2019.
It currently offers two products (with more in the works): a hydro-boost repair and balance serum, and an accompanying cream. Its motto is bringing science back into skincare, and Ho wants consumers to become experts in both.
She uses her company as a platform to help teach people about what is appearing in their skincare — and what it means. On her website, she breaks down the ingredients in her products, from how they’re derived to what they do.
“I want to be part of a bigger movement of making skincare accessible,” she said. “I wanted to be straightforward about why ingredients are being used.”
She says popular ingredients often touted by brands can have such a low percentage in the formula, it's negligible. Other ingredients become vilified as brands tag products "without chemicals", which Ho says can be misleading — after all, "water is technically a chemical." With her background in both fields, she teaches consumers about what they’re selecting and how each product will work with their skin to meet their needs.
“It’s really about empowering consumers to make better skincare choices,” she said. “Skincare is a very personal routine.”
While Ho had spent years honing her skills in a lab - trialing her first product, planning her company and creating a business had a steep learning curve.
“It was a challenge of my own, coming from a chemist background and moving into the business side," she said. "I found the first year to be very challenging. There was marketing, being organized, and being the face of a company.”
But the act of creating something, and her passion for skincare, gave Ho the courage to continue, even when the transition was difficult — as did seeing the joy it brought to her customers.
“Even just creating a product and selling it to one person and seeing them come back and say, ‘Hey. My skin has been doing great. I’ve never seen this happen before.’ That really keeps me going.”
And just as during her first foray into exploring the chemistry of skincare, Rho Cosmetics products still pay ode to those days mixing green tea and clay together on the floor of her mother’s kitchen.
“She’s still my guinea pig when I create new products,” Ho laughs. “We still have that relationship, of experimenting with products. She has very sensitive skin. When I was making Rho Cosmetics, I wanted to create something very gentle. It was nice letting her be a part of it. It was a very sweet moment.”
While some of the products, services, and/or accommodations in this post were provided without charge, all of the opinions within are those of the author and the Seattle Refined editorial board.