Entrepreneur Catherine Tan, 69, has a knack for spotting potentially great skincare, addressing emerging needs, and getting clinical results that other products can’t better. 

One only has to look to her brand’s first offering: Crystal Tomato skincare supplements. Introduced in 2012, it came about after she got wind that a group of scientists in Israel had cultivated a breed of non-genetically modified white tomatoes with a high content of colourless carotenoids for skin-whitening benefits. When consumed, the carotenoids reportedly accumulate in  skin to help absorb UV rays and provide antioxidant protection. 

The hitch: the tomatoes were not sold for normal consumption, and one has to eat a lot of them to achieve meaningful effect. Tan wasn’t put off by that. She was convinced that it was a game-changer, and secured the exclusive rights to the powder version. Then, she appointed an FDA-accredited lab in New York to turn it into oral supplements. Each tablet has a carotenoid content that’s roughly equal to three white tomatoes. 

Now, it’s sold exclusively at doctors’ clinics and hospitals, including the National Skin Centre (NSC), NUH Aesthetic Plastic Surgery Centre, and Tan Tock Seng Hospital. If you take it once a day, you’ll reportedly see visible results after two to three months. 

More recently, the brand developed the first clinically proven blue light sunscreen, Crystal Tomato Beyond Sun Protection

Taking five years to create, including lengthy trials and clinical testing in various countries, the sunscreen is a comprehensive shield against not just UV rays but also blue light, infrared and pollution. Its HEV 54 per cent rating means it’s proven to block out 54 per cent of blue light – a feature Tan says no other sunscreen on the market offers. 

Photography Veronica Tay Styling Shan

She says consumers should be aware of one thing when buying skincare: “A product’s efficacies are not necessarily the same as those of its ingredients, since the amount of ingredients a product has can be much less than what was used for the raw ingredients test. 

“Besides, when other ingredients are mixed together in the finished product, that can affect the raw ingredients’ efficacies too,” she says. 

“The problem with a lot of skincare trials now: they have become consumer  care trials, which ask users to rate a product’s effects,” Tan says. “That’s poor evidence.

Using sunblock as an example, she says it’s important to check the score rating. “A sunblock may claim to have blue light protection but at what percentage? If the percentage is very low, that’s as good as having no protection.”

It’s important to learn to read the labels too, “to avoid products with toxic substances such as coal tar, benzene, ethylene oxide, chromium, cadmium compounds, arsenic and mercury”, she says. 

This story was first published on Her World’s November 2019 issue.