Kim Lim means business: Shaking up Singapore’s beauty scene

by Karishma Tulsidas  /   July 5, 2022

Kim Lim is building a beauty and wellness empire, and nothing can stop her. As she focuses on her expansion plans, she muses about the challenging journey she has ahead of her, and about her responsibility as a role model to a young generation of Singaporeans

It’s 11 in the morning, and I am squinting at Kim Lim’s face in the mirror. “Have you already done your makeup? Your skin’s glowing, I can’t tell,” I ask, hoping to find out what time this cover shoot will start. Not yet, replies makeup artist Shaun Lee.

Kim laughs, and tells us that she has only applied one product on her face this morning (no cleanser): the illumia serum. “Basically, I like to concoct my own serum mix with the All 1n One Serum with Hyarum Skin Booster, and apply it liberally on my face and neck,” she says. “It’s super hydrating and calming, and it makes my skin look super dewy. Usually, I’ll just apply SPF and head out, but if you want to achieve that glazed doughnut skin look, you can add a couple drops of All 1n One Serum into your skin tint or foundation for that extra glow.”

The serum is one of the skincare products that she has developed under the ILLUMIASKIN by Kim Lim brand, which falls under the illumia umbrella. In case you need a brief recap: Kim owns KLHealth, which is the parent company for illumia Medical, ILLUMIASKIN by Kim Lim, illumia Therapeutics, Papilla Haircare, and Papilla Scalp. illumia is all about aesthetic treatments and skincare for the face and body, while Papilla focuses on hair and scalp care.

Are you planning to build a beauty and wellness empire, I ask, almost jokingly. “Yes,” she responds in all seriousness. She elaborates further via e-mail: “My ultimate goal is to build a beauty legacy of my own, where my name is synonymous with all things beauty. Our skincare range ILLUMIASKIN by Kim Lim is basically the entry level to the world of illumia. When you’ve tried our products and see how they work for you, you’ll then be more inclined to try out the services at illumia Therapeutics and illumia Medical to really level up your beauty game. So right now, we are expanding our beauty product offerings to let more people try and experience our brand for themselves. This is not an easy journey, and there’s still a lot that has to be done. So my main focus now is to grow our brand presence and build on the brands’ credibility.”

My ultimate goal is to build a beauty legacy of my own, where my name is synonymous with all things beauty.

Taking the lead

Outfit, Balenciaga

Knit dress, Dior
Silk blazer, and matching top and shorts, Fendi. Patent leather boots, stylist’s own. Serpenti gold and diamond bracelet (worn throughout, unless stated otherwise), Bvlgari

To achieve her goals, Kim says that she is fully hands-on. She tries every product and treatment herself – her team calls it “Kim-approved”. In fact, I mention to the crew that I read somewhere that she intuitively knows when an aesthetics machine will break down before it does, and Kim squeals with laughter. She has a loud, piercing laugh that reverberates throughout the studio. It lasts only for a couple of seconds, and then she reverts to being Serious Kim. She adds matter-of-factly that because she has personally tried so many treatments in the decade before she started KLHealth, she has intimate knowledge of what works and what doesn’t.

This venture is simply an expression of her passion for looking and feeling good. But like any business, it requires a ton of commitment. This year, illumia opened its third outlet at i12 Katong, following branches at Wheelock Place and Nex. The latest opening marks a seminal milestone for the brand, as it brings together all of KLHealth’s brands under one roof. “My vision is to make the locations of illumia Therapeutics and Papilla Haircare accessible to everyone,” she says.

Currently, she is on a travel spree to discover new treatments and innovations that she can bring back to our sunny shores. This cover shoot is happening between her trips – she just returned from Bangkok where she experimented with some new treatments (she doesn’t want to reveal more details), and then she’s jetting off to Chiang Mai. When I initially ask her about the purpose of the trip, she says that it’s for charity and that she’s going to spend time with underprivileged children. It’s par for the course for the billionaire heiress, who has given out free meals and air tickets to Singapore’s migrant workers, and built homes for the needy in Mongolia.

When I bring up Chiang Mai again though, she reveals that she’s going to visit the temples there. She’s a devout Buddhist – despite her family converting to Christianity later on in her life – and we chat about how religion has been an anchor, as well as our favourite temples in Singapore. She’s a Guanyin (Goddess of Mercy) follower, and her shrine at home features statues from her grandmother’s and father’s home. I share with her about my beliefs, and I casually mention how uncommon it is for people our age (we’re both in our 30s) to be so vocal about our religious beliefs. Kim eyes me critically through the mirror. Why should you be shy, she asks? Like everything else in her life, Kim is an open book.

Knit dress, Pinko. Serpenti gold, malachite and diamond necklace, Bvlgari
Knit dress, Pinko. Serpenti gold, malachite and diamond necklace, Bvlgari

She has openly spoken about her struggles with her mental health in recent years. She’s been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, which, according to Mayo Clinic, is “a mental health disorder that impacts the way you think and feel about yourself and others, causing problems functioning in everyday life”.

She has more than 300,000 followers on Instagram, and they look to her for style inspiration, skincare secrets or simply to baulk at her lavish lifestyle. Whether she wants to take up that mantle or not, Kim is in a position of influence. Her candour about her mental health issues did not stem from a well-intentioned belief that she can influence change and shape conversations about how Asian society perceives mental health. Still, there is no denying the fact that she has played a role in influencing a younger generation in openly discussing their issues and seeking support.

“I do notice that the younger generation are more open and willing to share their mental health struggles, especially on social media, and it’s nice to know that you are not alone. And that’s very important, to know that you are not alone,” she says. “Because now you know there’s this whole support system, from your friends and family to the online community.”

When I ask about whether she has a sense of responsibility towards her followers, she replies: “I wouldn’t go so far as to say I have a sense of responsibility, but I believe I can help to start a conversation, and hopefully be a part of the bigger movement in normalising mental health struggles. I think my message would be to love yourself. I know that’s easier said than done, and on some days, it’s really hard to do so. But this is a journey, and you just need to learn to actively love yourself every single day. I feel like one thing that helps a lot is to surround yourself with people who love you and choose to be with you, even when you’re at your lowest. Similarly, I think it’s also important to know when to walk away, because that’s also part and parcel of loving yourself.”

Surround yourself with people who love you and choose to be with you, even when you’re at your lowest. Similarly, it’s also important to know when to walk away.

Living her best life

Reformation knit two-piece top and skirt set, Net-a-porter. Serpenti gold and diamond ring, Bvlgari

Jacquemus jacket, Net-a-porter. Leather boots, Balenciaga. Jewellery, Bvlgari. Shorts, stylist’s own

This wisdom comes with age, perhaps. Kim turned 30 last year, and muses that she is constantly on a journey of learning and growing. “Thirty looks fun and fabulous, but there’s also a lot of hard work that goes on behind the scenes. I’m proud of how far I’ve come, but at the same time, it’s been an extremely humbling experience. I’ve come to realise that the more I learn and grow, the more there is to learn and grow. So while I acknowledge my wins, big or small, and give myself a pat on the back every now and then, I am also aware that there’s a lot more to everything, be it the business, life, and even myself. So I’m actively trying to do better and be better.”

She adds: “I feel that true liberation is when I’ve finally accepted it as a part of myself. Mental health is an ongoing journey, and seeking help is merely the first step. Of course, there are good days and bad, but on the whole, I’m a lot happier and kinder to myself now. I’m also very grateful that I have Kyden (her four-year-old son) and my family on this journey with me. They have been nothing but patient with me, and their unconditional love and support are also what keeps me going. I’m also a lot more present when I’m with them now, so I’d say that things are good.”

I remind her of a comment she had made a few years ago about posting less on Instagram when she turns 30. She replies: “It was the plan indeed, but then again, since when do things ever stick to the plan right? In today’s climate, social media is still the biggest communication driver for brands and businesses. Now that I am running my own business and brands, I still rely a lot on social media to reach out and engage with my customers. So, if you still see me on your Instagram feed a lot, it’s 99 per cent for work!”

And you can expect to see a lot more of Kim on your social media feed. She reveals that there are tons of exciting expansion plans for the year that she can’t reveal, but she leaves us with two teasers: a South-east Asia expansion is in the pipeline, and ILLUMIASKIN by Kim Lim will see the launch of a “skin-rejuvenating range that comes with a super exciting collaboration. I’m confident it will knock all you beauty lovers off your feet”

What’s inspiring Kim Lim?

  • “Good skin, good hair, and feeling good about yourself” is Kim’s mantra for 2022. She outlines the beauty and wellness trends that are inspiring her right now.
  • “There is a lot of emphasis on strengthening the skin barrier, and maintaining a healthy skin barrier to alleviate all that sensitivity and redness.”
  • “As for body trends, it’s a lot about feeling good in your own skin. Regardless of your definition of what a hot summer bod is, we have technology like illumiaSculpt to tone, and RF Body Legacy Sculpt to smooth and tighten.”
  • “Lastly there is the huge education trend on scalp care, which is something I cannot stress enough. Over the years, more and more people are becoming more aware of the importance of scalp care, but I feel there’s still a lot more that we can talk about. Our scalp essentially shares the same skin as our face, so at Papilla Haircare, all the machines and technology we use are the same as the facial devices we use at illumia Therapeutics. One of our most popular treatments is the Customised Jet Infusion Scalp Treatment, which features a customised serum to treat your scalp concern.“

PHOTOGRAPHY Wee Khim, assisted by Ivan Teo
STYLING Evon Chng & Hiro Ye, assisted by Marilyn Kwok
HAIR David Gan / Passion Hair Salon
MAKEUP Shaun Lee, using Armani Beauty