Growing up, Katini Yamaoka would sit by her grandmother's vanity and watch her apply rice extract, Tsubaki oil, and sea algae to her immaculate skin. "She would go through each ingredient and be like, 'One day you'll learn to use these. And you'll continue to keep the beautiful skin that you have.' And that really stuck with me," says Yamaoka. With that in mind, she launched a skin-care brand that combines potent plant ingredients from the cultures that shape her.
"My mother's Japanese, my dad's from Ghana, and I grew up in Australia," says Yamaoka. "In Australia, I was introduced to these amazing indigenous plants and beauty secrets through family and friends, and just amazing people in my life. I really wanted to share that in a line of facial oils."
Facial oils are her thing—she's been using them since she was a tween and knows just how beneficial they can be for your skin. "That's my space, and I know it really, really well," she says. So she's taken the ingredients she's grown up loving, teamed up with experts, and created a chic line of natural, wild-harvested oils that launched (and quickly sold out) at Saks in February (don't worry—you can still shop them below).
Creating Katini Skin
By day, Yamaoka is a singer-songwriter. "The pandemic stopped everything in every industry, but especially in music, there was nothing happening," she says. This gave her the space to focus on her other passion—skin care. "As I was bubbling up with these thoughts in 2020, I was introduced to an incredible organization called Black Progress Matters, where they focus on incubating and accelerating minority-owned businesses," says Yamaoka. "They were looking for someone to collaborate with, and the synergy just worked perfectly.
Finally, she was able to make this brand a reality. "I had all these ideas that I had been writing down for years," she says. "Like how I wanted the formulations to feel, and certain plants and ingredients that I wanted to put in it." She worked along with her mom, who's knowledgeable in Ayurveda and holistic medicine, her founding partner, Katherine Ragusa, and her sister, Alison Ragusa, a holistic health practitioner, to nail down the formulas.
"We went through and knew it needed to be effective, but we also wanted the texture and the efficacy to be just right as well," says Yamaoka. "There are so many oils out there, and I've tried so many of them, just being an oil fanatic, that it was so important to get the formulation to where we could incorporate these magical ingredients."
From there, the team came up with the brand's first four products: the Soleil Day Serum ($75), Celestial Night Serum ($85), Clarity Facial Oil ($95), and Collagen Facial Oil ($115). The serums are lightweight oils meant to be staples in your daily routine. The clarity and collagen oils are thicker and meant to be used as needed to beef up your regimen.
"Depending on how your skin's feeling in that moment, you can either mix [the clarity or collagen oil] in with either serum, or use them as standalones," says Yamaoka. She has dry-to-combination skin and says that she'll often just use a face spray along with one of the four oils and call it a day. When she's feeling super dry, she'll mix the oils with her moisturizer, or use one of the oils as the final step in her routine to lock in moisture.
"Facial oils are incredible for our skin because naturally, our face does need oil to stay hydrated," says Yamaoka. "It's just about finding the right oil that matches you."
“Our Soleil Day Serum is made to put on in the daytime,” says Yamaoka. “It goes into your skin really quickly, has properties to help with pollutants in the air, and it doesn’t feel thick or oily when you layer it with makeup.” It’s rich in vitamin C, and includes quandong and marula oils to protect the skin against external factors, while apricot oil helps repair and hydrate the skin.
“The Celestial Night Serum is much thicker, and it’s really beautiful,” says Yamaoka. “You wake up and you’re really plump and hydrated.” This is achieved with three deeply moisturizing and plumping ingredients— Kakadu plum, macadamia, and baobab—which are full of anti-inflammatory components to revitalize skin.
“I grew up having sort of troubled skin, and I would get a lot of blemishes and whatnot. I found that using certain ingredients that we’ve used in the Clarity Oil really helped me as a teen,” she says. “If it’s around my period and my skin is breaking out, or I’m feeling tired and I’m not getting enough sleep, the Clarity oil is amazing for help clearing out any blemishes.”
This oil blends omega-rich sea algae extract to detoxify any skin irritations and-or blemishes along with sake kasu and tsubaki combined which act as a natural brightening formula to help scars, sun spots, and pigmentation on the skin.
“The Collagen Oil has vegan squalane and wheat germ, which is something that my grandmother told me about,” says Yamaoka “But this one’s amazing for helping with the skin’s elasticity, and helping sort of plump out fine lines, and giving you that—I hate using the word anti-aging, because all of us start to age from the day that we’re born. It’s just like, more of that beautiful pick-me-up, that radiance that we need sometimes when we’re feeling a little bit tired or when we’re not feeling like we look like ourselves.” It also includes South African honeybush to reduce the length and depth of wrinkles caused by UV rays.
As wonderful as facial oils can be for one person, derms warn that others may not tolerate them well. Michelle Henry, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, notes that those with sensitive or acne-prone skin should tiptoe into using facial oils. And because these oils have a light (but gorgeous!) scent, those with sensitivities to fragrance may benefit from doing a patch test on their neck or inner arm before applying them all over.
Just keep in mind that everyone's skin reacts to certain ingredients differently. For example, Yamaoka has a friend with eczema and very sensitive skin who always steers clear of oils. "I gave her the Clarity Oil and was like, 'look, if you ever decide to change your mind, this was really formulated for sensitive skin and for problematic skin,'" she recalls. "Just recently, she got back to me, and she was like, 'I actually can't believe it. I used the Clarity Oil, and it actually was the only thing that I could use that calmed my skin down and really helped smooth the inflammation that was there.'"
Now that Katini Skin's first products are out into the world, Yamaoka and her team are working on expanding the brand. But, the plan will always be to serve as a facial oil destination.
"That's what makes us really unique in the skin-care market. We all know it's an oversaturated market, but I haven't seen a company that's really focusing on branding themselves as a home for facial oils," she says. "We do have, in our innovation pipeline, a signature body oil that we're working on, and we're going to come out with a Katini Skin pH-balancing moisturizer to complement all of the oils, too. So, we'll definitely expand. But I want us to really own that facial oil space."
As the brand grows, Yamaoka wants the focus to remain on simplicity.
"We are a brand that centers around beauty as being simple," she says. "We're not a brand that focuses on that 10-step skin-care routine. It's really about finding essentials and what you need and using that to really enhance and highlight the beauty that already exists within you.
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