May Moe Moe Aung launched her skincare line The Skin District 9 back in 2016, after being inspired by the handmade product lines available at Lush. She loved the small batch, handmade nature of the brand’s beauty and cosmetics items, and became determined to create a local alternative catered to the needs of Burmese skin.
She told Coconuts of her love for the global, natural product chain store but “wanted brand concept skin care products to be coming from our country too, using what’s available and representing us.” However, she was committed to keeping a fresh and small batch ethos, with some of the products even requiring refrigeration.
The Skin District 9 is no fly-by-night operation. May graduated from medical school and did her post-grad work at New Zealand’s University of Auckland in biomedical science. Before returning to Yangon to work as an aesthetic physician five years ago, she also trained in aesthetics in Bangkok.
She’s had success on a grassroots level, selling to repeat customers at local farmers markets, pop-up events, and through direct sales. Placement in large stores however, is more elusive. “Trying to get a spot in a country where it’s all about branded and imported products is overwhelming.”
May got into the nitty gritty of her line, which is comprised of soaps, scrubs, and masks, with an eye toward releasing moisturizers and more serious skin treatments in the near future, with us. Though the products are “all natural,” she shies away from calling them completely chemical-free.
“For the soap, I have to use Sodium Hydroxide to create the saponification process in soap making. I don’t use chemical preservatives and I acknowledge my products, like the scrubs and masks, are vegan which is the trend I would like to do,” said the founder.
Her line is based around long considered good-for-skin ingredients like coffee, fruit enzymes, spirulina, oatmeal, brown rice, and charcoal. These natural powerhouses are also readily available in Myanmar. Coffee is meant to be a depuffer, antiager, and acne reducer and appears in the Coffee Scrub. Oatmeal is believed to be anti-inflammatory and has the title role in her popular Oatmeal Mask. Charcoal — a favorite ingredient in beauty products in Asia for its believed ability to suck dirt from pores — appears in the line’s Charcoal Cleansing Bar. Prices for the products range from MMK6,000-30,000 (US$3.7-18.7)
May’s own personal most-used products are the Oatmeal Mask and Strawberry Scrub.
About the unique concerns of Burmese skin, May said that the complaints mirror those in nearby Thailand and Vietnam, where “acne is the main concern, and dark spots are next.”
When asked if she thought gentle and natural products could work as well as harsher pharmaceutical ones like retinoids, she said: “In my opinion, they are less effective compared to scientifically formulated ingredients, but what I noticed after treating people with oatmeal and charcoal products is that they really work. Sometimes, the skin has been turned off by putting on a lot of makeup and harsh aesthetic procedures.”
When she began treating clients suffering from acne with more natural ingredients, they improved dramatically, which also helped set her mind to creating her skincare line.
To find out more about The Skin District 9, visit the brand’s page here.