Jeju island is a hotspot for tourists and has some of the most beautiful weather and natural sights in North Asia. From the mild climate and rich volcanic soil yields the famed Hallabong oranges and lush green tea plantations - and now a mystic flower filled with potent potential.
The Pure Lotus is a vegan, clean beauty brand that hails from the beautiful island of Jeju-do (제주도) South Korea. Often referred to as the Hawaii of Korea, Jeju-do or Jeju Island is a volcanic island set in the Korean Straits and is a province on its own.
Dominated by Hallasan Mountain, the tallest mountain in Korea, Jeju Island is a pristine picture of calming nature. From the crystal clear mineral springs and volcanic rock features to the beautiful plant and fauna, it isn’t too difficult to see the inspiration behind the skincare brand, The Pure Lotus.
We recently sat down with Yu-jin Oh (오유진), the founder of The Pure Lotus, who grew up on Jeju-do to find out more about her hometown and the inspirations behind The Pure Lotus.
ABX: Hi Yu-jin, thank you very much for taking the time to speak with us.
In an industry that is already so competitive, why did you think there was a need to create The Pure Lotus?
I had originally started my career in advertising and was commissioned by the Jeju-do government to help promote, through advertising and marketing, the beauty of Jeju-do to the world. Jeju-do is a volcanic island with rich soil, plants and wildlife and clean unpolluted water. At that time, I also noticed a growing trend towards building greater harmony with the environment through clean and vegan beauty products. That’s probably when I decided to create the concept of a clean and vegan beauty brand that was made in Jeju.
Under The Pure Lotus line of skincare products, the hero ingredient seems to be white lotus extracts. What inspired you to build a whole skincare line around this?
I’ve known about the amazing antioxidant properties of the white lotus thanks to my mother’s love for lotus flowers. We have been hand-harvesting the white lotus flowers to make tea since I was a child, a practice that my mother and I still do together today. My mother has been drawing and painting the lotus flowers in the ponds and lakes here in Jeju-do for many years. In fact, the depictions on the packaging that we use in The Pure Lotus are actual oil paintings created by my mother and the original paintings can be found in the Yeon Gallery in Jeju-si.
Yes, I did notice the unique and beautiful artwork on the packaging. I did not know that they were actual paintings done by your mother. Why did your mother decide to paint lotuses?
My Mom gave birth to six children and led a hard life with few opportunities to live her life as she wanted. She was always working for the family. One day, she went for a walk around Beophwasa Temple and she saw the lotus flower that bloomed quietly, rising from the bottom of the pond, from the mud and through the water, only to rise majestically over the water.
She told me that she was spiritually awakened at that moment and was convinced that she should draw the lotus flower forever. Since then, she has been drawing lotus flowers for over 30 years, and she runs the Yeon Gallery in Jeju-si, as well as attends many overseas exhibitions.
That’s a lovely story, so there was more than one inspiration behind The Pure Lotus?
Yes, and they continue to inspire me and my team.
So what skin type or condition were you trying to address when you created The Pure Lotus?
The initial product offerings were targeted towards users with skin types that are similar to mine - dry and sensitive. My preference was for products to be non-sticky and non-oily and we tried to formulate our products to be light on the skin but rich in nutrition. South Koreans do spend a lot of time on their skincare routine but as a working professional, I do understand the constraints of time so we tried to produce a line that was simple and time-saving. We have since expanded the range to try to cater to our customers with different skincare needs.
I read somewhere online that a skincare professor spoke to you about the antioxidant properties of the lotus leaf flowers. Did you do research on other ingredients before settling on the lotus as the key ingredient?
Actually, I never considered any other active ingredients. There are many types of lotus flowers but most of them are either used for religious ceremonies or for ornamental purposes. Only the white lotus, because of its antioxidant-rich nature, has actually been used for centuries for its medicinal and preservative properties. Interestingly, in home cooking we sometimes make use of its preservative potential by using lotus leaf powder when we are making kimchi to further enhance its health benefits, as well as to preserve the crisp and freshness of the kimchi.
My mother and I have been withering white lotus leaves for homemade tea since I was a little girl. They actually make a very gentle and soothing tea that’s suitable for all ages. It is high in polyphenols but contains no caffeine, so it is good for mental and physical stability and can be drunk before going to bed. It is also a great antioxidant source to help promote inner health and general well-being.
Having a skincare routine that is rich in antioxidants is key to maintaining youthful-looking skin. Active oxygen and other external free radicals and environmental factors such as ultraviolet rays and environmental pollutants can destroy skin collagen causing wrinkles and pigmentations in the skin.
Wow! You certainly know a lot about the white lotus….
Yes. The benefits of white lotus are well documented in the Dongui Bogam (동의보감), a historical Korean medical text that is similar to and probably derived from the Traditional Chinese Medicine. We also commissioned a test with a university to verify the antioxidant levels in the extracts we were using and actually found them to be higher than similar plants that were grown in places outside of Jeju. That was when we were fully convinced that we wanted to create a line of skincare products based on this miracle ingredient and bring it to the world.
ABX: So all the white lotus extracts that go into The Pure Lotus products come from Jeju Island?
Yes, from the Beophwasa Temple in Jeju-do. The white lotus plants that we harvest our key ingredient from have grown on the grounds of the temple for nearly a thousand years.
A thousand years?
*laughter* The Beophwasa Temple is a designated monument and actually, it is so old that the exact date of its establishment is difficult to determine but it is estimated to be in the 1200s during the reign of King Wonjong. It is actually a series of temples that have been built on the same site and used for worship for centuries. The white lotus plants have grown on these grounds and have been preserved as part of the temple for centuries.
How old does the lotus plant have to be so that you can get the lotus extracts at their highest potency?
Lotus plants are perennial and while the antioxidant properties present themselves in all plants, we usually harvest them from the more matured plants. Lotus leaves are usually harvested from July to September but the antioxidants are shown regardless of when they are harvested. For The Pure Lotus, they are harvested once or twice in August and September.
That isn’t very often.
We do this in order to ensure the sustainability and health of the plants and the ecology in the pond. Thankfully, lotus plants are so rich in antioxidants, you don’t require too much to create a potent extract.
Anyway, we manage a constant stockpile to ensure a continual supply to create potent skincare products such as the (Jeju Lotus Leaf) Essence and (Jeju Lotus Leaf) Essence Lotion, our signature items. We substitute the water for lotus leaf extract instead in order to deliver higher levels of antioxidants to your skin.
What ingredient or ingredients give The Pure Lotus products that unique botanical scent? As scents have a way of connecting us to an emotion or a memory, is there a story behind the scent for The Pure Lotus products?
To make the lotus scent, we blend various botanical extracts since the scent of lotus leaves usually dulls once formulated into the products and exposed to air. I truly believe in using only natural ingredients found on the island to create a mild botanical scent that is refreshing and unique to Jeju-do. We opted against using scents such as rose or lavender, that are commonly used in skincare products, and went for a more mysterious scent that represented the nature of the lotus and Jeju-do.
What can consumers look forward to in terms of new product offerings?
We currently have an eye cream under development. We are also developing a jade-based “gua-sha” type tool, an oriental applicator, to help enhance its effect. Cooling eye massages, face line massages, hairline, scalp massages and lymph massages using this tool can be done easily and lightly, providing a unique experience for everyone. We are also developing other products at the moment but they are still in early development.
What is the difference between manufacturing skincare on Jeju Island compared to manufacturing it within South Korea?
Most cosmetics contain 80-90% water so the quality of the cosmetics depends on the cleanliness and purity of the water. Jeju-do takes great pride in its clean unpolluted water sources that can be found all over the island. Being a volcanic island the water is not just clean but rich in minerals as well. The Pure Lotus makes use of these water sources.
We are only one of a small handful of brands that are allowed to print Made in Jeju on our packaging. This is because everything is sourced from the island. As Jeju-do is not as industrialised as the mainland, this can be quite challenging sometimes in maintaining a reliable supply of ingredients for our formulations. Nevertheless, we wanted to create a brand that stayed true to its origins and reflected the nature and soul of the land and the lotus flower.
It certainly sounds like you’ve elevated the manufacturing process into something of an art. So what are the future plans for The Pure Lotus?
Our hope is to continue to develop The Pure Lotus into a global clean and vegan beauty brand and in the process, raise the profile of Jeju-do, my home province. One of my life long dreams is also to open a small cafe by a beautiful pond where I can serve small cakes and, of course, lotus leaf tea. I’d love to invite you to experience this when it opens!
I would love to come by to visit your cafe on Jeju Island!
Definitely, I look forward to welcoming you.
Thank you Eujin for sharing with us. Before we go, could you recommend to our readers who are new to The Pure Lotus, one product or the first product that they could try?
For Singapore, where the weather is hot and sunny, sun irritation and sensitivity is a common issue. I would recommend trying the Lotus Leaf & Aloe Calming Serum. I apply this calming serum when my scalp is sensitive as well.
I would also recommend our flagship, and the most popular products, the Jeju Lotus Leaf Essence and Essence Lotion. We do not have toners in our product line and instead offer these two products in its place.
Awesome! I am definitely going to try it out. Thank you again for your time.
Thank you for having me and I look forward to seeing you at my future cafe!
The Pure Lotus from Jeju is available on www.asianbeautyx.com.
About the writer
Hong Lyeon, a native South Korean, is the founder of Asian Beauty X and our resident beauty expert. She enjoys sharing her experiences, tips and reviews, and skin-loving recipes and when she's not telling the rest of us what to do, she has been known to cook up a mean storm.