Topicals Enters Sephora UK With Newly Reformulated Products

Gen Z-favorite Topicals disclosed in 2022 that it was the fastest-growing skincare brand at Sephora in the United States, and now it hopes to repeat its success at the beauty specialty retailer’s stores in the United Kingdom.

Topicals customers have been vocal about wanting the brand to travel to the U.K. since it launched in 2020. Regulatory matters held the brand up. Topicals had to reformulate its products to be compliant with U.K. governmental guidelines for cosmetic products prior to selling in the country. Topicals VP Sochima Mbadugha explains that the hero ingredients in the brand’s products aren’t being changed for U.K. distribution, but their concentrations have been tweaked slightly.

“Something that people don’t realize when they’re asking us to launch in specific markets is, especially with the U.K. and EU regulatory, it’s an absolute nightmare compared to the U.S.,” she says. “And I respect it because they’re very strict about making sure that people are putting healthy products on their body.”

Five of the brand’s products—Faded Under Eye Mask, Sealed Active Scar Primer, Slather Exfoliating Body Serum, Like Butter Hydrating Moisturizer and Faded Brightening & Clearing Serum—are hitting Sephora U.K., and there are plans to enlarge the range in the future. At Sephora U.S., Topicals’ assortment spans 10 products priced from $16 to $38.

“The interesting thing with the U.K. is how culturally diverse it is,” says Mbadugha. “I was listening to a podcast about how London has the most number of languages spoken in any metropolitan city, so that richness of culture is a perfect reflection of what Topicals is and what we hope to continue growing into as far as reminding people that everyone has skin regardless of cultural background and being able to speak to people from those multiple backgrounds.”

Topicals vice president Sochima Mbadugha Solstice Media

The British version of Topicals’ bestselling Faded Serum addresses customers’ complaints about its smell. The brand expects to roll out the updated formula globally. Mbadugha attributes the smell of the original Faded Serum formula to an ingredient it contains that has a strong smell when it breaks down. She says, “We created a new formula where that ingredient doesn’t break down, and it actually increases the efficacy while also preventing the odor.” Mbadugha didn’t specify the ingredient.

Topicals, which promotes itself as specializing in skincare for flare-ups, has raised about $15 million in funding, including a $10 million series A round led by Cavu Consumer Partners in 2022. The brand’s Sephora U.K. launch doesn’t represent its international debut. Topicals previously expanded to Sephora Canada. In the U.S., it’s available on Amazon as well as at Sephora. In the U.K., Sephora has two London stores, but is slated to open several more.

Topicals is experimenting with TikTok Shop. “TikTok Shop right now is the Wild, Wild West,” notes Mbadugha. “Performance there can vary wildly, but we’re starting to see some traction…A stat that I always think about is that two out of three beauty purchases start on TikTok and end on Amazon. So, TikTok is now trying to take Amazon’s lunch essentially and say, OK, if you guys are starting your beauty purchase on TikTok, why not end it there?”

Topicals has partnered with British girl group Flo to lift awareness across the pond. Billboards featuring the trio will be going up in the coming months. Timed with its U.K. launch Topicals hosted an afternoon tea with micro-influencers and chartered a double-decker bus to tour the city.

Mbadugha says the brand is leaning into IRL versus digital efforts. For example, the brand is building upon the Get Outside and Touch Grass summer camp event it kicked off last year in New York by spreading it to additional cities. The event features activities such as potato sack races and tug of war.

Topicals has partnered with British girl group Flo to lift awareness across the pond. Billboards featuring the trio will be going up in the coming months.

Topicals has been big on diversifying influencer marketing, and influencer trips centered on creators of color have been integral to that strategy. Since hosting its first influencer trip September last year in Bermuda to mark its third birthday, the brand has gathered creators in Accra, Ghana and Megève, France, a ski resort village in the Alps. The Alps trip spurred headlines when creators of color on it faced discrimination and harassment.

In 2023, Topicals launched a creator fund as a way for micro-influencers to get paid for creating content for the brand. Mbadugha says, “It’s a really powerful megaphone around all the things that Topicals is doing because, at any given time, if we’re doing a launch, we have at least a thousand people who are excited to talk about the launch and make content around it on TikTok.”

Topicals is increasingly less prescriptive about the content influencers produce about the brand. Mbadugha says, “With the creators, we really want their personalities to shine through…We really want people to story-tell about their experience with our products in a very authentic way.”

Along with its content creator program, Topicals has an expert program with aestheticians and dermatologists who are paid commissions on sales of its products. “Sometimes, as a brand, we don’t get enough credit for how scientific we are,” says Mbadugha. “Of course, we love the aesthetic of our products. We love to be culturally relevant and make sure that we’re really tapped in with people who align with our brand values, but I think because we’re so fun and playful, people forget just how much research and science and studies are going into making sure that what we bring to market is effective.”