How a YouTube video helped me start a skincare brand valued at £2.5m

Mona Haidar and Dr Hani Hassan
The founders of the HUE skincare brand Mona Haidar and Dr Hani Hassan. (Mona Haidar)

An NHS doctor who created her own skincare brand after her YouTube video to help people of colour treat dark marks on their skin went viral says she is “overwhelmed” after her signature serum sold out.

Four years ago, Dr Hani Hassan posted a video on YouTube in which she gave helpful tips to people of colour on safely tackling hyperpigmentation using products bought on the high street. Hyperpigmentation is when patches of skin become darker than the surrounding area.

At the time, Dr Hassan – who was a student at the time – had no idea her advice could lead to her forging a new career, let alone becoming the CEO of a business valued at £2.5m.

Her company, HUE (which stands for Here U Exist), was set up to validate the struggle people of colour face when dealing with hyperpigmentation, and is led by Dr Hassan as CEO and Mona Haidar as COO and co-founder.

HUE's serum sold out for the first time since its release in December after Uche Natori, a beauty influencer, posted a TikTok about how well it worked for her own hyperpigmentation. In her video posted on 23 March, Natori said that she has been using Supra-fade since the end of 2023. Within hours of Natori’s praise, the product sold out.

Dr Hassan said she was thrilled to see the “overwhelming response” from customers, adding: “We would like to thank our customers for their patience and loyalty. We remain committed to producing inclusive skincare that centres the needs of people of colour.”

The SUPRA-FADE night serum, HUE's first product that tackles hyperpigmentation.
The SUPRA-FADE night serum, HUE's first product that tackles hyperpigmentation.

Dr Hassan goes viral

Dr Hassan's viral 34-minute video – called ‘How To Get Rid Of Hyperpigmentation!’ – was posted in July 2020 and designed to help demystify the jargon around skin care products that were trending during the pandemic. With the UK experiencing multiple lockdowns at the time, many people were trying DIY skincare routines at home by following advice from online influencers.

Fading hyperpigmentation for people of colour can be more challenging than those with paler skin because most research for such products has been created and tested on caucasian skin.

Dr Hassan was concerned that some people of colour were resorting to using illegally obtained steroids online for either bleaching their skin or tackling hyperpigmentation, some of which can have serious side effects such as liver damage.

She had even experienced issues of her own when she went to a private doctor to get her own skin treated. Despite paying thousands of pounds, she saw no beneficial results and decided she should take positive action to help people with similar issues.

In the video, Dr Hassan explained how to safely layer exfoliants and creams that work best on fading dark marks on skin of colour and the science behind each product. She included an image of her progress and explained how to replicate her results.

The response was immediate and the video has gone on to rack up nearly 1.7 million views and 7,000 comments.

Mona Haidar and Dr Hani Hassan
Mona Haidar and Dr Hani Hassan

From viral video to sell-out serum

People of colour have been largely ignored by the mainstream skincare industry for decades. Dr Hassan set about researching different formulas for possible hyperpigmentation products – as well as looking for possible investors.

She explained to Yahoo News she was keen to prioritise people of colour during product testing and ensured 80% of participants belonged to an ethnic minority. “It was important to us to make sure that all people could use it because that reflects our ethos. It’s POC [people of colour] focused, but it’s not POC exclusive, everyone can benefit,” she says.

After working through 34 different versions of her initial ingredients, she created Supra-Fade, a night serum that Dr Hassan says is a safer alternative to some of the steroid-based products used for hyperpigmentation.

In 2021, Dr Hassan approached her friend Mona Haidar, a curator and image maker who graduated from Central Saint Martin, for advice about setting up her new business. After several video calls, Dr Hassan proposed they should work together professionally, with Haidar focusing on the creative side.

Dr Hassan said: “Mona and I complement each other's skill sets really well. She's all over the creative art side: brand curation, imagery, aesthetics and photography. I feel like I have a really good grasp of the science and the product.”

Haidar, for her part, said she wants to embrace and honour the “layered beauty” in diverse communities through the visual branding of HUE. “It is this aspect of the journey that excites me the most — the collaborative process, the beauty of communal creativity and the richness of shared dialogue.

Hue's Supra-Fade dark spot night serum.
Hue's Supra-Fade dark spot night serum.

“We hope to evoke a feeling, transcending the standardised image curation prevalent in the skincare industry today.”

The pair gradually developed the brand and sought investment, as they wanted to ensure the product was as affordable as possible while still aesthetically looking like a luxury item. Dr Hassan said: “We want to make sure that people feel special because it's a marginalised community. We want the formulations to be bespoke and really well-considered, and all of those things cost money. So then we thought, okay, we probably should raise money. “

In March 2023, the company received a valuation of £2.5m after raising a total of £250,000 from investors. Matteo Bozzo, a co-founder of HeidiPay, was their lead investor and is on the board of directors of HUE. Together, Dr Hassan and Haidar launched Here U Exist (HUE) in December 2023.

Within weeks of the influencer shout-out, the product had sold out with Dr Hassan telling Yahoo News they were hoping to restock the product 17 April.

Why hyperpigmentation is harder to fade for POC

For years, the hair, beauty and skincare industry has often failed people of colour. The lack of emphasis on researching specific skin types means much less is known about certain conditions that affect different skin types in varying ways.

“It’s something that is poorly unique to POC because the knowledge and production in skin care and the literature is based on Fitzpatrick types 1, 2, and 3, which is non-ethnic skin,” Dr Hassan says.

The Fitzpatrick classification groups skin into six types, with 1 being the lightest and 6 the darkest.

Hafsa Issa Salwe, esthetician and co-owner of Botanical Mission, a clinic based in London.
Hafsa Issa Salwe, esthetician and co-owner of Botanical Mission, a clinic based in London.

Hafsa Issa Salwe, an esthetician who owns Botanical Mission, explains one reason hyperpigmentation could be harder to fade in darker skin is that POC are more likely to produce excess melanin.

She told Yahoo News: “There is an enzyme called tyrosinase that contributes to the production of melanin, and, sometimes, while the skin is repairing itself, the body will just kind of get a bit too excited and basically produce too much of it.”

As a consequence, many people of colour felt they had to resort to DIY solutions - often with potentially dangerous consequences.

Salwe said that using steroids without the supervision of a doctor could cause topical steroid withdrawal, which is when someone stops using a steroid cream, their skin begins to develop a widespread rash, which could be anything from inflammation to peeling and oozing skin.

“You’re likely to cause infection to the skin, especially if you're thinning the skin over time. Sometimes, you'll see women who bleach their skin often have very raw skin that's weeping, and then they're prone to infection,” she warns.