The beauty industry is awash with competition, but these trailblazers stand out by letting their colors saturate the scene
These entrepreneurs exude a strong case of derring-do. They not only possess the resilience and radiance, but also play integral roles in the dynamic communities within the Philippine beauty industry.
In conversation with five formidable women, namely Dr. Ailynne Vergara-Wijangco, Paula Hilario, Dr. Anna Palabyab-Rufino, Margaux Arambulo-Lucena, and Issa Litton, Lifestyle Asia highlights why boldness deserves celebrating. These remarkable women exemplify the spirit of courage and innovation, contributing to the industry’s evolution and inspiring others to pursue their passions fearlessly.
Dr. Ailynne Vergara-Wijangco, founder of dermatology clinic, VW Dermatology
The interesting thing about Dr. Ailynne Vergara-Wijangco is her sixth sense for mapping out a good plan—and not just for the patients who walk through her clinic’s doors. “My mom hoped [that my siblings and I] would become doctors,” she says with a smile before telling me about how her mother may just have unknowingly fueled a different dream: “Growing up, I loved watching her dress up, apply makeup, and wear high heels.”
It’s no surprise, then, that after obtaining a bachelor’s degree in psychology, Wijangco took a moment to assess how her passion for beauty fit into the picture. “That’s when I explored [and enrolled in] makeup school, fashion school, and dancing school,” she recounts, and by a curious twist of fate, it steered her toward dermatology. Wijangco completed her master’s degree in medicine in 2006, and in 2007, passed the Physician board exam at the University of Santo Tomas. In 2008, she furthered her expertise by undergoing residency training in dermatology at the Skin and Cancer Foundation until 2011. By 2012, she had successfully passed the Philippine Dermatological Society’s diplomate exam in dermatology, making her a PDS board-certified dermatologist with the post-nominal credentials, “DPDS.” In the same year, she established her own clinic, VW Dermatology, bearing her initials.
Now eleven years in, VW Dermatology continues to be a constant in Wijangco’s life, growing alongside the dermatologist. Asked whether her relationship with beauty has evolved over the years, she says, “My attraction to shiny objects has diminished. I still appreciate beautiful things, but now I value the beauty that results from hard work, discipline, humility, care, and creativity.”
So, how does this kind of beauty emerge? “By learning and challenging myself regularly. I like to remind myself that if I’m comfortable, I’m not growing,” she shares. “Maintaining [your speed] or being passive means losing to time.”
Being part of a team, however, reduces the pressure. With her eponymous clinic, Wijangco imparts a fundamental principle to her team: “When others are fearful, it’s time to be brave; and when others are brave, it’s time to exercise caution.” In a community, it’s a matter of understanding when to take action and when to pause.
For Wijangco, genuine care and intention form not just a part, but the very foundation of her practice. She prioritizes a thoughtful approach to patient care, consisting of a three-step process. First, an in-depth “skin date” consultation assesses the patient’s skincare, diet, and lifestyle. Step two involves creating a tailored “treat” plan for their specific concerns, while step three focuses on post-treatment care, including personalized product recommendations for improved skin texture.
“Our daily habits—how we think, move, talk to ourselves, and nourish our mind, body, and spirit—determine the quality of our future,” she emphasizes. Beyond this, the dermatologist underscores the importance of enjoying the process of self-improvement. “True beauty is acknowledging that we are all beautifully made. Nurturing this [inner beauty] allows it to grow. To radiate from [within and] inspire those around us. This beauty may manifest as gratitude, joy, love, calmness, compassion, humility, strength, courage, laughter, and more.”
Paula Hilario, founder of haircare brand, Babe Formula
Where does the pursuit of innovation end, and the preservation of one’s identity begin? Brands in a globalizing world are expected to possess shifting, ever-changing natures that can get with the times. Even so, Paula Hilario is sticking to authenticity to weather the storm. “Our brand ethos is grounded in honesty,” she says of Babe Formula. “Even if it sometimes means saying no to what would otherwise be considered big opportunities by conventional standards.”
With its range of nourishing products in eye-catching pastel packaging, this proudly Filipino haircare label unwaveringly adheres to its core principles of creating effective sulfate-free products while also nurturing a following that shares a deep passion for haircare, the community, and the brand.
Establishing Babe Formula was a labor of love, Hilario shares, as it proved challenging to secure a manufacturer willing to produce sulfate-free hair products. In a market saturated with commercial shampoo products readily available at every street corner, she remained steadfast in her belief that consumers would eventually embrace Babe Formula’s distinctive approach.
“I didn’t want to lower the price just to compete with products containing 30 percent sulfates,” she explains. “Our products are sulfate-free, paraben-free, and silicone-free. My goal from the beginning has always been to have consumers embrace our approach, even if it takes some time.”
While guilt-free products typically refer to those that are organic and transparent, Hilario also emphasized the importance of their impact on hair, something that is often overlooked in the production of sulfate-free shampoos. In addition to its guilt-free attributes, Babe Formula boasts exceptional smoothening properties. Chiffon, a shampoo and conditioner duo, contains Shikakai fruit extract to hydrate, restore, and detangle strands, while a haircare set called Whimsicle delivers an instant hair detox experience in the shower.
From leading a modest team of seven, hand-filling shampoo bottles, to launching an online venture, and now overseeing a thriving company, the entrepreneur is reaching for the next goal. Her next conquest involves reshaping the Philippine beauty industry, in her own way, with a primary focus on prioritizing inclusivity and transparency. “At Babe Formula, we’re committed to creating opportunities through our ‘babepreneur’ program and cultivating genuine connections within our community,” she emphasizes. Referring to her marketers, many of whom are mothers who previously held corporate day jobs, she says, “Babe Formula isn’t just my business venture; it belongs to over 4,000 resellers who are an integral part of our brand.” This marks a full-circle moment for her as she reflects, “Surrounding myself with people who share the same values has always been a huge part of what Babe Formula represents today. Their trust in our brand motivates me to give it my all.”
Dr. Anna Palabyab-Rufino, board-certified dermatologist at dermatology clinic, BeautiqueMD
In a world where healthcare often feels like a transaction, there are individuals who remind us that medicine is as much about heart as it is about healing. Dr. Anna Palabyab-Rufino, a board-certified dermatologist, embodies this ethos. With nearly 14 years of experience, her story is a testament to the transformative power of compassion, the pursuit of excellence, and the enduring impact she leaves on the lives she touches.
Dr. Rufino’s journey to becoming a dermatologist was shaped by the love and dedication of her parents, who were both esteemed dermatologists themselves. As a child, she spent countless hours in their clinics, witnessing firsthand the profound connections her parents formed with their patients. These memories left an indelible mark on her young heart.
In a recent interview with Lifestyle Asia, Dr. Rufino shared her inspiration: “I was inspired by how much their patients love them and how much impact they’ve had in their lives. They were able to achieve success in their careers while still making family their top priority.” Today, she continues to care for some of her parents’ patients, hearing fond stories and heartfelt gratitude from those they served.
The field of dermatology is in a constant state of evolution, with new treatments and technologies emerging regularly. To provide the best care for her patients, Dr. Rufino is dedicated to staying at the forefront of these advancements.
“In medicine, the learning never stops,” she says. “I keep up to date by attending lectures and conferences here and abroad. I learn by sharing and discussing difficult or rare cases with my dermatologist friends.”
Managing a clinic involves multifaceted challenges, and Dr. Rufino is no stranger to them. However, she attributes her clinic’s success in navigating these challenges to the strength of the partnerships she has forged with like-minded colleagues.
“I am really blessed with the best partners,” she affirms. “We made sure that our values were aligned from the very beginning.”
For Dr. Rufino, success isn’t measured merely in dermatological treatments but in the transformation of lives. She fondly recalls many heartwarming stories that illustrate the profound impact she and her team have on their patients.
“We love working with brides and being part of their journey,” she shares. “We also love hearing from patients that they feel so at home and at ease in the clinic and that it is their happy place. Teenagers regain their confidence after successfully treating their acne. Young people express aspirations of becoming doctors one day.”
Beyond her professional success, Dr. Rufino believes that her work aligns perfectly with her life purpose: touching lives.
Dr. Rufino has a personal perspective on what constitutes true luxury. She cherishes the fundamentals of life: family, friends, and self-care. She beautifully articulates her philosophy on wealth: “The definition of true wealth and luxury at this point in my life is time. Having enough time to do the things you love, to spend time with your loved ones, and to nurture yourself.”
In a world where time seems to slip through our fingers, Dr. Anna Palabyab-Rufino’s life and work serve as a poignant reminder of the lasting impact that compassion, excellence, and genuine care can have on both patients and practitioners alike.
Margaux Arambulo-Lucena, founder of bodycare brand, Dermtropics
The glass ceiling for women starting their businesses has always been an obstacle to success. Building yourself from the ground up is stopped by an invisible barrier caused by a system that goes against you. Going against the grain of society and thriving after breaking the glass ceiling is genuinely a feat on its own—every woman’s success is a stone that slowly cracks the glass ceiling. And one of the women who definitely blasted the glass ceiling is Margaux Arambulo-Lucena of Dermtropics.
Lucena took inspiration from her mom’s career as a dermatologist. Seeing her mom treat patients with a family-secret soap drove her to create her company. Dermtropics, a company that Lucena and her husband founded, sells virgin coconut oil skincare products suited for everyone—whether you have sensitive or reactive skin. “I wanted to build something essential that would create an impact in the daily lives of people and at the same time also help uplift the livelihood of the Filipino community,” Lucena said.
Lucena’s vision for Dermtropics isn’t solely bound to the three major islands of the Philippines. “Our country has so many gifts and talents that I believe could compete with the world, and discovering all these opportunities inspired me to create Dermtropics,” she explains. Her will to help every Filipino struggling to find a suitable gentle skincare product helped her build the foundations of Dermtropics.
Her journey toward success isn’t as smooth as virgin coconut oil-moisturized skin. She has had her fair share of bumps and rough patches while establishing her brand. “The biggest struggle so far that I have experienced was being pregnant for the first time while running a business,” she looked back. Being a businesswoman, a mother, and a wife all at once was one of her greatest challenges.
Navigating through multiple responsibilities for each role is a problem faced by every working woman—the domestic and corporate spheres colliding truly bring out the best in a woman. “It was just me, my husband, and two more team members—it became even more challenging when I gave birth. I was struggling with my recovery and at the same time meeting the demands of work and motherhood,” Lucena said.
Lucena’s will and determination to succeed as a mother and businesswoman enabled her to push through the struggles of juggling multiple roles. She also acknowledged that her strength didn’t come from her alone. She had a dependable support system that helped her out of the conundrum. “Being surrounded by family and friends, including having good team members in our company helped me overcome these challenges. I am grateful,” she exclaimed.
Her journey through hardship is truly an inspiration. Her struggles laid the seeds for the fruits of her labor. “So far, having the opportunity to grow something that I really love. Working with my husband, sharing the same passion, meeting different people, collaborating, and learning from each other. The highlight of my personal milestone is the opportunity to become a mother for the first time,” she reflects. Her achievements aren’t bound by numbers—her accomplishments come from her fulfillment as a woman. “My husband and I have been married for 10 years, and I have given birth to our first child last year. Since then, everything has completely changed. Life became more meaningful,” Lucena said.
It is also her achievement to share and promulgate her mission. “To be able to provide world-class quality products that are gentle and nourishing to your skin, while at the same time giving back to our Filipino community and our environment,” she explained.
A woman of power, grace, and flexibility—Margaux Arambulo-Lucena establishes herself as an industry leader. “Having full control of your life, focusing on the things that you have, and appreciating all the blessings in life will bring us true wealth,” she explains. Her ability to value herself enabled her to push through barriers and turn what-if into what is.
Issa Litton, founder of training platform, 1LitCorp
Issa Litton has the charisma you would expect from one of the country’s most esteemed hosts and public speakers. Conversing with her feels natural and never contrived; she talks to someone with the ease, confidence, and compassion of a woman who understands the true power of words and storytelling. She has, after all, been in the industry for nearly 25 years.
“When people say, ‘why do you look so young?’ Well, I really believe I’ve never worked a day in my life. I mean, of course, this [career] has its frustrations. But, I’d still rather be doing this than anything else,” she tells Lifestyle Asia.
Some people may think hosting is a one-sided performance where a person reads a script and everyone just listens. However, a great host understands that creating moments of happiness requires genuine connection and engagement with the audience.
“This is really, I think, my brand: connection. It’s all about your connection with people, with your message. Everything should be aligned. You can tell if it’s scripted, if it’s not authentic, if it’s empty or shallow,” Litton explains.
Over the years, the talented speaker established herself as the must-have host for a variety of occasions, from lifestyle events to weddings. However, being one person, it wasn’t possible to cover everything. Some people would approach her saying they wished she could’ve hosted their events, or that they could find hosts who carried the level of professionalism and competency she did.
“I found myself thinking: ‘What can I do about that? Can I transfer my skills to other people?’” she states. “I’m not blind to what I’ve been given. And I really just want to share them.” This is the very ethos that drives Litton forward: that’s to say, her desire to contribute and make life better for others by doing what she knows best.
From this desire sprung 1LitCorp, a company that Litton started in 2019 with the help of some trusted friends. What began as a series of training sessions quickly evolved into a full-fledged agency that continues to train and manage some of the country’s brightest talents in the sphere of public speaking.
When running 1LitCorp, Litton ensures her trainees are equipped with the five C’s, which stand for qualities and skills she believes every good host should possess. The first “C” is competence, and the second is clarity in communication. Next, of course, is connection—the beating heart behind Litton’s work. The fourth C stands for “carriage”: a catchy word the host came up with to refer to the way a person carries themselves. “Because you’re seen when you’re a host. You’re in front of a crowd, so make it worth their while to not just listen to you, but look at you; it’s a show,” she expounds.
Finally, there’s the fifth C, which stands for consistency. “Do it again, and again, and again. You need to keep working on it,” she explains. Litton adds, “Why do you think I’m still around?”
Litton finds great joy and fulfillment seeing her pupils flourish, not solely as professionals, but as human beings as well. To her, one of the most rewarding parts of her job is when she sees them thrive and succeed.
“And hopefully they’re embracing the same values I promote, like to contribute and help out. As a parent, isn’t that what you wish for? Success as a person and human being, not just in one’s career. This is a business of people, after all.”
Litton also expressed her love for continuous learning, even as a mentor. “I’m not just teaching them, they keep me on my toes. I get to keep practicing what I preach,” she intimates. “And I just have so much fun with them! At the end of the day, it’s like hanging out with another barkada. They watch out for me, and I watch out for them.”
Besides instilling a sense of community and generosity within her company, Litton has another vision for the industry and everyone in 1LitCorp. “I want to professionalize this calling. You’re on time, you ask the right questions, you contribute more than what’s expected of you. It’s not just the skills I want to impart,” she states. “It’s that sense of professionalism. That’s what 1LitCorp is.”
Photography EXCEL PANLAQUE of KLIQ Inc.