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Carolyn Lee Tan: K-beauty

Outside of her husband’s credentials, Carolyn herself holds a distinction, one that defines her as a big player in the beauty industry.



illustration by glenzkie tolo

At first glance, Carolyn Lee Tan would strike the beholder as someone who would be most comfortable wearing a crown.

The reaction is most apt. Carolyn Lee Tan was once Miss Korea. It is a title that, long after she has passed it on to her successor, she has kept by virtue of her looks, regal manner and sense of style. There is no mistaking the grace. Talk about being eternally lovely, charming and articulate.

A queen no less in whatever terms and in whichever royal court she may find herself in, Carolyn has, for the longest time, worn a more lasting crown. No she did not vie for this one. She had been wooed by one of Asia’s most eligible bachelors to become his queen.

From being a beauty queen, Carolyn Tan transformed into an international entrepreneur while keeping her dual roles as dedicated wife and mother. | photographs courtesy of Carolyn Tan

Carolyn, who fittingly responds to being called Mrs. Elton SeeTan, has lived in the Philippines since 2009. She is the wife of the chairman, president and CEO of the Asia World Group Inc., which is in real estate development, construction and the operation and management of The E-Hotels, Resorts and Residences Suites. Yes, Elton’s father is the legendary Tan Yu, the first Chinese Filipino billionaire who made it to the Forbes List.

Outside of her husband’s credentials, Carolyn herself holds a distinction, one that defines her as a big player in the beauty industry. She is the co-founder and chief marketing officer of YesCarel which, she says, “aims to provide the most authentic skincare solution to all while spreading awareness of self-care.”

Based in Manila, Seoul and Los Angeles, YesCarel, according to Carolyn, “creates top-tier K-Beauty skincare brands and electronics, as well as brings in trending K-beauty boxes from Korea every season.”

YesCarel K-beauty box.

The company offers “beauty fridges and K-beauty boxes that are distributed throughout Asia, as well as manufactures a K-Beauty skincare line in Seoul and Los Angeles.”

“Our company vision is to build the most-loved and most-trusted K-Beauty brands,” Carolyn proudly shares, “and our mission is to create a welcoming and quality K-beauty shopping experience, on which everyone can rely to build their own K-beauty journey.”

Daily Tribune recently conversed with Carolyn who shared her journey as an exponent of K-beauty and as a Korean who made a choice to live her married and family life in the Philippines while keeping constantly in touch with her Korean roots and adapting to the Chinese-Filipino background of her husband, Elton. And, yes again, Carolyn enjoys the best of many worlds.

In raising their three children, Tan Yu III, Carel Lee Tan and Elton Lee Tan Jr., Elton and Carolyn emphasized the value of good education.

Tanyu III, Carolyn, Dr. Elton, Carel and Elton Jr. | photographs courtesy of Carolyn Tan

Tan Yu III and Carel finished their elementary and middle school at Taipei Fuhsing Private School. Elton Jr. studied at Xavier School. Carel went to International School Manila for high school in the Philippines while Tan Yu III went to the United States for high school and Menlo College where he majored in Accounting. Tan Yu III is pursuing his Master in Entrepreneurship at the Asian Institute of Management. Carel then pursued college at UCLA and majored in Architecture. Elton Jr. is graduating from De La Salle University this year wit a major in Business Management. It is with her daughter Carel that Carolyn has been pushing the eponymous brand, YesCarel, forward.

With her only daughter Carel, she founded a best-selling skin care company anchored on Korean aesthetics.

Very welcome in the Philippines

Daily Tribune (DT): How did you meet your future husband?

Carolyn Lee Tan (CLT): We met in Taiwan when I represented Korea in a beauty pageant.

DT: What did you like in him?

CLT: He is independent, stable, family-oriented, sincere and loving.

DT: What did you not like in him?

CLT: Not romantic.

DT,: How did you adjust to each other considering that you are of different nationalities?

CLT:  After marriage, I moved to Taiwan. We respected each other’s cultures. I learned Mandarin first and tried to understand their family’s Filipino Chinese traditions. My husband also admired and grew fond of Korea. Moreover, we communicate a lot with each other to understand and accept our differences.

DT: What were your first impressions of the Philippines and the people when you arrived in 2009?

CLT: I felt very welcome coming back to my husband and his family’s hometown. Everyone was very friendly, and bright. I was very hopeful for my new life here in the Philippines.

DT: Tell us about your courtship, engagement and wedding.

CLT: I had my engagement in Korea and wedding at the Manila Cathedral, officiated by Cardinal Jaime Sin in the Philippines.

DT: How did you initially deal with your in-laws and he with your parents and Korean relatives?

CLT: l have to admit it was not easy at first. I learned the Mandarin language, and accustomed myself  to Chinese dishes. I ate dinner with my in-laws everyday to get to know them and to understand their family culture. My husband also cared for and respected the Korean traditions.

DT: Which Korean practices in child rearing did you apply for your children?

CLT: I bring them to Korea every year to indulge in Korean society and customs. I also introduce them to the Korean food culture from time to time by cooking some traditional dishes I grew up eating.

DT: Which Chinese-Filipino child-rearing practices did you apply?

CLT: I bring them to different heritage sites in the Philippines and introduce them to Filipino cuisine. They also do volunteer work to further their understanding of the Philippines.

‘3-7-12 Principle’

DT: What is your beauty and wellness ritual in the morning?

CLT: In terms of wellness, I believe that more than a workout, food is the biggest contributing factor. I drink two glasses of warm water and ‘abc (apple, beet, carrot)’ juice every morning with an empty stomach. I also eat Greek yogurt with nuts and fresh fruits. In terms of beauty, I refresh my face using cold green tea water or apple cider vinegar water as a last step of washing my face every morning. Then, I apply my skincare routine which consists of serum, cream and eye cream.

DT: What brands do you favor for the purpose?

CLT: I love to use Korean skincare products because they are ideal for Asian skin. I’ve been using AHC and our products, Carel Beauty and MIYIN.

DT: How do you take care of your skin?

a beauty fridge keeps skincare products fresh.

CLT: I care the most about moisturizing, so besides putting on moisturizers daily, I use face mask twice a week. Also, I apply skincare properly day and night and make sure to use sun cream daytime. I cleanse my face thoroughly before sleeping and do facial massage. Furthermore, I use beauty gadgets to help lift my face. More importantly, I put all my skincare in the beauty fridge to keep the products fresh and to maximize the effects of the products. Inner beauty is also important so I eat a balanced meal and take vitamins, and good sleep with keep a positive mindset.

DT: How do you keep fit?

CLT: I exercise regularly and I keep the ‘3,7,12 principle’ — ‘3’ means not eating for three hours before sleeping; ‘7’ means sleeping for seven hours; and 12 means fasting 12 hours after the last food intake before sleeping.

DT: What are your favorite fashion brands for both formal and informal wear?

CLT: I like elegant and unique designs. For formal occasions, I usually choose Givenchy, Valentino and Andre Kim. For informal occasions, I usually choose Self-portrait, Karen Millen, Max& Co, Dolce & Gabbana, Fendi and Moschino. I also love Korean high fashion brands.

DT: Which Filipino designers do you patronize and for what kinds of outfit?

CLT: Amir Sali is definitely my go-to designer. He is very talented and super detail-oriented. He knows exactly the styles I like, and always manages to make my dresses unique and stunning.

DT: What about brands for accessories including bags, shoes and jewelry?

CLT: All the bags and shoes of Chanel, Christian Dior and Fendi, YSL, Jimmy Choo and Valentino, and for jewelry, Bvlgari, Tiffany.

DT: What do you do during your ‘me time’?

CLT: I read books, watch Korean dramas, cook and do oil painting.

Carolyn is the best model for Carel beauty products.

DT: What is your formula for a succesful party?

CLT:  Good food, good music and good decorations.

DT: Which of the dishes you have served have been highly appreciated by your guests?

CLT:  I like to serve Korean food, especially bulgogi, kbbq and japchae.

(to be continued)