Words || Amy Hadley
When you use a skincare or beauty product for the first time, you accept a certain level of vulnerability. You’ve consented to potential future breakouts. You’re aware that your skin’s precious balance is at risk. You have accepted that your face might burn off. Or if you have your regimen sorted, how do you troubleshoot? Where do turn to when you have a pimple redder than a baboon’s butt? Your best instincts will probably tell you to find someone or something which isn’t affiliated with any particular cosmetic brand. It could be a well-groomed friend, a trusted beautician, online forums, or our old pal Google. As helpful as this can sometimes be, where’s the logic behind their anecdotes? Where’s the science behind the skin you’re in?
That’s where Lab Muffin comes in. It is a science-based beauty blog run solely by Michelle. She is not your average beauty blogger, and certainly not your average PhD qualified scientist. When she was completing her PhD, her fellow scientists found it bizarre that she would wear lipstick to labs, let alone run a beauty blog. Michelle has a PhD in chemistry, and uses her science communication background to explain the many how’s and why’s of beauty and skincare. Her blog is as much an educational tool, as it is a place to discuss the quality of pigmentation in a lipstick or how your skin feels after using a buzzed-about moisturiser. Her blogs are a mixture of non-affiliated reviews, testing trends, and the science behind skincare and beauty.
Lab Muffin began in late 2011, when the online discussion of beauty and science was either oversimplified, or filled with incomprehensible jargon. During this time, a big mamma of science-based beauty blogs, “… explains things well, but she (who shall not be named) has the science wrong. She is not a trained scientist. Her interpretations are a little bit shifty.”
Beauty and science are intrinsically linked. Unfortunately, so is beauty and marketing. When it comes to selling beauty, Michelle says, “Phrases like ‘chemical free’ really annoy me. Everything is chemicals, so it’s preying on people’s’ ignorance.” If you’re like me and have no scientific knowledge beyond compulsory Year 10 science, it’s nearly impossible to discern the difference between science and bold claims. “Part of the reason I started my blog is because my mum is a sucker for everything.” Michelle realised that there must be people of similar levels of scientific knowledge (or gullibility), as her mum.
When it comes to cosmetic companies and their claims, Michelle isn’t shy to disprove their bullshit. “The claims are often really dodgy… For instance, skincare companies are allowed to say their product reduces the appearance of wrinkles, but they can’t say it reduces your wrinkles, even though it’s practically the same claim. They are legally bound to stay out of the pharmaceutical area.” Using her research and practical skills, she has been able to prove (and disprove) the claims of some skincare and beauty products. This isn’t based on subjectivity or personal experience – just logic and science. This is something very unique to Lab Muffin, as most beauty blogs and forums base their reviews purely on their own experiences. “In these forums, it’s experience that is recognised as correct. That tends to get a lot of cred compared to here’s what happens, here’s the logic, here’s the proof.”
Through the interview, Michelle speaks very warmly of other bloggers; scientists and beauty enthusiasts alike. “Lots of people have written fantastic science articles who don’t have any science background, and it’s all perfectly correct.” Beauty bloggers cop plenty of flack for being the pawns of cosmetic companies. Of course, there are many which are indeed driven by affiliation and profit. With a laugh, Michelle agrees, “…beauty bloggers do get sent a lot of stuff.” Lab Muffin does review products which are sent from companies, however each of these reviews has an end note about this. When she chooses her own products to review or test, it largely comes down to popularity. “If there’s a lot of buzz, or a product I really like I’ll test it. If there’s something with science, or the chance to test the science behind it, I can tackle that.”
The content which Michelle creates emphasises that ‘one size fits all’ is not useful when choosing and using products. “I’m quite aware that if it’s a really popular product and I don’t like it, it just doesn’t work for me.” She is able to test makeup products in about one day to see results such as longevity and colour pay off. For skincare, she will trial products for about three weeks, as her skin breaks out from some products. When choosing and using products, Michelle recommends to test them on yourself – ignore the claims, and test how ingredients work for you.
“One of the problems with reading an ingredients list is that sometimes there is a lot of variation in the ingredient itself, especially with natural products. If you think about bananas, you can have a really unripe banana versus a really ripe banana. If it was in an ingredients list, it would be listed as ‘banana’ or ‘banana extract’. But they don’t say which extract of the banana. It could be the skin, it could be something really volatile, it could be powdery, it could be a random oil… It’s always best to test the product to see the result, as you can’t just tell from the ingredients list.”
Above all, Michelle is an advocate for honesty and logic – values which the beauty industry could be more heavy-handed with. So what’s next for Lab Muffin? “Those lip stain peel things.” Michelle adds with a laugh, “I’m not sure if you have to take off the peel-y thing before you leave the house or not. We’ll see.”