Known for doling out chemistry-backed beauty tips on her Lab Muffin Beauty Science blog, Dr. Michelle Wong shared how she got her start as a cosmetic chemist and dispelled some common myths about skincare.
Dr. Michelle Wong
Cosmetic Chemist, Creator, Lab Muffin Beauty Science
“There’s a lot of secrecy in the beauty industry that I think is unnecessary, and I think it’s contributed to a lot of the misinformation and fear-mongering we see today.”
What motivated you to become a cosmetic chemist and how has your background in chemistry influenced your approach to skin care?
I started getting into skincare when I was at university. I was studying medicinal chemistry and pharmacology, so I spent a lot of time thinking about how different molecules affected the body, so it was natural to also think about skincare ingredients the same way.
I only started officially studying to become a qualified cosmetic chemist in 2020, about nine years after I started my blog. A lot of people referred to me as a cosmetic chemist and it was awkward to correct them, so I thought I may as well get the qualification to stop the confusion.
What inspired you to start your Lab Muffin blog, and how do you stay up to date on the latest research and developments in the field?
I was a student when I became interested in skincare, so I had a limited budget and spent hours agonizing over which products to buy, to the point where I was looking up studies and textbooks. I figured other people who didn’t have the background knowledge and access to resources were probably interested in this information, too, so I decided to share it on my blog. I also have a pretty terrible memory, so it was useful to record it for myself!
As I was looking through beauty information online, I also came across a lot of misinformation that I felt needed to be corrected — things like “natural ingredients are safer than synthetic ones,” so it gave me an outlet for discussing those types of things.
I subscribe to a lot of industry publications and have some alerts for studies and news stories emailed to me. My followers also ask me a lot of interesting questions and send me posts that need debunking.
What are some of the biggest misconceptions about skincare that you see in the beauty industry, and how can people educate themselves to make more informed decisions?
- Sunscreen is harmful to your health (e.g., causes cancer, vitamin D deficiency).
- Chemical sunscreens work by absorbing UV, while physical sunscreens work by reflecting — this one seems really abstract, but it’s where a lot of other myths about sunscreens come from.
- Ingredients in cosmetics and personal care products are causing lots of long-term health problems like cancer.
- If you buy every product on a celebrity’s skincare shelf, you’ll end up with the same skin as them.
I think for any topic, including skincare, it’s a good idea to look for the consensus of relevant experts.
How do you think the beauty industry can better promote transparency and education for consumers, and what role do you see yourself playing in this movement?
I would love to see the beauty industry invest more in science communication — for example, talking more about how they develop their products, what goes into making sure they’re safe, the interesting technology they’ve incorporated into them, etc. There’s a lot of secrecy in the beauty industry that I think is unnecessary, and I think it’s contributed to a lot of the misinformation and fear-mongering we see today.
Is there anything else you’d like to add that we didn’t cover?
I’ll give you my top 3 skincare tips:
- If you want to start using skincare, the first products most people should be looking at are sunscreen, cleanser, moisturizer, and a chemical exfoliant or retinoid.
- Work out your skin type and skin concerns, and refer back to these any time you feel like you’re getting swept up in the hype about a trendy product.
- Introduce one new product at a time into your routine — that way you can figure out whether a product is actually worth using, and you’re less likely to mess up your skin barrier.