In our exclusive Michelle Phan interview, one of the first beauty influencers shares her reasoning behind letting go of foundation and reveals her entire K-beauty skin care routine.
Anyone who started dabbling in the world of YouTube makeup videos back 2007 has a soft spot in their heart for Michelle Phan. She launched on the scene when YouTube was just taking off and quickly became one of the platform’s biggest stars, bringing in millions of views for her makeup transformations, and eventually becoming a bonafide businesswoman herself, launching Ipsy and her own line of cosmetics, Em.
But about two years ago, Michelle decided to stop posting on her channel and take some time to focus on herself and grow spiritually. It was also two years that Michelle stopped wearing a lot of makeup and started going foundation free. We had a chance to chat with Michelle about her decision to focus on skin care rather than makeup and her favorite skin care products.
You’ve been foundation free for over two years. What inspired that decision?
It honestly became too high maintenance for me. So much of my time was invested in achieving flawless skin with foundation, and the after care that comes with it. My skin became too dependent on foundation, and the older I became, the more coverage I needed (or so I thought).
Our skin is the largest organ in our body and it communicates with us. When we’re seeing redness, it’s our skin’s way of saying, ‘Hey, there’s an issue here.’ If I’m just covering it, I’m hiding these issues and placing them on the back-burner. Doing so built up this insecurity I had where foundation felt like my security blanket. If I wasn’t wearing foundation, I didn’t “feel” like myself. Seeing flawless filtered faces online, my perception of healthy skin was warped and unrealistic.
What’s your advice for people who want to start getting more into skin care but are so used to piling on makeup?
Skin care is an investment. Makeup is instant gratification. I think the most important part is recognizing your skin and just understanding it. No one knows your skin better than you. Do you have combination or oily skin? Everyone’s different. Also, recognize the patterns in your skin. Do you get acne right before your period, and is it around your chin area? If you do, your acne might be a hormonal issue. Even dairy is full of hormones, and that can trigger a breakout.
So first, have a proper diagnosis on your skin. From there, you can start implementing things. Like OK, my skin is dry, so I should get a really hydrating moisturizer and start using a mask. Baby steps. Skin care doesn’t have to be complicated. We have the ability to repair our skin. Even if you damage it, the damage isn’t done. You can reverse it. The skin has the ability to heal itself, you just have to know the right techniques and adopt a healthy habit. It pays off in the long run, believe me.
How much did K-beauty influence your transition into focusing more on skin care?
I’ve always been a huge advocate of skin care first, even in my early YouTube days. I love innovation, so of course, I started gravitating towards Korean products. I also found that they are cheaper than Japanese products, which is kind of nice when you’re a college student starting off on YouTube, I wasn’t making that much money. I knew about brands like Missha back then because I knew they were making the best BB cream at the time. It’s just crazy to see how Korean beauty now has made an impact in the states, and has cultivated such a engaged community.
What are your favorite Korean products?
I love the masking. Before, I used to do the DIY method where I would just take tissue paper and soak it with essence and stick them on my face. Now I’ve started to fall in love more with Korean masks. I love the innovation and the different types of materials they use, whether it’s cellulose, cotton, or plant-based. I have more sheet mask options than clothes! It’s crazy.
When CC cream and cushion compacts debuted in Korea, I switched over to that over foundation. Iope was my first cushion, and I distinctly remember thinking to myself, ‘Dude this is the future. I don’t need foundation.’
I also love Korean hair care products. I find that they are amazing. I’m not a huge fan of sulfates and Korean hair products know what’s good.
I use a lot of lip products from Korea. Laniege makes this lip sleep mask and I was like, ‘Why didn’t I think of this?’ I’m using it way more than lip balm now.
What is your current skin care routine?
Right now, I’m using the Missha Near Skin pH Balancing Cleansing Foam. It smells like mojito and lime popsicle and it’s a very refreshing, gentle, mild cleanser. When I’m breaking out, I use the COSRX Salicylic Acid Daily Gentle Cleanser. The formula is creamy and it doesn’t dry out my skin. I love the Son & Park Beauty Water if I want something more low maintenance and I want to keep my routine pretty chill. I use it with cotton pads and it keeps my skin clean, hydrated, and refreshed. When it comes to chemical exfoliation, the Dr. G Brightening Peeling Gel is my favorite. It’s mild and gentle and it does a great job for removing dead skin cells and gets skin ready and prepped for essence.
I then use the Neogen Real Ferment Micro Essence. What I love most about Neogen is that it’s effective and affordable. I love self-care, so I usually follow with the Manefit Natural Gift Green Tea Pore Care Sheet Mask. I love using the Missha Time Revolution Night Repair New Science Activator Ampoule as my serum. I then layer the A’PIEU Madecassoside Cream; it helps strenghthen the skin barrier which is something that I’ve noticed as I’ve gotten older that I need. When my skin is irritated, I reach for the Benton Aloe Propolis Soothing Gel.
How does your skin feel now that you’re foundation free?
I love how low maintenance my life is now. It’s the little things, like how I don’t have to worry about getting makeup on my clothes when I’m changing. That was game-changer for me.
What is your typical makeup routine now?
It’s very simple; it literally takes me three minutes to do my full face now. I use the Cle de Peau concealer to spot treat, a brow product I’m developing for Em, my signature thin liquid liner, two coats of mascara, and True Gloss in Magic Hour. I spent my 20s exploring and expressing different facets of my beauty. Now that I’m in my 30s, I’ve nailed down the look that suits me best. It’s a journey, finding your look. Some people find it earlier, others like myself, are late bloomers.
What’s your advice to beauty bloggers who love makeup but want to tone it down?
If you want to go crazy with makeup in your 20s, do it. Just make sure to maintain good habits when you remove your makeup. Don’t be lazy. If you’re too lazy to remove all your makeup, then maybe just use less. At the end of the day, your skin is everything; your skin is your foundation. If it’s not in good shape, you’ll be spending more time and money repairing it.