What if I told you that Michelle Phan, one of the most successful YouTube beauty gurus, had a similar story to Britney Spears’ slow ballad “Lucky?” Hear me out: Britney famously sang those heartbreaking lyrics about a Hollywood starlet who seemed to have this picture perfect life, and deep down inside she felt lonely.
I’m not saying the beauty influencer felt the exact same way, but in Michelle’s latest YouTube video about why she left the industry, she breaks down the misconception that money buys you happiness. Instead, she felt disconnected from her family, friends, followers, and ultimately herself. Kinda similar to Britney’s song, right?
While she went through a digital and beauty detox last year (yes, she dropped social media and makeup foundation cold turkey), she took that time to recharge, rejuvenate, and revamp her beauty brand, EM Cosmetics. If you’re thinking to yourself that EM Cosmetics sounds familiar, it’s because back in 2013, Michelle partnered with L’Oréal to create her first-ever makeup line with the same name (she was one of the first YouTubers to collaborate with a beauty brand and have her own line, too).
Remember those huge face and eyeshadow palettes from Em? Some products even had 36 shades!
Now, Michelle owns EM Cosmetics, and it’s taken a new direction.
Em is more sleek, focused, and true to Michelle’s new aesthetic. She’s using her background in art, inspirations from traveling, and her newfound discovery of what beauty means to her to revamp her makeup brand.
She’s even enlisted her “muses” too, as a source of inspiration — whether it’s how to use Em’s products or having her team of beauty gurus creating their own custom looks.
Her new line includes only beauty essentials — three eyeliners with different finishes and lipsticks. Be on the look out for a *mascara* because they’re working on a custom brush.
Instead of dropping a massive amount of products, Michelle tells HelloGiggles that her brand is focused on creating key beauty products. So much that when they launch new products, they want it to be unique items that can’t be found on the market.
We spoke to Michelle about her latest Matte Gel eyeliner launch, what it was like to be foundation-free for a year now, and her secret to clear skin.
HelloGiggles: What was the inspiration behind the new Matte Gel Eyeliner Pencil for EM Cosmetics?
Michelle Phan: It’s nothing really exciting when people first hear about it, a black eyeliner, but since I’ve been taking a different approach to my beauty routine, being a beauty creator for over 10 years, creating blogs, and videos, I’ve tried ostensibly everything you can think of under the sun. Now that I’ve tried it all, I think my next revolution of how I perceive beauty is I’m much more particular on what I’m looking for. I’m more about precision and quality of products instead of just what’s trendy or what product is really hyped.
In this case with this pencil, I just wanted to make the holy grail eyeliner pencil that is waterproof. I’m always flying around because, in this space, there’s a lot of trips that you go on. Sometimes you can be in Australia and then, boom you’re in Asia in humid weather — and then you’re somewhere else where it’s dry and cold. I’m really excited about this pencil because I feel like it’s basically my holy grail pencil that I want to share with my audience who wants to search for theirs.
HG: It’s important that it’s budge-proof and waterproof because that’s definitely something people look for.
Michelle: Yes, it’s cry-proof, everything proof.
HG: You mentioned that you changed your beauty routine recently and you haven’t worn foundation in over a year. How did you feel about that in the beginning?
Michelle: In the beginning, it was really daunting — because basically since my online beauty creator career, I’ve been used to wearing foundation daily. It was always my routine. Maybe on the weekends, I would go foundation-free, but it was almost like my security blanket that I felt really safe in. It’s fine for the first 10 years when you’re wearing it, but I noticed that now that I’m entering into my 30s, my skin has changed. I’m noticing that my skin hasn’t improved throughout the years that I’ve been wearing makeup. In fact, it’s gotten worse.
HG: It seems like makeup can only cover up so much, but it’s really about taking care of your skin.
Michelle: Normally you would want to use less makeup if you have really good skin care habits. That was when I decided I don’t want makeup to be my security blanket. I want to see my skin for what it is. Your skin is your body’s first barrier of defense and it’s the largest organ that you have in your body. It can tell you so many things about your health if you just want to look at it. I feel like my entire life I’ve been covering it up and masking issues that I just didn’t want to address. For example, I have acne on my chin. I was always wondering why do I have acne on my chin? Now I’m learning it’s because of my hormones.
HG: How did you learn how to prevent acne on your chin?
Michelle: It has a lot to do with hormonal acne and it’s stress related, so I got into medication and that’s actually helped reduce the acne around my chin area. I used to have broken capillaries, but I was able to remedy that using red light therapy. It was kind of cool being able to be given the path to repair and rejuvenate my skin, and not feeling like I need to cover it up all the time to have perfect skin.
With technology today you’re using your selfie camera and there’s filters that can actually help filter and blur out any imperfections. Why do you even need foundation, unless you have to go to a special event and there’s going to be people there? I feel like because technology has changed and with my evolution and my change in my beauty and skin care habits, this kind of pushed me more towards wanting to try a different approach with my foundation.
HG: What was it like completely taking foundation out of your routine?
Michelle: The first three months were really hard because I felt like you’re seeing your flaws, you’re seeing your imperfections, you’re seeing your pores. It’s scary. It kind of shakes you in a way.
Then, I became more serious about my skin care habits and my routine. I noticed after the first three months, after the purge was over, and all of my flare-ups and my acne, once I was able to control it better, that was when I was able to refine my skin. Today I don’t even wear any foundation, maybe like a little bit of concealer here or there but I don’t even wear BB or CC cream. It’s nothing — it’s just sunscreen and a little bit of concealer, brows, eyeliner, my black eyeliner, that’s it, and maybe my Infinite Lip Cloud. My makeup routine has been so simplified that it’s saved me so much time.
I have a surplus of time now for me to work on other things. It’s really nice. Every once in a while whenever there’s an event I get excited because it’s almost like a treat. I get to have at least an hour to do my makeup, that’s going to be so fun, I get to try out all these products. My daily makeup has become simplified. I think in the long run it’s a better choice for me in the lifestyle that I’m seeking.
HG: I’m so glad you touched on the chin acne because I get that too. Maybe now I can figure out what it is.
Michelle: Do you wipe your phone screen or do you talk on it a lot? That was something that I had to start doing, too. I picked up the habit of cleaning my screen and wiping it down with alcohol.
HG: That’s actually a great tip! I will say that your skin looks amazing, and whatever your skin care routine is, it’s working — your skin is glowing.
Michelle: Thank you. I’ve just been using really simple skin care products, Korean skin care mostly, and it’s not even expensive. I would say it’s mid-price. I think there is this misconception that if you want good skin care, it has to be expensive. That’s not true. Now, with the internet, people can go on Reddit Skincare and discover any effective products on the market. It may not be a major mass brand, but as long as you do your due diligence and make sure the reviews are legitimate, you can make those choices on these indie brands — that I think are now becoming more surface level for a lot of people who are searching for alternative skin care products outside of drugstores.
HG: I read that you have a background in art. How has that helped with creating your beauty products for EM Cosmetics?
Michelle: I went to art school for illustration and I think it gave me a strong foundation on meticulously making the product more refined and having a point of view that’s for the artist, for the creator. That kind of gave me the ability to just make smarter choices and have a stronger vision on where I wanted my line to focus on.
In this case, we just wanted to focus on key products that everyone needs. They always want a really good lip product, color lip product, and a good eyeliner. I wanted to make sure my foundation base is set. This is how my illustration background helped elevate my decisions.
HG: Speaking of beauty essentials, like eyeliner and lipstick, can we expect to see other makeup staples from EM Cosmetics?
Michelle: We’re actually designing a custom mascara brush right now. I’m waiting for prototypes to be sent so I can try it out and have my colleagues try it out. We’re working on all categories right now. I don’t want to rush or launch something to market that’s already available. I’d rather just recommend a product that’s already available to the market instead of trying to make the same thing. I’d rather just focus on making unique products that I want for myself that I can’t find in my makeup bag, that no other brand is really focusing on.
HG: What’s your favorite product from your line?
Michelle: It’s hard to say, it’s like asking who’s your favorite child, I don’t know, all of them. I guess it would depend, now that I’m thinking what product do I use the most daily, then I would say my Brush Tip Illustrator Eyeliner ($15). That’s the one that I use on a daily basis. If I don’t want to use eyeshadow or mascara — I want to be very, very light with my makeup — eyeliner’s really fun because with the brush tip you have so much precision and control on how thick and thin you want your line to be.
There’s this trick that my friend, she’s a beauty creator, does. She uses one of our liquid liners and when she draws the line, she’ll take her nail and right before it dries, she will kind of cut the eyeliner in half to make it even skinnier. The line is so thin because she has a mono lid. She’s Korean. She has a really small mono lid but because the eyeliner is even smaller, it looks so cool. This is what I want to my brand to be known for, is having precision and control and effortless application. I think that is really key. If you’re going to have all these products and it’s hard to use, I still want it to be approachable, too.
HG: What makes EM Cosmetics stand out from other brands that offer a wider range of product?
Michelle: Our products are very hyper-focused. I’m not looking into expanding into every single thing because that’s what I did in the first launch. Having this experience, knowing how to make — if I had to make 300 different skus, I could do it. I did it and it didn’t work out with what I was envisioning, which is really just taking one product at a time, with every holy grail product that you need — whether it’s a black eyeliner, a liquid liner, a matte liquid lipstick, and then whatever the next thing that we’re going to be focusing on — and just perfecting it. Making it the best that we can push it for the price point that we’re averaging. Like we spared no expense in making any decision on making sure that the product itself was at the highest quality for the price point, even down to the components. I made sure that components that we used were quality components because the packaging is so crucial now with online and indie beauty brands.
If you have cute packaging or good quality packaging, then it’s reflected on what people are seeing online, and you have a better chance of having people grow interest and invest in your brand. I think this will make the brand in itself stand out from everyone else because we’re just so focused.
HG: What is the one beauty step in your routine that you just cannot skip no matter what?
Michelle: Because I live in LA, I would say sunscreen. Even before I apply moisturizer, I apply my sunscreen on first that way my skin is absorbing it and I’m getting maximum protection. It’s so sunny here. Even if it’s overcast, I’m always making sure if I’m going to be out in the sun for more than 30 minutes, I need to have sunscreen. There’s this misconception that the higher the SPF the better coverage, but actually SPF 15, SPF 35 that’s enough, it suffices. Anything beyond that is marginal, you get a marginal increase of protection. It’s not really worth it with all the extra additives and chemicals to it. For the summertime, I always make sure to have sunscreen on my face, my neck, and my hands too.
HG: This is just a fun one, how do you take your coffee?
Michelle: I don’t drink coffee. I drink green tea. I decided to give up coffee. For the past year, I’ve only had coffee maybe three or four times. It’s actually really changed me. I think my whole life I was so dependent on coffee that when I was off of it, I went through major withdrawals and it was really bad. It was a decision I wanted to make because I realized how acidic coffee has been on my body. I’m trying to get my body to be more alkaline.
This is why I decided — you know if I can’t have coffee but I still need my caffeine to wake up — green tea is the next best option. You have antioxidants. For every cup of coffee or tea, they say that you should drink a glass of water with it, too to rehydrate yourself because it dehydrates. That’s another habit that I’ve been trying to implement, every time I have a glass of tea, I have to make sure to down a glass of water.