“I always secretly loved the art of makeup as a child. I would come up with stories and characters and try on my mom’s Maybelline eyeliner when she wasn’t home. It was a very old-school pencil—you had to burn the tip to make it smudgy enough to use. But my mom really wanted me to focus on school and become a doctor or a teacher or something like that. After high school, I hit this fork in the road where I could either continue with another 13 or 14 years of school in a field I wasn’t passionate about, or I could do something I loved and not make much money. I chose the second route and went to school for illustration. My scholarship only covered so much, so I worked at a restaurant to make extra money. Eventually, I applied to be a sales associate at a Lancôme counter—and I didn’t get the job! I didn’t have the sales experience they were looking for, but I told the lady, ‘Look, I can sell makeup. I want to empower women and do makeup demos on people.’ But to be honest, I didn’t want a traditional job. I saw my friends graduating and struggling—it was 2008, no one was hiring, and everyone was freaked out. I decided I needed to make my own exit plan, so I quit my job. They thought I was crazy, but that was the only way to go full-blown with the YouTube stuff. I needed to remove my safety net.
Initially, my YouTube channel wasn’t just about makeup—it was about me. But beauty was the first topic that really resonated with the majority of my viewers because every girl can benefit from a beauty tip. I’d create these looks, and hundreds and thousands of people started pouring in, and they made all these requests so I decided to stick with this topic, and I’ve been at it ever since. Every video has to have a backbone of storytelling, experimenting, and having fun. That’s how you don’t waste someone’s time with your videos—you have to constantly evolve to stay relevant. There’s always going to be a handful of people, though, who don’t like what you do. You could film a video of yourself saving a cat from jumping off a building and someone’s going to say, ‘Well it was the cat’s right to die.’ I’ve seen it, and you just have to come to the conclusion that this is the World Wide Web. But my fans are wonderful—I call them ‘dreamers.’ They can achieve whatever they want to if they put their minds to it, and they can work together in a community.
After I’d been doing my videos for a while, the stars aligned, and Lancôme’s head of PR, Kerry [Diamond] contacted me. It was two or three years after I had applied for a job with them and been turned down. Kerry was looking on YouTube for different makeup tutorials to inspire content for their brand. The first video that came up in her research was mine—it had 500,000 views, and I only used one Lancôme product. It wasn’t even a Lancôme sponsored video! I was only 20 or 21 years old at this time, but she wanted to pick my brain about my process and why I made videos. They ended up bringing me on as their official video makeup ambassador. I shot the videos myself, and I edited everything. It was the best job. I didn’t—and I still don’t—ever feel like I’m working.
YouTube is obviously where I got my start, but I’m very platform-agnostic at this point—as long as your content is good, it doesn’t matter where it lives. This April, I’m launching my own network with Endemol that can live on YouTube and other platforms. Our goal is to find powerful talent who can become household names in the future in different categories—fitness, beauty, hair, fashion, everything. I’m also going to launch a video and photo-editing app for content creators who might want to start a channel but have no idea how to edit—something that makes it beautiful and effortless. All of the development I do is with the help of business advisors who are more like my best friends than just business people. They helped me as I created Ipsy back in 2011, which is a beauty community that ships out sampling bags to subscribers. Last year, they also helped launch my music network, Shift Music, which partners with musicians 50/50. I’m certainly more comfortable being creative than I am when it comes to business, but I enjoy both. But I have to turn the separate sides of my brain on-and-off to protect myself because I can’t really combine both. I’m not perfect. I don’t want to be perfect, but I’m trying my best to be better, at least.
Honestly, Korean brands, in my opinion, are the best in skincare right now. I’ve tried everything, and I think the Koreans have something different because they’re pushing the boundaries, and their focus is on really smooth, beautiful, milky skin. They don’t need any marketing scheme or anything like that—the products just say what they are and what they do. For instance, right now my skin is really flakey—I flew 13 times in one month—all international flights—so I’m using Cremorlab Herb Tea Blemish Minus Calming Mask. It’s the chicest mask I’ve ever used, and it’s really good for stressed skin.
If I want to remove my makeup, I will first wash my face with the Cremorlab T.E.N. Cremor Gentle Foaming Cleanser. It’s a liquid that turns to foam when you use it. Then I use oils like Super by Dr. Nicholas Perricone's O-Mega Oil and Q-tips to take off eye makeup. Sometimes I’ll switch it up and use Egyptian Magic All Purpose Skin Cream. It’s all-natural—olive oil, beeswax, honey, bee pollen, and royal jelly. After that I use the Bioderma Créaline to remove everything that’s left. If I want to feel really fancy-shmancy, I will use this charcoal puff to wash my face. You soak it up with water, and then scrub your face with it. I do it like once-or-twice a week, depending on what else I’ve done.
After my skin is clean, I’ll use the Cremorlab Mineral Treatment Essence first. It preps my skin and gets it ready for all my other products. You douse your cotton pads with the essence, place them on your face, and leave it there like a mask. You know it’s done when it falls off. Then I’m ready for serums. I just got Shiseido Ultimune Power Infusing Concentrate, which is their latest release. I love it. It’s very popular right now in Asia. I don’t know what it does, but all of the Shiseido employees had such amazing skin that I was like, ‘Well, works for me!’
After my serum, I go into my eye cream, which is Cremorlab Shadow-Off Eye Cream. Clearly I love them! After all that, if I feel like it, I will apply the Mizon Good Night White Sleeping Mask to my face when I go to bed. I don’t like things that say they ‘whiten’—I prefer the term ‘brighten’—but it’s a very big concept in Asia. It goes back centuries. With the sleeping mask, when you apply a layer of the product over your face it creates a seal to keep hydration locked in. Then I spray my body with Innisfree Tangerine Blossom Perfumed Body Jelly Mist, and that’s it. I’ve been keeping it pretty simple.
My esthetician does this nine-step process starting with microdermabrasion with a diamond tip, lasers, a light glycolic acid peel…It feels very intense, and the next day your skin goes through a little bit of injury, but then it starts healing. The following week it looks amazing. After I see her, I don’t need to use photo filters as much. That’s my goal. I’m like, ‘Look, I want you to give me skin where I don’t have to rely on filters all the time.’ I also use Red MD High Power LED Anti-Aging Light Therapy, which is really effective. It penetrates deep in the skin and activates collagen regrowth. You try to do it twice or three times a week to start, then after a month, you can do it twice a month. It's expensive but it works.
Then for lips, if you want to make them bigger, I don’t really recommend fillers. Do whatever makes you happy, but I would rather do something that has a longer, subtle shelf life than jumping on a trend that everyone is doing. I’ve been doing micro-needling with a dermaroller that I get from Switzerland. You have to numb your lips first because if you don’t, forget it, it’s the worst thing ever—worse than a bikini wax. So it creates micro-injuries on your lips, which you apply a healing cream, like a balm, to and within two days you will notice right away that your lips will look bigger because the collagen will grow back. You do it once a month—no more than that.
I’ve colored my hair so many times, and nobody tells you the damage it’s going to do! I went blonde and lost all my baby hairs. I’m not coloring it anymore. Never again. Now I just use the Kiehl’s Damage Repairing and Rehydrating Leave-In Treatment and treat it with The Body Shop Rainforest Coconut Hair Oil. That’s it.
I’ve been keeping my makeup really simple these days, too. Before anything, I apply my sunscreen. It’s of course, Cremorlab T.E.N. Cremor Sun Protective SPF 35. I don’t like using a lot of foundation—I use it mainly as a spot treatment. My favorite foundation at the moment is this one by Laneige, The BB Cushion. It’s a sponge application, so you have one sponge on your hand and another sponge that is soaked with product, and you pat it on. It’s been around in Korea for a while now, but you will see the rise of BB cushion creams this year all over the world. Everyone will launch it. Trust me.
But if I want full, heavy coverage, I like to mix Em Michelle Phan Love Me For Me Flawless Foundation—it’s my makeup line that I launched with L’Oréal—with the Temptu S/B Highlighter in Pink Pearl to water it down and give it a nice glow. Then I fill in my brows with a combination of Em Michelle Phan Arched Defining Brow Liner and the Vidi Vici Perfect Eyebrow because I’m not blessed with thick eyebrows. I fake them to make them pop.
After that, it depends. I will apply a little bit of concealer—good old Shu Uemura Nobara Cream Cover Stick Foundation in Medium Light Beige 764. You can spackle it on or you can melt down, whatever you need. Then I will use my eyeliners. I love liquid eyeliner—it’s just easier. It doesn’t melt, fade, skip, or smudge. It’s tougher to use because it’s not as forgiving. The brush for my Em Michelle Phan Scribble Calligraphy Liquid Liner was inspired by a calligraphy brush, so you can get a very thick or thin line, depending on how you flick it. I use it in Tattoo Black.
From there I will curl my lashes. Kevyn Aucoin makes an amazing lash curler, and then I use my Kate Lash Maximizer. It has fibers, and you can then apply mascara over that. I will put the Shu Uemura Ultimate Natural Mascara because on top of fibers a natural mascara won’t clump. When it comes to mascara formulas, there is no place better than Japan. I did my own research when I was developing my line, and we went to go see the best-of-the-best, and they are all in Japan.
Also depending on how I feel, I will add a little glitter under my eyes using the NYX Liquid Crystal Liner in Crystal Pewter. That’s a fun one. I use just a little under my eyes to give it that pop. There is this palette that is really great—you pull it out and you have your highlighter and your contour. It’s the Vidi Vici Illumi Styler in 02 Breeze. I’m actually pretty obsessed with highlighters. One of the best highlighters-slash-primers that I’ve used is the Vidi Vici Perfect Face Glow Primer. It’s great for me because I have very yellow undertones, so if I apply this all over, it neutralizes my undertone and gives me a nice glow.
For lip color I use Laneige Serum Intense Lipstick. NYX Butter Lip Balm in Ladyfingers is amazing. So is Lancôme’s L’Absolu Rouge La Base—it’s just a clear lipstick that’s hydrating. In terms of lip liners, I’ve been using the NYX for five years! The Make Up For Ever Aqua Lip Waterproof Lipliner Pencil in Rosewood 2C is also a great color. You can fake giant Angelina Jolie lips with that. You can overdraw with that by using highlighter with it. It’s all an optical illusion.”
—as told to ITG
Michelle Phan photographed in Los Angeles by Emily Weiss on Monday February 2nd, 2015. For more of The Top Shelf, click here.