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  • Published: 25 June 2024
  • ISBN: 9780241656990
  • Imprint: Dorling Kindersley
  • Format: Hardback
  • Pages: 256
  • RRP: $37.99

The Science of Beauty

Debunk the Myths and Discover What Goes into Your Beauty Routine

Extract

What is beauty?

Subjective, valuable, and almost impossible to define, the concept of beauty is an inescapable part of how we experience the world – and one another.

As the saying goes, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” But many aesthetic preferences transcend boundaries: research has shown that certain facial traits, such as youth, symmetry, and happy-looking features, are universally regarded as attractive. One theory for this suggests that beauty may be an evolutionary instinct. A symmetrical face may imply health, while youth would suggest fertility. Another study created “average” faces by blending photos of people from the same country, then showed those images to people from that country. The more faces they blended together, the more attractive the face was deemed to be. In other words, each country (or culture) saw beauty in the faces that looked the most familiar to them.

At the same time, what is considered beautiful can vary from person to person, influenced by cultural norms, media representations, and individual tastes. Fashions can change from one year to the next, while different subcultures and groups have their own beauty and styling preferences. In some cultures, tanned skin is considered desirable; in others, paler skin is prized. Of course, it is difficult to disentangle modern beauty standards from the effects of colonization and globalization, which have spread Eurocentric beauty ideals. Together, these influences have led to the perpetuation of harmful standards in many societies. The pressure to conform can be immense, particularly for people whose looks are further from these often unrealistic ideals, amplifying body dissatisfaction and appearance-based discrimination.


The beauty industry

Beauty isn’t just an abstract idea. It is big business, and beauty products and practices play many roles in our lives. Many have health or hygiene purposes, and even purely aesthetic functions are important: they allow self-expression, give us agency over how we present ourselves to the world, and can boost our well-being and confidence. They can even have a financial function. Though unfair, studies have found that physically attractive people receive higher incomes on average, but makeup can be a way to level the playing field.

Yet the beauty industry has played a large role in perpetuating harmful beauty standards. For decades, airbrushed advertisements have reinforced narrow concepts of beauty, although in recent years there have been genuine attempts at diversity. Product marketing often exploits our insecurities, promising to make us look younger and thinner, and erase natural biological features like pores and cellulite. And there’s a lot of money to be made from inventing problems for new products to solve. While this book will discuss the science behind common appearance-related concerns and how to address these, it’s important to remember that these wants are often shaped by artificial expectations, and our looks do not dictate our value as people.


Myths and misinformation

I started Lab Muffin Beauty Science in 2011 because I was frustrated at the lack of accessible information on how beauty products worked, and the sheer volume of unrefuted misinformation online. Despite being a chemistry PhD student at the time, it was still incredibly challenging to unravel the science, so I wanted to make this information easily available to anyone interested. And clearly, many people were – my blog expanded onto Instagram, and then a YouTube channel as well.

But despite talking about beauty science for over a decade, there’s no end of myths to debunk, and concepts to decipher. The beauty industry has traditionally been hesitant to reveal the scientific intricacies behind their products, leaving a vacuum for misinformation to grow. Many companies also profit from selling false hope and encouraging convenient misconceptions.

This book answers many of the questions I’ve been asked over the years, in a detailed but digestible way. It explains the science behind skincare, haircare, makeup, and nails, as well as beauty products themselves. I hope you’ll find it fascinating, and empowering – it’ll equip you with the knowledge to sort out fact from fiction when it comes to marketing claims, and work out which products will actually deliver the results you want.


The Science of Beauty Michelle Wong

Accessible, illustrated beauty and skincare expertise from Instagram's cosmetic chemist Dr Michelle Wong a.k.a Lab Muffin Beauty Science

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