Obsessed with Ivan Lam’s YouTube channel? Same. And we’re not the only ones: The makeup magician and skin-thusiast has nearly 500K subscribers. Just like you should really be wearing SPF 30 or greater every damn day, you should really be watching Lam’s videos. Warning: They’re addictive, and perpetually perfectly-lit. (I forgot to ask his secrets behind the immaculate lighting, sorry!) I could watch Lam artfully apply makeup for hours (in fact, I *have* watched him apply makeup for hours, and I highly suggest his how-to-achieve “baby skin” video). Oh, and I absolutely power-pumped to the closest Malaysian restaurant in my ‘hood after watching his magical Mukbang video, wherein he ate a lot of Malaysian food in a stylish Manhattan hotel room.
Speaking of Malaysia, Lam’s formative years were spent in Kuala Lumpur, but the 27-year-old has been based in Los Angeles ever since graduating from high school. It was his own experiences with problematic skin when he was younger that led him into the world of beauty, though blossoming into a bonafide Internet star wasn’t the plan. But after a friend asked him to be in one of her YouTube videos circa 2012, he thought Why not? I already love makeup. He filmed a tutorial using his friend’s makeup, and it went viral.
Lam’s makeup tutorials are something special, but what especially makes him stand out in the sea of vloggers has loads to do with his ability to connect with his subscribers. The proof is in the comment section (“NO ONE MAKES ME CRY MY OWN TEARS!!!!!!!!!!!!!”). Even when he’s sharing dark life topics—from how he’s dealt with an eating disorder/body image issues to regrets over not finishing college—he sees and focuses on the positive and offers thoughtful, empowering advice and solutions. I 100% believe him when he says he reads every single comment and DM, when he tells his subscribers that he loves them, and when he told me during our nearly hour-long call that he hopes those who relate to his stories feel as though they’re not alone. Basically, he’s the friend everyone needs.
But our conversation went deeper than what a BHA chemical exfoliant does to one’s clogged pores. Lam talked about what self-care means to him, inclusivity (and still needing much more of it) in the industry, the problematic (and downright embarrassing) marketing to men in beauty, and so much more.
What’s your first memory of really getting into skincare?
“I think like a lot of people, I just had a lot of breakouts. I didn’t know how to eat well or take care of my skin. I thought washing my face more would help it. But I started to realize that it didn’t. That’s when I started to delve more into more skincare, I guess—because I had bad skin and just wanted it to be clear like everyone else’s. Also, in Malaysia, there are a lot of skincare clinics, and I remember driving past all of these ads for treatments. My interest in skincare just creeped in.”
What’s your current AM and PM skincare routine?
“My morning routine is pretty simple: an oil cleanser, Paula’s Choice DEFENSE Antioxidant Pore Purifier, and any physical sunscreen. At night, I oil cleanse, use a regular cleanser, and any kind of vitamin C or retinol serum to help tackle hyperpigmentation and acne. After that, I layer with a simple moisturizer. I also like using MUAC’s Gly-Luronic’s Miracle Correction Serum at night.”
I really need an overnight mask recommendation.
“I love Laneige’s Water Sleeping Mask. I love their Cica Sleeping Mask too, but it’s hard to get here.”
How long does your skincare routine take?
“Probably about five minutes for day and night. It’s the time I get to myself to breathe and also think!”
I get so overwhelmed with skincare mania in America. It feels like there’s always a new must-try ingredient, new holy grail products, new beauty claims, new skincare trends…
“I honestly think it’s all just marketing. There’s already good brands that have been around for awhile. Like, I’ve been using Paula’s Choice for four to five years already. Their DEFENSE Essential Glow Moisturizer SPF 30 is one of the best. Anyone who’s having skin problems, I just tell them to use Paula’s Choice or Drunk Elephant.”
Many are jumping back on keeping-it-simple, but there are others who are passionate about their 10-step (or more!) routines, and others who exclusively use organic, all-natural, vegan products.
“I think keeping it simple is best. 10-steps is a little bit much. It was trendy in America, but I think now it’s starting to go back to more natural and simple, like hydration and sunscreen. But I think you should do whatever works for you. It’s whatever you are comfortable with.”
I’m assuming brands send you a ton of products hoping you’ll share and review them for your audience. I’d be worried that my skin would purge and lose its mind trying out all of those products!
“I do get a lot of products to try, but in terms of skincare, I’m very picky. I always check the ingredients first before trying anything out, but even then, you never really know.”
What about the makeup you are sent?
“I never try new makeup on a special occasion or when I’m going out because you just never know how it’s going to look on your face. I’m very wary about products. I don’t try every single thing because it’s just impossible and I only have one face. I always tell people: I don’t understand why brands send the whole range of foundation when I literally only have one face. I can’t. It’s such a waste of packaging and, I think, in the future, brands should really condense what they’re send out to people. It’s just a lot of waste. But I mean…I’m thankful for it! I’m not complaining!”
Well, you can always re-gift.
“Yeah! When my friends come over, I give them things that won’t fit my skin tone or that I’m not going to use.”
Your makeup tutorials are everything. When did you get into makeup?
“I remember watching my sister doing her makeup and I was like, Wait, your skin looks so even. What happened? And she was like, Oh, I just put on some foundation and concealer. And I remember just taking her concealer, putting it on, and I was like, Whoa, this is magic. I have no pimples anymore! After that, I just kept using it. But I didn’t know how to take care of my skin so it just got worse because—I didn’t really know how to remove makeup properly, I would just use any old cleanser or bar of soap.”
You’re a fan of double cleansing to remove makeup and sunscreen, right?
“I think the most important thing is to use an oil cleanser because it just gets rid of everything. I would tell everyone that’s the most important thing: using an oil cleanser, followed by a regular cleanser. Even if you don’t wear makeup. There’s no pigment in SPF like makeup, but it feels like makeup and it adheres to the skin like makeup. So I think you really need an oil cleanser to break it down.”
What product do you always have a back-up of?
“Probably the DHC Deep Cleansing Oil. That stuff is so good. I always have two under my sink. They’re a Japanese brand.”
If you could be the face of any skincare and/or makeup brand, who would they be?
“Honestly, anything that’s run by a woman POC, and anything vegan and cruelty-free. As for makeup, there’s so many! But I would love to be a part of Fenty. They’re killing it and I love the brand.”
Are there any new-ish makeup brands that excites you? Why?
“UOMA Beauty. It’s super inclusive. I saw the launch and the product, the branding, the ads, it all looked amazing. I’m really a huge fan of them.”
Let’s talk about the marketing in the beauty world for men…I don’t know where to even begin.
“Oh my God! The way of marketing skincare and makeup to men is so…”
Embarrassing! There was a men’s skincare ad that popped up when I clicked on one of your videos that was like, MEN USE THEIR HANDS!!! MEN GO FISHING!! I can’t.
“Yeah! It’s like they’re afraid to show a side that’s slightly feminine. To me, makeup in general should be universal, but I know it’s gonna take a long time for that to happen. I saw this one brand that said something like, ‘It’s not makeup, it’s war paint!’ I’m just like, Wow, you have to reassure someone’s masculinity so much for them to even start applying makeup? That has to change. I had a conversation like three years ago with somebody that worked for a Korean brand, and he was talking about how in Korea, the skincare for men is booming. And he asked, Do you think you’ll see that in American media culture soon? And I said no…I don’t think it’s considered that acceptable in all of America. I mean, America is such a celebrity-driven culture… Unless you see like Iron Man or Thor in CoverGirl ads, I think it’s really gonna be hard for people to be comfortable with it.”
Meanwhile, the product details always include always “invigorating!” and “cooling effect!”. And then there’s often terrible ingredients…
“Yeah, it’s like all menthol and alcohol and peppermint…”
Back to your videos. You’re super open and share some dark albeit very relatable personal experiences. What are your views on self-care? Do you have a self-care routine?
“I mean, there’s no right or wrong way for self-care. But I think with self-care for marginalized people, it’s a little bit more of self-preservation…learning about your history, knowing what you’re feeding into, all your insecurities and anxiety, and why it’s happening to you. My self-care might be different than somebody else’s self-care. But one self-care habit I really like is learning. Because, when you stop learning, you start feeling helpless, I think. And the more you learn, the more you realize that you can do something about a situation.”
Even though you clearly connect majorly with your subscribers and followers, do you ever feel that your career can be a bit isolating?
“I think it’s weird how we have jobs that allow us to still be in society, but in total isolation. That’s not normal, and that happens so much. It’s wild. For me, being on social media, my job never ends really, because I’m always watching somebody else’s story, somebody else’s content, and seeing what other people are doing.”
It’s all about who you follow and who you pay attention to, I think. Sometimes it’s too much. That’s why I love the mute (and unfollow) option.
“Yeah. There’s this one quote that my friend posted. It was like, Don’t use social media less, but use it more wisely. Just know who you’re following, know what you’re actually taking in, and if it makes you feel bad after or makes you feel shitty, then it’s a good idea to mute or unfollow. If it makes you feel calm, or makes you feel happy or inspired, then that’s who you should be following. It’s definitely a double-edged sword. I used to follow a lot of problematic accounts, but eventually I found that the entertainment is not worth it and I just unfollowed all of that.”
What do you do when you’re feeling uninspired?
“When I feel like I’m in a creative slump, I usually just take some time to breathe and focus on my cats. They remind me to just be, and not worry about what everyone is thinking. Reading and listening to music helps, too.”
Who are you loving on Instagram and on YouTube at the moment?
“I love following anyone that inspires me! My current favorites on Instagram are Lizzo and Jameela Jamil. They use their platform to raise awareness on body image and inclusivity. With social media being so perfect all the time, they remind me that it’s okay to be yourself, which is something I struggle with from time-to-time. I also love watching cooking shows and remodeling shows on YouTube. I love Jun’s Kitchen! He cooks for his two obedient cats—I could never!”
Where do you see yourself in a few years?
“I’m not really sure! I definitely would love to start a community where people could openly talk about issues that matter to them regarding beauty and the media. I would also love to start a podcast with people I look up to. That’s what I’m feeling right now, but it could all change next week!”
What do you most want to see change in the beauty and skincare industry?
“I think beauty and skincare really reflects the value of society. I would love to see more POC-owned brands making it big. I would love to see larger companies invest in showcasing diversity—not just in their models and makeup shade range, but also in the people they hire. Ultimately, I hope the spectrum of what is deemed beautiful is widened completely! I just want everyone to feel represented and valued.”