G: What beauty products do you love the most for when you’re in zero gravity?
During our research flights when I’m wearing a pressurised spacesuit, I’m selective about which brands and products I use on my face. When the helmet visor is down, there’s no way to scratch an itch or rub an eyelid, so on those days, I try to make sure nothing in my makeup or skincare could be a potential irritant during flight.
NASA will provide a personal hygiene kit for every astronaut, and each astronaut is allowed to personalise this based on their preferences – for example, like a certain brand of toothpaste. So whilst you rarely see an astronaut applying a full face in space as you would here on earth, certainly astronauts take things up that make them feel less washed out.
One interesting thing is that in microgravity there is no gravity to pull fluids down like here on earth, so they remain in the upper half of the body and that causes a puffy face until your body re-adjusts. Usually after a few days in space, the symptoms won’t appear so severe – you will be left with a slightly puffy face that will resolve itself when you get back to earth.
G: We’ve heard you’re a big beauty fan?
I really enjoy makeup, and I also enjoy experimenting with fun hair colours – like pink – but that can attract negative comments online. I think many people still hold strong, antiquated views of what a ‘scientist’ is, and does, and looks like. And I think it can be difficult for them to reconcile that picture with me. There are definitely people who look at my appreciation of makeup and fashion and take me less seriously because of it, but I strongly reject the notion that embracing a bit of my femininity makes me frivolous.
There is a lot of scrutiny on female astronauts and I do think they receive uneven societal pressure. I’ll post a photo of post-flight in my space suit and people online will be scrutinising whether or not I have eyeliner on – as though that somehow detracts from my capability! But I do think for an astronaut who’s living in space and is photographed so much, it’s absolutely your prerogative to want to look and feel your best, in that environment. You’re taking a lot of risks, you’re serving your country, why would someone begrudge you a swipe of lip gloss if that makes you feel better?
G: What’s the main issue with applying makeup in space?
It’s so hard to adapt to microgravity because you’re so used to putting something, like a mascara, down and knowing intuitively that it will stay there. And in microgravity it absolutely doesn’t, it will just fly away from you. So you have to be so methodical about every single tiny process that you do – so it’s really carefully removing something from a pocket or from a tethered location on a wall and then re-inserting it or re-securing it straight after use and that multi-step process is a lot to get used to. Everything needs to have its place, everything has a little home and you need to re-secure it when it’s done.
G: What would we be surprised to know about doing your makeup in space?
Well, it’s a total no for powders because powder particles can float into someone’s lungs or into the delicate machinery. Also, things like perfume or cologne are also a big no-no, any strong smells, are a no because you’re in a very enclosed space and everything is amplified. On earth if odours collect, we open our windows, but astronauts don’t have a way of escaping a smell.
Another one is sunscreen, you don’t need any sunscreen because in any spacecraft, the radiation levels are as such that it the whole thing needs to be entirely covered by blocking windows anyway, so you wouldn’t need sunscreen or products that have SPF in them.
Powders are a big liability in microgravity – the fine particles run the risk of floating into delicate machinery or even someone’s lungs so I need to swap out my powdered foundation and flaky compacts for a cream.
G: Can you have a skincare regime whilst you’re working in zero-gravity?
If you have a big skincare regimen at home, you certainly need to downsize this, as even if all of these products were somehow approved by NASA for travel, you wouldn’t really be able to take everything because space is such a premium. So you have to really be thoughtful about which products are most important to you, which is a bare minimum.
My space adapted skincare routine would be to use a pre-moistened makeup wipe and then take a cleansing balm that doesn’t need to be rinsed off but could be wiped off. And then trying to apply a moisturiser or a hydrating cream that I could leave on my skin so it could penetrate overnight.
G: So can you double cleanse in space?
Water is an absolute precious resource in space, so there really are restrictions on the amount of water that you can use. So how that relates to personal care, is really that everything is designed to minimise water use. So, no rinse solutions are the preferred products. Every droplet of water that you’re putting on your face comes out in a form of a floating droplet that has to individually be pressed onto your face.
G: How does the lack of gravity affect how you skin looks and feels?
They have done studies about the effects of space flight on the epidermis and it was really interesting that after about 6 months there was an increased amount of collagen production in the inner layer of the dermis. Usually that would usually have an anti-ageing effect, however in this case it was actually counteracted by the other finding, which was that the outer layer of skin was up to 20% thinner than before, which is obviously what usually correlates with ageing. And that means, the skin looks more tired, more flat, drier and itchier – all conditions that astronauts have observed. But you need to be careful with flakiness and dead skin cells you don’t want that to float into off into someone’s lungs and cause and infection!
G: How easy is it to stay clean and be hygienic in zero-gravity?
Hygiene is super important in a closed environment like a space station where the climate is carefully controlled. It’s an enclosed unit, filled with people who have bacteria, and certainly not all bacteria is bad, but there is a concerted effort to make sure that certain types of bacteria don’t accumulate on station. All the equipment is sterilised and meticulously cleaned, and the air is filtered.
Anything you do in space is infinitely harder in microgravity – you have to do one thing at a time. Things have to be held or tethered down too. Even with something as simple as going to the bathroom you have to secure yourself with straps over a toilet seat and shaving or hair cuts are done with careful vacuum devices to make sure no stray hairs can float into machinery.
With face and body washing, it’s really about no-rinse cleaning solutions. Massaging the product into your scalp, letting your hair naturally dry, anything that can minimise water use. Astronauts don’t shower or clean as we normally do on earth, but instead we use a little bit of water with a liquid soap. You would squeeze that liquid, soap and water from little individual pouches, right onto your skin. These kind of pouches were originally developed for hospital patients who weren’t able to get up and take a shower. A wet wipe bath is another way to stay clean. So just wiping the body down with a pre-moistened towel and then the no-rinse shampoo. Things like dental hygiene are pretty similar to what we do on earth – the only difference is that you actually just swallow the toothpaste in space, instead of spitting it out.