Victoria Fu and Gloria Lu are cosmetic chemists, co-founders of the skincare brand Chemist Confessions (which also includes a podcast of the same name), and authors of Skincare Decoded: The Practical Guide to Beautiful Skin. These Los Angeles-based BFFs met while working as chemists at L’Oréal. Read our conversation with Victoria learn more about beauty (and pet grooming) product formulation, how they made the rare pivot from beauty science to beauty entrepreneurship, and how a cosmetic chemist grooms her dog.
Did you grow up with dogs?
I actually did! I used to live in a small town outside of Houston and we had a giant backyard. My siblings that really wanted a dog—but I didn’t. We had a Welsh Corgi before Corgis were cool.
What was his name?
His name was Scooter.
Was it love at first sight?
I think it took me some time. We got Scooter a couple years before I graduated high school and I didn’t want a dog because I knew that it was going to be our responsibility. I’ll be honest: I wasn’t in the mindset of having a dog because I knew I was about to graduate. Turns out, dogs really grow on you. I had a lot of late nights, just studying and being a kid. The rest of the house would be asleep, but I would hear Scooter in the backyard. Back then, it was a lot more common to have outside dogs and he would go nuts because we had a big backyard. There were lots of critters outside and I would spend a lot of nights just chasing after him, because he’d be so active, trying to herd all of the night critters out there.
What led you to adopt Maisy?
I always knew I would get another dog. Scooter had cancer, and I always thought I was mentally prepared, but then when he passed, I had never cried harder in my life. Even though you think you’re ready, you aren’t. I’m generally a less emotional person, but to this day, if I get caught up thinking about him, I can still get really sad. It’s incredible how an animal can leave such an impression on you despite the amount of work that they require. They make your life fuller. I always knew I would get another dog, but it was just a matter of when. During the pandemic, I made some life changes where I basically knew that Los Angeles would be my home.I was on the verge of getting married, so my now-husband and I decided we would rescue a dog. We found Maisy and long story short, we were not prepared because she’s an Australian Cattle Dog. They are the quirkiest of dogs. It’s amazing how every dog and dog breed are just so different. A lot of life events fell into place. I didn’t have as much of a nomad life as I did before.
“Ball is life for her.”
Argos & Artemis contributor Meghan Daum has referred to getting a dog—and knowing they will die before you—as prescheduled heartbreak. Let’s dig into it. How did you know Maisy was the one?
I had been begging my husband to foster dogs. We didn’t really know what kind of dog and we didn’t want a puppy because we knew none of us had that much time to dedicate to taking care of a little one. Then, we fostered three. It just so happened that the one fostering opportunity I got was three male puppies and they weren’t even that little—they were probably four or five months, and that was such a disaster. We learned so much through that. Each brother had their own personality. We also learned they were trying to establish who was going to be the alpha of the pack, you know? So we’re like, okay, no puppies, this is not going to work. It was just very overwhelming. My brother happened to be fostering Maisy. I think he always secretly knew that she would be a good fit for us, but we were still trying to figure it out. We hadn’t done enough research. My brother would always ask me, “Today, what’s the percentage that you would adopt Maisy?” and I would be like, “60%.” He left Maisy with us for a week so we got to spend a lot of time with her. At that time, Maisy had actually just had puppies. She actually still had her udders and on top of that, she was separated pretty early. Her personality was almost muted and she was very good. She would just hang out on her bed and she’d generally leave us alone. She was already house-trained. She was exactly what we were kind of hoping for. I think we were always worried because rescue dogs come with emotional baggage and some more complicated than others. When we were still looking, we would look at other rescues and other dog profiles, but we realized we were just always comparing them to Maisy. Why were we doing that? I mean, Maisy’s here; we’ve all met her. She’s great with everyone she’s met. It just felt like a logical decision. We should be adopting Maisy, you know? That’s how we decided on her. I will say now that it’s been two years since we have adopted her, her personality has changed so much since we first met her. It’s just evolved and you see how a dog in a home that she’s comfortable allows herself to express her truest personality. It’s awesome. It’s the funniest thing to witness—all their quirks.
I have a rescue too. I remember my trainer told me in the beginning that she wasn’t going to show her true self to me until six months later. Tell us about a day in the life of you and Maisy.
There are two types of days. There are days when I work from home and then there are days where people go to work. The days that I work from home, she gets up when we get up. I’m starting to think she’s not a morning person because it seems like you’re getting up before her and you’re forcing her to go downstairs and start the day. Those days I feel are more painful because you’re home, but you’re working and it confuses her because she doesn’t understand why you’re not playing with her. She spends a lot of those days on the couch looking sad or she’ll constantly want to go into the backyard because what else is going to entertain her but maybe a lizard in the backyard. So, that’s generally her day. Night routine is pretty straightforward, but the days at work are fascinating. We have a pet camera. In the mornings those days, she’ll see each one of us off to work. Adam [my husband] gets up earliest. She wakes up with him, will drag herself down the stairs and you can tell it’s too early for her, but she’ll slowly walk him down. Then, when she sees that he’s putting on his shoes, she’ll just leave and go back to bed. Then, the same thing for me. She’ll see your routine and that you’re packing a bag and then she’ll be like, “Oh, okay, you’re leaving,” but I almost think those days might be easier because then she’s just like, “All right, I’m gonna sleep. I’m gonna chill. I’m gonna sit at this window and watch people walk past me.” When you’re at home, I just feel it just tortures her so much more that you’re not playing with her.
How did you become a beauty chemist? Have you worked on pet grooming products before?
I have never worked on pet care, but I’ve always had a love for animals. I never knew I would become a beauty chemist when I graduated college. When I was finishing my master’s degree [in nanoengineering], I was at this fork in the road of what I wanted to do with my life. Basically, I was preparing to go work in pharma and the thought of it was just so daunting. It just didn’t make me feel excited to finally get a job. That feeling was definitely a red flag, so I considered other avenues. I considered beauty. The project timelines are way shorter. I got a job as a skincare chemist at L’Oréal, which was a perfect fit. I had been dealing with acne all my life. Some of my research was on acne. So, I got a job as a skincare chemist and I think it’s always been the right decision for me. Being a chemist at a big company, especially L’Oréal, you get to notice how much of the budget goes towards marketing. It’s a very marketing-heavy industry. At the end of the day, marketing drives R&D—R&D does not drive marketing. As a chemist, you get to work on these projects, but you don’t necessarily get a lot of say on how these formulas are created or what should even be created. You get a marketing brief and then you follow that. After being there for a few years, you wonder if you could be doing more. On top of that, I felt helpless being in a marketing-driven industry and seeing the people in my life using these products, but always being so confused. You end up being the go-to person because you know what’s inside of those formulas.. You start getting lost and caught up in all the marketing jargons. I decided that I needed to have a career change. Actually, I was thinking of leaving the industry entirely, but meeting Gloria—and then us serendipitously leaving at the same time—made us realize that it would be cool if we shared our industry insider knowledge with people, to see if that would be helpful for them to find better skincare. That’s how Chemist Confessions was born and now is our full-time job and our baby.
Your baby other than Maisy! Tell us about Maisy’s grooming routine.
The cool thing about Cattle Dogs is that their coats are super resilient. She goes in the backyard every day. I would say she needs a bath once a month. The fur is super water-repelling. She doesn’t have that dog smell, which is great because she absolutely hates baths. She knows and she’s scared of the bathroom that we use to give her a bath. When she sees us get the towel ready and bring treats into the bathroom, she already knows it’s that day. We’ll call her and she’ll try to come, but then she’ll try to run away and hide by her bed. It’s a big ordeal trying to get her into the tub. You always have to pick her up. There’s no way she’s going to get in there by herself. She does the arm flailing thing where she’ll try to latch onto the doorframe. When she’s finally wet, she knows this is her fate now and she’ll give you the saddest, most depressing stance of defeat ever. She’ll just make you feel like a terrible person. Anyways, that’s her routine. It’s very simple. We just douse her in water and usually the Artemis 3-in-1 Dog Wash which has colloidal oatmeal because she does seem to get dandruff and itchy. We do a quick lather and then we rinse her down because that’s pretty much all she can take.
How do beauty chemists stay on top of the innovative new ingredients and suppliers available?
Trade shows are the way to go because, at the end of the day, all your raw materials for formulas come from suppliers. We go to supplier trade shows and see what’s the latest and greatest. We look at any existing testing that they might have done, but that’s just the first layer. Once we find things that are interesting or feel like there is interesting data that seem to make the ingredient promising, we do a lot of backend research to see if there’s any historical data on these ingredients, just to see if these are actually truly helpful. Then, we make a decision depending on what kind of product we’re formulating.
Tell us about your book, Skincare Decoded: The Practical Guide to Beautiful Skin.
So, we never thought we’d write a book. We got an email from a publisher and we almost thought it was spam, but it turned out this publisher does a lot of really beautiful visual books. We thought it would be cool to do a skincare book with actual visuals. Honestly, visuals really help bring the picture and concepts together. The book was quite a behemoth of a project because we didn’t know exactly what we wanted and went through four iterations of how we wanted to do the book. We wanted it to be approachable for people who have no background knowledge of skincare, but we also wanted to make sure even veteran skincare users could take something away from it. Anyway, we were asking for the moon. We wanted to highlight which ingredients have the most data behind it. They’re ingredients that have decades of research, and we call them the four workhorse ingredients. The Big Four are ascorbic acid (vitamin C), niacinamide, AHAs, and retinol. Those are the four with the most data behind them and we highlight how they work for your skin and how to use them. There’s so much more that could have been written, but at the same time, we had a page limit and we also just wanted to make sure it was concise enough that it wasn’t daunting for someone who wanted to get into skincare.
What does oatmeal do for the skin?
There are different types of oatmeal. There’s oatmeal extract—crushed oatmeal turned into a powder—and then there’s colloidal oatmeal. Colloidal oatmeal is oat that’s been grounded to a specific smaller particle size. This is different than your typical oatmeal extract, of which the material can vary widely. Oatmeal extract can come in forms ranging from oat water to grounded oats (which can be of various particle sizing). Colloidal oatmeal has been in the industry for a long, long time. It’s actually really considered as a soothing ingredient and has been found in data to be helpful for skin conditions like eczema. It’s a great topical ingredient. I should preface this by saying that this is tested on human skin. When it comes to seeing oatmeal and pet care, this is something that is just starting to gain traction as pet owners are becoming more and more knowledgeable and research-savvy about looking up ingredients. Hopefully, in the future, there will be more and more data on what ingredients are truly helpful for our pets’ skin and skin allergies, which are common problems for dogs’ sensitive skin!
You’re a dog mom with great taste. What else do you like to buy for Maisy?
These are her favorites: Blue Buffalo kibble and wet food, Zuke’s Mini Naturals in Chicken, Chuckit! Max Glow Ball, Blue Buffalo Bacon Sizzlers, and any stuffed hedgehog toy—maybe because it looks like a ball.
What is the biggest indulgence you do for Maisy?
One of the things she loves is playing ball. Ball is life for her. So, one of the things we like to do is take her to the park. Usually at times where there are fewer people because Maisy is almost too excited when she meets dogs. I think that sometimes that can be off-putting to other dogs and also a little intimidating for their owners. So, we purposely carve out time to take her to the park and let her off leash to just go crazy with the ball launcher. That’s her perfect day.
I love that. Do you consider yourself a dog mom?
Yes, definitely, and there’s also such a thing as dog dads.
Is your husband a dog dad?
I feel like he is. It’s funny. We don’t have kids yet, but there’s definitely moments where you look at the way that we each treat the dog and you just know who’s going to be good cop, bad cop.
Photography by Hannah Choi