YouTube beauty star Michelle Phan wakes up without an alarm

The YouTube beauty star shares her secrets for waking up, how she interprets her “crazy” dreams, and the best Soylent flavors.

YouTube beauty star Michelle Phan wakes up without an alarm
Michelle Phan [Photo: Emilynn Rose]

Michelle Phan, the patient zero of beauty influencers, made a triumphant return to YouTube last year, after more than three years of near-radio silence.


During her hiatus, Phan—who has 8.9 million YouTube subscribers and more than a billion views—kept busy. She bought back and relaunched her makeup brand, EM Cosmetics, which flopped when it originally debuted as a L’Oréal brand. Phan also started investing in bitcoin, singing its praises on Instagram alongside makeup selfies. (“I am a lover of decentralization,” Phan told the Cut recently.)

So we were eager to hear what she’s up to these days, as part of Fast Company’s new “Day On, Day Off” series, in which we ask inspiring founders, creatives, and business leaders to share the details of a day on the job and a day off the clock—if there is such a thing. “I work every day,” Phan says. “I really enjoy working.”

She shares her version of a day off—one spent at her desk—and a hectic Tuesday in December when she was the subject of an Elle UK photo shoot. “I don’t have a normal schedule like most people,” she said. “Every other day is different.”

Day off:

9:15 a.m. I wake up without an alarm. I used to wake up to one all the time, but I didn’t want my life to be dictated by an atrocious sound. A few years ago, I just decided I’m not going to use an alarm and I’m going to trust in my body to wake up. As long as I’m getting a minimum of five to six hours, I’m really good.


9:20 a.m. I get really crazy, vivid dreams. When you open your eyes, you instantly start forgetting your dreams. It’s almost like you’re going through this weird amnesia. I’ve learned that if I have a crazy dream and keep my eyes closed, I don’t forget my dreams. I can still see it very vividly, and I take that time to reflect on my dreams. I try my best to remember all of my dreams—I’ll start either writing it down on a note or record a voice memo. After that, I’ll check my messages and emails and reply to anything that’s urgent. Social media for me is work; it’s not fun. So I’ll go on social media to check on all my work stuff. And then I’ll just go online and see if there’s anything interesting on the news.

10 a.m. I have a TV downstairs that’s pretty much always on, and I have it tuned to this one YouTube channel for studying and for deep meditation. It sounds like you’re in a spa, or a temple spa, if that makes sense. I leave it on pretty much all day because my cat really loves it. Cats are very sensitive to sound, so that’s one of the few things that she really enjoys—that, and also lo-fi jazz music. So I’ll just change the music from the deep meditation to something upbeat and jazzy to start my day. Music is the soundtrack of your life, and I kind of live my life by that. I want my life to be very musical.

10:40 a.m. I open the patio door and sit outside with my cat. I like to spend time with her. It’s also a nice way for me to wake up. I’m not really plugged in. I’m just enjoying the moment with my cat, and I’m listening to the birds. It’s a nice, beautiful Disney moment. For five minutes, I can enjoy that with my tea, and then I’m good. I’m ready for the day.

11 a.m. On Mondays, I just roll up to work in sweats. And I can do my skincare routine and makeup routine within 10 minutes. I know that sounds crazy, but my evening routine takes time. I put more effort into my evening routine, so my skin is prepped. All I need to do in the mornings is use a cleansing water, and I apply that all over my face. I clean it with a cotton pad and then I immediately apply sunscreen and moisturizer. I gave up on foundation three years ago. You save a lot of time, and your skin feels better. I use concealer to do any spot coverage. It’s kind of nice because I don’t have to use as much color in my face—too much blush or eyeshadow—because my natural colors are all still there.

12 p.m. I’m at the office. The first thing I do is turn on music. I prepare my iced coffee and head upstairs to take a conference call with my chief financial officer.


12:30 p.m. I like ordering lunch for the team. After I order on Postmates, I skip lunch and drink a chocolate mint Soylent instead. I normally don’t skip lunch, but I actually really enjoy Soylent. I discovered it through my friend who’s the biggest foodie in the world. It’s an acquired taste, but there are other flavors that are actually really good, like mint chocolate. You don’t even have to be a Soylent drinker to appreciate it. I’ll drink that throughout the day if I’m not in the mood to eat or just don’t have time.

1 p.m. I’m meeting with my creative team at EM Cosmetics. We use Instagram a lot for marketing. We just recently launched a beautiful new collection, so we wanted to also have Instagram GIFs that you can use when making stories. At 1:30, I have a meeting with our marketing team on new product launches for 2020. Then I head downstairs and heat up One Culture instant noodles. I was craving it. It’s like a bag of chips for me.

3 p.m. Apple sent me the new 16-inch laptop because they wanted feedback outside their traditional industry. I’ve been using it every day, editing videos as much as I can. I’m also editing a video for the Em team. It’s actually kind of nice to have the skill of editing because if my team needs a video banged out really quickly, and they don’t have time to work with a production company, they can just ask me and I can make it really fast.

5 p.m. The sun sets earlier around this time of year, so I need my second wind. I grab another Soylent, and I change the TV to Home Alone.

6 p.m. I like working a little later than everyone else because usually when I’m there, they need me. So this is my moment where I can focus on my personal work, or my YouTube channel, or any side projects, even shopping.


7:30 p.m. I arrive at home, and the first thing I see is my cat waiting for me at the driveway. My sister and I order from Halal Guys. She lives with me and works with me too. It doesn’t always work, but in my rare case it does, and it’s been such a blessing. We surf through YouTube and end up watching BTS stage mix videos. Normally I’m either on YouTube, looking for something to watch, or reading stuff on my laptop, going on Reddit, and getting lost online—using the internet as if I was a kid again. The online world has become work for me. So when I have the chance to turn it into a playground and just enjoy it, I savor it.

10:45 p.m. I shower, change into my jammies, and do my skincare routine, which takes 20 minutes. This time I’m using a sheet mask because I have an early photo shoot the next morning.

11:11 p.m. Whenever it’s 11:11 a.m. or p.m., I pause everything I’m doing—even if I’m in a meeting. I send happy 11:11 messages to all the people I love and ask them to make a wish.

Day on:

8:10 a.m. My alarm wakes me up. I needed to set an alarm because I had to wake up early. I have an all-day photo shoot [for Elle] that I cannot be late for. I recently came back on YouTube and, in a way, reactivated my PR team, and we’re starting to pick up more shoots.

9 a.m. I finish showering and leave my hair wet for the hairstylist to blow dry—they prefer fresh hair for a shoot. I don’t have to worry about what I’m wearing because I have a stylist on set who will dress me throughout the shoot. I just show up and become a statue.


10:30 a.m. I arrive at my office, [where we’re shooting]. I’m in the makeup chair for about an hour. I’m checking emails and social media, and I’m vlogging. But a lot of my energy does go into connecting with the people on set. It’s all about building connections, and I also want them to feel welcome since they’re at my office. I like working with the photographers and editors to see how I can be more helpful. With makeup artists, we’ll talk about astrology and their interests. I like to know their backstory—how they got to where they’re at. When you connect with people on set, they feel more invested in making sure you look really good. And who knows? If I really like them, I might want to work with them in the future.

11:30 a.m. My hair and makeup are done, and I walk through the entire wardrobe with the stylist. When I was younger, I didn’t give any feedback, and I wouldn’t be happy with the photos. I’ve learned that I can speak my mind. There are ways to suggest things that don’t sound demanding. There are a lot of egos at play. Photographers want their vision to come through, but I want my vision to come through too. It’s an open collaboration.

12:00 p.m. I don’t like eating while in a photo shoot, so I quickly down a Soylent for energy.

12:30 p.m. I’m going over the photos from my first look. [For another shot], Elle needed a backdrop that they didn’t have. They wanted me standing in front of a bunch of old-school TV monitors. I remembered there was a venue I went to—the Chewing Foil—for an underground music event, and it had a bunch of TV monitors stacked on top of each other. So I called up my friend, who called up another friend. And then he called up another friend. Through three degrees of separation, I was able to contact the person in charge of the venue.

4 p.m. The location change gets approved, so I change into the last look [that we’re doing at the office]. My makeup artist applies a vibrant yellow eyeshadow on me. I’m happy with the photos; I made sure to give the photographer the photos he needed, but I also made sure I got the photos I wanted. But I’m more excited about the next location. [The person in charge of the venue] normally doesn’t let anyone shoot there, but he let me shoot there because of my friend. That’s why connections are really important.


6 p.m. We arrive at the Chewing Foil. I quickly jump into my outfit and touch up my own makeup because the makeup artist had to leave.

7 p.m. We only had the location for an hour, but we got the hero shot. It was perfect. The photographer was happy; the stylist was happy. The clothes looked amazing. Everything was great. It was worth going out to this location.

8 p.m. I’m beat—it’s been a long day. I go home and heat up a frozen pizza.

11 p.m. I do extra self-care after a shower. I use a sheet mask. I massage my temples with essential oils and spray some on my pillows. I send “Happy 11:11” messages to the people I love and jump into bed, under a gravity blanket.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

About the author

Pavithra Mohan is a staff writer for Fast Company.