Showing some skin with Dr. Jen of Atomic Cosmetics.
~ Written and photographed by Paul O’Connell (POC Photo) with additional photos by Ji Ji Lee
“Honestly, I’ve never felt as welcomed and cared for as I do in the burlesque community.”
~ Dr. Jen, Atomic Cosmetics
There are many fascinating and interesting people in the world of burlesque, and I always enjoy hearing their personal histories and about how burlesque manifested itself in their lives. I’m not just talking about performers- there are producers, costumers, photographers (ahem) and even…doctors. In this case I’m talking about Dr. Jennifer Dietrich, who earned that distinction by earning a PhD in Biochemistry/Biophysics from the University of Kansas in 2004. So how did this particular doctor become “Dr. Bad Jen”, supplying Seattle’s burlesque community with healthy and safe skincare and makeup through Atomic Cosmetics/Xerion Skin Science?
Like a lot of people involved in the burlesque community, it was by purely by chance that she ended up becoming a darling of the Seattle burlesque world. Six years ago Dr. Jen stumbled across the EWG (Environmental Working Group) website. In particular, she came across the site’s cosmetics database listing the hazardous levels of ingredients contained in various products on the market and realized many of the products that she used had a bad safety rating. “I was horrified to learn that they got a 7 or higher on the hazard scale,” she said. “I immediately threw everything in my bathroom away in a panic. Of course, then I had no choice but to roll up my sleeves and get busy with some emulsion chemistry.”
Since Dr. Jen is all about science, taking the next step was quite easy. “I really just needed to do a bit of research, and then I was good. I did have to purchase things to get started, but it was worth it to me to have non-toxic skincare. I never thought of selling my stuff at all, but then people kept commenting on my skin and how great it looked, and asking me for the products I was using.”
While slowly discovering she was becoming a makeup maven, Dr. Jen moved to Seattle and caught her first burlesque show. Like many before her, she had no idea what burlesque was and fell in love with the art form immediately. “I love the creativity, the theatricality, the DIY attitude, and most of all, the rhinestones!” (She’s not kidding about the rhinestones. Just head over to her space inside Retail Therapy- on Capitol Hill near the corner of Pike & Broadway- and you’ll see; she’s currently on a rhinestoning frenzy over there).
Dr. Jen became adamant (and still is) about letting people know how toxic makeup can be, especially for performers sweating under hot lights in heavy drag on a regular basis. “Stage makeup is some of the worst stuff out there as far as toxicity goes.” Since she opened up her store in August 2012 she has been very busy, which she attributes to the fact that people, not just performers, want healthier alternatives. “This makes me super happy, because when I started doing this, nobody listened to me when I talked about how dangerous the products in the world were.”
Seattle burlesque performer Inga Ingénue (Miss Viva Las Vegas 2011) was first introduced to Atomic Cosmetics when Dr. Jen was simply an online presence a few years ago; now Inga is one of her biggest fans. “I have incredibly sensitive skin; artificial fragrances and harsh chemicals make my face very, very unhappy,” Inga told me. “Meeting Dr. Jen was like a dream come true! It’s pretty common knowledge that toxins, preservatives, and added mystery fragrances are just plain bad for your longterm health, and should be avoided as much as possible anyway; I want to stay healthy and perform until the day I die!”
“Dr. Jen is brilliant and smokin’ hot- I am SO lucky to know her and have access to her amazing work,” Inga continued. “I wander into her lovely Capitol Hill shop all the time to chat, eat gluten-free cookies, and name lipstick colors. ‘Ingénude’ is my personal favorite, of course.”
With a rising demand amongst showgirls (showboys, too), I asked Dr. Jen how she goes about making new products. “It’s quite a process! First I decide what I want the product to do for the skin. Once I’ve established that, I research. I determine which oils will work best for what I want, then I look for actives that actually have some science behind them. This is critical- there are so many things on the market right now being touted as the next big thing in skincare, and in reality, there isn’t a shred of science to support those claims. Once I know what oils and actives I want to use, I decide what the best way to deliver those actives will be (i.e. in a cream, a serum, etc). From there, it’s just emulsion chemistry. Once I make a product, I test it on myself, and if it works on me, I send it off for safety and stability testing, and then it goes to my small army of showgirl guinea pigs. Because, you know, ‘tested on showgirls, never on animals’.”
Did I mention she gives a 25% discount to burlesque and drag performers at her store?
The current popularity of Atomic Cosmetics doesn’t mean Dr. Jen has abandoned her other scientific endeavors. She’s been in the science field for 16 years now and has a bachelor’s degree in Pathogenic Microbiology in addition to her PhD. As Dr. Jen puts it, “…It is mostly due to the fact that I love science like a bad boyfriend…no matter how badly it treats me, I just…can’t…quit….it.”
I asked her to explain a few of the scientific projects she is currently working on that are near and dear to her heart. “I have another company that I formed in order to pursue research on two main projects. One is an early Alzheimer’s detection assay. The goal with this assay is to provide people with a reliable, early detection assay. Currently, there is no lab test that can be done to determine whether a person has the disease; diagnosis is based on some kind of voodoo done by MDs, and can only be confirmed post-mortem. I would really like to figure this out before I get much older- I sure as heck don’t want some silly MD trying to diagnose me with nothing more than his opinion.”
“My other project is my favorite one. I’m working to blur the lines between computer and brain by building a processor out of neuronal spare parts. There is a thing in computation known as Moore’s Law, which states that the numbers of transistors on a chip will double every 18 months, and we’re rapidly getting to the point where that is simply not going to be possible anymore. At some point, the current paradigm of transistors on a silicon chip will no longer be useful. My idea is to harness the massively parallel processing power of the brain and blend it with the brute force computational ability of modern computers to create a much more powerful computational architecture. In English: I want to build the brain in a vat. Or if you prefer it in movie terms, I’m gonna be the person they travel back in time to kill.”
Yes, Dr. Jen is that brilliant- and funny as well. See for yourself if you visit her fabulous space in Retail Therapy (maybe you can even help her with those rhinestones). The space is a fun, pleasant, and very soothing place to be. Photos of many Seattle burlesquers line the walls- in full Dr. Jen makeup, of course. (Full disclosure- she even fed me key lime pie during our interview).
Dr. Jen told me her ultimate goal was to win the Nobel Prize in physics and bring three strippers to the award ceremony. Why three? “Because I have to have more strippers with me than the guy who won the Nobel for PCR,” she replied. Who knew the Nobels were so hip? Perhaps there’s a new gig all burlesquers should aspire to get to….start making those Nobel Prize pasties.
Visit Dr. Jen and Atomic Cosmetics online at http://www.xerionskinscience.com/. Or visit the mezzanine level at Retail Therapy: 905 E. Pike @ Broadway, Seattle.