Learn how she’s setting an example.
By Ashima Sethi
Featured image taken by Tanya Phanichkrivalkosil
Born and bred in Thailand, Sandhya Dhawan is a scientist by day and a makeup influencer by night, creating unique looks inspired by her heritage and identity under her Instagram and TikTok pages
(@sandhyadhwan). Currently a PHD student at the Mahidol Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit, Sandhya has been working with infectious diseases for over two years, but her foray into science wasn’t something she planned. “I’ve always had an interest in the sciences, particularly biology, however, when I enrolled at Warwick University, I had initially planned to study a film and literature degree. Seven weeks in, I realised it wasn’t a good fit for me, so I decided to take a big leap and asked if I could swap from an arts degree to a science degree. Thankfully the school agreed!”
Also a content creator, I ask Sandhya what it is about biology that piques her interest considering the nature of her work as an influencer is predominantly rooted in the arts. “There is just so much going on at a molecular level that we don’t know about, but it contributes so much to how we are that I think it’s fascinating to learn about. Biology is also a very visual science and I’m a very visual person. I paint a lot and that was actually my main interest for higher study, but I was worried I wasn’t going to be able to make a living in that field alone. So I looked at the possibility of combining arts and science, I looked at things like medical illustration but ended up pursuing biomed and really enjoying it.”
As Sandhya speaks, it’s clear that her knack for painting spills over into her appreciation for makeup. “My fondness for makeup started when I was at university and I only knew how to do basic looks. I began watching a lot of YouTube tutorials but found it hard to find any brown creators at the time, so trying to find the right makeup that worked for me was very difficult. It was a lot of trial and error. Once I got the hang of doing everyday makeup, I then began experimenting. I then started my Instagram account, which was initially a fashion page, but after a while I realised that translating my love for painting into makeup looks made more sense. It was fun and cathartic because I often found myself tired of using just my left, rational brain, so this gave me the creative outlet I desired.”
Not everyone is brave enough to break away from basic makeup looks, whether it’s because of societal pressure to look a certain way or simply not having the time to experiment, Sandhya offers her insight: “If you want to go bolder, the first thing you need to do is stop caring what other people think. For a long time, I was worried that someone was going to say something like ‘why is she here looking like that, acting like this function is her wedding?’ You know how people talk! But once I stopped caring, it became so much easier to let my creative side out.”
Beyond going bold, many of Sandhya’s shoots centre on themes that are timely or hold some sort of significance to her. But where does she draw inspiration? She explains: “My looks in the beginning featured a lot of Indian motifs because I felt like back then there weren’t enough desi creators, so incorporating Indian elements was important to me as it allowed me to show my identity. Now that I’m evolving, I think I’ve dived into more of the creative makeup realm rather than just producing Indian-inspired looks. I look at Pinterest a lot for ideas as well as fashion archives, runway makeup and old magazine covers. For my videos, I scroll through TikTok for ideas on transitions, trending music, and more.”
Although brown representation in the makeup space remains a rarity, the influencer circuit is slowly evolving to become more diverse. I ask Sandhya what she hopes to achieve in the future as this industry continues to shift. “The creator base in Thailand is so tiny, especially for Indian creators, our content hasn’t really broken through and there are not a lot of opportunities in comparison to countries like the UK or the USA to monetise your work. So that is definitely one thing I’d like to achieve, possibly reaching that point and being part of a larger community.
“Moreover, I don’t want my page to just be for vanity. I want my voice to be carried through and I want to be able to inspire young people who may not be comfortable with themselves, who are growing up insecure like a lot of us did. I want to create a community that encourages people to explore their artistic expression, a platform that helps people understand that we are not in fact ‘ugly,’ we just don’t fit Euro-centric beauty standards. It took me a long time to feel comfortable enough to post pictures without caring about others’ opinions, I realise that blocking out the noise is important, so if I can do it, maybe I can help others too.”
With so much choice, where do you usually find makeup that you like?
I actually haven’t bought new makeup in over a year because I’ve invested in building a good base, which allows me to reuse a lot of what I have. For things like foundation, I shop at Sephora because they have a large selection of brands and finding what suits your skin shade is very important. Fenty is a good brand for that. For more creative makeup items, liners, and face painting, I shop online because a lot of items aren’t readily available here yet. When looking into buying anything, it is important to remember that price does not dictate quality, so doing your research and reading reviews is very important!
If you had to describe your personal style in three words, what would they be and why?
Alternative. It’s very Gen-Z slang to call someone an ‘alt girl,’ but I think I dive into that style a lot. I’m an emo kid at heart, I grew up listening to metal and punk and the style of that era has stuck with me. Bold, because I love colour. I don’t just wear black all the time although that was my style before, I realised it just wasn’t who I am. Eclectic, I experiment with a lot of prints and patterns, things most people would shy away from actually!