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Spiders & invisibility clocks: A witch-scientist predicts beauty’s future


TextLauren Bowker

The Unseen’s Lauren Bowker investigates alchemy and how it can be put to use for summoning new trends and techniques

Welcome to Witch Week, a campaign dedicated to exploring how witchcraft, magick and beauty intersect. Discover photo stories shot featuring real witches in NYC, a modern reimagining of the witch, and one witch’s mission to get a tan, as well as in-depth features exploring herbology, science and alchemy, and male witches. Elsewhere, we’ve created four special covers to celebrate the campaign and our one year anniversary – something wicked this way comes.

When material alchemist and Dazed’s science editor-at-large Lauren Bowker isn’t unlocking emotions and sparking memories using scent with Ermenegildo Zegna and Estée Lauder or tracking other worlds to create an intergalactic memento of space travel for Virgin Atlantic, she’s changing the way the world uses colour. She developed her revolutionary colour-change compounds while studying at Manchester School of Art and, after founding design and chemical innovation licensing studio The Unseen in London in 2014, she released the world’s first colour-change hair dye FIRE in 2017.

Bowker’s practice revolves around making the invisible visible by blurring the line between matter and materials, translating data into mind-blowing material solutions – like a chameleonic Swarovski gemstone headpiece, and pioneering magick.

Here the witch-scientist investigates alchemy and how it can be put to use for summoning new trends and techniques.

Magick is… 

Lauren Bowker: The knowledge that we are part of nature rather than its creator. Alignment with these beliefs starts with being in tune with ourselves as well as the world we live in. It’s being aware of our conscious and our subconscious. The key to magick for me is using some of what you know to fathom something you don’t.

What do science and magick have to do with each other? 

Lauren Bowker: I believe that place is alchemy. Both scientists and alchemists look to derive insight from nature and seek discovery of the unknown. Both are adept at analysing patterns or behaviours, perform their own variations on rituals, and can mix a concoction aspiring to manifest newness. When supported by the huge volume of science required to create beauty products, isn’t that exactly what beauty stands for, allowing us to transform into any creation we design?

Historically the two haven’t mixed well…

Lauren Bowker: Cosmetic science en masse is far from being nature first, we remain stuck with tried and tested procedures like animal testing and the use of petroleum-based products or non-recyclable, pollutant packaging. I believe this is largely due to the heavy commercial regulations that formulators are forced to abide by, coupled with the mass corporations stuck in their age-old routine.

Unless you’re talking about the Ancient Egyptians 

Lauren Bowker: I believe the Ancient Egyptians had it right, using pigments made from naturally occurring elements applied to the eyelids to protect against infection and conceal against harmful UV rays, while simultaneously forming the now-infamous aesthetic we identify with Egyptian people of that era.

The future looks even brighter 

Lauren Bowker: As the new owner of a beauty brand, avid explorer, and key voice in the future of material science, I expect more from the products I use. Science can open doors to create not just cleaner products, but more intelligent functional materials.

New materials like graphene will change everything...

Lauren Bowker: Graphene is being hailed as the saviour of the 21st century, its combination of strength and light-weight, making it a front runner for multiple new products. Graphene is strong enough to provide coatings to hair molecules that form a new process of hair colouration, replacing toxic molecules and providing an antibacterial surface as well as colour to the hair, while adding a mattifying look. Could matte black hair shortly be replacing the aspirational glossy finish? 

Metamaterials…

Lauren Bowker: Perhaps more excitingly, there are metamaterials. These magical molecules gain their properties from structure rather than composition, meaning they have the ability to create actual invisibility cloaks! Translate this functionality to beauty, and you have a custom invisibility mask for anything you don’t want others to see.

Start adding spiders to your beauty regime…

Lauren Bowker: I couldn’t write an article on future materials during Witch week without mentioning spiders. Japanese company Spiber have found a way to synthetically create artificial spider silk. The strongest material in nature, now synthesized into spider silk skincare. Eighteen B are extracting silk proteins into a moisturiser forming the ultimate barrier defence against pollution and other environmental impacts on the skin.

We might be able to grow new skin…

Lauren Bowker: On the other side of the world, Dr Oron Catts is literally growing new skins from stem cells in a lab dish, while researchers at Oxford University are harnessing a certain critter named Streptococcus Pyogenes, otherwise known as the flesh-eating bacteria, to make glue! Could the future of beauty be molecularly bonding new skins to ourselves to create completely new ones?

I’ve invented F I R E

Lauren Bowker: Our dynamic hair colour that made a fictional glamour spell a reality through blood, sweat and science.

To conclude… 

Lauren Bowker: So, the future of beauty looks bewildering, magick even. I view the skin as its own material in which to explore our inner and outer worlds through. After all, isn’t magick just science we don’t yet understand?

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