As a scientist, Hannah English has been trained to look for the black and white amongst the grey. As a person, though, and despite some of the seemingly contrasting aspects of her life – a pharmacology grad who also happens to have a flourishing creative career, and someone who is extremely open about her ADHD and yet in other respects very private – she embraces complexity rather than looking for simple, fixed answers. In this first part of our interview, get to know Hannah, who is honest, unapologetic, and very quick to make a dry joke. In part two, she reveals exactly how she gets that gorgeously glowing skin, and which professional treatment she loves but describes as the skincare version of bringing a gun to a knife fight.


“I grew up with my head in a book, and was a weird, messy kid. I’m the eldest of three; my sister is 18 months younger than me, and then when I turned 6 our brother was born. I was the troublesome one, especially as a teen… my parents have seen it all with me. I have lovely parents!

My sister and I used to go stay at Grandma’s farm during the holidays, and she had this great vanity, in that ‘50s mint green, sea foam sort of colour, that had all these perfume bottles on it with tassels and atomisers. I definitely have strong memories of it being very glam. We’d raid her makeup before she got out of bed, thinking we were so slick, getting away with it, but she obviously knew; she’d wake up to two faces full of terribly applied makeup.

IMAGE: INSTAGRAM @ms_hannah_e

I have ADHD, and it’s quite full on. I was only diagnosed two years ago.

I had spent my life thinking it was normal to be messy, to not remember things, to be terrible replying to messages, to forget everything. I realise now that over time I had come up with systems, without even realising it, to try and make do. If I’d had a diagnosis sooner, there are behaviours of mine that could have been explained and controlled… but we’re here now.

IMAGE: INSTAGRAM @ms_hannah_e

I’ve never really spoken about this before, but when I was 18, I had this boyfriend. It was pretty bad. He was charming at first, but became abusive emotionally and then physically abusive.

I don’t know if there are statistics bearing this out, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if women with ADHD are more likely to find themselves in these sorts of relationships.

It was… not ideal, and it took a lot of work to get through what happened to me. Once you know behaviour patterns to spot, then it’s a bit easier. I’ve blocked a lot of it out, honestly, although it still comes out in night terrors, which obviously I just love, haha.

IMAGE: INSTAGRAM @ms_hannah_e

The mental health conversations that are part of the broader picture now, like ‘R U OK Day’, are important, but although I respect people who have the capacity to ask or answer that question, not everyone is up to that.

I’ve gotten very observant of what I am feeling at any given time, and so even though I do read anything that comes up on the topic, afterwards I often think ‘whoops, I should have not done that’. I remember when FKA Twigs shared her story, and how I felt afterwards… when you re-experience what happened to you, I guess you start acting funny for a few days.

IMAGE: INSTAGRAM @ms_hannah_e

This boyfriend would be mean for no reason, and to use the mental health language, I developed a trauma response. I’m lucky, I was able to phone a help line, and ask them “I think my boyfriend is abusive, how can I stop him?” and they said you can’t stop him, you have to leave.

On my 19th birthday, we were on the train together, and because of what I now know to be my ADHD, I can’t pay attention for long periods of time, and I broke eye contact while we were talking. (I mean, that’s normal anyway, right? No one just stares at each other the whole time you’re talking!) He accused me of checking out some guy, and I was just so confused. I kept saying “what are you talking about?” To this day I don’t even know if there even was ‘a guy’. It absolutely spiralled from there. A few hours later I was crying so much that my mum came to pick me up, and he went to play video games with his friend, like what had happened that night, on my birthday, no less, was no big deal. It was absolute gaslighting.

IMAGE: INSTAGRAM @ms_hannah_e

It was my mum who got me out. He’d get angry at me for some reason and just disappear for a couple of days, so the next time he did that we got all my stuff and disappeared, changed my phone number, the works. Thank goodness that my parents were still checking in on me.

Rebuilding who you are as a person takes a long time. It took me a couple of years to get to therapy; I had to move in with my dad and eventually went to therapy every week for a year. I had to unlearn the whole narrative that I was broken.

My parents were really there for me, and my work was good with giving me time off for therapy or if I wasn’t doing well. It was so nice to have such a system of support and understanding. I am still friends with one of my bosses from then now, actually; I like to give her big bags of skincare. I feel so lucky to be where I am now, and I am grateful every day that I got out.

Wow, I should go and call my mum!

IMAGE: INSTAGRAM @ms_hannah_e

My partner and I have just celebrated our eight year anniversary together – with food poisoning from our anniversary dinner. Fantastic!

I was 25 when we met, in my first year of uni, and he was 30 and in his last year. We had empathy with each other from the start (partly for both being the oldest people in our courses, haha). Ever since we first met, I have been able to say “this is what I need from you”. It’s a proper adult relationship. You have to ask for what you need from the other person; they won’t always know. I think you can tell when someone has had to work through things, though, and it makes it easier to be together when you both have. Life is hard, which is something we’re all going to learn at some point. I’m glad that I learned that while I still had time to go and get myself set up to eventually be in the place I am now. Sometimes I still have a stress reaction to things like loud noises, but my partner is so understanding and supportive; he’s wonderful. I mean, that’s what we ideally expect a good partner to be, but still, props!

IMAGE: INSTAGRAM @ms_hannah_e

One of the elements of my ADHD is hyperfocus, which means focusing too much on things that I find interesting. Luckily for me, that was always maths and science, so that worked out well!

It helps for someone like me to find a passion, because then it all clicks and you just want to give it everything, but it makes parts of life that aren’t your passion tricky. In school I always got the feedback that I was a good student but I needed to concentrate or apply myself, and now I think “well cool, but I couldn’t, so thanks for that!”

I did eventually get through uni, but it was later than everyone else. By the time I got there, I really wanted it. I had experienced what it was like to live and work, the downside of which was definitely missing the money that came with full time work. I wasn’t fulfilled in my career, though, and I wanted that feeling.

IMAGE: INSTAGRAM @ms_hannah_e

I started out posting about the skincare I was using really just to document it. I was experiencing breakouts, and given I was at uni studying for my Bachelor of Pharmaceutical Science, I was learning how to research properly.

Rather than lab work, I did my Honours through industry placement, in drug research. I was learning how drugs work, and skincare is kind of less-high-stakes drugs, so I wanted to use both the content of what I was learning and the research skills I was developing to talk about skincare on social media. Whether it’s over the counter or a prescription product, it still changes your skin biologically, so it’s really just the copy writing rules that are different. For instance, you can’t say that over the counter skincare treats hyperpigmentation, but you can say it brightens skin – and yet it’s the same thing.

IMAGE: INSTAGRAM @ms_hannah_e

I think people do box me into ‘the science thing’, but I love the creative side of my work as well. People tend to think you either fall into STEM or you’re a creative, but there’s lots of overlap, particularly in beauty. Perfume blending is a great example, where there’s a lot of science but it’s also an art.

I don’t think people really see, and therefore don’t realise, what goes on behind the scenes, what goes into producing that content. I made a reel recently, and not even counting the time it took for me to teach myself to use the editing software (I seriously just started Googling it and worked it out from there), the 30 seconds of finished footage took me three days to make. Initially with this sort of content I wasn’t happy with how it looked, which made me feel terrible, like ‘I’m so bad at this’, but I eventually got there, and now I love it.

IMAGE: INSTAGRAM @ms_hannah_e

It’s fantastic that my work now lets me dive into a particular topic, and I feel really lucky to be making science accessible to people who didn’t think they were ‘science people’.

I think it’s all about how we learn. You don’t have to think of yourself as ‘not into science’; maybe you just haven’t come across it in a way that worked for you before. I love when people tell me their skin has changed, or they’ve stopped punishing their poor faces, or that now they wear SPF.

IMAGE: INSTAGRAM @ms_hannah_e

One difficult part of working in social media is the odd salty comment, which can ruin your day.

In science there’s a lot of ego, and a lot of the time people tie their academic achievements into their egos, which is natural, but it means sometimes I do a lot of work and get comments saying ‘you missed this’ or ‘you did this wrong’. Well, I chose what to leave in or out! And feel free to publish something yourself if you don’t like how I did it!

The other things that can be tricky to navigate are the invasive questions. I have been pretty open about my ADHD, but I choose not to be so open about other mental health issues or other aspects of my life, so I do feel uncomfortable sometimes when people become demanding. You do have to give yourself a little bit of space, and learn to set boundaries. Most people are lovely and respectful, though – I’d say 99% just love chatting about skincare, or maybe their ADHD. It’s so nice to have a community of people who just get it.”

IMAGE: INSTAGRAM @ms_hannah_e

Interview and story by Zoe Briggs. Photography, including header image, supplied by Hannah English. Other images from Instagram @ms_hannah_e.

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