Skin Care Self-Care Beauty Lookbook

How skincare companies teach us to hate our bodies with “pretty” products

If I was a fruit, I would be a peach. Just like the fuzzy summer staple, I too, am covered with fine hair everywhere. I’ve since made peace with it because what is the alternative? Succumbing to societal pressure and hating my body? I don’t have time for that. And yet there are still skincare and beauty companies lurking on my social media feeds trying to convince me that my body’s hair, fat, cellulite, stretch marks, acne, and oily skin can all disappear with a product bundle amounting to well over $100.

While these companies might think they have good intentions, I’m skeptical. Some of these brands sound exactly like people I wouldn’t want to get stuck talking to in real life. These kinds of people are quick to take notice of all of my flaws and even quicker to recommend how they keep their skin looking like a beauty advert. What they’re really admitting when they say things like this is, “I’ve been blessed with great genes. No one in my family has chronic or cystic acne, nor do we have stretch marks, cellulite, or even body hair, so of course all of these quirky remedies work for me.”

Quite a few of these same skincare brands hire models who also were born with genes that make them less prone to large pores, acne, and cellulite and who don’t have hair, fat, scars, or stretch marks on their bodies. So, when I see a video come across my For You Page of a straight-sized white woman shaving the peach-fuzz downy of hair on her butt cheeks, I can’t help but question the intentions of these skincare brands. Do they want people to start being self-conscious about new parts of their body? Scrolling through the comments, one particular brand responded to users by agreeing that “all bodies are beautiful” or that no one is “expected to [shave their butt cheeks] but if you want to, we have a great routine.” Cool cool cool, but if “all bodies are beautiful,” then why does your brand only include straight-sized women and mostly only white women? Seems contradictory.

This same brand sells products that help “increase firmness of the skin, while minimizing the appearance of fine lines and cellulite” and other products that “increase circulation, facilitate tissue drainage, and plump out dimpled skin.” Is this why all of their models are straight-sized? Because if they actually included more body variation amongst their models, they would have to admit their products don’t work?

In an interview with HuffPost, Zakia Rahman, a dermatologist with Stanford Health Care, said, “Topical creams are really confusing because it’s a multi-billion dollar market and many of those things don’t work.”

The American Academy of Dermatology Association states, “If you’re looking for facelift-like results from a jar, you’ll likely be disappointed. Despite the claims, the results you see from a skin-firming cream will be subtle at best … When you see immediate results, the product tends to be an effective moisturizer.” On stretch marks, they assert, “like any scar, stretch marks are permanent, but treatment may make them less noticeable … It’s important to understand that no single treatment works for everyone — and many products don’t seem to work at all,” including home remedies like almond oil, cocoa butter, olive oil, or vitamin E. For cellulite, it comes down to some creams and lotion may have an effect.

Understanding what most bodies look like is going to be paramount for the skincare and beauty industry moving forward. It’s totally fine to sell products in pretty packaging with fun colors and smells. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s fun to buy these kinds of products because they’re pretty. But when brands pretend these products will help improve acne, cellulite, stretch marks, and other “problems” most human bodies experience, that just seems unethical and wrong.

To be clear, I’m not criticizing anyone for wanting to change how they look—because not wanting to have hair on your butt is a preference. However, skincare and beauty companies don’t acknowledge this. Instead, many of these brands continue to sell questionable products using harmful advertising and models and influencers who fit nicely into the beauty standards outlined by Western society. Unfortunately, this only reinforces harmful ideologies and excludes many groups of people.

I would prefer if skincare and beauty companies celebrated size-inclusive models and models with acne, stretch marks, fat, cellulite, and dark body hair in their pretty social media photos and marketing campaigns. This would even the playing field and actually show consumers that as a brand, they do in fact believe that “all bodies are beautiful” just as they are. There’s nothing ugly about bodies with acne, stretch marks, fat, cellulite, body hair, and more, so why not start putting your money where your mouth is? I’d love to see more photos and videos on my feeds of models with any of these natural body conditions having fun using booty polish or booby serum, not because it will “improve” how their body looks but because it’s fun and it smells good.

Skincare and beauty companies need to realize that today’s savvy consumers aren’t looking for superficial solutions to “problems” that aren’t even problems. Just admit the solutions you’re selling are fake and go. We’ll all be much better off for it, because the alternative is continuing to tell women that there is something wrong with how their bodies look. And that’s unacceptable.

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No, I will not be taking my hijab off for my wedding and you can’t make me

We often talk about how the hijab is viewed negatively in the Western world. But I don’t think that many people realize that discrimination against the hijab doesn’t only happen in western society. In my experience, it also occurs in my home country, Pakistan, and my own family members are a part of the problem.

My sister and I started wearing the hijab when we were 15 and 13, respectively. For us, it seemed like a natural choice since we’d spent most of our childhood in Saudi Arabia, where the hijab was mandatory. When our family in Pakistan found out we still wore the hijab after moving to Canada in our teen years, they were ecstatic. They thought it was wonderful that we chose this for ourselves and praised us for making seemingly religious choices. 

But that all changed when my sister turned 20 and someone tried to propose to her. Our mother rejected the engagement and it sparked a debate within our entire family. Most of them believed that more proposals would come her way if my sister took off her hijab. I still remember my mother arguing with our aunt who said that hijabs are only meant to look good on girls who are “white, thin, and pretty.” She thought that I was too dark and my sister was too fat, so we were ruining our prospects by sticking to our hijabs.

The worst part about all of this is that my aunt wasn’t entirely wrong. The hijab didn’t make men jump at the chance to marry us. Due to pressure from extended family members, my mother was constantly on the lookout for potential matches for my sister. But every guy who approached would run away just as fast once he heard that she wouldn’t be taking her hijab off for him. 

After a while, my sister did it. She found a guy who seemed accepting of who she was and agreed to marry him after a year. Suddenly, the tune the family was singing changed, but not for the better. Everyone asked if she’d be taking her hijab off for the wedding and discussing how beautiful she would look in this or that hairdo. They tried to talk my mother into making my sister buy lehengas, which would show off her midriff and arms. This completely goes against the very purpose of wearing a hijab.

To reach a compromise with my family, I nominated myself as my sister’s makeup artist and hairstylist for the wedding day and began experimenting with different hijab styles. We naively thought that if we could show them that the hijab could be dolled up, they would accept her decision. They did not. In the end, when the engagement was broken off, they simply returned to their earlier comments about taking off the hijab to score a husband.

The sheer amount of criticism that came with all this has my sister unsure about whether she ever wants to have a wedding, let alone one in Pakistan with our family. It hurt to watch my sister try and deal with the harsh judgment and then come to realize that her opinions hold no value in our community. It hurts more to think that other Pakistani brides might have to put up with the same level of harassment all over one headscarf

My sister was always much more staunch in her love of the hijab. Truth be told, I started wearing it on the condition that it would be pink and glittery. If you asked me just two years back, I might have given in to the family pressure and agreed to take off my hijab for my wedding.

Yet, knowing the struggle and judgment that comes with making a choice has given me an appreciation for the fact that it was a choice. However petty my reason is, it is my choice to put on the hijab, and I will be damned if I let someone else try to make decisions about my body and my attire for that one day in my life.

Now I can say with confidence that I will not be taking my hijab off for my wedding.

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Makeup Style Fashion Beauty Lookbook

The problem with ‘nude’ in the fashion and beauty industries

Nude is a deep-rooted problem in the fashion and beauty industries. As a woman of color, when I’ve searched for nude stockings, lipsticks, underwear, camisoles, or heels, I haven’t come across a single item that resembles my skin color. It soon dawned on me that these items that are regarded as “essentials” and “must-haves” are almost always designated for white women only. Any skin color other than white, like mine, doesn’t fit into their obsolete standards.

Nude is meant to describe a color that matches the person’s skin. In reality, mainstream fashion and beauty companies have defined the term in a way that suits their ideals – an ideal that marginalizes women of color in a bid to target their coveted customer of choice, white women that possess a fairer complexion. Nude is seen as one color, is synonymous with white skin, and is used interchangeably with beige or cream. This association excludes every other skin tone and preserves the white privilege culture we live in.

In 2017, fashion brand N‎ünude, an online retailer that provides nude attire for all skin tones, successfully campaigned to have the definition of nude changed in the Oxford Dictionary. Previously, the definition of nude was described as ‘light pinkish beige.’ N‎ünude’s campaign drew attention to the problem of its narrow definition, which resulted in the Oxford Dictionary changing the definition to expand the scope to “all shades of nude.”

But does a definition change and wider discussions of how nude is labeled enough to make waves in the fashion and beauty industries? Women of color feel undermined as they still don’t fit into the industry’s standards of what is considered nude; they’re considered more as an afterthought. The obvious question to mainstream brands is why haven’t you created new shades when there’s a diverse audience demanding them?

In an interview with Business of Fashion, Elizabeth Wissinger, professor of fashion studies at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, said that fashion has started to acknowledge alternative body types and complexions. Still, its attachment to narrow traditions suggests it will take a long time to change.

“Fashion claims to be nimble and responsive and on the cutting edge,” said Wissinger. But “there’s also such long cultural echoes of what’s deemed fashionable, so there’s this subconscious background of calling that color ‘nude.’”

The fashion and beauty industries are changing. The development has been driven by smaller brands and women of color-owned businesses to challenge the narrative on what should be regarded as nude. It isn’t just beige anymore; it’s a realm of shades.

Here are some of the brands that are transforming the fashion and beauty worlds:

N‎ünude – clothing and lingerie

Two women are wearing swimsuits. The image includes the caption "Do you think she beautiful she looks today?"
[Image Description: Two women are wearing swimsuits. The image includes the caption “Do you think she knows…how beautiful she looks today?”] Via N‎ünude on Instagram
Nünude is a community brand born out of frustration for the lack of representation and accommodation of ethnic minorities and different body types within the fashion industry. As well as campaigning to have the definition of nude changed in the Oxford Dictionary, they are committed to including their own customers, supporters and the community for all of their campaigns.

Nubian Skin – lingerie

Four women are wearing bandeau tops and long lightweight trousers
[Image Description: Four women are wearing bandeau tops and long lightweight trousers] Via Nubian Skin
Nubian Skin founder, Ade Hassan, decided it was time for ‘a different kind of nude’ when she repeatedly noticed the lack of skin-tone choices. Her brand launched with a carefully edited collection of lingerie and hosiery to meet women of color’s needs. “My nude isn’t the nude I see in shops,” says Hassan. “Despite the reality that women of color have the same needs as all women when it comes to lingerie and hosiery, the industry simply doesn’t cater to us. So, I thought, it’s time to rethink the definition of nude”.

Salone Monet – footwear

Image of six high heel sandals in various shades.
[Image Description: Image of six high heel sandals in various shades.] Via Salone Monet on Instagram
Salone Monet is the founder of her eponymous business, a color-inclusive nude shoe brand. A lifelong passion for shoes turned Salone away from political PR and into a shoe designer. Monet chose nude footwear as her forte as she considers a quality pair of nude heels to be a wardrobe staple and an investment for women. You’ll find six shades to choose from alongside a guide on which shade is right for you on the website.


Eight lip gloss tubes in various shades
[Image Description: Eight lip gloss tubes in various shades] Via Pat McGrath Labs on Instagram
Pat McGrath MBE has been called the most influential and sought-after makeup artist in the world by Vogue. Her artistry success led McGrath to launch her own line of beauty products PAT McGRATH LABS. She ensures that every single shade and product in her range is universally flattering and tested – rigorously – on women of all complexions. Her extended shade ranges and stunning cosmetics line further prove why she is called the ‘Mother of Makeup.’

Fenty Beauty – makeup

Seven body luminizing tint tubes in various shades
[Image Description: Seven body luminizing tint tubes in various shades] Via Fenty Beauty on Instagram
Rihanna has transformed the beauty industry with her Fenty brand. After seeing a void in the industry for products that performed across all skin types and tones, she launched her own make-up line “so that people everywhere would be included.” Fenty Beauty’s inclusive range encompasses 50 shades in the foundation and concealer makeup line, with the website giving you the option to discover the right shade that suits you via their face shade finder quiz.

These brands are paving the way forward for inclusivity. The ‘nude is one color’ ideology of the fashion and beauty industries is archaic and deeply problematic. As industries are listening and watching these inclusive brands’ growth, they need to understand that diversity isn’t a trend they can tap into when it suits them. Diversity is a necessity and should be prioritized. They need to engage with and employ women of color to question their outdated attitudes in order to make valuable changes. Excluding people because of the color of their skin is racist and abhorrent, so why should it continue to be accepted in fashion and beauty?

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Makeup History It Happened Once

The history of eyelash extensions is actually so scary

Okay, the thing is I have never really been in love with my eyelashes and have envied people who don’t need eyelash extensions for years. It is just unfair! My eyelashes are short, they point in all different directions, and they make putting on mascara difficult sometimes. Now, I bet you think that I wear fake eyelashes daily because of this. Well, I don’t! For some reason, I have never been into wearing fake eyelashes. I tried them once and failed, so I never tried again.

Since my failed attempt with fake eyelashes many years ago, my eyelashes are something that I have learned to accept and love. But occasionally, I still want to live out my lifelong dream of having lashes that are so long that it looks like I am about to take flight. Therefore, when I heard about eyelash extensions, I thought it would be perfect! They last for almost a month, and I would not have to worry about trying to glue them on every day.

I know there are many people out there who want to try lash extensions like me. There are probably even more people who wear false lashes and eyelash extensions daily, but have you ever wondered how long people have been getting fake lashes and eyelash extensions?

People’s obsession with long lashes may seem like a rising trend to some, but it turns out that people have been wanting long lashes for centuries. Different techniques for applying fake lashes, attaching eyelash extensions, and making eyelashes appear longer has been around for quite some time.

Let’s go back a couple of centuries to Ancient Rome, where long lashes were fashionable and had a specific meaning. Eyelashes were seen as symbols for youth, morality, and virginity.

The Ancient Roman author Pliny the Elder claimed that long eyelashes were a representation of chastity because the author believed women’s eyelashes fell out during sex. So apparently if you had short eyelashes, that meant that you had a lot of sex. I don’t really know how I feel about his hypothesis, but either way, it did influence Roman women to try to use eyeliner to make their eyelashes appear longer and worked hard to achieve the long-lashed look.

Moving forward to the 1400s, there was a shockingly brief period during medieval times and middle ages where foreheads were more fashionable than eyelashes and even eyebrows. The church had linked women having hair to eroticism. Yes, just having hair at all was erotic. Therefore, women would pluck out their eyelashes and eyebrows to showcase their forehead.

Fortunately, this trend ended because our eyelashes actually protect our eyes from things like dust and debris. They even shield our eyes from the sun a little.  By the 1800s, long lashes were desired once again! However, people took their yearning for long eyelashes a little too far.

Here is where it gets a little scary.

In the late 1800s, a dangerous procedure to achieve long eyelashes was introduced to the public. While some women were gluing human hair to their eyelids, other women were looking for a more permanent route. The process involved taking strains of hair from your head and sewing the hair into their eyelids. Scary, I know! Apparently, they even attempted to use a rubbing solution of cocaine to numb the area before the procedure, but I have a feeling that it was still painful.

I’d take mascara over that any day. Thankfully, in the 1900s, artificial lashes were patented by Karl Nessler, a famous hairdresser from England. By the 2000s, modern eyelash extensions became a growing beauty service. Now anyone who wants to try out having longer lashes has great temporary and, most importantly, safe options to try.

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History Historical Badasses

Meet Queen Mọ́remí, today’s leaders could learn a thing or two from her

For those unaware of the Yorùbá ethnic group, let me give you a quick rundown. We are one of the largest ethnic groups in Nigeria and we have the most popping diaspora – I don’t make the rules. With over 47 million Yorùbás living in Nigeria and countless of us scattered around the world from the UK, the US, Brazil, Ireland, Canada, and Latin America – we are practically everywhere. But, there’s more to us than our vibrant culture or our diaspora, we have a vast history that people remain unaware of.

I believe as a royal, you are accountable to your people. By no means was Queen Mọ́remí an exception to the rule. Her dedication to her people was so strong that she sacrificed even the important thing to her. Because of this, I believe Queen Mọ́remí is the epitome of royalty. Now, I know that ever since Meghan Markle married into the British Royal Family, the American media wouldn’t stop talking about the British Crown, but let’s get into African royals. Other than Cleopatra and Nefertiti, who were Egyptian, most African royals are often excluded from the narrative. But it’s not surprising when we were taught that Egyptian royals were white (or in some cases mixed-race) in Hellenistic times.

[Image description: A collage of images and artwork of Queen Mọ́remí]. Via Facebook (The Wall of Great Africans)
Let’s travel to Ilé-Ifẹ̀ – now in Osun State, Nigeria and the birthplace of Yorùbá civilization. Queen Mọ́remí lived around the 12th century and was very beautiful and loved by the people of Ilé-Ifẹ̀. During the reign of Ọ̀raǹmíyaǹ (Great Prince of Ifẹ̀, King of the Yorùbá), her husband, the people of Ifẹ̀ encountered numerous raids and many were captured and enslaved by Ìgbò warriors.

But it’s important to note that because this was the 12th century – there was no concept of having nations or countries until the colonizers came and forcefully amalgamated hundreds of ethnic groups into what we now know as Nigeria today. 

However, the people of Ifẹ̀ thought that these warriors were aliens and out of this world. So, they believed that their gods had been sent down for these ‘aliens’ because of their evil acts.

I should also point out that this was pre-Abrahamic religions and that Yorùbá people at the time never worshipped Allah or God as we know today. Islam reached the Yorùbá people in the 14th century in the midst of the Mali Empire whereas Christianity reached the Yorùbá people by Europeans in the mid 19th century. Despite this, it is strongly believed that the Yorùbá people still worshipped God through their deities but, this changed once mainstream religions were brought into Yorùbáland. After the multiple raids – the people of Ifẹ̀ decided to offer sacrifices as a means of appeasing the gods yet this didn’t work.

Mọ́remí didn’t sit back and watch her people go through their hardship but instead tried to find a solution to the problem. This is the energy all leaders need to exhibit.

With her kindred spirit, Mọ́remí sought assistance from the river deity Esimirin and vowed to sacrifice everything she had for the sake of her people. Mọ́remí did a courageous thing – not sure if our modern-day royals could ever but still – she allowed herself to be captured by the Ìgbò raiders in hopes of learning more about them and their tactics. I mean, if you can’t beat them (spoiler, she did), why not join them? 

After being captured by Ìgbò warriors, their king is said to have fallen in love with her because of her beauty. Classic – even in the 12th century, history still shows us that men are the weakest link. But her beauty should not be the focus of her story – or any woman at that matter – it should be how she saved her people. So of course he didn’t want her to be a bed slave and instead took her as his wife. Perhaps Mọ́remí was the originator of pretty privilege and used this to her advantage, garnering substantial information and understood how these warriors were able to capture and continue to wreak terror upon the people of Ifẹ̀.

Due to her newfound knowledge and how she gained the trust of the Ìgbò king, she escaped back to Ilé-Ifẹ̀ and helped free her people from the terror of the Ìgbòs. By arming herself with knowledge of their warfare tactics, the people of Ifẹ̀ were freed by burning the Ìgbòs, who were scared of fire, during the next raid

Remember when she made her sacrifice to the river deity? Yeah, she had to pull through with that too. So, the river demanded she sacrifice her son Olúòrògbó and of course this must have been incredibly hard for her. I doubt that any mother would want to sacrifice their child, Mọ́remí was no exception. But she had no choice and did what she had to do. The entire kingdom of Ifẹ̀ was in grief because of this. Instead, they promised to be her eternal children because of her sacrifice.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much history recorded after her sacrifice but she is memorialized in Nigeria through a number of books, plays, traditional songs and the annual Edi Festival. I think it is a testament to how the actions of women in history are often ignored or inaccurately depicted. It’s important for us to reflect on the stories we are told about women in history and delve deeper. We should make it our mission they are not forgotten.

As a modern honor of Queen Mọ́remí, a statue was erected in 2016 in line with the Edi Festival. The statue is Nigeria’s tallest and one of the tallest in Africa. Today, we see in the city of modern Ilé-Ifẹ̀ how her sacrifices are celebrated with the annual Edi festival. 

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History Poetry Forgotten History Lost in History

You probably don’t know about Hettie Jones, a crusading Beat poet

You’ve heard of a Jack Kerouac, but have you ever heard of a Hettie Jones?

The Beat Literary Movement of the 1950s is coined for its explicit subject matter and bohemian lifestyle. Americans in the 1950’s lived in largely suburban towns and felt threatened by things like communism. Men went to work in suits and women stayed home to cook, clean, and tend to the children.

The rebel, beatnik, group of authors that made up the Beat Generation were iconoclastic. Much of their work explored and influenced American culture and politics in the post-war era. They experimented with form and structure while writing about sex, drugs, and religion. Traditional literary houses rejected them and looked down on them as a group as being defiant, untalented, and unprofessional. 

I think that their being unconventional was the whole point, though.

They were the antithesis of mainstream American life.

They wanted to publish anything that was deemed inappropriate by society. These people were tired of the routine, and frankly, felt beaten down by the conservative lifestyle that they were stuck in. They were highly controversial in that they were the antithesis of mainstream American life and writing. Many of their works of poetry and prose focused on shifts of consciousness and escaping “squareness.” The stereotype around the Beats is that they were not in favor of what they considered to be straight jobs. Instead, they lived together, packed into small and dirty apartments, sold drugs, had sex with each other, and committed crimes. They are also known for exploring homosexuality, which was a highly taboo topic in 1950’s America.

Though they set many precedents together, the Beats still succumbed to the blatant sexism of the time. Most, if not all, of the women involved in the Beat literary movement were overshadowed by their male counterparts for no particular reason other than gender. These women were just as intelligent and qualified to question society as the beatnik men who have become well-known poets and activists.

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One of the most iconic, and downplayed, female poets of that time who deserves righted acknowledgment is Hettie Jones. 

Hettie Jones published 23 books- and yet, we forgot her

Hettie Jones is most known for her marriage to the famous Beat Poet Amiri Baraka (formerly LeRoi Jones). Few people know that Hettie helped run Totem Press, one of the more important beat publishers, along with her husband. She went on to publish about 23 books, one being a memoir of her time spent with Amiri and the rest of the Beats titled, How I Became Hettie Jones (1990). She has also written for many prestigious journals, lectured writing across America, and began the literary magazine “Yugen.”

Hettie is one of my favorite poets, so I think that her writing deserved to be at the forefront of the Beat movement, right there with the boys who got so much praise for their work. 

Hettie’s writing is rooted in practical idealism. She left her family home in Long Island to go to college and to fully discover herself. When she graduated in 1955, she never turned back, and moved to New York City. She met Amiri while working at The Record Changer, a jazz magazine. He was a young, black poet with just as much intelligence and intensity as Hettie. They quickly fell in love and moved in together. They would go to poetry readings at cafes and bohemian bars, where they met many of the other Beat poets.

Hettie deserved to be at the forefront of the Beat movement.

When the pair founded their own magazine, they published the writings of many of the iconic beat players who could not find a home for their writing in the traditional sphere. Hettie was in charge of editing the works that were to be published in the magazine. It was here that she honed her craft and found power in the refined writing that makes her work stand out from the rest. 

By 1960, Hettie and Amiri had two children, were married, and lived in New York City. Being a biracial family, though, countless bigoted remarks were directed towards them regardless of the Beat scene. Hettie was on the receiving end of most of these cold stares and was able to see the world through the eyes of her husband and children. This affected her incredibly and eventually became a recurring theme in her writing.  

When Amiri became tightly involved with the Black Power movement, he was criticized for having a white wife. They divorced in 1968. Hettie thrived on her own though and made a living with her children while teaching and editing. Her separation from her husband also gave Hettie an outlet to speak up and finally publish works of her own. She has been quoted to say, “Without a him in the house, there was more space/time for her, and I tried to redefine the way a woman might use it.” 

To this day, Hettie’s writing is compassionate. She writes about her own experiences in a compelling manner while weaving in the issues that she cares about. Currently, Hettie lives in New York City, and is a writer and lecturer. In addition, she runs a writing workshop at the New York State Correctional Facility for Women where she recently published a volume of writing by incarcerated women.

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Health Care Skin Care Love Wellness

Getting clear skin wasn’t worth the drastic measures I took

After a day out in the city, my friends and I gathered lazily around our common room swiping through the photos we’d taken. “Look at this one! It’s cute, should I post it?” One of them exclaimed, stretching her arm out to show me her phone. “Stop moving, let me see,” I laughed, holding her hand steady. It was a really nice group photo, even though sunlight was beating on our faces, making us squint a little. But then I looked at myself.

We all do this when inspecting group shots, and for a moment I was stunned. “Oh my god, look at me,” I said, zooming in on my face. I was grinning, leaning on one of my roommates, but I was more focused on my skin. My skin looked rough along my cheeks, faint red bumps that peeked out from my foundation. “Do I always look like this?” I asked, in despair.

Skin problems and acne were not at all new to me, but I had just turned 20. Wasn’t that period of my life supposed to be over? I had a brief period of respite in the past two years where my skin cleared up. I had assumed that the days of imperfections and waking up with red splotches were over and that my skin finally decided to act right, but I was wrong. It came back with a vengeance, and I tried almost everything possible to return to ‘normal’. 

I cycled through different topical treatments, face-washes, and diet changes to little avail. I didn’t like to bring it up to anyone because I was afraid of drawing attention to something I already assumed was my most prominent feature. Plus, I dreaded the classic answer of “just drink water!”

I always heard of other people taking these pills called Accutane. Everybody I knew who spoke about it, made it sound like a miracle drug. I remember a friend enthusiastically telling me that she noticed her nose getting smaller as a result of taking the medicine. But I always stood against it, because I had also heard stories of liver failure and other scary side effects. I swore I would never put beauty over my health, would I really damage my organs just to look ‘better’? I was convinced it wasn’t my risk.

However, as my acne refused to fade away, with even the Ordinary failing to give me any results, I began to cave in. At first the dermatologist hesitated to prescribe me the strong treatment as she didn’t think my skin issues were as severe as they seemed to be in my head. After all, this is a drug that is only supposed to be a last resort given how potent it is and the way it completely dries out the skin. But I insisted. So I started taking Accutane.

From then on, I went about my day with perpetually cracked lips and dizziness that would come and go. But it was all worth it, because after two months, my skin started to clear. I was beyond elated. A typical timeline with Accutane was six months, on a gradually higher and higher dose, so I continued to take the pills even as my skin grew drier and drier and my hair started to fall. But my monthly blood tests were coming out fine, so I knew I wasn’t at risk of anything serious.

My wake-up call finally came when I woke up with swollen legs, my body speckled with red dots. I had suddenly gotten a severe allergic reaction to the medicine. That was when I knew it had to stop.

When did I get so carried away? When did perfect skin become so important to me that I put my health at risk? I really got lost in the ‘beauty is pain’ mantra and forgot that my ultimate priority should be my wellbeing. I’m just thankful that it was a lower-risk health scare that brought me back to my senses, as it could have been a lot worse. 

This experience showed me the drastic measures and sacrifices women make to achieve a perfect look. Most women’s skin acts up, and that’s normal. It’s natural. We weren’t all made to have porcelain skin, that’s just bullshit made to sell us dozens of pots of clay masks and acids over serums.

Skincare is important, but it doesn’t have to be so high-stakes.  All it can take is something simple like seeing your imperfections in the mirror or what you see as an unflattering photo to launch you into a possibly dangerous path.

I’ve been there, and I can tell you it’s not worth it at all. 

Fashion Lookbook

Here’s my big-chested secret to finding a supportive sports bra

I’ve never understood why it’s so hard to find sports bras or tops that are flattering on large chested women. From my experience, all of the cute ones either only come in smaller sizes, or are impractical. What I do find is never actually supportive, though, like a sports bra should be, and I wind up having to wear two sports bras just to feel comfortable while exercising. This is suffocating and not at all ideal, especially when sweat starts to build up in crevices that should just not be sweating. 

If I don’t go through the hassle of squeezing my chest into 2 sports bras at once, which is something that I think resembles a medieval corset, then I feel almost as if I’m being held back during my workout. It’s hard to push myself when I don’t really feel secure or comfortable. Not to be graphic, but if I’m going on a run or doing jumping jacks, the last thing I want to be thinking about is my boobs flopping around in every direction, basically an inch away from a wardrobe malfunction. Yet most of the time, that is all I can think about. Not to mention that all of that breast movement can also be downright painful during a workout. Frankly, it feels like my boobs are being torn right off my chest with every jump or swing. 

As a result, my exercise routine just doesn’t last very long because I’m so tired of having to deal with my boobs. Sometimes I even find myself holding my breasts in my hands to stop them from bouncing while I’m jogging. But I shouldn’t have to do that. Girls with larger chests should be able to find sports bras, or any other top for that matter, that are flattering, trendy, and fits their chest just as much as the next girl

But I also know that my big boobs are not going anywhere anytime soon. Neither are those narrow stereotypes of the ‘perfect’ female body that are the driving force of the fashion and athleisure industries. So, after a few years of dealing with this, I’ve come up with a few tips and tricks of my own for finding a sports bra that is comfortable, stylish, and that I trust to keep my chest in place and supported. 

Our boobs deserve the best — AKA not to be smooshed so I’ve always found it best for a sports bra to have some sort of light cupping on the inside. This ensures that our boobs have a designated place to go so as to limit movement. 

Freya Active Bra.
[Image description: Freya Active Bra.] Via
Another thing that is key when looking for a sports bra is a strong and substantial bottom band. This acts like a shelf for our boobs to sit on and helps keep them in place during a high-intensity workout. When looking for a bottom band that offers maximum support, however, it’s important to take into consideration whether or not that band will rub or cause irritation in the area. Rubbing is not good. For this reason, I usually try to go wire-free when picking out a sports bra. Adjustable straps and a flexible under-band are always my go to for comfort and ensuring minimal bounce. 

Natori Gravity Contour Sports Bra.
[Image description: Natori Gravity Contour Sports Bra.] Via
Another important aspect is the material that your sports bra is made of. Moisture-wicking or mesh materials are great for soaking up sweat and acting as a ventilator to keep you cool. 

Zella Body Fusion Sports Bra.
[Image description: Zella Body Fusion Sports Bra.] Via
It’s time we start taking a stand and taking care of our boobs, because if we don’t, we could be doing more damage than we’d like to think. 

Skin Care Lookbook

My acne acts up when I’m really stressed — and I’m really stressed right now

All throughout my preteen and teen years, I’ve been locked in battle with my acne. I just feel like I’m never able to get it right for any substantial period of time before it flares up again and I’m left right back where I started: confused, frustrated, and uncomfortable. I tried everything I could before consulting with a dermatologist, who guided me in the right direction in terms of managing my skincare. But still, my skin is nowhere near perfect, especially right now. 

It’s hard to maintain and keep up with a solid skincare routine when I’m worried about keeping track of everything else. On top of that, my acne acts up when I’m under stress. So needless to say, quarantine has been a never ending fight between me and my skin. And I am losing terribly. The worst part is that my acne just makes me even more stressed – it really is a terrible, endless cycle. 

It feels ugly, too, because no one on TV or in magazines really has acne. Their skin always seems to be smooth, radiant, and totally flawless. I know that most of it is probably photoshopped, but still, it doesn’t really help my self-esteem. Plus, some people I know just have better genetics for skin, which means that they don’t really have to worry about it. When I see these things, though, I almost always feel like I’m doing something wrong, like my acne is something that I should be embarrassed about or ashamed of. Sometimes, I even feel like I want to hide. My acne has held me back from making progress in building my confidence because every time I look in the mirror, I see something wrong and flawed. 

Most of the time, when my acne gets really bad, I try to drink an exorbitant amount of water, eat healthier, and use a ton of aloe. During quarantine, however, I have fallen back into old habits. I don’t really eat very healthy and I am not exercising a bunch or getting much sunlight. This has not only brought out the worst of me, but also the worst of my skin. I thought that giving my skin a break from makeup and the wear and tear of everyday life would be good for it, but of course I was wrong. With all of the added stress of living through a pandemic on top of my normal stressors, my acne has gotten progressively worse. Surprisingly, I’m more dehydrated than I was before, and I eat much more junk food too. I’m also guilty of not really doing much to take care of my skin right now because I’m not seeing anyone or getting dressed up, and have just been incredibly lazy these past few weeks.

But now, I’m fed up. I don’t want to feel unattractive or upset with myself anymore. If I don’t do as much as I can to feel beautiful, both inside and out, then I won’t make any progress elsewhere. In any case, my skin certainly won’t heal itself. Basically, what I’m trying to say is that if I want to take care of my skin, I have to take care of myself and my mind first. So what I’ve been doing lately to work on this is listening to a lot of soothing music, doing some yoga in the mornings, and sitting by the window while I work so that I can feel the sun on my skin. I try not to go overboard with my skincare regime during a breakout because it will drive me crazy. Especially since the results are not immediate, which can become very frustrating after a while. I’d rather focus on doing things that make me feel good or feed my soul, because that is what will help me achieve an overall sense of beauty and confidence.

My issues with acne definitely won’t be going away anytime soon, so I think it’s important for me to realize that dwelling on it won’t solve anything. I just have to keep on keeping on.

Beauty Lookbook

How stress causes acne, and how to make it stop

The instant I get even a tiny bit stressed out, a pimple pops up on my cheek, my forehead, my nose, or somewhere else on my face. And no matter how much I do to get rid of them, the moment I start getting anxious, they always seem to come right back. As a student, stress is a huge part of my life. Having to deal with homework, tests, work, and writing on a daily basis, sometimes my workload is just too much. On top of that, skincare is typically the last thing on my mind. Sure, I do wash my face consistently and moisturize and do the whole bit to keep it clean, but I sometimes wonder whether it’s worth going the extra mile with skincare if stress is just going to ruin my skin anyway.

However, I’ve always wondered if stress was the actual reason behind my extra pimple or two every week. Everyone has always affirmed this fact and never told me anything different, but how much does science back it up?

How correlated is stress with skin problems?

To understand this, we must first look into what happens to our body when we get stressed out. When we are stressed, a hormone called cortisol is released into our bloodstream. This hormone is the key to finding out how our body changes when we are under pressure. For example, cortisol can make it harder for your skin to repair itself, thus leading to dull and dry skin. Wrinkles were also found to be a side-effect of stress.

Furthermore, stress can increase inflammation, causing more acne. Cortisol can also cause acne because it tells the glands in our bodies to produce more oil, which leads to more acne. In a 2003 Stanford study, it was found that when testing, (a.k.a. while under increased stress), college students had significantly more acne flare-ups. From this, scientists deduced that stress is highly correlated with acne. 

But, can stress also cause issues in other areas of your body relating to beauty? The answer is, unfortunately, a resounding yes. Hair loss and puffy, tired eyes can also be caused by stress. Stress can also cause greying and thinning hair, slowing down the process of growth and speeding up the ageing process by producing more melanin. Deep grooves in the nails are also likely to form as a result of stress.

How can we solve the problem?

The number one way we can all get rid of the acne, the wrinkles, the dry and dull skin, the hair loss, and the eye bags is by doing our best to destress. Practicing meditation, yoga, journaling, changing your environment – there are so many different ways to get rid of stress and lessen anxiety. It’s time we all took care of ourselves a little better – not only so that we can look better, but also so we can live healthier, longer, and more stress-free lives.

Skin Care Lookbook

5 skincare misconceptions, debunked

Today, having an extensively-researched, seasonal-product-switching, multi-step skincare routine is not uncommon. In fact, most people have jumped aboard the skincare train with sunscreen, sheet masks, and various acids as their guiding lights. But as with most things regarding humans, skin is specific to each individual – something that needs to be adapted to and gently experimented with through trial and error. With that being said, the skincare industry’s popularity has made it a magnet for trends that seem to stick no matter how bad they really are for you. Here are some skincare fads that seriously need to be re-evaluated.

1. Makeup wipes are overrated

A girl says, "Yeah, well, I've always thought 'easy' is completely overrated".
[Image description: A girl says, “Yeah, well, I’ve always thought ‘easy’ is completely overrated”.] Via Giphy.
In almost every nighttime skincare routine I watch, I see a pack of makeup wipes whipped out. After months of accumulating skincare knowledge, watching a makeup wipe move across someone’s skin makes me cringe. People of the skincare world: wipes are NOT enough to get all your makeup off. Have you never noticed how roughly you’re pulling at your skin? Constantly tugging on the über-sensitive skin around your eyes to try and remove your makeup without realising that you’re just smearing crusty concealer remnants all over your face? There is a time and a place for makeup wipes, but they are not the be-all end-all of makeup removal.

Instead: Try the double cleanse method! To really get a day’s worth of junk out of your pores, first use a cleansing oil or balm and work it into the face, allowing your makeup to melt and loosen off. Wash it off and follow with the second cleanse, your regular face wash. This will ensure that the following products you use, like serum or toner, are actually able to seep into your skin and amplify their effects.

2. Cleansing waters aren’t always great

A Simpson character yelling, 'Think again!'.
[Image description: A Simpson character yelling, ‘Think again!’.] Via Giphy.
Yet another product that is sometimes way over-hyped. A lot of us see makeup artists use this product and assume it’s enough to completely remove our makeup. What we don’t realize is that cleansing water is supposed to contain ‘micelles’, the technology that should essentially remove your makeup. You can’t just buy any kind of cleansing water because if it doesn’t contain the right technology, you’re basically rubbing soapy water on your face. Always look at the ingredients before buying – even if it is marketed as ‘micellar’ water.

Instead: Using micellar water as a first cleanse and following it up with a face wash is much more effective. However, micellar water’s best use seems to be in correcting your makeup as you apply it. A lot of people do swear by this product though, so maybe just make sure you’re using the right kind and quality for your skin.

3. Physical scrubs do more harm than good

A woman brings her hands to her face with a shocked expression.
[Image Description: A woman brings her hands to her face with a shocked expression.] Via Giphy.
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned on my journey as a skincare junkie is that exfoliation is key. However, I’ve also learned which types of exfoliators are safe to use. Physical scrubs, the ones with large, coarse beads, are too abrasive for our faces. When you’re rubbing these beads all over your face, they’re essentially scratching your face over and over again.

Instead: If you’re someone who doesn’t want to give up on physical exfoliants, use one with a powdery or sandy base instead. Otherwise, chemical exfoliants are the way to go!

4. Eye-creams aren’t really necessary

A woman with a confused expression mimes a '50/50' action'.
[Image description : A woman with a confused expression mimes a ’50/50′ action’.] Via Giphy.
This is usually the final step in a nighttime routine. But has anyone ever noticed that eye-creams are just a thicker moisturizer? This one’s a bit tricky, but if you have a super thorough skincare routine, after a face moisturizer and all the other products you’re putting on, eye-creams won’t do much. What’s more, using a water-based eye-cream before you sleep has sometimes shown that your eyes appear puffier in the morning.

Instead: If you still want to use an eye-cream, try a gel-based one to avoid excess puffiness. Find what works for you.

5.  Coconut oil is NOT good for your face

A boy in a Hawaiian shirt and fedora is crosses his arms and says, 'CANCELLED!' while seated in a hot tub at the beach.
[Image description: A boy in a Hawaiian shirt and fedora is crosses his arms and says, ‘CANCELLED!’ while seated in a hot tub at the beach.] Via Giphy
To people who like to slather raw coconut oil all over their faces: stop doing that! Coconut oil straight from the jar will in no way seep into your skin. Instead of being absorbed and hydrating the skin, it simply sits on top of it like a thin film, blocking the skin from breathing and from being able to absorb any other products. Raw coconut oil is not as hydrating as you were led to believe.

Instead: Use skincare products that have been formulated with coconut oil. These are products that have been specifically made for the skin and contain more ingredients besides raw coconut oil. A good example is Solved Skincare’s coconut oil cleansing pads. Or instead, use face oils that have been formulated to hydrate your skin, such as Naturopathica’s Carrot seed soothing facial oil!

Skin Care Lookbook

4 acids every skincare newbie should know about

Skincare acids are some of the best ways to exfoliate your skin. Usually, however, when you think of the word ‘acid’, the last thing you think of is something that could help clear up or brighten your skin. Skincare acids fall under the category of ‘chemical exfoliants’, and are a non-abrasive way to slough of dead skin cells or unclog your pores. “Your dermatologist can evaluate your skin and determine if one of the [acids] is good for you to help with reversing sun damage, evening out skin tone, clearing acne, and more,” explains dermatologist Dr. Doris Day. Here’s the lowdown on four acids found super commonly in skincare products, and how best to use them.


Glycolic Acid

One of, if not the most popular exfoliating acid ever, glycolic acid is derived from sugarcane and is an AHA – an alpha hydroxy acid. Alpha hydroxy acids are exfoliating acids that work at penetrating the uppermost layers of our skin and removing dead cells to reveal healthy, fresh skin underneath. What makes glycolic acid the holy grail of AHAs is its molecule size – the super small particles are able to penetrate deeper into those upper layers of our skin and buff away dead skin cells more effectively. Glycolic acid also has the ability to lessen sun damage. It’s usually people with oilier skin who derive the best results from using this product since they’re better able to withstand the deeper penetration of molecules into the skin. Using this acid consistently and making it a part of your skincare regime can lead to skin that’s more even in tone and texture, as well as help prep and cleanse your skin for other products you may want to apply. It’s important to note that people who have dry or extremely sensitive skin should be careful when incorporating this specific acid into their skincare routine because the deeper penetration of the acid molecules into the skin may feel too harsh for them. Dr. Adarsh Vijay Mudgil, a board-certified dermatologist and dermatopathologist and founder of Mudgil Dermatology in NYC, says that glycolic acid might irritate dry or sensitive skin, and that those with oily skin can use low-percentage washes daily, but that medical-grade glycolic acid peels should be limited to once a month.

Lactic Acid

For everyone who falls into the sensitive/dry skin category, this is the acid for you. Lactic acid is also an alpha hydroxy acid and works the same way glycolic acid does. Lactic acid molecules are slightly larger than glycolic acid molecules, however, and although they still do a great job at exfoliating the top layer of skin, they aren’t able to penetrate as deep and are therefore a gentler exfoliant.

Ever do a yoghurt mask at home? Well, the lactic acid found in cosmetic products is a bit different as it’s usually synthesized to be a more stable substance than the version derived from milk and yoghurt. Another great thing about lactic acid is that it can help increase the water retention in our skin, which helps increase hydration and prevent your skin from drying out.


Salicylic acid

On the other side of the spectrum of the most commonly-used skincare acids are beta hydroxy acids. Salicylic acid is a BHA, and what makes it different to AHAs is that it’s oil soluble. This means that BHAs are able to cross the skin’s lipid (oil) barrier and move into the pores of our skin, where they not only slough off those uppermost dead skin cells, but also dissolve the oil inside our pores, removing all the gunk that commonly leads to acne. Salicylic acid is very beneficial in working towards clearing acne and blackheads because it’s able to control or decrease sebum secretion in the skin, which is why it can leave a drying feeling after application.

“I would suggest starting once or twice per week, increasing the frequency as tolerated,”  says Hadley King, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in NYC. “This will depend on how sensitive your skin is and what other products you are using … If your skin is excessively peeling, becoming irritated or very dry, then decrease the frequency of salicylic acid, or stop using it.”

A case where salicylic acid won’t always be effective is in preventing cystic acne. This is because cystic acne lies underneath the skin and is usually related to hormonal issues. What’s more, women who are pregnant cannot use salicylic acid as research has shown that it can lead to birth defects during pregnancy.

Hyaluronic Acid:

Although hyaluronic acid isn’t an exfoliant, it still warrants a mention due to its popularity – it’s a highly sought-after ingredient in many skincare serums and can do wonders for skin.

“It’s a humectant that attracts water, hydrating the skin without making it oily,” explains William Kwan, MD, a San Francisco-based dermatologist. For this reason, serums that contain hyaluronic acid are ideal for those with oily skin. “Many moisturizers are too heavy or can cause acne [for people with oily skin], which is why I love hyaluronic acid gels,” he says.

Hyaluronic acid is a sugar molecule naturally found in our skin and acts as a humectant, something that helps in adding or retaining moisture in the skin. Although whether the acid can actually add moisture into skin is debatable, what has been proven is its ability to hold up to a thousand times its weight in water, making it a phenomenal hydrator.  What’s important to stress is that hyaluronic acid isn’t a moisturizer, it’s a hydrator, meaning that it draws moisture from its surroundings and then tries to retain said moisture in the skin.

So the next time you read the ingredients label on your cleanser or toner and are super confused as to why there’s acid involved, look here for your answers!