How Alicia Keys's Break From Makeup Inspired Her Current Skincare Routine

She walked us through her "supercharged" lineup.

Alicia Keys glowing skin

Keys Soulcare

What I Put On My Face

All skin is good skin, which is why good skincare is more of a journey than a destination. We all love a one-off tip—but, at Byrdie, we’re more interested in how our skin evolves over time. The product we've used for a decade, the ingredient cocktail that made us glow, the step we never skip, and all the advice in between. This is the stuff that makes a real difference. With What I Put on My Face, we’re bringing you the rituals, recommendations, and failed experiments (we’ve all had them) straight from celebrities, founders, and influencers who’ve gone through it themselves.

When it comes to celebrity beauty routines, few have been hyper-analyzed as much as Alicia Keys'. For starters, the 15-time Grammy winner has been a staple at red carpets and award shows since the debut of her first album in 2001, rendering her one of the most recognizable faces in all of Hollywood. But it wasn’t until 2016 that the buzz around the singer's beauty aesthetic reached an almost deafening hum when the multi-hyphenate star announced she was officially swearing off makeup. Naturally, an onslaught of think pieces and personal essays followed, praising the singer’s declaration and solidifying Keys as the official face of the #NoMakeup movement.

For Keys, the decision to forgo cosmetics was just as much of a personal reckoning as it was a public protest. “In the beginning, everything was so brand new for me. My skin was really, really stressed out and showed it all the time,” Keys tells Byrdie. “I felt obligated to hide those imperfections, and I probably went extra heavy [with makeup] because I felt uncomfortable and self-conscious.” After a non-stop cycle of stress-induced breakouts, aggravated by thick makeup and hot stage lights, Keys decided it was time to give her skin a break, thus the radical-seeming choice to go makeup-free.

In 2022, Keys says that her approach to beauty is “much more fluid.” “My relationship with beauty now is I get to choose however I want to experience and express,” she says. “It’s not an imposition; it’s something that I get to create for myself.” While she has reintroduced some makeup into her routine, her break from cosmetics gave her a newfound appreciation for the ritual of skincare, which eventually inspired the launch of Keys Soulcare.

“I wanted something efficacious and actually worked, [but also] meaningful and purposeful,” Keys says of her eponymous beauty brand, which became an instant best-seller when it debuted in 2020. In honor of the brand's latest offerings, the new multi-purpose Illuminating Serum ($26) and hydrating Tranquil Essence ($25), we caught up with Keys to learn the ins and outs of her self-care-inspired routine. Read on for her go-to products, the skincare prep she does before every big event, and more.

Alicia Keys skin

@keyssoulcare / Instagram

About Her Skin

I've actually always had quite a challenge with my skin. Ever since I was very young, I was the one that was still getting acne at like 25 and 30. And I was like, “What the hell? I thought this was supposed to be a 16- to 18-year-old thing. When am I going to be free from this?” I definitely had to learn patience with myself.

I also realized that my skin was a reflection of how I was feeling. I internalize a lot, and I present well, but a lot of times, it's tumultuous underneath. I didn't realize how much I held in and how that would affect my skin, how the stress of all of that would reveal itself through my skin. Through experience in my journey, I definitely started to look at how I was processing stress. I got better over time at removing them and being comfortable, realizing that I'm not comfortable with people and things that aren't good for me. 

I think that's actually a lot of what inspired—or, I know for a fact that’s what inspired—the Keys Soulcare offerings was that we have this idea of taking time for yourself and turning routine into ritual. Because you need that time for yourself, you need that space to love on yourself and to also realize what you want and what you don't want for yourself.

Her Morning vs. Night Routine

I just follow my vibe. I think that's a cool thing to do with skin as well. Sometimes you need more than others. Sometimes you need more moisture, sometimes you need less—there are just different times [during the] year. But, my ritual for both day and night is relatively similar. I'll do the Golden Cleanser ($22) in the day, then the Aura Mist ($25), and I'll also do the Promise Serum ($28), which is really beautiful. And then if I need it, I'll end with the Transformation Cream ($32), or I'll just leave it at that, and that's kind of my morning.

[For] my evening, I'm able to take a little more time. Maybe, I'm lighting the Sage and Oat Milk Candle ($39) and creating an intention, or maybe, I'm able to write in my journal. At night, it's a little bit more low-key and peaceful and quiet, and I get a little more time for me. I don't have to rush so much. So I'll add in the Exfoliator ($25) as well, which I love. I actually do it daily when my skin feels like it, or three times a week if that feels better.

I'll also add the Harmony Mask ($30) if I feel like my skin needs to calm down a bit because there’s charcoal in there. I love, love the Cleansing Balm ($30) at all times, but especially at night because it takes off what's been on your face during the day. If it’s makeup, the day, whatever it is, you can get it off. It also feels so nurturing and moisturizing, and to go to bed like that feels really good.

Alicia Keys skin

@keyssoulcare / Instagram

The Skincare Step She Never Skips

I never skip washing my face. Ever, ever, ever. I could be exhausted, I could have fallen asleep, I will wake up, and I will wash my face. So, the golden cleanser is a staple for me. Always, always, always. It also comes in a travel size, which is awesome for me now that we can travel a little bit more freely. It's really nice to have it in a size that you can move with. But that's the one I will never skip. Never, never, never.

The One Ingredient That's Made the Biggest Difference

Just knowing that you don't have to overdo it, you don't have to do too much. I used to feel like I couldn't use oils and things on my skin. But now I realized that the right ones on your skin are actually really, really good. That’s helped me a lot, this idea of keeping my skin more moisturized. It makes it more supple and definitely gives it more of a glow. Honestly, I didn't know that for a long time. I was stripping everything away so much because I was concerned about the acne that I had. I didn't realize that feeding your skin is just as important as cleaning it. So that changed things.

Alicia Keys holding skincare product

@keyssoulcare / Instagram

The Product That's Been in Her Routine the Longest

Two of the things that have been in my routine the longest are from Epicuren. The one that I really, really like a lot is the Propolis Sunscreen SPF 45+ ($50) that has bee pollen in it. We're developing an SPF now with Keys Soulcare because I really love that it has this nurturing-ness to it, and also obviously the protection and the scent, which I also love about Keys Soulcare. The scent is always a highlight, but it's not something that's done with perfumes and things like that. It's really from the ingredients themselves.

The New Product She’s Loving Right Now

A newer product [I love] is another Epicurean one that's this beautiful Rose Oil ($60). I just use a little bit of it after the Promise Serum, usually at night because, again, I just supercharge with the moisture on my skin at night. And that's a nice way to kind of cap off my entire ritual.

The Skincare Prep She Does Before a Big Event

I definitely like the Harmony Mask a lot. I love to put a mask on and just allow it to soothe and take a moment to breathe. I also really like to steam. I've been steaming a lot more lately, and that feels really good. I also love to put the Obsidian Face Roller ($25) in ice so that I can roll it on and lift the skin and calm any puffiness down. Those three all together really feel like a supercharge, and then my skin is ready.

Alica Keys using face roller

@keyssoulcare / Instagram

Her Approach to Beauty in 2022

Over time, I realized that my relationship with beauty is much more fluid. Now, I [realize] that on different days, you feel different ways. Some days you feel a little bit more turned up. Some days you feel like you just want to be fresh-faced. My relationship with beauty now is I get to choose however I want to experience and express. It’s not an imposition; it’s something that I get to create for myself.

So now I just flow and flow with the way that I flow. Sometimes I'm just using the Illuminating Serum, which I love. That's a recent offering that just dropped this week. It’s a beautiful primer for your skin if you want to leave it like that, and then do a light blush and a light mascara. Sometimes I'll do that. Or I’ll even do it under [makeup] if I want to do a light concealer. I’ll still put it under to prepare the skin and add this beautiful glow. I just flow now. I don’t feel obligated to be something that everybody approves of. I just feel out like, “Who am I?” and then I rock.

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