As a first-generation American with a Lebanese mother and an Indonesian-born father, I grew up immersed in two very different cultures. Each came with a set of traditions that have been intricately woven into my identity and the way I view beauty from an early age.
One of my first beauty-related memories came from my childhood backyard. I'd spend each summer day swimming under banana trees, feeding koi fish in our pond, and helping my Oma (Dutch for Grandmother) pick out rose petals from the garden. Once we collected enough petals, Oma would go to the kitchen, distill them with steam, and come back with the most refreshing rose water tonic to sip on. She called it her "secret beauty water."
Oma had been doing this ritual since she was a little girl growing up on Java, the Indonesian island she was born on. But, it wasn't until after she passed away that I learned this homemade rose water hadn't only existed in my childhood backyard. When I traveled back to Indonesia, I realized it was a centuries-old wellness practice, taking shape in the form of anti-inflammatory tonics made from flowers, fruits, leaves, nuts, and spices.
Beauty practices and rituals are often passed down from generation to generation, becoming a silent ode to the women who came before us and the heritage we were born into. Rooted in tradition and influenced by things like local climate, spiritual beliefs, or cultural ingredients, each practice is unique from one country to the next. Ahead, we asked four beauty industry experts to share the beauty practices they inherited from their families.
Rice-Bran Water and "Cooling Courses" in Korea
Koreans have traditionally used rice water for centuries. "When rice is prepared and rinsed, the milky water that results from the stripping of the rice's bran is then stored for beauty routines," says Andrew Kim, an art director who has worked with many beauty brands. "Its nutrient content has so many purposes. You can even use it to nourish the soil for indoor plants."
The most common use of rice-bran water in a beauty routine? Using it to remedy dull skin and thinning hair on scalps, Kim tells us. With its high intake of minerals, amino acids, and antioxidants, rice water does everything from minimizing pores and tightening skin to increasing skin and hair elasticity.
Beauty practices within Kim's family didn't end at topical products—the art of self-care also extended into their family recipes. He recalls growing up with Korean cuisines that often required red chili—an ingredient that can easily trigger inflammation. To combat this, his family ended every meal with a serving of cold sliced melon and pears, which helped their gut forget about the hearty heat it had endured. "They often credit this 'cooling course' to waking up with an even complexion the next morning," Kim recalls, " and it's "It's a practice that's etched in my memory."
Grapes in Portugal
With over 250 indigenous grape varieties, Portugal has more native grapes per square mile than any other country in the world, according to Wines of Portugal. For Priscilla Williams, a product marketing manager at Tatcha, having grapevines on her family's property in Portugal allowed them to use the powerful ingredient for much more than just winemaking. "In season, our family will stomp the grapes to begin fermentation," explains Williams. "Although this is an old-world process used to make wine, we like to keep the juice to use it topically on our skin."
Williams, a first-generation Portuguese-American, credits her appreciation of grapes and their use as a powerful skincare ingredient to her parents and the different regions of Portugal they came from. Her father was born in Lisbon and then raised in Mozambique, and her mother, who is from the Azores, later settled in Hawaii.
"From an early age, I was raised to take pride in self-care and taking care of my skin," she explains. "Grapes are a natural way to do that because of their amazing benefits like repairing and renewing skin cells."
Scientific research has found that grapes are rich in resveratrol, red wine's key antioxidant that's been proven to penetrate the skin barrier and stimulate antiaging activity—increasing the concentration of collagen. When used topically, you can expect healthier, bouncier skin.
Less Is More in France
If French women are known for one thing when it comes to beauty, it's their ability to look so effortlessly cool all the time (even with the simplest routines). For Adeline Coppens, a product innovation consultant (for brands like Benefit Cosmetics, Glamglow, and Clarins), her minimalistic approach to makeup and skincare is inspired by her French grandmother. "She taught me that less is more, and I believe it to be true, especially with my sensitive skin," Coppens notes.
She says French women believe following a minimal routine leads to healthier skin. "We don't believe in harsh skin cleansing or squeaky clean skin. Instead, we prefer using gentle, no-rinse cleansers like micellar water and milks," she says. "We also don't want to spend hours in our bathroom every morning."
When it comes to a makeup routine, the same minimalist approach remains. And that effortless look the French are iconic for? It comes from simply wanting their skin to look natural and fresh. "We like the look of skin without makeup," Coppen explains. "French girls will either skip face makeup, wear it in an invisible way, or just apply it quickly like we don't actually care."
Even when applying red lipstick, a classic French beauty staple, Coppens tells me it's better if it's not applied perfectly: "If you look like you don't have time to put makeup on and have messy hair, that's the look."
Holistic Beauty In Hong Kong
Having spent her childhood in Hong Kong and Singapore, Odacité's VP of Marketing, Jessica Chan, was taught that our appearance on the outside is connected with what happens inside us. "My parents taught me that beauty and self-care practice is a holistic concept, rooted in balance and lifestyle," she says. "Going for foot reflexology and getting full body gua sha detoxification treatments were a weekly family activity."
According to Chan, the key to maintaining optimal health is the process of lymphatic drainage, therapeutic pressure, and the elimination of toxins. "It's a philosophy I still follow today," she says. "I'm very intentional in the food I eat, the quality of sleep I get, and self-care practices like massage and movement."
With ancient Chinese beauty practices becoming increasingly popular in the United States, it's been nostalgic for Chan to witness. She finds it equally enjoyable to work for a brand that actively seeks inspiration and celebrates the rituals she grew up with. "It's truly incredible when your values align with your work," she says. "I find daily fulfillment in working for a brand that takes an integrative and intentional approach to mindfully developing skincare that is effective yet also an incredible pleasure to use."
Ratz-Łyko A, Arct J. Resveratrol as an active ingredient for cosmetic and dermatological applications: a review. J Cosmet Laser Ther. 2019;21(2):84-90.