At 10 a.m. the day after a big Hollywood premiere party, I doubt I’d even be awake, much less prepared to spend half an hour detailing every last step of my beauty routine to a reporter. But I guess that’s the difference between me and Hana Mae Lee. If your taste in movies leans the way of laugh-out-loud musicals, you probably recognize the 29-year-old actress and model from her role as Lilly Okanakamura in the Pitch Perfect series. The night before our conversation, Lee celebrated the release of the franchise’s third installment alongside co-stars Anna Kendrick, Brittany Snow, Anna Camp, and Rebel Wilson, though from the pep in her voice, you’d never know it.
You’d also never know from her eccentric onscreen character—a beatboxer with long black braids and a speaking voice so quiet her fellow Barden Bellas can never make out what she’s saying—that Lee is actually above average in loquacity, especially when the topic is makeup and skincare. The truth is that before she was known as entertainment's quirkiest a capella star, Lee was a professional makeup artist and fashion designer. She started booking professional makeup gigs in high school, first at department store counters and then on editorial photo shoots. Meanwhile, she launched a successful modeling career, appearing in campaigns for famed lifestyle brands from Jeep to Cherry Coke. She picked up a BFA in fashion design from Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles, where she grew up, and in 2009, she debuted her own clothing line, Hanamahn. Lee also designed for big fashion brands like Juicy Couture and Mossimo, and in the meantime, she maintained a long roster of makeup clients. This was all before Pitch Perfect was even a twinkle in Hollywood’s eye.
So it’s really nothing new for Lee to bounce between movies and cosmetics at such a fast clip. To my delight, our phone interview feels more like a conversation between two beauty-loving pals, and Lee is not shy to disclose the most interesting makeup and skincare tricks she’s picked up over the years (a few spoilers: facial acupuncture, using beet juice as an all-natural lip tint, and never spending more than $10 on mascara). Curious for more? Read on to get to know the real Hana Mae Lee (and her dozens of brilliant beauty secrets).
BYRDIE: How did your love for beauty first manifest?
HANA MAE LEE: My mom had her own beauty and hair salon for 25 years. So I grew in it. My mom permed my hair when I was 2 because people kept telling her she had a “handsome son.” She was like, “No! She’s a girl!” So I pretty much had an afro. I don’t know how it would make me look more like a girl to have a perm. But that happened. Then starting in like the fifth grade, my mom would yell at me for wearing CoverGirl compact powder on my face. I would put on so much. I had a Nestlé Crunch bar forehead, you know, the little pimples. So I would just powder my face so much, and I’d wear the darkest maroon lipstick with brown lip liner. It was bad. But I just loved makeup.
When I was 14, I was a Sebastian Trucco makeup model, and at 15, I started doing makeup professionally. One of my first jobs was working at Macy’s doing makeovers at Estée Lauder and Clinique. Then I started with this photographer named Bonnie Holland. She hooked me up with this manager at the time who was looking for a stylist and a glamour person. So that’s what I did.
I studied fashion design at Otis College of Art and Design, and after that, I did makeup professionally for a long time. I only retired recently because it just became too much to do other people’s makeup and acting, writing, and producing. But for this press junket and promotion for Pitch Perfect 3, I decided to dust off my kit. I have my own huge makeup kit because I’m allergic to a lot of products; plus, I just know what my best colors are. I’m very specific. So I travel with this giant makeup bag and brushes. During press in New York and Miami, I’ve been doing all the makeup on my own and posting it on my Instagram—the looks, the products I use. It’s been really fun because I hadn’t done that in a while. I’d just been relying on other makeup artists. But I’m very detail oriented. I’m always like, Oh, you’ve got to aim that cat eye a little higher or else my face will look wide.
On Hana Mae's eyes, makeup artist Kristee Liu used Nars Smudge Proof Eyeshadow Base, Dior 5 Couleur Eyeshadow in Bar, and L’Oréal Voluminous Million Lashes Mascara. On her skin: a combination of Dior Skin Nude foundation and Dior Fix It 2-in-1 concealer, plus a light dust of Nars Loose Setting Powder. For cheeks: Nars Laguna Bronzer and a mixture of Seaside Bronzer and Deep Throat Blush. Nars Powermatte Lip Pigment in Just What I Needed and Burt’s Bees Lip Tint in Caramel Daisy finished the look.
BYRDIE: Do you have any tips for how people can easily match their makeup to their facial structure? Sometimes I find myself just piling it on and hoping for the best.
HML: Oh, absolutely. It’s funny, my favorite face is an egg, oval-shaped face because it is the complete opposite of mine. But with every face, there’s definitely a specific haircut, a specific way to do your eyeliner, a way to paint your lips that will be the most flattering. I think where a lot of women go wrong is that they look at their face and think, My eyes are too wide, or Why do I look like this? They don’t see that each part of their face is really just an object that they can contort or tweak if they want to. As an artist, that’s how I see the face. The eyes, the lips, the nose, the mouth—they’re all objects, different blank canvases, and you can choose which features to accentuate for that day or look, which to divert, which to soften.
For me, I have really round eyes, instead of almond Asian eyes. But I love that Asian cat eye, so I’m always doing liner with a flare that’s higher instead of straight across, which kind of accentuates the almond shape. For bigger eyes that aren’t too wide-set, you just do a little bit of eye shadow on the outer part of the eye. You don’t do one uniform shadow all over the whole eye; you just do the edges, and that brings out the eyes more.
But no matter what your face shape, make sure to curl your lashes and put on a good mascara. That’s all you need, especially if you’re going for a natural look. Forget the eyeliner. Just curl your lashes, add mascara (my go-to mascaras are Maybelline because they stay on all day and keep the form of the curl), if you have an oily face make sure you blot that, and add a tinted Burt’s Bees.
Hairstylist Michael Duenas applied R+Co Motorcycle Geland Aloxxi Volumizing Whip to the top of Hana Mae's hair for hold and sheen, then created a sleek wave from the ears down. He styled her fringe with IGK Rich Kid Coconut Oil Gel and finished the look with Garnier Fructis Frizz Guard.
BYRDIE: I’d love to hear more about how you keep your skin so clear. Favorite products and habits?
HML: For about a year and a half now, I’ve been using this skincare called Specific Beauty. I’m one of their spokespeople, but I’m also one of those people who really wants to try a product before backing it up and committing to it. I don’t want to false advertise, especially for something like the skin, which is so important to me. So I’ve been using their products for a year and a half, and the color of my skin has become so much more even-toned. We Asian people, and other people of color, we don’t get a lot of wrinkles, but we get a lot of discoloration. So this smooths a lot of that out. Asian skin is very sensitive as well, but these products were formulated by a Korean scientist, and they use a lot of different ingredients from most American products. It’s like Korean formulas in an American package. I use their wash, moisturizer, and dark-spot pads.
My other big secret is that I do acupuncture on my face, and it totally smooths out my pores and lifts everything up. It’s like a mini face-lift. It’s painful but wonderful. For that, I go to a place called Dr. Lim Acupuncture on Robertson and Beverly in LA. He’s amazing. I first went to him because I had back and neck pains and stomach/spleen issues, and of course, it’s been helping with those. But I just asked, “Do you do acupuncture face-lifts? Does that even exist?” And he was like, “Yeah, I have regular clients who do that.” So I tried it. And once you get it, for a week and a half, your face changes. Your skin becomes smoother, so your makeup goes on way better. Your pores get smaller. And your drooping face starts to lift. It’s the most amazing thing ever. I’ve done the Kate Somerville muscle stimulant massages, but they only last like two days before everything falls back to wherever it was before. But with acupuncture, you wake up and your face is better every day. It also helps stimulate whatever products you’re using. I got it last week, and I’m touching my face now. I’ve been on a plane and so tired, but my skin is so soft. So I do that religiously.
BYRDIE: Do you have any other weird natural beauty tricks?
HML: I used to be super allergic to everything, so I’d use beets as blush and lipstick. I just cut beets, take the juice, and put it on my lips and cheeks. I blend it in really well on the cheeks so it looks like I’m just a little bit flushed, a little glowy. And then on the lips, it creates that nice pink, natural lip color. Using beets was always fresh, totally natural, never chapped or flaked, was non-sticky, didn’t smell. It was like the red Benetint in the bottle but fresh every time.
I also used to use this amethyst BB cream that was Korean-made. It had real amethyst crushed into the product. I used that all throughout Pitch Perfect, and it always made my skin glow and smell nice because it used grape-seed oil and was really sweet. Oh, and my mom makes her own toner out of glycerin, lemon, and sake. She’s a lot older now, but oh my gosh, she looks so amazing.
BYRDIE: What about your everyday makeup routine now? What are your go-to products of the moment?
HML: I use Dior Nude for my foundation and Dior Airbrush for my contour. Their foundations just sink into your skin instead of sitting on top, so it just looks like your skin. Dior eyeshadows are just, the five-palette eyeshadows. I’m a huge fan of their products, so I’ve been using those for years now. I also use a lot of Nars. Yesterday [for the premiere] I was wearing a lot of Nars, their Laguna and Seaside bronzers for contouring and for lips. They have this new thing called Lip Pigments. You shake it up, and then it dries matte when you put it on but it doesn’t dry out your lips. I used that last night. And always the Beautyblender, the greatest invention. I use the Anastasia eyebrow pencil, Maybelline and L’Oréal mascara, and Nars Black Valley Eye Paint for eyeliner. For lips, I also use City Lips, which is this collagen-enhancing gloss that has peptides in it, so your lips turn really red, not like it’s on fire, but like newborn-baby red. And it plumps your lips a little bit. And then I use Burt’s Bees on a daily basis if I’m just doing something totally chill.
BYRDIE: I know you’re on a little break from it now, but do you have any future plans for your makeup career?
HML: Definitely. I’ve always wanted to have my own beauty line, since I was young. I love creating looks, and I stopped doing it for a while, but once I started again, I remembered how fun and playful it can be. So I would love to do my own line or even a collaboration with a designer and create different shades for that season. Nars, I’m available! Dior, I’m available! Just saying.