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.
Like many of us, Sabrina Elba and her husband, actor Idris Elba, felt lost and stuck when the world went into lockdown. Unlike most of us, however, the couple didn't resort to picking up a random hobby or finally watching The Sopranos in full. Instead, they found themselves having endless discussions about everything wrong with the wellness industry—and eventually set out to change it.
The couple's skincare line, S'Able Labs (literally "Elbas" spelled backward), was born out of the idea of "selfless" self-care. The duo aims to redefine the word, focusing on concepts like building community, something they (along with the rest of the world) were desperately missing in the early days of the pandemic, and giving back. It's a fresh approach in an industry so focused on individualization and personal experience, but one that's sorely needed in a crowded beauty space.
The line launched with a tight edit of three products—with two more joining the original lineup this month—focusing specifically on issues predominant in Black skin, like hyperpigmentation. But, Sabrina is adamant that this is a line for everyone.
The Elbas want their brand to spotlight A Beauty, so S'Able formulas use African ingredients that honor the couple's heritage, like qasil—a natural soap from the gob tree—and shea butter. "We'd be looking at things that we grew up on being appropriated in a way, like a buzzword," Sabrina tells Byrdie. "[We] then started having conversations about these customs and ancestral traditions that are being passed down, and stuff that I grew up on that's actually really valuable to us. How do we take ownership of that and reignite that conversation in a way that feels like it has a story?"
Both Sabrina and Idris are avid philanthropists and UN ambassadors, so naturally, they paid special attention to ensure their ingredients were ethically sourced, involving themselves in every step of the process—Sabrina's mother even stepped in to help small farmers with forms. Similarly, versatility and inclusion were top of mind for the couple, so making their products not only genderless but also multi-use was non-negotiable.
"Idris was super adamant that it has to speak to everyone, and I completely agree," says Sabrina. "And selfishly for myself, I want a product that caters to my skin in the long term. Not a fast-term fix." This mindful, culturally-grounded approach to wellness has helped set the brand apart and quickly establish S'Able Labs as a skincare brand to watch.
Ahead, Sabrina Elba opens up about her personal skin journey, the products she can't live without, and the one thing that she and her husband fight over.
About Her Skin
I have the weirdest skin. It's super oily if it's humid, but in London, I'm dry. So when I travel, I'm like, "Wait, am I oily, or am I dry?" I'm consistently confused, and I travel alot. So, I need stuff that works for combination skin. I always have the best for both: I'll have super mattifying makeup, but then super dewy skincare. I love my skincare to be dewy—because I want to go to bed looking like I have everything on my face—but I don't want my hair to stick to my face. So, I need stuff that has fast absorption.
My whole ethos with skincare and makeup is whatever is most efficient because I'm always in a rush. I have a husband who's super impatient when it comes to my bathroom time, so I just try to get stuff on and in that's super fast and efficient, absorbs quickly, and feels good. And looks good! I love that instant fix in terms of the glow.
Her Morning Vs. Night Routine
I suffer from a lot of hyperpigmentation, and I had adult acne quite a bit. I think I was going through a phase where I was abusing my skin and my skin barrier. So now I'm more careful about what I put on my skin, and I'm using stuff that combines the natural with science. So it's not just all super strong actives, but it's also a lot of calming ingredients that we find in nature that I love, like chamomile. I think chamomile is so slept on. I think oat is so slept on. These ingredients are so powerful.
I use my cleanser morning and night. I'm an adamant nighttime cleanser because I used just to be a makeup wipe person, and now I'll never use a makeup wipe again. I think that was totally part of my problem—I wasn't washing my face, and I wear so much makeup. So I'm a daytime and nighttime cleanser. I use my toner and moisturizer in the morning as well. Generally, during the day, I'll just use my moisturizer and leave it as is, and at night is when I do my full pampering routine. I'll definitely use eye cream at night. I use Vitamin C at night, which everyone says I'm crazy for, but I don't know why; I feel like it like gives me a glow that I want to go to bed with. I also love Sunday Riley's UFO Oil ($80). It's so good. So I love going to bed looking soaked. I'll use my gua sha at night, and I like steaming with a towel and pretending I'm at the spa. I like a routine at night, anything that makes me feel like I just did myself a service.
The Skincare Step She Never Skips
Now I never skip cleansing! I think it's so important. It's not even just makeup... it's the pollutants, it's the blue lights. It's everything that's all over our faces.
How Her Routine Changed Over Time
I used to be this person that would buy everything at Sephora, and I think because I rebelled against my mom, who just used soap and water and qasil, and I was like, "that's not fair!" Like, "you don't know this world of things. You're not going to tell me to not use these things." And so I would buy everything, and all the actives. I feel like I kind of abused my skin a bit when I was younger—like, why does my skin turn red when I rub a towel on it? I'm Black; I should not be turning red! I had to learn the hard way.
The Best Skincare Advice She's Ever Gotten
It was probably from my mom, [telling me to] use less. [It's made] the biggest difference, I think. Just being more mindful about what you put on your skin. Now I pay close attention to what's on the INCI and what's on the back of the products. I also want products that appeal to my ethics more, like if something's not vegan, I probably won't use it. So I'm trying to be more mindful.
Her Skincare Pet-Peeve
I think when brands sort of say that [their products] cure something—like, "Anti wrinkles in one week! It's been panel-tested!" I feel like the over-promising, for me, especially in an industry where we're constantly looking at other women and comparing our skin and ourselves—like, "Oh, why didn't that work for me?" I think it can be demoralizing, and I've definitely gone through periods in my life where I'm like, "Why do I still have that wrinkle? Why me? Why is it working for everyone else, what's wrong with me?" So the over-promising is a skincare pet peeve.
Her Latest Skin Obsession
I've always been a big masker, and we made this Qasil Mask, which is the natural cleansing [agent] that's in our cleanser. It's anti-bacterial, and it's got great anti-inflammatory properties. And I feel like we figured it out in a mask. When I take it off, I think my skin looks dewy and resurfaced. It's the stuff you see [advertised] on the bottle, but it's like, Oh my God, it's actually doing that. And now I don't miss it—I do my weekly mask, don't interrupt me! So that's my obsession at the moment.
The Product She and Her Husband Fight Over
We can share these products [from our line], like Idris will happily use the toner as an aftershave. And I love to use it to set my makeup or actually as a toner. But the one thing we actually fight over, it's always toothpaste! He'll hide it because he's too lazy to go out and buy another toothpaste. I'll have to make sure we have stock.