Sean Garrette/Design by Tiana Crispino

Sean Garrette Is Blazing a Beautiful Trail for Black Men in Skincare

The beloved esthetician opens up about his journey.

Sean Garrette's last year has catapulted him to global visibility and notoriety. The New York-based esthetician and skincare influencer was crowned the first ambassador for Fenty Skin last summer and educated us all on Rihanna's highly-anticipated skincare innovations. Since then, he's been tapped to work with numerous skincare brands and publications. While many began hearing his name in 2020, Garrette is far from new to the skincare scene. He has been hustling for a decade—going from working in a spa to running his own—to achieve the career highs he's basking in right now.

At publication, Garrette's social reach clocks in at nearly 86K followers on Instagram, 73K on Twitter, and 21K on TikTok. When you scroll through his feeds, Garrette's glowy and glistening complexion is captivating—his digital community accurately describes it as "doll skin." But beyond the exterior, Garrette has mastered the art of making the often-overwhelming subject of skincare feel digestible and accessible. And, he places a special emphasis on helping people of color care for their skin.

As a Black man in skincare, Garrette is very clear about his purpose in the industry—to break barriers. The conversations he's fostered thus far have undoubtedly moved the needle towards greater inclusivity. But as someone committed to creating a long-lasting change, Garrette knows his work in beauty and wellness is just beginning. And for everyone enamored by him, it's exciting to know his next move will top his last. On a recent Zoom call, Garrette chatted candidly about approaching skincare through a holistic lens and his current skincare routine. And if you were wondering, yes, his skin is just as radiant through a computer screen and, he's just as funny as he is online (follow him on Twitter—you'll thank me later). 

Was skincare always the career path you wanted to pursue? 

Before I got into skincare, I wanted to work in the art and fashion space. My dream was to be a wardrobe stylist. I wanted to work at magazines and be a creative director for fashion publications. I always loved beauty, but I never really thought it could be a career for me, especially back then, when I didn't really know what an esthetician was. And then, when I did come to know what estheticians were, they definitely didn't look like me.

At what point did your interest in fashion switch to beauty and skincare?

It took me a while to get to the point where I felt I could be an esthetician. I grew up in a very beauty-conscious family. Almost all of my cousins and aunts are hairstylists, barbers, nail artists, and designers. My aunts, mom, and grandma had illustrious collections of perfume, nail polish, skincare, and makeup. When I was younger, I loved the transformational aspect of beauty, like how red lipstick or nail color, or fragrances can change your whole mood.

I began to see skincare as a career when I decided fashion wasn't the route for me anymore. It didn't feel like an innate thing I would be successful in. And I was really driven to be successful back then. I wanted to be a mogul and I realized it would not happen in fashion. 

What was your journey like to become an esthetician?

I started working in a spa because I wanted to be around beauty and skin. I was the worst receptionist ever at this spa. I think I almost got fired twice. But the spa owner loved my passion for the products, and I sold more than the actual estheticians working there. She ignited something in me to take my career seriously.

It was 2016 at the time and I still did not see many successful Black estheticians—especially male estheticians. There was Shani Darden and Tracy Hudson, but those were the only ones I knew who saw celebrity clients and worked at that level. In 2017, something just clicked. I decided to go to school and make it happen. The past five years have been nonstop. I feel like I walked into my purpose.

Sean Garrette/Design by Tiana Crispino

Sean Garrette/Design by Tiana Crispino

What have been some of the moments that have affirmed you're walking in your purpose?

Last year I opened my spa in New York and worked with Fenty Skin. Everything I had manifested over the past 10 years came to fruition in one year. But, I acknowledge I worked towards this since I left high school; these were the goals I set for myself. I've been working my ass off for the past 10 years to get to a place where I can have this platform and be a public figure for Black beauty.

When I decided to become an esthetician, my purpose was always to educate Black people and people of color on how to take care of their skin properly. At the time, there were very few resources targeted at Black skin that did not include shea butter and black soap. There's more to skincare. We can use glycolic acid, salicylic acid, get chemical peels, and do laser. I wanted to spread that knowledge with my platform.

You're regarded as a "skin therapist." How does that approach influence the way that you treat skin and talk about skin?

I create bonds with my clients and people who interact with me. When you're working on someone closely, and you're touching their skin, you're transferring their energy into you. When people feel good energy, they open up, and you get to learn more about their life. 

Your life affects your skin: from the stress of your job to the stress of your relationship to medical diagnoses. Your skin is a huge part of your self-esteem. It covers your entire body. So when you're experiencing things like hyperpigmentation and acne, it does take a hit on your self-esteem. I know how I felt when I had acne. I didn't want to go out. I didn’t want to date. I would apply pounds of makeup on my face and feel so low. That's what activated my desire to learn more about skincare, ingredients, and how to treat acne. So I think the skin therapist part comes from just understanding how someone's skin affects their emotional state and wanting to help transform their skin and give them that confidence to be themselves again.

While we're on the topic of skin talk, I would love to get into your routine. What is your daytime and nighttime skincare routine during the summer?

Honestly, it's so hot during the summer that I never want to put anything on my face. In the mornings, I keep it pretty simple. If I don't do a gentle gel cleanser, I’ll use cleansing water. I'll use Bioderma or one from this new drugstore beauty brand called Rael. Then, I’ll do a hydrating toner. I like to use antioxidant serums like vitamin C, niacinamide, and maybe alpha-arbutin in the morning. I also apply SPF. I have to make sure that I cover all of my exposed areas and reapply throughout the day. 

At night, I focus on resurfacing treatments and more in-depth hyperpigmentation treatments. I use products that have kojic acid or tranexamic acid. I also love azelaic acid because it keeps my texture smooth and keeps my skin even. I do retinol about two nights a week, and I exfoliate about two nights a week. At night, it's all about sandwiching hydration as well. I’ll use a hydrating serum, put on a rich cream, and sometimes I'll do a sleeping mask.

Sean Garrette Shelfie

Sean Garrette

What are some of your favorite sunscreens?

I'm honestly not that picky with sunscreen. As long as my skin is dewy, looks hydrated, and isn’t left looking chalky, I’m good with it. I have so many I’m revolving through right now, but there’s one by Thank You Farmer that has SPF 50 that is good. I also love the Peter Thomas Roth Water Drench SPF 45 ($52), Fenty Skin Hydra Vizor Invisible Moisturizer Broad Spectrum SPF 30 Sunscreen ($35), Vichy LiftActiv Peptide-C Sunscreen SPF 30 ($39), and Melé Dew The Most Sheer Moisturizer SPF 30 Broad Spectrum Sunscreen ($19).

You have mastered the art of creating engaging, informative skincare content across all platforms. Do you have any tips on creating content that stands out?

Because I come from a fashion and art background, aesthetics were important to me off the bat. What helped grow my page is sharing these really beautiful pictures—which I used to shoot on my iPhone—with in-depth information and reviews under them. If you look at my content, you’ll see that it’s all the same flow; my house looks like my Instagram feed, and my outfits look like my Instagram feed. It was just innate. 

Doing what's innate will help engage the most with your audience. Whenever I try to do something that doesn't feel like my aesthetic or voice, it doesn't perform as well, even with sponsored content.

I’ve always treated my community as my friends. I keep things very conversational, especially on Twitter. And it's been really beneficial for me because I have this group of people who really support me and look forward to my content. And as I grow within my community, I get to bring other people in and do other cool things. It's been a journey. In 2016, nobody was really talking about this shit on Instagram. It wasn't a thing, but now it is—so, you have to come from a unique standpoint to make yourself stand out from everything else that's going on.

I'm sure you're approached by brands all the time to create content. How do you filter out who you're going to work with? 

While I was working with Fenty Skin, my whole focus was being the global ambassador. When I moved on from that position, I wanted to explore working with different brands. I want [my partnerships] to be something my audience will be interested in. I want to make sure if they choose to make a purchase, it's bringing joy and purpose into their skincare routine. And, the brands I work with have to have some integrity and be inclusive. When I say inclusive, I mean innately inclusive, not someone who just started putting Black people on their feed last summer. 

That's what led to my long-term partnership with Paula’s Choice. I've been working with them for four years now. We've had this partnership because they've always been very inclusive, not just with race but also different gender identities, disabilities, and people who come from all walks of life. They were one of the first brands that I saw include transgender people in paid ads. That was not a thing two or three years ago. 

Sean Garrette/Design by Tiana Crispino

Sean Garrette/Design by Tiana Crispino

Your job requires you to be on camera a lot to film content and engage with people for interviews. But, would you consider yourself an introvert or an extrovert? 

Oh my god, I'm such an introvert. I'm a true Virgo. Unless you're in my close circle, you don't get the extroverted version of me. That's why I don't do dancing TikToks. I think that's why I love Twitter so much because it's not a visual thing; it's just a conversation. My mom and I always laugh at how I have a public career now because she never pictured me working with people. But it's something I've enjoyed so much because I love connecting. 

As an introvert, you need time to recharge after work. What do you do for self-care?

I go grocery shopping, buy shoes, and watch the Housewives. I've been trying to be more social, but I just want to go home every time I go out. For me, it's always about finding a balance because I'm with people so much, virtually and in person. I'm someone who gets very overwhelmed with energy very quickly. Because we work from home, it's nonstop now. So when I'm feeling overwhelmed, I try to take an hour to eat or watch a show. Then, I'll come back to emails.

I’ve also stopped only doing special things for myself when I feel like I’ve accomplished something big. Now, if I want to do something for myself, I do it. If I want to go to my favorite restaurant by myself, I'll just do it instead of always feeling like it has to be a special occasion. It’s all about bringing more joy into parts of my life.

When you think about the mark you want to leave on skincare, what does legacy look like to you? 

I want to be someone who made skincare accessible for everyone. Before I got my job with Fenty Skin, you barely saw Black boys included in skincare campaigns. The fact that I became a global ambassador for such a huge brand and did international masterclasses is a major thing. We did classes in Russia and my little Black ass was teaching Russian girls about this brand. And it was so odd because it hadn't happened before.

The things I've been able to do in my industry and the things I have coming up will open the door for more people that look like me. At one point, it was like I was the only one. I don't ever want to be the only one of anything. I want people who look like me to have the same opportunities. That's why if I do turn down a job, I try to refer other people who might be great for it. I know I have a special place in this industry, so I always want to pass the baton back to someone who can help. I want to make change. I hope I continue on that journey and do more exciting things. 

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