As a Trinidadian-Canadian woman, my relationship with beauty is a complicated one, to say the least. Growing up, my Caribbean mother imparted to me the advice that when it comes to skincare, less is more. Few products earned my mother’s loyalty enough to reappear in our medicine cabinet. (Among them were Clinique’s Dramatically Different Moisturizing Lotion and Nivea’s Nourishing Day Care, and she always kept a bare face.) But, rebel that I was, I vividly remember walking into the drugstore as a teenager, armed with a few dollars and finally ready to make my own purchases. I’d always loved beauty products and finally had the freedom to try new things and make my own beauty mistakes, desperate to experiment, to stray from my mother's routine.
Fast-forward half a decade later, and my love for beauty products has only expanded. Today, I’m a beauty writer, so I spend a lot of time reviewing and testing out new products. And I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the beauty industry is experiencing a moment of excess. As South Korea’s 10-step skincare regimens have become more popular in the West, brands have expanded to accommodate. Mask after mask, serum after serum, and eye creams targeting wrinkles my 19-year-old skin doesn’t yet have. As a product junkie, I love getting my hands on the latest and greatest, but it recently dawned on me that I might be doing more harm than good.
If you ever met my mother, you might mistake her for my slightly older, slightly more tanned sister. She watches me as I slather on a face mask and laughs: My mother has never done a face mask in her life—though you couldn’t tell just by looking at her. My mother wears not one wrinkle on her face as she approaches the big 5-0. Her secret? Caribbean-centric skincare minimalism. My mother's beauty philosophy is very simple; she cleanses, she moisturizes, she repeats. Her preferred form of moisture is a Caribbean skincare staple: raw cocoa butter.
Here in Montréal, where we live, our skin takes a beating during the brutal Canadian winter months, making it dry, dull, and chapped. When visiting family in Trinidad, my mom and I stock up on blocks of raw cocoa butter, which sells for pennies in the islands and melts into a light oil on contact with your skin. Cocoa butter forms an occlusive layer, meaning it traps water to keep your skin hydrated. In the summer, my mom keeps the cocoa butter for when her skin is feeling dry and opts for a lighter oil like the 100% Rosehip Seed Oil from The Ordinary.
Like my mother, I’ve never had complicated skin. It’s not dry, not oily, not sensitive, nor acne-prone. My mother’s advice was not to fix what isn’t broken, but when I started my beauty writing career, I discarded that philosophy entirely. It began after the launch of my online beauty magazine, Pur Opulence—suddenly, my mailbox was full to the brim with countless creams and potions that brands wanted me to test and review. I became obsessed with trying every new serum that was tossed my way, slowly adding more steps to my skincare routine in an attempt to replicate the multistep Korean-inspired routines all my beauty blogger friends had been raving about.
But ultimately it took its toll. The more products I used, the more problematic my once clear skin became. Exasperated, I did the only thing I could think to do: I remembered my mom’s advice. I reached for my block of cocoa butter and dropped all of my serums and creams. Within a week, my skin had returned to its normal clear state, looking as glowy as ever. Of course, there are advantages to Korea’s complex skincare philosophy, as you can tell by their flawless complexions. But this method doesn’t work for everyone. By constantly overloading my face with the next best thing, my skin had no chance to adapt.
I will always be a skincare lover. I will always geek out over alpha-hydroxy acids and peptide blends. But in an era (and a career) that’s all about extravagance, it’s more important now than ever to take cues from my Caribbean roots and adopt a more simplified routine. Navigating the great big world of beauty products isn’t easy. It’s going to take some practice, but resisting my urge to try out every new product that hits the shelves might ultimately be what saves my skin. Maybe my mom has had the secret all along. At least for me.
Here at Byrdie, we know that beauty is way more than braid tutorials and mascara reviews. Beauty is identity. Our hair, our facial features, our bodies: They can reflect culture, sexuality, race, even politics. We needed somewhere on Byrdie to talk about this stuff, so… welcome to The Flipside (as in the flip side of beauty, of course!), a dedicated place for unique, personal, and unexpected stories that challenge our society’s definition of “beauty.” Here, you’ll find cool interviews with LGBTQ+ celebrities, vulnerable essays about beauty standards and cultural identity, feminist meditations on everything from thigh brows to eyebrows, and more. The ideas our writers are exploring here are new, so we’d love for you, our savvy readers, to participate in the conversation too. Be sure to comment your thoughts (and share them on social media with the hashtag #TheFlipsideOfBeauty). Because here on The Flipside, everybody gets to be heard.
Want more stories from The Flipside? Next, read about the secret beauty issue Asian-Americans face every summer.