Joe Zee, Creative Director, Elle


"I’ve been working in fashion since I moved from Toronto to New York for college. As long as I’ve been here, I’ve never felt like I have to live in a fashion bubble. I consider myself a storyteller more than a stylist. I tell stories through pictures, through my Elle column [A to Zee], through social media, and through my TV shows [All On The Line and Revealing, both on the Sundance Channel]—I love sharing. For me, reality television is about being able to talk, show, and generate ideas in a new way. It makes fashion democratic, which I’m happy about. I like pulling back the curtain and saying, ‘Hey, this is how it works, people. This is the glamorous part, this is not the glamorous part, and this is how we do things.’ I don’t need it to be so sanctimonious.

We just did an episode of Revealing all about beauty—how the perception of beauty has changed, and how men are held to a new standard as purveyors of beauty. They get botox and plastic surgery, they’re expected to stay as trim as they were when they got married. Even my own perception of beauty has changed, but I think it’s just part of getting older. I’m 45 now—that’s pretty middle-aged. I look in the mirror and think, ‘Oh my god,’ because I don’t feel old at 45, and I don’t really care, but I do have lines on my face and whatever.

I’m only beginning to take care of my skin. For most of my life, I was lucky if I even washed my face, and my theory was that maybe you have bad skin, you might have a zit, but that’s life, and it will go away. I just started going to a dermatologist when I got to Elle, because Robbie Myers recommended one to me, and I got my first facial last year. Even when I was 35, I thought it was fancy to go to a dermatologist. I still thought it sounded high-maintenance, but I started going to Dr. Dennis Gross, and he’s awesome. I realized that it’s just like going to a general practitioner. Now I wash my face with Fresh Soy Face Cleanser—it’s my jam because it’s so gentle. I don’t use anything fragranced out of fear of getting a breakout. And I don’t use a moisturizer, because my skin’s so oily. At night, I use Dr. Dennis Gross Extra Strength Alpha Beta Peel Formula, which I’m obsessed with. His products are amazing. I also had a Hydra-Pure Vitamin C Brightening Serum that I loved from him, but I’m all out. I need to get more! When I travel somewhere hot and sunny, I use Dr. Dennis Gross Powerful Sun Protection Towelettes on my face, but I was always the kid who sat outside with olive oil on my skin. When people talk about putting on SPF 70, I’m like, ‘Just stay home.’ [Laughs] I’m not going to St. Barths to wear SPF 70. On my body, I want Hawaiian Tropic. It feels like vacation, and smells like coconut, and that’s all I am about. I want something that’s $6 and smells like a my idea of Polynesia. [Laughs]

Like I said, my skin is very oily. I’m always looking for something matte to control it. Someone gave me Clarins Mat Express Instant Shine Control Gel, and it works, but it’s very temporary. I use Clean & Clear Oil Absorbing Sheets—I learned that from a makeup artist, because the Clean & Clear sheets are plastic and really mattify and other ones are paper. I hold people with insider information like that captive. [Laughs] Being shiny doesn’t actually bother me very much, but when I’m on TV, they’re always telling me to cover it up with powder. That was another thing I resisted—wearing makeup for TV, because I thought it was so vain. The film crew was just like, ‘Dude, we’re trying to make this look as good as possible.’ And they were right. I saw a playback one day and thought, ‘I look like I have an oil slick on my forehead.’ As soon as I could let go that it wasn’t about fashion, or about me being high-maintenance, I was on board. Do I love wearing makeup? No. Do I wear it outside of TV? No. But, when I’m filming All on the Line and we have 14-hour days, I powder.

I've learned how to apply makeup progressively from makeup artists on photo shoots. And now I can just crank it out, and I’m not shy about it either. I’ll put it on at the gym, right in the locker room, and you know what? I notice other guys putting it on, too—and I doubt they’re going to film anything. [Laughs] I use MAC Studio Finish Concealer in NW35 to cover blemishes and a birthmark on my face that the camera guys tell me just reads as dirt on TV. [Laughs] And my makeup artist friend in L.A., Jeannia Robinette, told me to use La Mer The Treatment Fluid Foundation on my T-zone. And then I seal that with MAC Dark Mineralize Skinfinish powder. I carry that with me all the time—the powder and the La Mer The Foundation Brush. Whenever they yell, ‘You’re shiny again!’ I can just pull them out of my pocket and powder myself. We joke that I start the day as Joe Zee and end the day as RuPaul. [Laughs]

So the makeup is new, but I haven’t changed most of my personal care products for decades. I shave in the morning with a drugstore razor and Edge Shave Gel, which I’ve been using since I was in high school. I use the Sonicare toothbrush and Colgate toothpaste. And I don’t wear deodorant. I got a major rash from it when I was a teenager, and was told I was allergic, so I haven’t worn it since. My doctor told me that I don’t actually need to wear it—it's just a marketing thing. I’ve been washing my hair with Aveda Shampure Shampoo and Conditioner since I was in college. I’m just a creature of habit.”

—as told to ITG

Joe Zee photographed by Emily Weiss in New York on November 13, 2013. Read Part 2 of Joe's interview (The Professional) here.

Let’s Talk About It! JOIN IN
  • Teckie

    He's so cute. Love him, love his Elle column.

  • Holly Skelton

    Ahh Joe is such a sweetie, always comes across as so down to earth :-)

  • Clever Girl Reviews

    I've liked Joe ever since I first read his Elle column, He has great energy. I love his nonchalant attitude. Good products for both men and women!

  • Edwina@WINONAINC

    His casual use of pressed powder is so interesting. Applying it in the locker room is even more interesting. I'd love to be a fly on that wall.

  • Lana

    What a great way to start my Monday! Thanks ITG!

  • mlle p

    I like Joe and his cute pup, but I wish his Vitals magazine was still going - it was great! Elle just seems to underutilize his skills.

  • Lynnsay

    Another great Top Shelf :)

  • cat butt

    He is such a doll.

    This might've just made my afternoon:)

  • bella

    Love him!!!!!

  • Scarlet

    For my oily skin, a swipe of milk of magnesia (on a cotton ball) all over my face has been miraculous. Let dry, then apply makeup - my skin will remain oil-free nearly the whole day.

    • Gia

      Milk of Magnesia is amazing for oily skin, but remember it really is not a ph balanced product for your face it will only lead your skin to get oilier and oilier bc you're over drying it and ruining the natural ph balance of your skin, try a good skin care regimen and moisturizing which really does help an oily face by giving it the mouisture it needs so you dont produce excess sebum! And from all primers hourglass primer seems to work the best for super oily skin and their immaculate foundation is heaven sent for shiny skin

  • Benjamin Burns

    That he doesn't give a shit about applying stuff in the locker room is great - i'm a guy and the locker room is a tense place to be whenever you hear the zip of a wash bag, though we all know we're using something!

  • Miss Y.

    "On my body, I want Hawaiian Tropic. It feels like vacation, and smells like coconut, and that’s all I am about. I want something that’s $6 and smells like a my idea of Polynesia." Joe, just for this I love you. I feel the same way about Hawaiian Tropic and have so much nostalgia for the Nivea Sunscreen too! But I guess everyone in Western Europe feels that way ;-)

  • Guest

    I don't usually read the articles about men, but for Joe Zee, I'll gladly make an exception. Love him! Just one thing, though, please start using sunscreen, Joe! At one point, I was just like you: if I went to the beach, I wanted a "tan," even though I'm already of color. (Bi-racial, white mother, black father.) And then I got melanoma. Thank God we caught it in time, but now I have an ugly scar where my once-pristine back used to be. USE SOME DAMN SUNSCREEN!!! Please.

  • Cat

    The Dennis Gross Extra Strength Pads are miraculous for acne prone skin. If I have a flare up on my chin from stress, poor eating or reaction to makeup - this calms it down within a few days. It gets rid of flaky skin from the cold and hot water after one night/treatment. Put it on at night, get a good night's sleep and you wake up fresh and bright. If you order directly from site, they always have coupon code somewhere for 20% off the purchase.

  • Shawna

    He's awesome! I'm interested in learning more about "revealed." Several men in my life (dad, friends, ex boyfriends) have considered it unfair that it's common for women to wear makeup but not men, especially for men suffering from acne. I certainly couldn't imagine not using makeup during my acne-filled younger (and at times current) years. They were bad enough as it was.

    More power to men who use makeup!


Fresh Soy Face Cleanser
Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare
Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta Peel Extra Strength Formula
Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare
Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Hydra-Pure Vitamin C Brightening Serum
Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare
Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Powerful Sun Protection SPF 30 Towelettes
Hawaiian Tropic
Hawaiian Tropic Sheer Touch Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 30
Clarins Mat Express Instant Shine Control Gel
Clean & Clear
Clean & Clear Oil Absorbing Sheets
MAC Studio Finish SPF 35 Concealer
La Mer
La Mer – The Treatment Fluid Foundation SPF 15
MAC Mineralize Skinfinish
La Mer
La Mer The Foundation Brush
Edge Shave Gel Sensitive Skin with Aloe
Sonicare Toothbrush
Colgate Total
Colgate Total Gum Defense Toothpaste
Aveda Shampure Shampoo
Aveda Shampure Conditioner