“People were drawn to my freckles when I first started modeling, so I put a lot of pressure on myself to always have good skin. I’m from San Diego—I lived there my whole life—and everything was so dry when I moved to LA for work. The air is just so different here. I kept getting nosebleeds, my skin was drying out, and I started getting pimples. At that point I was like, ‘OK, I need to figure out what to do.’
I always start my day by showering first. I use Dove—their shea butter bar—and a pink loofah. The only other thing I always do in the shower is use Milky Jelly Cleanser on my face. Your pillow is dirty and everything you put your face on is dirty, so I clean my face every time I’m in the shower. You know how you’re not supposed to mess with pimples until they’re completely ready [to pop]? I’m the worst at that. I had to start washing my face regularly so I wouldn’t shred my face any further.
When I was maybe 15, I went to the beach and got a sunburn, and I lost a freckle in the middle of my nose. It’s back now, but I was like, ‘I can’t believe I was so irresponsible.’ Now I love sunscreen, but I also feel like a lot of the sunscreens you see in drugstores aren’t good for people of color because they’re so thick and white—they make your skin look gray and weird. Glossier’s sunscreen is super transparent and has a good SPF—I swear by that. I usually look at other people with freckles, like my mom or Adwoa or Tiffany Meia to see what they’re using on their skin. Being a woman of color with freckles is different. I experienced a lot of hatred on the internet when I was 14 and 15. It doesn’t bother me now, but at the time I was confused by it. I was like, ‘You know, people have freckles all the time, am I just the first black person that they’ve seen with freckles? What is the disconnect where they’re not normalizing me the same way white people who get freckles in the summer are?’ When I was younger, I would go out and kids would be like, ‘Hey Mom, what happened to that girl?’
One thing I’ve noticed as I’ve grown older and done more shoots is how makeup is getting more creative—and sometimes I’m asked to do my own makeup. That’s when I realized that playing with makeup was really cool, and that I needed to learn a few things. I know for sure to brush up my eyebrows—I have short eyebrows, so if each hair is not in the right place my eyebrows will look awful. I use Glossier Boy Brow in Black every single day, and also Priming Moisturizer, Chapstick and lip gloss—I love the Fenty Beauty Gloss Bomb. I’ll also add in some subtle things, like a blush. I’ve been using the Chanel blush from the 'We Love Coco' stuff that they’ve been doing. It’s very pink, like what a raspberry would look like if it were a blush, but I recently tried Cloud Paint and I think I’m more into that. My technique for applying blush is that I just kind of keep a full, goofy smile the whole time, because it’s supposed to go on the apples of your cheeks. I recently started mixing mascaras, one coat of Marc Jacobs and one coat of Glossier Lash Slick. And putting mascara on my bottom lashes! I used to hate bottom lash mascara, but I started doing it in the last few months and now I think it’s awesome. For events and stuff I’ve been using different eyeshadows, like the new Dior Backstage Eye Palette in Cool. I like shimmery sheer colors because they’re dynamic enough to show up in photos, but you don’t have to put a lot on in the same way you would have to for an opaque blue eyeshadow, for example. I would definitely have to pack a lot on for you to know I was wearing blue eyeshadow.
Right now I have braids which is awesome because it’s low-maintenance—if anything, I just have to oil my scalp, edges, and in between my braids to keep everything flourishing. Before when I had a weave, every time I went to a shoot I would do my hair first. It was a really low-maintenance weave with minimal leave-out, and people would say, ‘Oh, this girl has a lacefront, I can’t do anything,’ and I’d be like, ‘I don’t have that. That’s not what’s on my head.’ You never know if a stylist will be able to do your hair.
It’s important to me to learn and get better at natural hair. I grew up with my grandparents and my grandma’s Filipino, so we have really different hair types and textures—only my extended family knew what they were doing. Now I use a Keracare Edge Tamer styling wax that my hairstylist uses. I bought it myself because it holds well. I also have this oil mixture that I got from this hair boutique I found on Instagram called NBH Boutique. They make a premixed oil that I believe is coconut oil—it might also have rosemary and a little bit of peppermint oil in it. My boyfriend uses Cantu, and I definitely want to try that because his hair’s been growing well.
Outside of modeling I’m really interested in public speaking. I just spoke on my first panel at a women’s brunch that my friend Zolee hosted. Fifty girls attended, and it was a completely free event to just talk and make friends. Modeling and having a platform is awesome, but it’s not as unique as actually seeing people in person and understanding how you’re impacting them, and how they can impact me, too. I’ve also been into a lot of creative directing lately. There was a period of time when I was looking at some of my modeling photos and I was like, ‘Man, do these suck! I am really bored.’ So I sat down, made some mood boards, talked to some photographers and became more comfortable with experimenting.
My biggest thing is that I try to be as open and as honest as possible on social media. Sometimes when people comment on my pictures and are like, ‘How do you look like this?’ I’ll say, ‘I don’t look like that at all right now, I did not take that picture today—that was a really good day for me.’ I want people to know that I don’t always look the way I look online and sometimes I look crazy! Other than that, I just try to be respectful. When I was younger my parents talked to me about social media etiquette and how to present myself, and I hold a lot of that near and dear to me. Having a lot of family follow me, I don’t post anything that I think is crazy because I don’t want my dad to see it and be like, ‘Huh?’”
—as told to ITG
Salem Mitchell photographed by Tom Newton in New York on July 24, 2018. Salem wears a dress by Adam Selman.