The Cook-Slash-Writer Who Bathes In Tea


The #ITGTopShelfie interview series focuses on the beauty routines of Into The Gloss' lovely, accomplished, and loyal community of readers. Submit your own on Instagram—post your Top Shelfie (tag us @intothegloss!) and include the hashtag #ITGTopShelfie for a chance to be featured on ITG.

“Hello! I’m Leen (@leenalzaben). I’m currently in Tokyo where I work at the cross-section of food and storytelling. I tell stories about food through writing and photography, but I also teach cooking and baking through an online workshop series I launched earlier this year. On a day-to-day basis, I might be experimenting in the kitchen, in my photo studio, researching my newest culinary obsession, or writing about all of the above. I love the fact that I do several things; oftentimes it’s challenging but that’s my favorite part because it keeps me on my toes.

Food and beauty are so interconnected. When I was six or seven, my grandma would let me pick jasmine flowers from her garden and we’d steep them in water to make ‘perfume.’ It smelled horrible. Nowadays I play around with tinctures and hydrosols and believe my interest in scent and flavor started in her garden. One example is rosewater, a culinary staple in the Middle East. I use the same one I use for cooking as a toner, and it’s been amazing for my skin. I’m a firm believer that beauty is firstly about what you put into your body and then about what you put on it. I eat lots of fruits, vegetables, and probiotic foods such as kefir that I make myself. I love to infuse it with freshly grated turmeric and cumin seeds. I also sip on teas and infusions all day long—you’ll most likely find me with a fennel and aniseed tea in hand, but I love making hibiscus and prickly pear iced teas in the summer and black tea with cardamom and rose buds in the winter. I also make a savory hot drink to aid digestion by boiling cumin seeds, and adding lemon juice and a pinch of salt.

I love going high-low with my skincare routine. I’ll invest in a few key products, fill in my routine with basic drugstore brands, and then treat myself with homemade products from my kitchen. I keep a hard 'one in, one out policy,' so I only buy a new item when I’m done with another. That being said, I’m constantly on the lookout for new recommendations for when I do need to replace an old staple, and Top Shelfies always send me down a rabbit hole.

I begin my day by drinking about a liter of water, followed by a cup of hot water with lemon and a few peppermint leaves. I wash my face with just cold water in the morning, or sometimes with natural olive oil and laurel soap from Jordan in the shower. I use it to wash my body and hair as well—it has no artificial fragrances and leaves my skin feeling soft and supple. I use a natural loofah to exfoliate on a daily basis, which I'll sometimes pair with Amina’s Natural Olive Oil Shower Wash. For my face, I tone with pure rosewater followed by Rohto Melano CC Vitamin C Intensive Anti-Spot Essence, a Japanese drugstore vitamin C serum that is just incredible. (And $5!) Next I apply a few drops of Vintner's Daughter Active Botanical Serum, and always finish with sunscreen and a hat. I love using Avene’s Day Protector UV EX, which I found in Japan as well.

I hate the feeling of dry lips so I’m constantly moisturizing. I tend to go overboard—a few favorites include Avene’s Cold Cream lip balm, the Laneige Lip Sleeping Mask, Homeoplasmine, and Aquaphor. I don’t actually wear makeup that often, but when I do I go for a very natural look. I love using Beautyblender sponges to give my concealer and blush a seamless, dewy finish. I’m currently using Ilia’s True Skin Serum Concealer, but I like Tarte’s Creaseless Concealer when I want to hide dark circles or any blemishes. For a bit of a sunkissed look, I use Glossier’s Cloud Paint in Dusk—I love how it makes me feel like I’ve just spent the day at the beach. I also like it as a subtle eyeshadow. I have thick, dark eyebrows I keep tidy with Clear Boy Brow, and my favorite mascara is Hypnôse from Lancôme. If I have a big event, I love Tom Ford’s Eye Defining Pen. And I’ll also apply an oil-based perfume from Abd Al Samad Al Qurashi that's made with agarwood, sandalwood, and jasmine. It’s the only perfume I use, and only very occasionally.

In the evenings, I wash my face with one of my favorite discoveries in Japan: Edobio. It’s a lactic acid cleanser that leaves my skin feeling clean and hydrated, and gives me an instant glow. I usually follow it with Pixi’s Glow Tonic or rosewater again, depending on how my skin’s feeling, and I finish off with some oil. I tend to layer Vintner's Daughter or Embryolisse under an organic rosehip seed oil from Amina’s. In the winter months I swap that out for Sunday Riley’s Luna Night Oil under the Good Genes lactic acid treatment. When I’ve had a long day, I love to use my quartz face roller from Herbivore, which I keep in the freezer. I love the feeling of rolling the cold quartz on my skin while I watch TV and enjoy many cups of tea.

After becoming a mother, it became harder to find moments just for myself. Now I always make a point to give myself a weekly spa evening. First, I burn some palo santo, dry brush, and run a bath. I usually use Dead Sea and epsom salts—I’m from Jordan, so a bath without Dead Sea salts isn’t really a bath. I also sometimes add green tea, ginger tea, or sometimes both, to help with circulation. I exfoliate with a body scrub I make using leftover coffee grounds, almond meal, brown sugar, sea salt, himalayan salt, and olive oil. It smells so good and leaves my skin feeling soft. I also exfoliate my face on a bi-weekly basis. I start by washing with a Japanese rice powder-based cleanser, followed by Cure Aqua Gel Gommage, followed by a gentle rose scrub from Ella Baché that’s sadly been discontinued. I can make a lovely DIY version using sugar, coffee, dried damask roses and olive oil in the meantime—if anyone knows of a replacement, I’m on the lookout for something new. I finish off by applying an all-natural Ayurvedic face mask. I use a powder that contains turmeric, neem, kachri, rose petals, tulsi, and brown rice powder, and I mix it with yogurt to make the mask. It doesn’t smell great, but it leaves my skin glowy and fresh. I finish it off with a very cold shower. I always moisturize my body with a natural, unscented almond oil straight after I get out—I’ve become very attached to my ritual.”

—as told to ITG

Photos via the author