“I really liked growing up in southern California. I had an eclectic and diverse group of friends, and I credit them with introducing me to Tumblr. If I wasn’t on Tumblr back then, I don’t know if I would have the job that I have now. My parents are Nigerian and very traditional, so I wasn’t allowed to go out that much, and if I wanted to...I had to get creative. Tumblr exposed me to things I wouldn’t have known about if I was just a super obedient Nigerian kid. I discovered fashion, photography as fine art, New York creatives… basically it allowed me to see a life that I could, potentially, lead. I was so meticulous about curating my own online space. Finding good themes and reblogging images that felt cohesive was really fun for me.
I majored in Media and Communications at NYU, and after I left I didn’t really know what I wanted to do as a career. My mom was really concerned about how I was going to make a living—I remember she would send me government job postings and be like, ‘This looks like a decent job for you.’ But that wasn't my speed. I just stayed in New York and tried to figure it out. I worked at a movie theater for a little bit, which was a humbling experience that pushed me to find something better. I got a job at a film festival company, which I loved but didn’t pay very well. And then I started interning at Into The Gloss. I barely knew what Glossier was—I was only compelled to apply for the job because I thought their imagery was so beautiful. But once I started I decided I was going to kill it and turn the internship into a full-time job. Eventually they did bring me on, and I’ve been doing social media across Into The Gloss and Glossier since.
Glossier is a leader in this space, so I’m able to send my family articles that other people write about my work, but I think they worry about the longevity of this career. Having that in the back of my mind made me start an online project to talk about what advancement looks like in a social media career. I still think about what the future of my career looks like all the time, because it really is a new path. It’s cool that you can forge your own way—you might move into a paid ad role if you enjoy that side of the job, or become a producer as a next step. But sometimes I wish I had more of a straight line to follow. I’ve been at Glossier for a long time now, and I feel really lucky to have seen the brand grow as much as it has. If anything, I’ve learned so much about how beauty is a tool for connection and vehicle for storytelling. Even the person who claims they’ve never put on a single slick of mascara has something they do to take care of themself.
There’s an aesthetician who says to wash your face for a full 60 seconds—I thought I was doing that but clearly I was not, because now my face feels so much cleaner and I can use less product. When I need to get makeup off I use a cleansing oil first. Right now I’m using the Innisfree Green Tea Seed Cleansing Oil, and in the past I’ve really loved Pai’s Rosehip Oil Cleanser, but to be honest I’ll never turn down a cleansing oil. Next, I really like to use Klur’s Gentle Matter Cleanser. It doesn’t have a lot going on—it feels like a gel cleanser, suds lightly, and leaves my skin feeling squeaky clean. I work in the AHA and aloe cleanser from Protocol if I’ve been slacking with my skincare. The consistency is kind of gloopy in a good way, it smells great, and it doesn’t leave my skin feeling sensitized.
Even the person who claims they’ve never put on a single slick of mascara has something they do to take care of themself.
I’m always chasing moisture. The jury is still out on hyaluronic acid these days, but I do really like the one from Venn. It’s immediately hydrating and soaks in without leaving a film. I also like Jordan Samuel Skin’s Hydrate Serum. I’ve really tried so many moisturizers that claim to be super hydrating, but nothing hits like Priming Moisturizer Rich. And then I love to use a facial oil—I’ll honestly take any of them. Venn’s feels rich enough to use as a moisturizer, and Supernal has a pretty similar consistency. I could also just throw on Cosrx’s Snail Mucin with a facial oil on top and skip the moisturizer.
I’ve been incorporating niacinamide into my routine because I want to see what all the fuss is about, and I will say that since I started using the Allies of Skin Niacinamide and Probiotic Serum I’ve seen fewer blackheads. I also think it’s been helping fade some dark marks. And at night I use a retinoid. I was obsessed with A313 when I visited Paris a couple of years ago, and that was my go-to retinoid for a while. La Roche-Posay has an over-the-counter adapalene that’s really good. But my mom is a pediatrician, so I started on tretinoin when I was in high school. Why did I stop using that? It slapped! I think I’ll go back to it soon.
I don’t really mask that much because it’s just such a pain. But Lesley Thornton, the founder of Klur, told me I actually shouldn't be keeping a mask on for very long. There’s no need to wait until your skin feels cracked and uncomfortable—at that point, your skin has already gotten all the benefits and the mask is just drying it out. Her Supreme Seed Mask is really moisturizing and luxurious—Lesley was an aesthetician for so long so she knows what she’s doing. If I had all the money in the world, I’d probably go to Rescue Spa and get a Bio-Lift Facial like once a week. My face would be so snatched! Danuta [Mieloch, Rescue Spa founder] hooked me up with one after we did her Top Shelf, and after the facial they sold me on a Nuface. I like the Nuface, but as far as microcurrent devices go I think the Ziip is more user-friendly.
I wish I was allowed to explore makeup in high school. All those times when I was doing who knows what in my room, I could’ve been playing with a palette and having fun! Pretty much everything I did learn about makeup came from my sister, who’s 10 years older than me. She was truly my first beauty muse—she wore makeup, got piercings, had a tattoo. I’d put on a little of her crayon liner and Covergirl Lash Blast mascara in the car on the way to school, and then wash it off before I got home so my mom wouldn’t notice. She always did anyway. [Laughs]
All those times when I was doing who knows what in my room, I could’ve been playing with a palette and having fun!
I used to be able to do a cat eye in one fell swoop, but now I’ll outline my lash line first, draw the wing going outside-in, and then fill it in. I really love the liquid Marc Jacobs Highliner, which is jet black, very elegant, and has a great tip for a flick. It honestly harkens back to my Wet n Wild days—I used to get their inkwell liner at the drugstore. I love colored eyeliners too, especially the UZ and Dior ones. Maybe I’ll do the lash line one color and the flick another, or I’ll stack a pink line and white one to look like a shadow. Another thing I’m always wearing is mascara, and I love to do lots of layers. My favorite mascara of all time is Tarteist Lash Paint, which is super inky and separates really well, and then I’ll take something with more defined bristles like Lash Slick and comb it through. I ran out of both of those so right now I’m using Voluminous Paradise with Telescopic Mascara on top. I also love a brown lip for everyday. I use Charlotte Tilbury lip liner in Foxy Brown as a base, and then either use Gen G in Leo or a lip gloss on top. Pat McGrath’s Flesh 6 is an amazing burgundy nude that sheers out to a brownish, mauvey shade, but Revlon makes a dupe of it called Indulge In It that looks exactly the same and feels just as cushiony. I also like Fenty’s clear gloss, and Glossier’s Lip Gloss in Holographic is super reflective and glassy. A brick red lip is nice when I want to feel polished.
Honestly, Glossier really has me in terms of makeup. I love Skywash in Terra. I use Boy Brow in Brown, which is the only thing I do to my brows. The blush I wear most of the time is Cloud Paint in Dawn, which is an orangey shade that just speaks to me. And Stretch Concealer in G4 is my go-to—I actually put a little bit of concealer all over my face instead of foundation. I do the same thing with Marc Jacobs concealer, and I also really like Gee Beauty’s foundation stick in Fawn. From time to time, I like to use some powder highlighter from Pat McGrath. The iridescent pink is super fun because it changes color when the light hits it a certain way—very extraterrestrial.
Growing up I always had my hair in Senegalese twists or box braids. My sister would do it, and it would take the whole day—she definitely spoiled me. I did perm my hair once. I really wanted to have a flowy weave for prom, and the hairdresser said my hair was too thick and that she wouldn’t do it unless I agreed to having it relaxed. I immediately regretted it, and after some Googling later I learned that you actually don’t have to relax your hair to get a weave. Anyway, I spent all of college growing it out, and because of that, I learned how to take care of my hair myself.
Cornrows are quick and easy to take out. But if I have time, I like to get either shoulder-length, small to medium box braids or Senegalese twists. The way I like my Senegalese twists isn’t typical for the style, but it’s how my sister used to do it and I think it looks really nice. Basically you do regular Senegalese twists, make six big braids out of the individual ones, and then dip them into hot water. Once the hair dries you take out the big braids and you’re left with this really cute wave. I like how it gives the hair more of a cool, natural look. Growing up, my mom would see someone with braids in the wild and ask who did them. But New York is really special because you can just pop into a braiding salon. My go-to place is Sika Hair Braiding in Brooklyn, right by my very first apartment. They always fit me in. If Sika is closed, I just walk down Fulton Street in Bedstuy until I find a place. You could throw a coin and hit a braiding salon—it’s great. I’m West African, and a lot of the women in the salons are West African too. They might not be Nigerian, but the way they speak, their intonations, and their energy make me feel like I’m at home. It’s really welcoming.
I wash my hair every week and a half when it isn’t in braids. The Venn Polyamine Shampoo resets my scalp and keeps it from feeling so tender, and Davines Love Shampoo is another option that’s not stripping at all. After shampoo, I skip regular conditioner and go straight to the Deep Conditioning Treatment from Adwoa. Sometimes I’ll use it to detangle my hair—in that case, I'll comb in my room, then shower, shampoo twice, and call it a day. I’m really lazy with my hair so I take as many shortcuts as possible. If my hair is feeling too heavy I’ll use the Christophe Robin Scalp Scrub, but I’ve learned the hard way that I don’t need to use that much. It is super clarifying.
Shea Moisture used to make a leave-in conditioner called the Curl Defining Smoothie, not the Curl Enhancing Smoothie, and I hadn’t been able to find a leave-in I liked as much until Adwoa Beauty’s. That did it for me—it’s shockingly good. I get really happy when I find holy grails for my hair because they're hard to come by. I'll braid it into my hair and when it dries, I'll take it out and put my hair in a low bun to stretch it out. I like my hair stretched because it doesn’t get tangled as easily. Wash-and-gos are cute, but they require so much product, and I don’t know if the return on investment is worth it. As my hair gets more voluminous I’ll wear it out, and eventually slick it back into a bun with a pomade from Organi Grow Hair Co. I also use that when my cornrows are looking a little rough—I smooth it on, then use a scarf to lay down the new growth. When I take out my cornrows, my hair underneath is extremely moisturized.
I get really happy when I find holy grails for my hair because they're hard to come by.
BODY + NAILS
I grew up using bar soaps, and I’ve always loved how they last forever and fill the shower with scent. My favorite is Redoux—it leaves me very clean, but not feeling stripped. Then I’ll either exfoliate with a salux cloth, which I get in Chinatown, or the Nécessaire Sandalwood Exfoliator when I’m feeling dry.
I try to moisturize as quickly as possible when I get out of the shower to seal the moisture in. I’ve tried so many lotions but always go back to Palmer’s Cocoa Butter Formula, which I top with body oil. Jordan Samuel Skin’s Olio Per Il Corpo smells like a vacation and doesn’t leave me feeling slippery. I like that F. Miller’s has a pump and smells a bit more botanical. And I think Esker’s Clarifying Body Oil is actually the most underrated. It smells like cyprus, rose geranium, and jasmine, and it does so much more than just leave a sheen. Sometimes I use Hanahana Lemongrass Shea Butter instead of lotion, but only right after showering. And finally, I use Hermès Eau D'orange Verte cream just on my pulse points. It smells freaking insane—almost like a grown up Irish Spring. I’m always surprised at how well the Nécessaire and Corpus deodorants deodorize—I always apply one of the two after I shower, and I never feel gross or smelly at the end of the day. Then I finish with sunscreen. Dr. Dennis Gross has a really nice, sheer mineral sunscreen I can just spray on and rub in.
I don’t know if my hands will ever not be dry, so I keep a hand cream on my desk and try to use it as much as I can. Unexpectedly, I really like this CBD Healing Hand Cream. I don’t think the CBD has any actual effects, but it smells really nice and is instantly moisturizing. I’m lucky to have nice nail beds and strong nails, so I mostly just trim them and let them do their thing. In Jia Tolentino’s Top Shelf she talked about how sparkly polish is easier to maintain, and I completely agree. If I do paint my nails, I like to use Glass Souls from Smith and Cult. [Ed note: discontinued]
A friend introduced me to Persian Garden from Kuumba Made when I was in college, and I feel like all the fragrances I’ve loved since embody that smell in different ways. It’s kind of earthy, spicy, peppery...like flower stems and soil, a little bit of musk, and something sparkly. I like to wear Dedcool’s Milk, DS & Durga’s Crystal Pistil, or Glossier You if I’m going to be with close to friends. Crystal Pistil, which is technically a fragrance enhancer, is closest to Persian Garden. Milk is addictive, like you’d want to keep hugging someone just to smell it, which I love. And when I layer Glossier You with Escentric Molecules 04, people will literally stop me on the subway to ask what I’m wearing. Molecule 04 and Molecule 02 add a bit of fizz to whatever I’m wearing—a little carbonation. Functional Fragrance from The Nue Co is in that carbonation family too, but it’s a little more botanical.
I wear Andritis Cassis from Maison Louis Marie the most when I’m going out. It’s kind of intriguing and sweet. DS & Durga’s Mississippi Medicine is super unique, and I love the grassiness of Bowmakers. I also like balancing lighter scents with heavier, darker ones on top. For example, I really like Christian Dior’s Sakura with Malin & Goetz Leather. Tom Ford’s Venetian Bergamot is for special occasions, like if I’m going to a wedding. And beyond that, I have a bunch of fragrance samples I like to keep to show my friends. When they come over I’ll be like, ‘Hey, you need to smell this, it’s a wild combination, I’ve never smelled anything like it.’ I have a whole bag of product that I set aside for whenever friends come by. They get so much joy from pilfering through it, and it’s fun for me, too. I love being the expert. [Laughs]”
—as told to ITG
Utibe Mbagwu photographed by Tom Newton in New York on January 12, 2021.