The Marathon Runner Whose Skincare Survived Mount Everest


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“Hey! How’s it going? My name is Intisar Abdul-Kader (@intysar). I live in London, though I was born and raised in Abu-Dhabi and come from a very mixed ethnic background. Growing up, I was always surrounded by women with beautiful hues of brown skin. My great grandmother was Sudanese, and both of my grandmothers were Somalilanders—all three women had skin that just glowed, and I wanted that for myself too.

My day job is working for The National Health Service (NHS) as a patient and public involvement coordinator. The NHS provides healthcare and a safe space to talk and heal, and it’s my job to help people navigate back to the world after their therapy comes to an end. Witnessing these transformations fills me with so much hope! Everyone should be able to pursue a healthy relationship with mental wellbeing, without social stigmas attached. When I’m not at work, I do a lot of long-distance running and hiking. I’ve always been an outdoors person—my dad took me to my first swimming class when I was nine months old, and later enrolled me in ice skating and track and field.

I started running marathons in my mid-20s. There is something beautiful about that distance; it is long and can be unforgiving, the training is tough but the runner's high is worth it all. I want to see more Muslim, Black, Hijab-wearing runners occupying spaces and race start lines—representation matters and I am a firm believer that you can be what you can see. I hope my experiences inspire the next young girl to get up and run. If you don't know where to start, just start by walking around your local area. Running can get a bit lonely at times, so joining a local run group or finding an accountability partner makes it easier and more fun. Running is meant to be enjoyed despite the hard work required.

My beauty routines pretty much all revolve around my outdoor activities. I have a pixie cut just like Zoe Kravitz in 2017, and I know as a hijabi nobody outside my house sees my hair but it’s still important to care for it. The Moroccanoil Nourish With Love set is a staple for weekly wash days. It comes with everything I could need: a hydrating shampoo, intense hydrating mask, leave-in conditioner, and oil treatment. I avoid wearing a hijab when my hair is wet, and use a mixture of natural oils (like olive and almond) and leave-in conditioners overnight to keep my hair hydrated and healthy. Wearing a hijab under-cap helps my hair to stay in place, and is a savior during hard, sweaty speed sessions. And I also like to wear light, airy hijabs to let my scalp breathe easily—my favorites are the modal hijabs by Sashion.

My skincare routine held me together as I trekked to Everest Base Camp One at 5363 meters above sea level, and through four World Major Marathons. I like to use a really simple, gentle face wash like Cerave’s Foaming Facial Cleanser or Garnier’s micellar water for a good cleanse that doesn't compromise my dry skin’s protective barrier. I use The Ordinary’s hyaluronic acid for hydration, but the best hydration trick comes from my mother. She is from Yemen, and in her country women spray or dab rosewater on freshly cleansed skin—rose is anti-inflammatory and can help in reducing skin redness and puffiness. The fact that it’s a 1,000 year old trick made it earn my trust! In the morning, the Ascorbyl Glucoside Solution 12% from The Ordinary works wonders in brightening and evening out my skin tone. It really helped reverse some of the damage I caused to my skin in my 20s. I dab some Cerave Instant Hydration Eye Repair Cream under my eyes using my ring finger, which is the weakest finger on the hand. Since this area is delicate, it helps to be gentle. Then I lock in all the goodness with Cerave’s Hydrating Moisturizing Lotion and some SPF. La Roche-Posay’s Anthelios Ultra-Light Invisible Fluid and Glossier’s Invisible Shield both work really well for me.

My skincare routine works as a great base for my beauty routine—I’ve even stopped using primer. The Ordinary’s Serum Foundation in shade 3.1 Y Dark is my go-to foundation nowadays. It’s lightweight, blends well with my natural skin tone, and has bonus SPF. I add a bit of Glossier’s Stretch Concealer in G4 where I want more coverage, and finish it off with either Glossier’s Wowder in G4 or MAC’s Mineralize Natural Skinfinish in Medium Dark. I also use a different shade, Soft and Gentle, as a highlighter on my cupid’s bow, cheekbones, and the bridge of my nose. For a bit of color on my cheeks, I use Glossier’s Cloud Paint in either Haze, Storm, or Eve. A bit of castor oil goes a long way for full, thick eyebrows, but if that doesn’t work, Boy Brow in Brown or Dark Brown Charlotte Tilbury Brow Lift can work some magic too. My two favorite mascaras are Stila Huge Extreme Lash and Lash Slick. And in the daytime I probably finish with Glossier’s Lip Gloss in Clear—for evening I do a red. My mum taught me that a classic red lipstick is a must-have in every woman’s vanity. Hers was Chanel Rouge Allure in 99 Pirate, and I’d always break into her locked Samsonite case to try it on. Now I have my own: Diva, Chili, and Ruby Woo from Mac.

For nighttime, I use the same cleansers and then swap in The Ordinary’s Retinol 1% in Squalane. This is another holy grail currently saving my skin from my 20s! I use a heavier moisturizer, the Weleda Skin Food cream, and spray my face with Vitamin E Hydrating Mist from Superdrug. Skin Food can be quite thick, and spraying a hydrating mist before applying it helps make it easier to spread. I think my skin absorbs it better, too. If I’ve been out for a long run, I also use a mask. A day before the 2019 Chicago marathon, I walked into a Sephora on Michigan Avenue and asked a makeup artist to recommend something for my skin. She suggested the Oh K! After Sun Face and Neck Sheet Mask with jeju and aloe vera, which helps restore the moisture skin loses when you’re out in the sun for too long. It became the post-run companion I never knew I needed—my skin is grateful for the extra TLC.

I vividly remember my mother spraying classic perfumes like Chanel No. 5, Guerlain Shalimar, the original Yves Saint Laurent Opium, and Arabian ouds. I’ve mirrored my mother’s taste in perfumes and some of my favorites today include Chanel Chance, Black Opium, and Amber Wood by Ajmal. I also find the smell of frankincense to be very relaxing. Called ‘foox’ (the x is pronounced as an h) in Somali, it’s a staple in our culture and can be found abundantly there. I light a small amount of frankincense by placing it onto a hot piece of charcoal inside a fire raiser (called a ‘dabqaad’ or ‘girgire’ in Somali). The frankincense burns for ten minutes or so, but the smell lingers for hours around the house. A bit of foox, yoga practice, and caring for my plants helps me to relax after a long day of NHS work, running, or hiking.”

—as told to ITG

Photos via the author