The Ecologist With A Color Correcting Lip Stain


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 from London, I’m Zinnia Kumar (@zinniakumar)! As an ecologist I’ve worked with government organizations and companies to tackle environmental conservation for years, but I got into beauty through my work as a published human attraction scientist. I also founded a sustainability and inclusion consulting firm called The Dotted Line, which is aimed at creating systemic change in business, media, and fashion. I’m an advocate through Condé Nast and Vogue Australia’s Inclusion and Sustainability council, and in addition to all that, I’m a fashion model. Other passion projects include a documentary on colorism, an ongoing scientific book examining the politics of beauty, and a podcast about fashion, beauty, and environmentalism. I feel very blessed that I get to do what I do every day.

I didn’t really start experimenting with beauty until I started studying human attraction. I was about 18, and I would run these weird little experiments using myself as a guinea pig. First, I would go to the beauty counter of a department store wearing a hoodie, baggy pants, and my hair messy, and I would count the number of times a sales assistant approached me. After that I went home, changed into heels, skinny jeans, and a tight blouse, did my hair and makeup, and went back. When I was in heels the salespeople would follow me around, and when I wore a hoodie the security guard would follow me around. The experiments taught me that beauty is always about perception. But in all of my experiments, the only constant between beautiful people seemed to be unwavering inner positivity and confidence. To me, that revelation was powerful. Growing up in Australia, and never seeing anyone that looked like me in media or fashion, I always felt like I was the ugliest person in any given room. However, when I realized beauty could come from something I could control (my inner self), I felt more comfortable.

When I started working as a model, I found that people were drawn to me for my tenacity and positive attitude. On the other hand, it was quite clear that, in an industry focused on how I looked on the outside, none of that mattered. Being Indian without mixed ancestry or Eurocentric features in a sea of white faces meant I fell short every time. I started working on ideas to increase access for people of color in fashion—for example, I started an agency to scout and develop models of color, and then connect them with agencies internationally. When I returned to modeling, I made it a point to use my platform for change, to never back down, and to never let my voice be dampened. I also saw it as an opportunity to tackle the complete white dominance in the eco-fashion and advocacy space, which was uncomfortable. Today, I don’t feel like I am judged so much from the outside as I am by the work that I do and the person I am. I am kind of glad that I forced the industry to create a space for someone like me!

Because of my seasonal contact dermatitis, I break out in small blisters when tree pollen touches my skin. And as my skin is prone to hyperpigmentation, I have to wait for the blisters to dry up and fall off, which is sometimes hard to deal with during my trigger months. There isn’t anything I can do except create a physical barrier (SPF and foundation help, and COVID masks actually helped reduce my symptoms by half), or fly to the opposite side of the world. My contact dermatitis reminds me each year not to take clear skin for granted, and that having blemishes is OK. However, I didn’t always think of it that way—when I was teen, I was too embarrassed to go outside or be seen in public when my skin was affected. What I that found works for me is using L'Occitane’s Almond Shower Oil as a face wash, and then moisturizing with either organic almond oil, Weleda Skin Food, or their White Mallow Cream.

After I moisturize, I apply Glossier Futuredew and Estée Lauder’s Double wear Custom Coverage Correcting Duo in Tangerine under my eyes, around my mouth, and on the sides of my nose. That stuff is discontinued now, but I stocked up. On top, Suqqu’s Radiant Cream Concealer in No. 2 is moisturizing and doesn’t crease, so it’s good to use under my eyes, and I blend MAC’s Studio Fix Concealer in N30 and N42 around my mouth and the sides of my nose. The sides of my mouth are especially prone to hyperpigmentation in the summer, so I use Dermablend Quick Fix Body Stick in 40 Medium there and anywhere I have dermatitis. After that, I have quite a few foundations I go between, depending on how tan I am. I have a bunch of shades of Bobbi Brown’s Foundation Stick: Beige, Golden Natural, Golden Honey, and Golden. I also have Nars Sheer Glow in Stromboli, which works for most of spring. It all depends on whether I’ve been home to Sydney or not. For blush, I love Bobbi Brown’s Pot Rouge Cabo Coral [Ed note: discontinued]. And if you're South Asian and sometimes find your lips turning a cool, dark purplish color after a bit of sun or cold exposure, Etude House’s Dear Darling Water Tint in Orangeade is excellent at neutralizing that. It stains all day and can be worn alone or under lipstick to prevent ashy tones from coming through. I use it with Glossier’s Ultralip in Fête on top—it’s moisturizing, and a little goes a long way. My brows need heavy duty taming so I use HD Brows Brow Glue, and for my lashes I like using Bobbi Brown’s Smokey Eye Mascara after I’ve curled them. If I’m going out I’ll add a bit of Charlotte Tilbury’s Color Chameleon in Amber Haze

Inspired by my 90-year-old grandad (who still has an extraordinarily lush full head of hair), I changed my shampoo to exactly what he has used for over 50 years. Now, I only wash my hair with Johnson’s Baby Shampoo. Once every three months I use Joico’s Clarifying Shampoo to remove any build-up from hard water, and once every two months I condition with their K-Pak Intense Hydrator. Every now and then I also use henna as a shine treatment. I get my Henna Blocks in Noir from Lush, cut them in half, put them in a pot with water on low heat, add two tablespoons of almond oil, and mix until it looks like brownie batter. Then I put it in my hair and wrap it all in cling film for three hours. It’s quite messy! After a day or two, as the henna continues to oxidize, my hair gets shinier and shinier. For my body, I love using Little Soap Company’s Naturals Lemon Zest Bar Soap. And I can’t live without Dove Maximum Protection deodorant!

My favorite fragrances are from Penhaligons. I love the rich scent of Halfeti for evenings and special occasions, and the sweet light floral fragrance of Artemisa for daytime—I always get compliments when I wear both of those. And on my nails, I like a nude polish. My favorites are from Essie: Sugar Daddy, Mademoiselle, and for a bit of sparkle, Vanity Fairest. OPI Plumping Top Coat is the best top coat. It gives a gel like finish whilst still being easy to take off.

I want to share with you the story of the most beautiful woman I have ever met. I had social anxiety for many years and I overcame it by forcing myself to talk to one random person every day. I saw her on the train platform on my way to university. Her beauty wasn’t the kind I saw in magazines—our youth-obsessed culture would have overlooked her entirely. She was in her 70s, wearing a cardigan, and walked with a cane. I stood silently behind her for several minutes, figuring whether or not I should say hello, and finally mustered up the courage. That’s when it happened: she lit up, a smile from ear to ear that oozed positivity as though light was beaming from her body. What I remember most is her security in herself, which I think only truly comes with wisdom and years. Since that moment, I have strived to incorporate that kind of energy into my life and pass it on to every person that I meet. When you start to transcend beauty’s physical nature, that is where the magic happens!”

—as told to ITG

Photos via the author