“My French grandmother raised me for a lot of my childhood. There’s this thing in France, bigoudis—it’s a specific kind of curler, where you roll it and then pin it. Since my fingers were so small and nimble, my grandmother and godmother had me putting rollers in their hair when I was like seven. It was really cool, because I’d get to hang out with them around this beauty ritual. And I’d get to hear all the gossip from Agen, the town in France they’re from. [Laughs] When I was a child I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up, and when you look at my career you can see how indecisive I was. I think the common thread is that I’ve always been interested in understanding how I’m being marketed to.
My first job was working on branded content for Cosmopolitan, where I basically had to explain why getting on Instagram was a good idea. At the time people didn’t understand that creating stuff with brands can be a conversation. You don’t have to just spit out exactly what they want—you can push back. I’ve always been down to do things outside of my job description, and I’m not afraid to put myself out there and be told no. The way I got into writing was actually because of juice cleanses. I was anorexic as a kid, and I didn’t understand why we were touting these things as health and paying for them. I was so mad I pitched a pizza cleanse, just to show that if you restrict your calories, you can eat anything and still lose weight. From there I launched Cosmo’s Snapchat Discover channel. I had to learn all of these video editing techniques overnight, which was an insane amount of work—but that’s why I can edit videos for Tiktok so quickly now. I built Cosmo into the number one platform on the app, and after that, Snapchat hired me to onboard and optimize all the publishers on the platform.
I think the common thread is that I’ve always been interested in understanding how I’m being marketed to.
I was never really into cannabis, but after being in California a lot for work I found a strain I liked. I noticed cannabis brands were using a lot of language that really bothered me in the diet and skincare industries, so I started a newsletter with Marta Freedman called Nice Paper, where we would debunk stuff, talk to scientists, talk about social justice issues, and just try to disentangle things. Eventually I quit my job to work on the newsletter and do consulting. This is when CBD skincare started getting really big—we tried to test some products, and I got crazy rashes from all of them. Which isn’t an indicator that they’re bad products! It’s just that no skincare product is for everyone, and that’s how these products were being marketed. CBD skincare brands also list the milligram dosage on the bottle, which is bizarre. Would you know the milligrams of retinol in a product? No! It’s because supplement companies are making CBD skincare, not skincare people. It all just felt like the blind leading the blind. That’s how we got connected to Joyce de Lemos, Dieux’s co-founder and head of product development. She was a formulator at Skinceuticals, and I reached out to ask if there really was anything to CBD skincare.
Joyce really built up a framework for how we talk about our products, how we test them, how we make claims, and even our pricing model. When I got tired of feeling like I had no idea what Joyce was talking about, I went to aesthetician school. It was hard to lead a skincare company without having a base level of knowledge, and now I can understand the terms used in medical papers. I also did it because I’m on the internet giving people advice. My content kind of blew up, and I needed to fact check myself. This idea that science is a rock that never moves is so damaging. You have to follow the body of evidence, and when something is new and more evidence comes out, then guess what? You have to shift with that. I’m trying to poke holes in narratives that are ultimately designed to sell you more product—I’m obviously selling product too, but the ultimate difference is that I want you to understand what you’re buying. Social media platforms are incredible for brand-building and for educating, but I used to work on platforms, so I understand that their goal is to get you to spend as much time on them as humanly possible. Snapchat did it with streaks—they basically gamified it, which creates this anxiety and scarcity mindset. You have to have a thick skin to be a content creator, but I’m trying not to obsess over it. When people message me saying, 'I was really scared about this and now I’m so much more confident,' that’s the biggest win.
In the morning I always splash my face with water, but lately I’ve been getting into face mists because they make me feel richer than I am. I really like Jordan Samuel Skin’s Hydrate mist. From there I go in with Deliverance, and then use a rich moisturizer. That’s because my sebaceous glands decided to never show up to work. I’ve always had very dry skin, which is probably why I have an affinity for older women and beauty—my godmother gave me my first cream when I was nine. But anyway, I use rich creams even in the summer. If I’m not testing out stuff from Joyce, I love the Skinceuticals Triple Lipid Restore or Skinfix’s Triple Lipid Peptide Cream. People always say they’re dupes, but they have completely different formulas—I think people always want to think they got a steal, but just because two creams are good doesn’t mean they’re dupes! It just shows you that cheaper formulations can be excellent. The Etude House Soon Jung 2x Barrier Intensive Cream is another very solid cream for like $20. Most mornings, I’ll also use my Nuface.
You have to follow the body of evidence, and when something is new and more evidence comes out, then guess what? You have to shift with that.
I have very complicated views on promoting skincare that’s about aging. The biggest conflict I have is that women are mostly valued for beauty. Men are valued for beauty too—balding isn’t fun for men—but they also are allowed to be other things. I want to be allowed to be other things as I get older, but I also want to look the way that I’m used to looking in the mirror. So I’m going to be that annoying person who says that the most important part of their skincare routine is SPF. I don’t know who at the FDA is dealing with sunscreen filters, but some have been on their desk since 2007. We’re talking Bush-era. If Australia, where they have the highest rates of skin cancer, is saying that these filters are safe and better, why don’t we have them? Especially with all of the drama around the current filters. My personal rebellion comes in the form of Asian sunscreens, which I buy from verified third party retailers like Stylevana, Yesstyle, or Sokoglam. I love the Isntree Hyaluronic Acid Watery Sun Gel, the Bioré UV Aqua Rich Watery Essence, and Missha’s All-Around Safe Block Waterproof Sun Milk. That I got at oo35mm. I’ve also been into Australian sunscreens, like Ultra Violette’s non-mineral ones, and if I have to go with an American sunscreen, I like the Bliss Block Star Invisible Daily Sunscreen. For reapplication, I normally just use the Neutrogena Invisible Daily Defense Sunscreen Mist with a Beautyblender.
At night, I’ll wash my face. I’m disloyal to cleansers—I love Jordan Samuel Skin’s cleansers, and I’ve actually been loving the Selfless by Hyram Centella & Green Tea Hydrating Gel Cleanser. It melts my makeup—I don’t even need to double cleanse with it. It’s really good. I will say that he used sugarcane plastics, and I have problems with the marketing around that. If everybody rushes to sugarcane plastics, you’re going to have to start using more arable land. Just leave nature alone. Use post-consumer recycled plastic, because it already exists.
After that I’ll either use a 0.025-percent tretinoin prescription or Skinceuticals Retinol 1.0 Night Cream. 'Medical-grade skincare' means absolutely nothing, it’s a marketing term, but Skinceuticals does use some of the same techniques that are used to make prescription products. I wish they explained that better, because it’s really cool. Their retinol is encapsulated, which increases stability, but it’s also nitrogen-filled—they basically shoot some nitrogen into the top and it gets all of the air out of the tube. After retinol I use Deliverance again, because the peptide we included works better when it’s applied twice a day. I had a very severe issue with perioral dermatitis in my 20s because of essential oils, and I haven’t had a perioral dermatitis outbreak in a really long time. But if I do have a rash Deliverance helps with that too. I had one of my worst outbreaks the day I happened to be meeting Joyce to finalize our cannabinoid complex encapsulate, and it literally brought down the redness and blotchiness in hours. It’s not going to do that for every issue—like, if it brought down rosacea that quickly pharmaceutical companies would be knocking down our door. But it’s really effective for me. I’ll use my Dieux eye masks with the Dr. Loretta Tightening Eye Gel for a while, apply a rich cream again, and then I’ll use an LED thing while I listen to Maintenance Phase. I’m obsessed with that podcast right now. At home I usually use my Celluma Pro, which has a mix of red and blue lights, and take the red light Currentbody Skin mask when I travel.
Did you know that microcurrent is used a lot on horses’ tendons? When people say there’s nothing to microcurrent, I’m like, 'OK, tell that to the horses.' In equine studies, they found that over 1000 watts degrades muscle, and 600 watts is the sweet spot. There’s just no money in researching it further because dermatology won’t make billions of dollars off of it, like they did from Botox. It’s going to sit in this world forever. That being said, I love getting microcurrent facials from SB Skin, and I actually really like Face Gym too. They have this cryo-gun hyaluronic acid thing that makes my skin look super glowy. It only lasts for two or three days, and it’s not going to change your skin, but if I had an event to go to that’s what I’d do.
Just because two creams are good doesn’t mean they’re dupes! It just shows you that cheaper formulations can be excellent.
If my skin is damp, and I put shea butter over it, that’s enough moisturization. My favorite is the Hanahana Beauty Shea Body Butter—it smells amazing, I love the founder, and I love how they set up their operations and their sourcing. I have pretty bad keratosis pilaris, so I actually have been using the Starface Exfoliating Night Water on the back of my arms. It’s really helping. People always ask me if I use The Ordinary, and I do, but I never want to tell them how I use it. I love their “Everything is a chemical” campaign, but it’s a body brand for me—their Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution goes on the back of my arms too, and I use the red AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution on my feet to get rid of calluses. I’ll cover myself in a chemical exfoliator before I use self tanner, and then the tan lasts a really long time. I’ve been really into the ones from Isle of Paradise and St. Tropez x Ashley Graham. Just be responsible with sunscreen if you’re using self-tanner—they work because of this thing called the maillard reaction, and if you go into the sun while that’s happening, you create a lot of free radical damage.
I was mean to my brows in the 2000s, and now I largely don’t touch them. I don’t like telling people this, but I used Rogaine on a spoolie to grow them back. Lash serums have worked for my lashes, but I don’t think they actually make them longer as much as stop them from falling out. If they don’t fall out they get thicker, and then grow to the best length they can get. Glossier’s Boy Brow has been my brow product since it came out, and on my lashes I’ve been really into the Talika Lipocils Conditioning Gel, which has a lash serum in it.
Katie Jane Hughes collaborated on a brush kit with Spectrum Collection, and I got the whole thing. Sometimes, when I put on cream products, they start to bunch up and get patchy, but these brushes prevent that. When I use Lip Bar’s Skin Glow highlighting serum as a primer everyone always asks me what I put on my skin. It’s just Skin Glow with some sunscreen over it! If I want something with more coverage, I like the It Cosmetics CC cream. But when people say their SPF is in their foundation, I’m like, 'So you’re not using SPF.' There’s no way you’re going to get enough coverage unless you wear foundation like caked mud. It Cosmetics also has a dupe for YSL’s Touche Éclat, the Perfect Lighting Highlighting Concealer. It’s the same exact tube, and it gives a very even finish. For blush, I really like the Tower 28 and Kosas cream ones. If you have dry skin and want it to look dewy, cream products are great. And when I wear the About Face Light Lock liquid highlighter, people stop me on the street. It makes me look like a glazed donut.
The only place I wear powder is on my eyes. I normally go for corals, orange-y tones, and gold. Aether Beauty’s Joshua Tree Desert Matte Palette is great, but… I actually love a lot of 'clean' beauty brands—I just wish they would stop trying to scare me into buying their products. For my lips I like these little Naturium Phyto Glow Lip Balms. Regardless of the controversy when they launched, Susan Yara pushed through and is continuing to build, and I have to give her props for that. The Hanahana shea balm tastes so good, Uoma and Lip Bar make great lipsticks, I love Fenty Gloss Bomb… People are always shocked when they find out I only use three to five skincare products. But with makeup, I can use a limitless amount of products. It’s decoration—that’s what makes it fun.”
—as told to ITG
Charlotte Palermino photographed by Alexandra Genova in New York on July 26, 2021