Seeing in Color: Foundation Match Like an Artist

Every day, millions of women around the world suffer from a condition known as Ghost Face Syndrome (GFS). Anyone, even celebrities, can suffer from this syndrome which is caused by mismatched foundation, unblended contour and/or lack of appropriate lighting during the makeup application process. As a beauty professional, every day I work to heal individuals of this syndrome. There is enough information and resources out there to help eradicate this epidemic one face at a time. Like any other illness, there is a sad pathology behind it. Most of the time, the victim is suffering due to lack of self awareness. He or she is not willing to see themselves as they really are, but instead choose to see themselves as another shade (usually lighter).

All jokes aside, I wanted to write this piece because I deal with many people who are so enamoured with the concept of lightness/whiteness, that they would rather walk around with an ashy face than perfectly matched foundation. On the other end of the spectrum, we have people who genuinely don’t understand the depth of color in their skin and get intimidated by the process of selecting makeup. To overcome these things, you must first understand the concept of color. As human beings, we are not simply one shade, we are composed of layers of colors which include undertones. For example, you may find that your under eye area or the middle of your face is a bit lighter than the rest of your face. There are so many charts on the internet with confusing ways to figure out your perfect undertones. I won’t clutter your life with those.

Instead, I’m going to show you some art. Meet Toyin Ojih Odutola; an African artist who is transforming the way people of color are seen in art. In her latest exhibition at the Whitney Museum she uses oil pastels, charcoal and graphite to give texture and nuance to strong faces with traditional African features. I stood in awe of her uses of light and attention to detail. I think that taking a look at Odutola’s work could help get a better understanding of what to look for in your own face just to simplify the color selection process. If you look closely at the skin tones of the portraits, you will see undertones of yellows, reds and neutrals.

This portrait of a husband (yellow undertones) and wife (neutral undertones). Imagine when the artist worked on the piece, that the first layer of paint for the husband was yellow while the first layer of the wife’s skin was brown. 
This is a close up shot of my favorite piece in the exhibition called The Wall of Ambassadors and featured this striking woman with red undertones. 

Now imagine that you were asked to paint a self portrait. Consider what color you would use as a base.

Are you rosey in the cheek area? Then it is likely you have pink undertones.

Do you have a deep earthy tone to your skin? Then you, my dear, have red undertones.

Do you find your skin is sallow and looks better under natural lighting? Then like me, you have yellow undertones.

Do you feel as if you don’t fit into any particular category and having a pretty reasonable, even skin tone? Welcome to the neutral club.

Figuring out your undertone is half the battle when it comes to finding the correct foundation. For brown and black skin tones, it is important to pick foundation lines that have a wider selection of brown tones. I’ve heard great things about Fenty, Black Opal and NARS when it comes to darker skin tone selections. For lighter shades, it is typically more important that the formulas look natural on the skin and not drying. This can mean going for more hydrating serum or liquid foundation formulas. A common mistake for lighter shades is choosing yellow undertones instead of pink or neutral so try to avoid that! Also, keep in mind that makeup formulas do oxidize on the skin and that may cause them to change color throughout the day. It is best to go in person, with a clean face and try out your prospective foundation to see how it will react with your skin.


What’s your favorite foundation brand? Why?


How To: Age Like Angela


Ask any black woman with good sense and a bottle of Essentia water in her hand how she wants to age and her answer will be Angela Bassett. She is always slaying roles and serving body. Always glowing… even in the most unflattering of lights and minimal makeup. Imagine being this gorgeous (and virtually ageless) at 59 years old! The woman can’t sit through an interview without being asked about her workout, lifestyle choices and skin care routine. Spoiler alert: she eats a vegan diet… lots of raw foods… and works out enough to make us all feel like lazy pieces of sh*t 🙂

For the past few years, Ms. Angela has been working with a very experienced and well-known dermatologist by the name of Barbara Sturm to formulate a range of products For Darker Skin. I’m not exactly sure what that means, but I do know that the products are extremely overpriced! Seriously, the cheapest product in the line will run you $70 and the most expensive one is a whole $300. The range focuses on brightening, hydration, anti-aging and reducing the appearance of oily skin. While these are common skin concerns among black/brown people, I feel as though they are pretty common in most people. But what isn’t common is having four hundred extra dollars laying around to age like Angela.

This is why you have me, Essence. Your friendly neighborhood Esthetician to read through all the ingredients on the products and find comparable, affordable alternatives that will pretty much do the same thing for your skin. When it comes to anti-aging, it is never too early to start. In fact, the sooner you start focusing on it, the better. The goal is to focus on hydration, avoid inflammation and look for ingredients that will maintain a healthy pH balance in the skin (ideally 5-5.5). So basically, dry skin is aging skin.

There are a number of anti-inflammatory agents out there but in Dr. Barbara Sturm & Angela Bassett luxury line for skin of color, there are plant-based ingredients such as Purslane, African Whitewood and Magnolia. For hydration, the line uses Hyaluronic Acid and lots of rich natural oils. Hyaluronic acid is a special ingredient because it is found naturally in the human body. It is responsible for maintaining moisture in the body/skin and lubrication of our joints. When used in skin care products, it pulls water from the air into the skin to increase plumpness. This may be part of the reason the big ticket, $300 item in Sturm & Bassett’s line is Hyaluronic Acid Serum. Now let me show you why there is absolutely no need to drop that much on HA.


Skin of Color

Foam Cleanser ($70) – foam cleansers are typically better suited for oily/acne prone skin. They are gentle, yet tend to strip the skin of excess oils. Sturm’s formula does use Hyaluronic Acid in it to help counteract stripping the skin of necessary oils and Salicylic Acid to break up any congestion within the pores. There is also Purslane for anti-inflammation.

The AlternativeP:rem Safe Relief Cleansing Foam ($20) – same foam texture, hydrating qualities and anti-inflammatory properties. Although it does have some exfoliating acid, it does not contain the Salicylic. So it will get rid of dead surface skin, but not congestion in pores. If you need Salicylic, here is a great affordable option to include in your routine from The Ordinary for only $5.30.

Enzyme Cleanser ($77) – described as a “foam & gentle peel in one” that can be used 2-3 times a week, this granular (scrub-like) texture turns me all the way off. Anyone who knows me knows I am not here for applying anything srubby/gritty on the face. The great thing I did notice about this product is that it has loads of brightening agents via Vitamin C.

The AlternativeDr. G Brightening Peeling Gel ($28) – uses very anti-inflammatory ingredients like aloe, honey and willowbark alongside Vitamin C and natural hydrators like castor oil and glycerin to treat and brighten skin. Doing so without that nasty, abrasive grittiness.

Face Cream ($215) and Face Cream Rich ($230) – I decided to lump these two face creams together because they are both very similar formula wise. The only difference in the two is that the Rich one has a heavier texture due to the use of heavier oils in the formula. Things like macadamia oil, grapeseed oil, vitamin E, sweet almond oil, shea butter, avocado oil and of course, hyaluronic acid contribute to hydration of the skin.

The Alternative: J. One Hana Cream ($50) – probably one of the richest face creams I have ever. In my top 10 arsenal of hydrators to combate winter skin. It uses most of the same oils as Sturm & Bassett’s line PLUS niacinamide, vitamin C and biotin to contribute to healthy oil production and brightness in the skin. And the little jar goes a long way because the moisturizer is already in the shape of a ball. That means you’ll no longer have to worry about overusing product! If you should find yourself feeling as though your skin needs more moisture (which I doubt would happen), you could always add in a few drops of Rose Hip Seed Oil available for $9.80 at The Ordinary.

Hyaluronic Serum ($300) – hyaluronic acid for hydration and lumicol for complexion brightening. It is unclear on the website how advanced the hyaluronic acid formula is, but no hyaluronic should EVER cost $300 unless it’s going so deep into your skin that it hits bone!

The AlternativeMulti Molecular Hyaluronic Complex 2 (MMHC2) ($35) – water-thin formula instead of the conventional, heavier serum texture because it penetrates the skin extra deep for hydration. Advanced technology that helps your body to produce more hyaluronic acid. This slows down aging by way of hydration and preserves the integrity of skin. I have been using it for a little over a month and it has truly changed my skin for the better.

So while the luxury skin care line by Dr. Barbara Sturm & Angela Bassett could run you about $670, these alternative products would target all the same skin concerns for approximately $540 less! A lot of the time, we equate luxury with price when in fact, cost and worth are two completely different topics. This is when reading and understanding ingredients come in hand! I know what you’re thinking: “Thank goodness I have Essence to sort all this out!”

You are welcome, beautiful 😉


From Me, To You

I literally always get asked the same few questions about skin. How to even/brighten skin and fade dark spots is the most common one. Most women resort to harmful chemicals or strong peels that are not suited for their skin type. I got sick and tired of hearing horror stories and seeing chemical burns. I got sick and tired of not having a good product to recommend. So I created one! 

Ara by Essence (Yes, Me!) is a natural, vegan skin care system that uses fruit acids to deeply exfoliate skin, leaving it brighter and even toned. It consists of two products (an exfoliating peel and a hydration masque). It’s safe for all skin types and can be incorporated into any skin routine. It is also safe for use on the body. It is available for purchase at Ara by Essence

Benefits of Enzyme Peels

  • Loosen and removes dead skin cells
  • Improves skin tone and texture
  • Diminish marks, age spots, discoloration 
  • Deeply cleanses pores

Healthy Hair Journey

One of my Beauty Resolutions of 2017 is to take better care of this hair of mine! My healthy hair journey is a little more complicated than most. I used to have shoulder-bra strap length (relaxed) hair for most of my adolescent, teen and early adult years. Due to my anxiety, I would pull at the hair in the back of my head constantly. To the point where i developed a bald spot. A little over a year ago, when I made the decision to cut off all of my hair, I was mentally in a place where I wanted to break my bad habits and start fresh. Having no hair freed me from the pulling. It made me feel beautiful. It forced me to face the issues and stresses that caused the habit in the first place. I began to work on creating the life I wanted. A life that allowed me to deal with my anxiety in a more healthy way.

Fast forward to the present. I am a fuxking mess lol. I’m dealing with imaginary stress I put on myself combined with real life stress and emotions. From loss of sleep to not being as strict with my diet as I would like to, my anxiety is pretty high these days. As a result of this, the pulling of the hair is at a disastrous level! People with anxiety tend to take part in self mutilation as a way of coping in times of emotional distress. This can be nail/skin biting, severe scratching and of course pulling of the hair.  So basically, I’m trying to have a luscious and luxurious afro but anxiety won’t let me be great!

Due to this, my TWA (teeny weeny afro) is damaged and uneven. But since I am always up for a challenge… especially a beauty related one, I’m going to fight this! I used the wonder that is the internet to look for a salon that suited me. I wanted one that specialized in natural hair, had a good product line and a treatment that offered steaming services. I found my perfect match in Ebony Styles Beauty Salon. The service I chose was called the Rescue Treatment which consisted of a Pre-wash condition, shampoo and deep condition under the hair steamer. I wanted a treatment that would help soften my hair and allow it to retain moisture.

I was taken care of at the salon by some lovely stylists. One of them being Ms. Merna, the owner of the salon. It has been around for over 15 years yet they maintain a standard of professionalism and artistry that businesses sometimes lose overtime. The patrons were women of all ages and backgrounds. The conversation ranged from legislation to self care. Ms. Merna was extremely understanding when I told her about my hair pulling. She offered me some helpful tips to overcome it. We also came up with an action plan moving forward. Even better, I am sooooooo so happy with the results. She trimmed the damaged ends and made my hair more even to promote healthy growth. It’s so moisturized and soft that all I want to do is touch it… but I won’t! lol

Hair Steaming Tip!!!

I am a big big fan of hair steamers! I once had a service at this posh salon in Buckhead, Atlanta where the stylist put me under a steamer and it changed my life! My hair was so much healthier following the service. No other salon I have visited since then had one so finding Ebony Styles Beauty Salon was a big deal for me. Hair steaming opens the cuticle of the hair, enhances curls, strengthens the hair and makes it more manageable to style. AKA everyone needs to get into this!

Laser Facial Results!!!

Today, I got my very first laser facial! Lately, my skin has been a little dehydrated due to winter weather. I also began to develop some blackheads which is a huge no no for me. I do facials at home (usually every other week) to maintain the glow but every once in a while you need a fellow professional to lay hands on you. Anyways, I recently had a new client come to me and recommend Skin Laundry. They are a relatively new business doing some pretty innovative things in the beauty field. In addition to a line of products that are gentle and nourishing, they offer 15 minute (or less) laser and light treatments. Typically laser facials require some recovery time, but not Skin Laundry’s. This is because they do not use the lasers on full blast! They gently help to offer the skin the boost it needs.

Laser/light therapy can be used on the face to diminish blemishes, even skin tone, boost collagen production, brighten skin and remove dirt. My main goals in getting the facial was to brighten and clean my skin. Because I am a brown girl with a “deep olive” complexion, I am a 5 on the Fitzpatrick Scale. This is the scale used in skincare to determine treatments that should/should not be used on certain skin. As a 5, the laser frequency must be lowered in order to prevent damaging the skin.

The Fitzpatrick Scale

My treatment was less than 15 minutes. The first step is the laser which feels like small shocks to the skin. On a scale of 1-10, the pain I experienced was around a 5. It lasted about a minute and a half. The rest of the treatment was the photo treatment. I barely felt anything and chatted about skin care/waxing with my specialist while she worked on me.

The results!!!! Instant and amazing! My skin has a nice glow to it now. It looks and feels more refreshed. Immediately after the treatment, there was no irritation or redness whatsoever. I’m extremely satisfied with the results and will be returning for another treatment next month for my birthday. I will be doing the laser treatment as a preventative method for aging because it’s never too early to fight wrinkles! Here’s a photo of my skin right after the treatment with no products on. That glow!!!


The very best part about Skin Laundry is… your first laser treatment is free! Yes!!! So if this post has peaked your interest and you’re interested in giving them a try, go on their website and make an appointment! You won’t regret it!

The Secret Weapon 

This has been a staple in my medicine cabinet, beauty arsenal, and first aid kit for much of my life. It has helped me to cure burns, bruises, rashes, breakouts, and dryness. It’s known as none other than the North American Witch-Hazel Shrub. Used as a toner, it works wonders for absorbing key ingredients from beauty products. Scientifically known as Hamamelis virginiana (but who is going to remember that) has astringent and anti inflammatory properties which is why it can be used to treat acne and blisters. It also does magical things for ingrown hairs and razor irritation in beards (for my handful of male readers). There is truly no product that I have used that could replace this is my routine. I recently tried to substitute it with Micellar Water. It’s cute but it doesn’t leave me with the same refreshed feeling as my witch hazel. I will be back to it as soon as I run out! 

Hand-Me-Down Beauty Tips

Here are a few beauty tips I learned from my late grandmother, Geraldine. 

1. Keep a moisturizer in your purse at all times!

  She kept a travel size stick of cocoa butter in her bag to keep lips and dry spots on the face nourished. If it was winter time, she would pull out her lighter to help melt the cocoa butter a little lol! 

Why it works: Staying moisturized helps to prevent premature aging, skin dehydration, and makes hair removal easier 

2. Drink lots of tea!

  Every day, she drank bitter tea. 

Why it works: Benefits of drinking herbal tea every day include (but are not limited to) brighter smile and higher intake of antioxidants to help heal skin and fight aging.

3. Exfoliate your body daily! 

My grandma was a huge fan of cleanliness. She was especially a fan of exfoliating gloves. 

Why it works: Body exfoliation helps to increase blood circulation and also allows the skin to better receive moisture following your shower/bath. 

4. Steam your face in the morning!

  Every morning, she would make me apply a steaming hot bath towel to my face to help wake up me.

Why it works: Steaming the face helps to improve circulation, dilate pores, and allows serums to better penetrate the face. Also, because our skin creates oils that may be vital to its health the evening before,  using a cleanser in the morning is not the answer for everyone. 

5. Pick your favorite shade of red and rock it! 

Her shade of red was a cross between burgundy and violet. I’m almost certain it was the only color she owned. 

Why it works: Because every woman requires a red lip!

Thank you Grandma for making me feel beautiful every single day👑