Welcome to You Look Moist, a regular column wherein Man Repeller asks cool people with glowing visages how they achieved their supreme hydration (amongst other things). Today’s installment features Mekdela Maskal, a media worker and community engagement strategist.
How would you describe your skin?
Very telling! It speaks to me every day, giving me clues about my overall health and how it measures time. I’ve never had to worry about serious skin illnesses or sun damage, and haven’t ever had extensive breakouts, so I’m very thankful for that. But I also grew up around adults who didn’t idolize looks much or evaluate skin as “good” or “bad.” I think that’s given me room to be more tender with myself.
I sometimes get small raised bumps on my forehead and nose, and what looks like a layer of dryness in the winter. I think my skin is really challenged by the cold, but so is my mind! I’ve learned how to moisturize and work up a sweat to get through it.
My skin and I love sun and sweat, which is somewhat political because of how darker people are typically seen as lower class/less educated around the world. My mom would always say, “respect the sun.” She and my aunts never bathed in the sun and always wore protective scarves when outside. Doing so makes a bit more sense in Ethiopia since the sun is more intense there, but it’s still tied to how darker-skinned people are valued. She gratefully didn’t push that narrative on me, and I got to just let my skin love the sun.
How would you describe your skincare approach in general?
I’ve never thought about my skincare as its own approach. Everything I do for my skin is also for something else. It’s very tied to memory and family, and prioritizing time with and for myself. My bathroom cabinets are pretty empty.
What skincare products are integral to your routine for achieving your ideal, glowing, well-moisturized complexion, and how/when do you use each of them?
Oils are super important to me. As a child, I would watch my mom and dad get out of the bath or shower and lather their entire face and body with something moisturizing. It was never rushed, and they would lounge naked for a while afterward. It’s such a beautiful memory and it fills my mind when I’m doing the same.
My mom always used oil, but my dad would sometimes use cocoa butter or shea butter. I usually use grapeseed oil, because I like the consistency. I learned about it from an herbal skincare workshop with Herban Cura. I also learned about the practice of massaging oil into my skin in heart-bound strokes before I get in the shower or bath. It deepens the moisturizing even more, and just feels like pure luxury and self-love to put time into caressing my own body in that way. I do that when I’m not exfoliating. Then I exfoliate with Earth Therapeutics Gloves a few times a week. I don’t go too hard every time. Sometimes it’s more like I’m using the glove as a wash-cloth by applying less pressure. It feels so good in the summer to see that city gunk come off. It makes me feel like I lived a full-ass day. I’m not super particular with soap–I like bar soap, and I like mixing up the type depending on the aroma and texture I want. I’m using Nubian Heritage African Black Bar Soap right now, and I use it on my face and body.
I’m not a brand-loyal person when it comes to skincare, so I get my main body oil from wherever I can find it when I run dry. I think the last few were from Aura Cacia. I do keep coming back to Everyday Oil and Hanahana Shea Butter though (I love the women who make them, too!). I use the Everyday Oil blend when I need a scented pick-me-up, and the Shea butter when I want something thicker. I also take the small Everyday Oil bottle with me when I go swimming or camping.
Topical stuff is really only one side of it, though. I think it gets the most attention commercially because it’s a very tactile and marketable process that can be productized and profitable. But I find my diet, physical activity, and mental health to be far more important in terms of how my skin looks.
What about makeup products?
I don’t wear skin makeup. It feels like I can’t breathe whenever I’ve tried it, so I always end up stopping. I definitely went through a period in my teens when I really wanted to wear makeup, but thankfully (only now do I say that!), I could never find my color. I’ve also never had a socially stigmatized skin type, so that’s made it easier for me to not wear makeup. I get pimples here and there, but I’ve learned my lesson from picking and scarring when I was younger, so I don’t touch them anymore. They have a short life, just let them live.
The only thing I put on enough to mention is a Mineral Fusion Color Stick in Berry Glow. I use it on my cheeks and then I rub the remainder on my lips or my eye-lids. Otherwise, I wear fun colored eyeshadow or liner on very rare occasions when I go out at night, but that doesn’t happen too much. I’m at the end of my 27th year and as of recently I’ve started to wake up between 6 and 7 a.m. no matter what (which I love), and sleep has become really sacred. If I’m not sleeping well, I can tell in my skin. It feels dull and spotty and my dark circles are serious.
What’s the cheapest product you use regularly and love?
Water! It’s free (or should be). The more hydrated I am, the better my skin feels. I also like anti-inflammatory infusions and teas. Sometimes with marigold, rose, St. John’s wort and more. I get herbs from Flower Power or Radicle Herb Shop.
Is there anything you try to avoid, skincare or makeup-wise?
I love hot showers, but I try to shower in lukewarm water because of how drying hot water can be. It’s so hard in the winter! Smoking cigarettes and drinking also makes me feel pretty crumby, inside and out, so I rarely partake.
Also, I know this is controversial, but I don’t wear sunscreen. My family has never worn it, and no one put it on me when I was growing up. We respected the sun by wearing head scarves and staying in the shade during the peak hours of the day.
Any next-level tips, tricks, or services that you swear by to help you look “lit from within”?
Good ‘ol sweat! I want to be using a steam room/sauna regularly, but I don’t like gyms much so it doesn’t seem worth it to subscribe just for the steam. In Ethiopia I get full body scrubs in the steam room, like a Moroccan bath. It’s not wildly expensive, so you can do it as a practice. I wish my friend’s health spa, On and On, was in NYC! They’re incredible and I learn so much from following what they’re doing in Hawaii. I’m looking forward to trying Manuka Activist Honey as a mask and and cleanser. I also want to get a facial soon. I’ve never had a facial! I really hope a lot of these practices become more accessible so that we can use them as healthcare instead of just as one-off treatments.
Right now, I try to run, bike, or go to hot yoga a few times a week. My skin feels so vibrant after sweaty exercise, and it calms my mind as well, which also affects my skin. I’ve started to swim at my local pool, too, so I’ll have to see how my skin reacts to the pool water.
I also think my silk pillowcase helps my skin a lot. I got it for my hair, but my skin feels less dry when I wake up now too. I hand-wash it weekly. Clean bedding is important for my skin!
What’s your go-to product or trick for fixing a skin disaster?
No personal memories come to mind when I think “skin disaster.” I’m not sure I’ve ever had one. Maybe it’s just my outlook on blemishes–my experience is that obsessing over things allows them space to fester. I’m also scared of how quick fixes tend to hurt something else. I’d rather focus on the preventative stuff. That said, I do always have aloe and tea tree for rashes or bites.
Do you do anything differently skincare-wise when you travel?
If I’m traveling and staying in a house, it stays the same, but most of my travel plans are aimed at trying to sleep outside as much as possible and being next to a body of water, so I often don’t scrub or massage before washing because there’s no shower. Sometimes I don’t even wash, really. I just swim in the water and I apply oil afterward.
What’s something you wish your teenage self knew about taking care of your skin?
That everything is connected and skin is just the outward organ of the body. What’s going on inside is going to show. Listen up.
Photo provided by Mekdela Maskal.