Style

My Beauty Uniform: Bee Shapiro

Beauty Uniform: Bee Shapiro

Bee Shapiro knows a thing or two about beauty. A former lawyer, Bee is now a beauty writer for the New York Times, and she founded the beauty line Ellis Brooklyn — named after her two-year-old daughter and the borough where they live. Here, she talks about her career change, a haircut mistake and her $6 must-have…

Beauty Uniform: Bee Shapiro

How did you make such a huge career change — from being a lawyer to being a writer?
I went straight from undergrad to law school, without taking time to figure out what I truly wanted to do. I enjoyed studying law — you’re challenging your beliefs and learning about the philosophies of law. But being an attorney felt quite different. At my first law job, my days were about making minor tweaks to existing legal templates. While important to the client, it wasn’t creative. I had worked a little less than a year at a corporate law firm in New York when I thought to myself, “I’m still young; I don’t have a family or large commitments. Why not try something new?” It was a drastic change to go into writing, and, honestly, it was rough. I had to do a bunch of odd jobs on the side (I was even an extra in an Eddie Murphy movie), while I built my writing clips with poorly paying jobs — like $25 per story!

Beauty Uniform: Bee Shapiro

How did you become a beauty writer, specifically?
I started as a freelance fashion and art writer. When I got hired for the Style section of the New York Times about eight years ago, the beauty columnist had just left, so they said, “Do you want to write about beauty?” I was the youngest writer there and knew I needed to carve out my own niche, so I said sure. I ended up falling in love with it.

What made you want to start a beauty line?
I’d always wanted to run my own business, and when I was pregnant with Ellis, I decided to go for it. I’m a big fragrance lover, but when I was pregnant I became way more aware of what I was putting on my body. I wanted to create a product that stood up to fine fragrance lines like Chanel, Tom Ford or Diptyque, but was more safe. Ellis Brooklyn products are paraben-free and phthalate-free. Now we have four fragrances, body milk and candles.

Has it been challenging?
Now I’ve developed mad respect for business owners. Everything is just hard. The moments of creativity are amazing, and you have complete control. But on the other hand, you have to do all this homework-type stuff — the logistics and shipping and finance stuff.

Beauty Uniform: Bee Shapiro

Do you talk to your daughter Ellis about beauty at all?
Not yet, but at two and a half, she’s just beginning to comprehend the compliments she gets, which freaks me out a bit. Having daughters, I’ve noticed how compliments differ between the sexes. Compliments for girls from strangers are often, “Oh, you’re so pretty!” Meanwhile, compliments for boys are more about things they do: “Oh, you run so fast!” My husband and I try to compliment her on the smart things she does rather than just the passive things she is.

Beauty Uniform: Bee Shapiro

What’s your daily skincare routine?
Since our second daughter Sky was born, I’ve been all up close and personal with her, so I’ve been trying to keep my face clean and natural. I’ve been using Josie Maran’s Argan Oil Milk at night. It’s hypoallergenic and paraben-free. I also try to do a mask at least once a week. The SK-II sheet masks really are terrific and worth the money (well, they’re cheaper than a facial anyway!).

Beauty Uniform: Bee Shapiro

What products do you use on your body?
I’m big into body scrubbing. I have a body towel that I use in the shower. It’s better than any body scrub. I was born in Taiwan and moved to the U.S. when I was three, but every time I go back to visit family, almost everyone there uses rough towels to exfoliate. They sell them in Chinatown for like $1, but those are really, really rough. I found one at Muji that is gentler. (There are two consistencies, one is super abrasive and one is medium. Don’t be a hero, buy the medium.) When I was pregnant, I got really gross bacne and at first was trying all these fancy scrubs, then I broke out my Muji towel again. It was the only thing that worked, and I thought, “Why did I ever leave this?!”

How has your Taiwanese background influenced you?
I think coming from an immigrant family gives you hunger. My parents worked really, really hard, and I probably will always feel a constant drive to achieve. It can be a wonderful thing but I’ve realized as I’ve gotten older that it can also hinder you. If you’re constantly striving, you’re likely not enjoying the successes of now. That’s the balancing act: how do you continue to strive for more but be content and happy with the present.

Beauty Uniform: Bee Shapiro

What did the women in your family teach you about beauty? 
Beauty, and skin in particular, has always been an Asian obsession. My mom makes DIY masks out of berries she picks from her garden! She taught me how to do an egg white mask when I was 12. It was literally just separating the yolk and putting the whites on your face. I don’t actually know if it’s a good mask, but that’s what we did. My mom is crunchy to the core.

How cool! What was that like as a kid?
Growing up, we were not allowed to eat chocolate, we had to eat carob. All these green powder drinks are popular now, but they were not popular when I was nine. My mom would make us Barleygreen. Now that I am older, I’m grateful, but when I was young it was horrifying. I would have a friend over from school and my mom would serve us ice cream with Barleygreen on it.

Beauty Uniform: Bee Shapiro

What makeup do you wear nowadays?
I used to go for that “no-makeup” look — but since having a baby and chasing a toddler, I can’t pull it off! Now I have one chance in the morning to get my makeup on, so I go for things that stay put. I now use makeup primers — I like the YSL Touche Éclat Blur Primer. Then I put on Dior Forever foundation, mixed with a bit of moisturizer. Often foundation doesn’t look natural because it cakes around the nose area. The nose area gives people away! You want your foundation to look like a second skin, so sheering it out with a dab of moisturizer helps. Then I’ll do some bronzer/blush. MAC Skinfinish in Faintly Fabulous is nice and subtle.

Do primers really work?
I never used primers before. I thought, Why do people use them? It’s just another product. But now, I don’t have time to touch anything up. If I go to a meeting, I need my makeup to stay on all day and primer really does make it last.

Beauty Uniform: Bee Shapiro

How do you change it up for special occasions or if you’re just feeling dramatic?
I grew up in Seattle, so, of course, I was obsessed with grunge beauty in junior high and still am! In the winter, I’ll do a dark lipstick — like a dark berry or brownish color that reminds me of my youth. The new MAC Lipintensity formulas are pretty spectacular. They have mega color payoff without making lips dry and flaky. And L’Oreal makes nice, thick mascara formulas that are great for my wimpy lashes. Their Voluminous mascara is as good as any of the designer options.

What other drastic things have you done with your look?
At one point in high school, I had that Gwyneth Paltrow Sliding Doors haircut. It was not a good hair moment for me.

Beauty Uniform: Bee Shapiro

Do you have any non-beauty rituals that make you feel good?
I played tennis and basketball in high school, but as an adult, running is my thing. I love that it’s so mind-clearing. The funny part is that I am actually not a “good” runner at all. I am so slow and have zero ambition to improve my speed. I’m just out there to enjoy myself — no one’s breaking records here.

Beauty Uniform: Bee Shapiro

What is your overall beauty philosophy? 
I would like to say less is more, but when it comes to beauty, that’s not always true. We’re supposed to pretend that we aren’t high maintenance, because that’s looked down upon or somehow thought of as anti-intellectual. But it’s all the behind-the-scenes legwork that really works, like the masks at home and regular visits to the dermatologist. Beauty, in many ways, is about a kind of seduction, and the best kind always lends a bit of mystery. People may want to look effortless, but it does take effort!

Beauty Uniform: Bee Shapiro

Thank you, Bee!

P.S. More women share their beauty uniforms, and face masks that deliver.

(Photos courtesy of Bee Shapiro Second photo by Maria del Rio, embroidered shirt photos by Madeline Wolf. Interview by Megan Cahn.)

  1. Shannon says...

    i love what she said about the beauty philosophy! it DOES take a lot of work to get to that point where you can even get away with looking “natural”

  2. Helen says...

    I did a double take when I saw Bee Shapiro’a name on this beauty uniform. I have even reading her NYT beauty column for years and really missed her style since she left! I have tried googling her because I was desperate to know who was behind that intriguing name and those cool articles, and found exactly nothing. This is SO cool! I love how down to earth she is! Thank you for this beauty uniform!!

  3. I love this and I look forward to trying some of Bee’s products!
    PS, as someone who is obsessed with bees, I love the name Bee… if I’d had a daughter, Bee (or Bea) was on the short list for names! But I had a boy and we gave him a different name. :)

  4. Love all the Beauty Uniform interviews, but I found this one especially inspiring and relatable. I recently changed my career path to become a writer and it’s motivating to hear how Bee successfully transitioned herself. Definitely someone to aspire after!

  5. AnneS says...

    I really enjoyed reading about Bee’s beauty uniform and her thoughts on how we compliment girls. One question — what is Bee’s $6 must-have? The teaser worked and now I must know :)

    • Jeanne says...

      There are two I found. One is the Loreal mascara and the other is the Muji towels.

  6. Kellie P. says...

    Bee, we should be BFFs. I am also a writer, former attorney, played basketball and tennis in high school, and have two daughters, one named Sky (but we spell it Skeie). However, I admit that you are WAY cooler than me. Haha!

    • Bee says...

      Wow!! We are totally leading parallel lives. Sounds like a great opening to a story ;)

  7. Loved this! Especially, her views on success.

  8. Trina says...

    It is $35 for Muji to ship to Canada. Fellow Canadians – any idea where in Canada we can buy the jute cloth mentioned above? Or companies that ship to Canada for less? Thanks!

  9. lael says...

    Shes lovely, and what a beautiful name!

  10. Suzie says...

    I used to use those SK-II sheet face masks as well, but ultimately just could not get over that they contain parabens. I quickly popped over to the link posted to see if maybe they had stopped including parabens, but they are still listed in the ingredients. I hope someone from SK-II reads this and starts rethinking their formulation!

    • Bee says...

      The SK II Facial Treatment Essence doesn’t have parabens! The downside is that it’s super pricey. I think they have been slow to jump on the no parabens bandwagon, but the newer products like the Essence tend to not have the parabens.

    • Suzie says...

      Oh, good to know! Thank you Bee!

  11. I love this beauty uniform!! “I think coming from an immigrant family gives you hunger. My parents worked really, really hard, and I probably will always feel a constant drive to achieve.” So, so true.

  12. A says...

    Hi Bee! I love the shade of lipstick you are wearing in your pictures – it looks super natural, not too overwhelming for work, and perfect for day. What is it? Also – your eye makeup is great – is it a waterproof or smudge proof eyeliner that you can recommend?

    • Bee says...

      Hi there, thank you! Some of the lip colors in the images differ, but the one that I’m wearing the most is the Armani Ecstasy lacquer (aren’t beauty product names silly) in 501. It’s not sticky, which is key for me– more like a glossy stain than a true lip gloss. For eye makeup, it’s the Dior shadow that’s mentioned in the piece, with liquid black liner (i’m not picky which one, but I’m currently using the Grandiose one from Lancome) and some pewter eyeliner smudged underneath. (MAC makes a bunch of them.) I need to do the eyeliner situation because I have the wimpiest lashes– I feel like eyeliner creates a faux lash line!

  13. I loved this – you’re right about the behind the scenes legwork to look “effortless”! Thanks for sharing this, Bee and Megan!

  14. Kadija says...

    This hit me as a HUGE realization: “My parents worked really, really hard, and I probably will always feel a constant drive to achieve. It can be a wonderful thing but I’ve realized as I’ve gotten older that it can also hinder you. If you’re constantly striving, you’re likely not enjoying the successes of now. That’s the balancing act: how do you continue to strive for more but be content and happy with the present.”

    Both my brother and I have this constant need to strive, and I’m finding that I’m not enjoying the things I have now; a sense of contentment for a moment, enjoyment in a position I love, excitement for a raise or promotion, taking time to realize the journey. This is so very important!

    Lovely beauty uniform post, and gahh…those babies!!! <3

  15. Lynn says...

    Ha. We had to eat carob too. We were going to “the health food store” before it was ever cool. I just had to explain to my husband what carob was. He grew up in the white bread and dessert-every-night family.

  16. My favorite beauty uniform by far!!! Thanks for sharing, Bee!

  17. Sarah K says...

    Carob and Barleygreen! That is my childhood. :) And we are not Taiwanese–my mom was just super, super crunchy when crunchy was (in my hyper-sensitive teenage opinion) super not cool! But I would say now that I’m grateful–having your tastebuds shaped by healthy food, not junk, is a gift!

  18. Ilona says...

    “She taught me how to do an egg white mask when I was 12. It was literally just separating the egg and putting the yolk on your face” – surely it’s putting the white on your face rather than the yolk?

    • Megan Cahn says...

      Thanks for catching!

    • Lor says...

      I have heard that egg yolk works great for acne. I used to do that when I was younger.

  19. I remember brigning a copy of a magazine with the haircut that I want. I got the haircut but it totally went against the texture of my hair so its bad too!

  20. Yet another Beauty Uniform woman I feel like I could be great friends with. My dad used to make us the worst tasting health drinks – orange juice mixed with brewer’s yeast and swiss chard juice with protein powder. And yet we dutifully drank it every morning. And my parents drank Postum instead of coffee. Anyone remember Postum?

  21. Laura C. says...

    Great interview Megan! Bee is great too! She smiles a lot, that’s wonderful!

  22. Aw, I absolutely loved reading this! She seems like such a wonderful person, and this was really inspiring to read. Must be amazing working as a writer for NY Times too, I really like how she talked about her background and her journey. Also love when she described how she likes running. I totally relate!
    People do try to look effortless, but I think that applies to a lot of other things, not just beauty in general.
    What a great post! xx

    Joanne | Life in Blue Skies

  23. Tracy says...

    this was so good, love her honesty! i agree the whole “effortless” thing is misleading. while i agree that appreciating life and all that can “show” in your face…really awesome beauty & skincare products don’t hurt! ;) (just got my true botanicals pure radiance face oil in renew and OMG, LOVE.) and i think i just found my spirit fitness animal…she makes me want to take up running haha!

  24. Leah says...

    I made the same haircut mistake in high school! I was in love with the movie Sliding Doors but I do not have the Gwenyth Paltrow face that can pull off the very short cut.

  25. Pats says...

    Thanks for this post. I really like how she points out this desire to be “effortless” when in reality there is a lot of hard work behind everything. It reminds me a lot of so many articles in big magazines where the “it girl” eats a giant burger or pizza or something equally decadent. It seems to try to emphasize that “I didn’t work for this” mentality, as though it’s not as cool to try or care about looking good or working hard.

  26. Grace says...

    “That’s the balancing act: how do you continue to strive for more but be content and happy with the present.”

    This is my life!!! It looks like Bee doesn’t use that many “Asian beauty” products that seem to be trending other than SK-II – is this because of the safety/natural thing?

  27. mollcoll says...

    Love her philosophy. Such a great series.

  28. Excellent! I’ve been looking for new perfume options, can’t wait to try hers out

  29. Angela says...

    OMG! My parents also made us drink Barleygreen when we were young. I wonder if it’s a Taiwanese thing.

    • Naseem says...

      I was a barleygreen-drinking, carob-eating, carrot juice-consuming kid too! My mom is American (and dad is Iranian), but I did grow up for a bit in Thailand. Maybe it’s an Asian-inspired thing??

  30. Effortless beauty takes effort…. so true. I enjoyed reading about Bee and her courage to change careers, her hippie upbringing, her own kids, and her beauty routine. Thanks so much for sharing. Have a lovely day.

    XOXO, Amy @ Jeans and a Tea
    http://www.jeansandatea.com

  31. M Embry says...

    what a lovely human being.

  32. I love these! What she said about compliments differing for boys and girls is really interesting- something to be mindful of when talking to my baby girl!

    xo, brittany !
    http://www.notablob.com/

  33. Kitty says...

    In grade 8 I too had the Sliding Doors haircut! Great post.

  34. Sam says...

    Another great installment of the Beauty Uniform series! I had the Gwyneth Paltrow Sliding Doors haircut too, and as soon as my hair was cut off realized that it did not in fact make me look like her! :-/

  35. I really love this beauty uniform post, Bee seems so full of life in all the pictures and her skin just glows. I love her tip about sheering out foundation with moisturizer to make it look more natural and I too am a convert to primer.

  36. so sitting in front of the computer picture, her brows look AHMAZING! and the picture with her and her daughter smiling, adorable! same smile with crinkling of the nose! I like the ‘don’t be a hero” comment, made me laugh. Thanks for all the insights! :) I saw a shirt today that said “the okayest runner” also made me laugh.

  37. One of the reasons I can’t make myself run!
    Really enjoyable read :)

  38. I love what she shares in her beauty philosophy about less not always being more. My family spends a lot of time in France where the less is more approach is touted as being the only way to do beauty, but behind closed doors more is more is more when it comes to meticulous skincare. No one likes to share their secrets, but the biggest secret is that women actually try very hard to remain youthful and beautiful! It’s the behind the scences legwork that helps, not the expensive designer makeup products! Wonderful profile!

    Xoxo http://www.touchofcurl.com

    • SG says...

      I would love to see a post on this – specifically French skincare routines and all the things they do behind the scenes to get that “effortless” look! I love that Bee admitted that it takes effort – refreshing!

  39. DT says...

    This interview is great – Bee’s comments are insightful and hilarious. But I’m a bit thrown that all the products she uses (minus Josie Maran, possibly) are not at all natural – most (Dior, L’Oréal) are chemical-filled options from mega corporations who test on animals and use the parabens and such that she specifically avoids in her own products. To each her own, but why the discrepancy?

    • Bee says...

      Hi DT! Yes, this was something I was conflicted with as well. For me it is more about safety than being all-natural. For the Dior foundation, it was actually reformulated late last year and doesn’t contain parabens. It also uses a partly titanium dioxide sunscreen which is a bonus in my book. A lot of the big companies are doing better in the parabens-free and phthalates-free area which is a great thing. I think choosing safety over “all-natural” is actually a really positive movement happening in the beauty industry right now. I think of Drunk Elephant, Beautycounter, Tatcha and others brands who are playing in that arena.

      For mascara, I’ve tried so many natural or more non-toxic formulations and unfortunately I still haven’t found one that works for me. (They either don’t beef up my lashes enough or they wear off and give me raccoon eyes) Still looking for one!

    • Rebekah says...

      I think it’s good to remember that chemicals are not bad (everything is made up of chemicals, yet somehow that word has become shorthand for “toxic materials”). And I love Bee’s point about prioritizing safety, which is a concrete thing you can achieve, over “natural,” which is a vague, undetermined standard. I prefer to have a safe preservative in my face cream than to find mold in it. :)

  40. L8Blmr says...

    “People may want to look effortless, but it does take effort!” Truer words were never spoken! Thanks for the great post and thanks to Bee for sharing her BU.

  41. Robyn says...

    “…I try to compliment her on the smart things she does rather than just the passive things she is.” Absolutely committing this to memory. So good!

    • Amy says...

      Yes. I’m a big fan of this. The way we talk to young girls vs young boys really opens our eyes to some of the stereotypes we (sometimes accidentally) reinforce.

  42. Lisa says...

    I apologize for saying this, but I can’t help myself. I hate that the second sentence of this lovely story ends with the word “in”. Help me!!! I try not to notice these things.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      thank you, lisa!!

  43. My mom was into health before it was trendy too. I remember her making my friends my friends and I smoothies with bee pollen in them after sleep-overs. So embarrassing at 12 when all you want is pancakes! :)

    Also, since your interested in clean, safe make-up and skincare I have to make a plug for Beautycounter. I know my opinion is biased since I just started working for them but I just love this company. Their face makeup in particular is awesome! http://www.beautycounter.com/annahosking

  44. It may take effort, she is so effortlessly stunning! I love these beauty uniform posts – especially when they’re about fellow writers. :)

  45. hahaha. her runner comment cracks me up. i’m training for the NYC marathon, and I feel much the same way. the discipline in the training process has been the best part. the actual race is like “World’s okayest runner! Just trying to make it over the finish line. Please meet me with a beer.”

    Thanks for sharing Bee!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      haha you sound awesome, ashley!

    • Bee says...

      Cheering you on!