My Beauty Uniform: Alice Gao

My Beauty Uniform: Alice Gao

Alice Gao is a lifestyle and food photographer based in New York City. We’re huge admirers of her blog and Instagram, and couldn’t have been more thrilled when she agreed to share her beauty uniform. Here are her insider tips, including her favorite red lipstick, how to look good in photos and amazing advice for aspiring creatives…

What is your everyday skincare regimen?
My skin has been super fickle these days. (Though it’s my own fault — if I cut out indulging in wine as often as I do, I’m sure my skin would be happier! It’s always a trade off, isn’t it?) I like to sample new products all the time, so I’m almost never using the same thing twice in a row. Currently, I use Aesop Purifying Facial Exfoliant Paste about once or twice a week. It has a medium grittiness as far as exfoliants go, and I like massaging and removing all the dead skin. It doesn’t have a strong smell, which I like, and it makes my skin feel really clean. (To be honest, though, I especially love their packaging!)

Besides the scrub, I alternate between Själ Balans Deep Pore Cleanser, and CeraVe from the drugstore, which are both great for sensitive skin. The Själ cleanser makes my skin feel soft, but if I’ve been wearing a full face of makeup, I’ll use the CeraVe to do a full cleanse and then follow it up with the Själ for hydrating. Right now I’m also using Själ Kura Intuitif intense hydration cream to moisturize.

My Beauty Uniform: Alice

Tell us about your makeup routine.
On a daily basis, I can be fairly minimal, but I couldn’t leave the apartment without doing my brows and curling my eyelashes. I use the Shu Uemura eyelash curler, which I find to be the best for Asian eyes. I’ve been using it since I was a teenager! Next, I fill and shape my brows using the Anastasia Brow Powder Duo. The powder feels more natural. With a pencil sometimes you get a drawn-on eyebrow look. When it comes to technique, I have no idea what I’m doing. Some days I’m like “I got the shape right today” and some days it’s hard to get them to be even somewhat symmetrical. What’s that saying? They’re supposed to be sisters, not twins.

Typically, I’ll use a tinted moisturizer with SPF. I like Laura Mercier and NARS. Laura Mercier’s nude shade matches my exact skin tone, so I don’t have to blend or mix it with anything. It’s also lightweight. The NARS can leave my skin feeling a little bit oily, but is great for winter when my skin is drier. I’ll usually wear mascara, too, like Benefit’s “They’re Real.” I can bawl in movies or have a good cry session and it doesn’t go anywhere.


You’ve been photographed wearing gorgeous orange-red lipstick. What color is that?
Tom Ford lipstick is definitely a worthy splurge and such a great pick-me-up. The colors are just so good. They’re very pigmented, so I’ll wear the bright orange full-on or as a stain. Sometimes I’m amazed that I’ll have a whole meal and my lipstick is still intact. My favorite reds are more orangey-red, like Flame and Wild Ginger. I like that it’s also moisturizing.


What about when you’re doing something fancier?
For special events, I’ll attempt contouring (which I still don’t quite understand how to do, despite watching a million YouTube tutorials). I love YouTube tutorials — especially Lisa Eldridge. I can watch her for hours. Recently, I found Tina Yong, and I really like her vibe. It’s not super cutesy, and she’s Asian, which sometimes helps when she’s demonstrating certain techniques.

For contouring, I’ll use Tom Ford’s Shade & Illuminate, which includes a cream highlighter and a darker color for contouring. I also love RMS’s Living Luminizer for a bit of highlight on the tops of my cheekbones. For a special event, I may wear some eyeliner, too. I love Tom Ford’s Eye Defining liquid liner pen. Sometimes I try to do a little flick and extend the line out. I only wear liner on the top line, but if my eyes weren’t so sensitive, I would line my water line with luminizer, which I think looks so pretty.

My Beauty Uniform: Alice Gao

Are you a morning person?
Mornings are actually my favorite time of day. In New York, I like that mornings are quieter. I have an almost religious coffee routine and feel totally out of sorts if I don’t make my coffee. The promise of a perfect cup definitely helps me get up. I like to tackle emails in the morning and read blogs and check social media — I like that you can do that early and not feel so guilty about it.

My Beauty Uniform: Alice Gao

What are your guilty pleasures?
I love trashy real estate reality shows like Million Dollar Listing. Related, I also love looking at floor plans of apartments I could never afford. Otherwise, I kind of indulge in everything else not guiltily!

My Beauty Uniform: Alice Gao

What’s your nighttime routine?
No matter how tired I am, I will never let myself go to sleep without taking off my makeup, washing my face and flossing. Giving into a moment of laziness isn’t worth the potential eye infection, cavity or what have you. Like many people, I love Bioderma Crealine, which is amazing for makeup removal. My bedtime routine is not nearly as structured as my morning routine. I’m naturally a night owl so I used to do all my work from around 11pm into the wee hours of night. Thankfully I’m on a much better schedule now. When I was photographing weddings, there would be hundreds images that I’d have to edit, so I would power through them during the night. Now that my schedule is different, I’m trying to find a better work/life balance.

My Beauty Uniform: Alice Gao

Speaking of work/life balance, how do you manage to do so much and keep it all together?
It’s hard. I don’t have any secrets. The thing I’m sacrificing the most right now is my social life. I’ll go for months where I only see people through work-related events. I definitely don’t see my friends or talk to my family as much as I’d like. For the most part, they’re understanding about my schedule. My friends all lead rather busy lives themselves, so no one is really just idling around either. With certain friends, no matter how much time has passed, it’s always easy to pick things right back up. Those are the best.

I sometimes joked this year that I felt like a first year investment banker, and that I’d be able to ease up after a few years once I reach a certain level, but I know I won’t want to ease up. If I’m not constantly working or looking forward to new work, I get both depressed and stressed. I feel so fortunate to be doing this job that I’m okay with a heavily work-skewed work/life balance. My struggle is more that I don’t want to find a balance. It’s my work that makes me happy. If I go on vacation I’m still going to try to find the most inspiring photos, because for me it enhances the experience.

My Beauty Uniform: Alice

You’ve photographed so many people. Do you have any tips for how to look good in photos?
If I’m directing someone, I’ll give them an action to do so they’re focused on doing it and not on how they look. I might say, walk over to the sink, pour this cup of water, talk to someone on set. Then they’ll feel the camera isn’t on them and will look more natural. I think first and foremost, though, you should find good lighting. Some people prefer to take photos with soft lighting, but I like when it’s slightly more dramatic.

My Beauty Uniform: Alice Gao

My Beauty Uniform: Alice Gao

Your Instagram account is filled with beautiful photos from your daily life. Do you plan them out ahead of time?
If the photo is something for a client, I’ll plan it out. But for my personal shots, I have no idea what I’m going to post. I’ve definitely relaxed a bit. I used to be like “oh my god I have to get the window seat because I have to get the best shot,” but now I can just go out to eat and not feel the need to take the perfect picture of my meal.

You take such inspiring shots of New York City. What are some of your favorite spots?
Nowadays, I find myself going to the same places over and over. My favorite restaurant is Maialino and you can find me there at least twice a week… sometimes more. I can have a meal by myself and feel comfortable. I’ll order the fried artichokes as an appetizer and I love the garganelli. And their desserts are spot-on. On a lazy Saturday, I will almost always do this exact same loop, basically going to Bluebird Coffee Shop, McNally Jackson Books, Mud Australia, Morgenstern’s Ice Cream, and The Apartment by The Line.

My Beauty Uniform: Alice

People leave hundreds of comments on your photos. What question do you get asked most often?
People often ask about my travel camera. It’s a Sony Alpha A7R. On the downside, it’s expensive and fairly slow, meaning you’re not going to get SLR speed, and there aren’t that many lenses for it yet. The pros: It’s so sharp, it’s 36 megapixels, it’s super light and I can bring it everywhere when I travel. I also think it’s pretty.

Which beauty items do you pack when you travel?
I always bring all of the aforementioned products from my everyday makeup. I have really dry eyes, so I pack natural tear lubricant, as well. I use Thera Tears. And lots of moisturizer on my face and hands, especially on long-haul flights. I usually bring whatever I have samples of, though it tends to be from Aesop because when you shop there, they’ll give you a bunch of samples. I’ll open one of the samples and use it throughout my flight, then toss it. It takes up almost no space in my bag.

My Beauty Uniform: Alice Gao

Your home is so neat and organized (not to mention beautifully styled). I’m curious, how do you store your beauty products?
Everything lives behind my door in this behind-the-door organizer, which my friend Kira, a prop stylist, came up with. It was genius. My makeup had been scattered everywhere before, but now it’s organized and everything is easy to find.

My Beauty Uniform: Alice

What scents are you into right now?
I can’t stop reaching for Fleur de Portofino. It smells like white flowers, citrus and honey — I don’t know anything about top notes, but it reminds me of a sailing vacation on the Italian Riviera. It’s the perfect summer scent. I’ve also been using Ghost Rose solid perfume from Catbird, which is really nice for travel since there’s no risk of spillage.

What do you do to style and care for your hair?
I have no idea what I’m doing when it comes to my hair. I use SachaJuan scalp shampoo, which is great for dry scalps. Bizarrely, I also get really bad knots. If I didn’t use SachaJuan conditioner, my hair would get tangled. It smells good, too. I have to blow dry the ends; otherwise they do the horrible floppy curl-out thing. Other than that, though, I don’t do anything. I’ve watched countless YouTube videos on how to curl my hair with my straightening iron and I still don’t get it!

My Beauty Uniform: Alice

And you just cut your hair! It looks fantastic. Do you have a regular stylist?
I go to Q Hair, where I’ve been seeing the same guy for five years. He’s Japanese — I prefer going to Asian hairstylists because they understand the texture of Asian hair and how it reacts to cuts. I’ve had shorter hair for a year and a half. I wanted that dirty, messy hair look. I’ve always had neat, blunt cuts, so this time I wanted to have thinner layers and have the ends be wild. I just bought a product at the salon — Nigelle Clear Surge Milk. It helps with texture and shaping, and gives you nice hold but isn’t sticky.

My Beauty Uniform: Alice Gao

What advice you would give your younger self?
You can’t please everyone. That is something I used to try to do, but now I’m better about it. I think negative comments are always going to be there, and it’s good not to become immediately defensive when they arise. I’m not saying they don’t affect me at all since I am still human, but I try not to dwell on them. Once in a while, criticism or a negative comment may spur positive change. My funny advice would also be to start a YouTube channel back in 2006. People who did that are so successful it blows my mind.

That’s the best answer. What words of wisdom would you offer to creative people trying to find their way?
Everyone always says, find what inspires you. That’s fine in the beginning, but once you get there, you should stop looking at them. When you’re too focused on what everyone else is doing, you end up trying to emulate the thing you’re inspired by. Keep creating a lot of work, keep producing. I think people need to be better at editing. For a photographer, if you take 30 pictures, and you like 10 of them, try narrowing it down to two. Two powerful images is much better than 10 good ones.

My Beauty Uniform: Alice

Last but certainly not least, what is your beauty philosophy?
It may sound simple and cliché, but I think it’s good to not get hung up about the things you can’t change about yourself, and focus and enhance those bits you do like. I still have to remind myself of this all the time. On a physical level, I’ve had to make peace with facts like I’ll never have long legs or a symmetrical mouth (weird one, I know). But some of the things that might be considered “negative” are also things I wouldn’t want to change.

My Beauty Uniform: Alice

Thank you so much, Alice!

P.S. 17 more women share their beauty uniforms

(Interview by Caroline Donofrio. Photos via Alice Gao, Whisper Editions and Conde Nast Traveler.)

  1. Barbara says...

    Please tell us where the black coat in picture #3 is from!


  3. Jo says...

    Alice is so beautiful and I totally love her stunning style.

    Thank you for all the tips, Alice, and thank you for yet another wonderful read, Team Cup of Jo! :^)

  4. grace says...

    i am loving the cultural diversity in these beauty uniforms!

  5. Great post. Would love to have more links to her clothing and fave clothing labels. Thanks!

  6. justine says...

    Thank you for sharing the organizer! It’s exactly what I’m looking for. Does it get quite dirty if storing cosmetics? That’s what I’m looking to store in it. Thanks! Also, you’re gorgeous!

  7. asia says...

    Amazing as always!

    As a rookie to all things beauty…do people (like alice) put on moisturizer before their tinted moisturized (NARS or Laura Mercier)?? Your help would be much appreciated :)

  8. One of my favorite beauty posts yet. Simple but current take on beauty. Loved her honesty. Thanks for sharing!

  9. Idky, but this has been my favorite beauty uniform post thus far.. I really enjoyed reading this and now have an awesome new account to follow on IG. <3

  10. Beth says...

    I love this series. Joanna, To follow up on an earlier comment about featuring women in their 50s/60s, your mom would make a lovely subject for this series!

  11. Esther says...

    I re-read this post 3 times because I enjoyed it so much! Congratulations to Alice on all her success these past few years — I’m beaming with Penn pride :) Thank you for featuring her, Joanna!

  12. Very nice!

  13. fai says...

    love her style, so simple and chic!

  14. Indra says...

    Ahhh. She’s so cool. Definitely going to check her blog.

  15. Melissa says...

    Alice is an amazing photographer! I am always inspired by her work and personal style.

  16. heather says...

    Yay! A beauty post without a baby! She’s lovely, thanks!!!! :)

    • Jude says...

      Agreed! It made for a welcome change.

  17. Love everything about Alice! So talented yet humble. Great words of wisdom too. Would love to try that Själ Kura Intuitif intense moisturizer for my dry skin.

  18. Great interview. I love her style.

    Do you know where she got her camera strap?


  19. Samantha says...

    That sounds like the perfume of my dreams, but Jesus Christ that’s completely out of my price range. Hopefully I’ll get a very well paid job soon that will allow me to purchase it, lol.

  20. Love your blog. I check it out daily. Would love to see some “beauty uniforms” of women in their 50s and 60s.

  21. Ceridwen says...

    I actually let out a little squeal of delight when this post came up. I love this series! I also loved getting to know Alice. Thanks!

  22. t.robles says...

    I’m a big fan of Alice Gao’s photography and blog so this post was super exciting for me to read.

  23. Lauren says...

    Love this series so much!

  24. I love this one. Thanks for sharing! It’s great to see a little more diversity in these posts.

  25. Lindsey says...

    For what it’s worth, Alice, you appear to have long legs in your photos :) Great post, thanks, Joanna.

  26. I love these photos, as well as the questions that aren’t as obviously about beauty. My favorite is the one about how Alice spends her mornings, and I’m curious to hear how others interviewed for this series would answer that question.

  27. Loving your photos!

  28. Danielle says...

    She’s so chic! I’d love to know where she gets those perfect white shirts.

  29. Daniela says...

    LOVE the beauty uniform series, and I totally agree with how Alice says that she has to work or she gets depressed. I always feel much less emotionally stable when I am not working, being home all day drives me crazy. I need to put my focus into work.

  30. I’ve been following Alice for a long time now and it’s so nice to see her in a different context. Absolutely gorgeous girl :)

  31. This is by far my favorite Cup of Jo series! I always come away with new tips, tricks, and products to try.

  32. Christina Rock says...

    Oooh! Where did that lovely cognac-colored suitcase come from?

  33. annie says...

    I would love to know where she got that perfect white long sleeve blouse!

  34. I love Alice’s style and aesthetic sense! I hadn’t heard of her blog before, and it was so great to check out (and I totally agree about what she said about how good light changes everything) — and I’d been looking for a great orangey-red lipstick, so I’ll have to check this out!

  35. Sam says...

    I love this series! I also love that Alice admits that she doesn’t know what she’s doing sometimes with hair/beauty. I feel the same way, but I do try!

    Funny story about penciling in eyebrows: My mother wasn’t wearing her glasses when getting ready one morning, so she selected her purple eyeliner to pencil in her eyebrows by accident, and walked around all day with purple brows! :-)

  36. My favourite series! This post is making me want to cut my hair again… but I will resist!

    Kristi | Be Loverly

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i know, she looks amazing. so hard to pull off!

  37. Lauren E. says...

    I always feel so exposed in a crop top, but the way Alice styled hers is super classy! Pinned :)

  38. Heather says...

    I love this series!!!

  39. marianne says...

    those crop tops are adorable!! where are they from??

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      we’re asking her now! stay tuned…

  40. marianne says...

    those high waisted skinny jeans are so sexy!! what brand are they?? must. have. now.

    • Caroline Donofrio says...

      Hi Marianne! Alice says her jeans are these MiH tomboy jeans:

  41. Thank you for this! I’m Asian too and I have the Tom Ford lipstick in my cart:) I would love to know where I can get her long black jacket from photos 3 and 6 if anyone knows!

  42. Kristin says...

    I agree with Joy’s earlier comment — although I love so many of your posts and look forward to reading them every day, by far my favorite are the Beauty Uniforms and the Motherhood Around the World. Love them and love your work!

  43. Nice camera! I use the a7 and love the nfc. Boop them fly lookin’ photos straight to yr phone and dazzle all of your instagram followers ; )

  44. Katie says...

    She is so beautiful! Also I want all of her clothes, especially the charcoal trench and white blouses.

  45. Alice is such a lovely person, inside and out–and so talented yet so humble. Thrilled to see her featured here!

  46. Eleanor says...

    Next up – Alice’s apartment tour!?

    • Nicole Brant says...

      Seconded! Yes, please!

  47. Jennifer says...

    Yes please, who made the dark high waisted jeans?!

  48. Pascua says...

    Definitely my favorite uniform yet! I like that she doesn’t wear oodles of makeup, and her style is more dressy casual, unlike some of the ladies who have been featured who look like they wear a dress and heels everywhere they go. I also like that her style was more classic, rather than all of the “trendy” stuff. The best yet!

  49. sharon says...

    amazing beauty uniform, but can we also talk about the fact that this woman has incredible style? would it be too much to ask for credits for what she’s wearing? i especially love the high waist jeans, green sweater and gray sweater!

  50. Great post. She is a favorite on my Instagram feed, so I’m delighted to see a bit more from her here. Beautiful photos, too.

  51. “I love trashy real estate reality shows like Million Dollar Listing. Related, I also love looking at floor plans of apartments I could never afford.”

    OMG, Alice, you are my kindred spirit. When I’m stressed, I will seek out floor plans and pictures from $70 million penthouses in NY, or $10 million estates in the Northwest. As a lover of all things architecture and home (from a very young age), I find it to be such an effective escape from my everyday — just as effective as reading a fun book, or watching TV. However, my husband would argue I probably spent *too much* time doing this, but we all have our little guilty pleasures!

    Glad to know I’m not the only one who enjoys this!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      me too!!! also i got really hooked on that show on a flight recently. love all the guys, especially sweetie luis :)

  52. First time reading the beauty uniform, absolutely loved it ! Alice, style is simply spot-on for me, I love the color palette she’s going for, can’t wait to see more on her blog!!
    Great post, have a beautiful day !

  53. Mary Jenkins says...

    She seems wonderful! The Tom Ford lipsticks are on now on my shopping wish list. Thank you, Alice and Cup of Jo ladies!

  54. JT says...

    THANK YOU for this. I am Asian too and now I am just going to go out and buy all the things she mentioned.

  55. This is my favorite beauty uniform post yet! I ended up re-reading it twice just to make sure I didn’t miss anything, ha. Something about her seems so real and relatable, like if I knew her we’d totally be friends.

    • Mary Jenkins says...

      I feel the same way!

  56. Kamila says...

    Where did Alice get that beautiful tan leather camera strap? It’s lovely!

  57. grace says...

    Does anyone know what jacket she’s wearing in that last picture? It’s perfect!

  58. Liv says...

    Wow. I love this. Her style is so clean and sophisticated and her love for her work absolutely inspires me. Gorgeous woman.

  59. Anna says...

    Beautiful inside and out.

  60. What great advice! I’m a photographer moving to NYC in September so I really appreciated her advice to edit down your images. Thanks for such a great article!

  61. Zoe says...

    I love Alice!! Her aesthetic is amazing and her Instagram is one of my most favorite to follow.

    Thank you for featuring her!

  62. love this one. I follow her on instagram and her photos are always spectacular.

  63. I get so excited when I see a new Beauty Uniform post! (It’s a tie between that and Motherhood Around the World…) Wow, I loved her words, her look, her photos. So inspiring! And her hair!!!

  64. She is absolutely gorgeous and what a brilliant photographer too. Lovely post.

  65. alisha says...

    I would love to know where her jeans are from. I like the high waist.

    • Laura says...

      I second this comment!

    • jenna moeller says...