beauty uniform: minaa

Minaa B. is a Queens-based social worker and psychotherapist, who works with both children and adults. She’s a beautiful person inside and out. Here, she talks about how to build your self esteem, growing up in a family of 15 (!) and products that actually work for acne-prone skin…

beauty uniform: minaa

What is your daily facial skincare routine?
I begin my day by drinking eight ounces of water. I do this to flush out my kidneys and hydrate my skin and body. Then, in the morning and evening, I do a full routine on my skin — and not just on my face, but my neck, chest, upper back and arms, too. I’m 26 now, but I have been dealing with oily, acne-prone skin since I was an adolescent. I’ve found that Neutrogena’s Oil-Free Acne Wash works best. While washing my skin, I also exfoliate by rubbing an exfoliating cotton round in a circular motion. After that, I use Clindamycin phosphate gel 1% prescribed by my dermatologist to deal with the oil. Finally, I apply a little Aveeno facial moisturizer and a dab of African Shea Butter. I recently discovered shea butter and now I’m obsessed.

What’s so amazing about shea butter?
It helps with eczema, dark spots, preventing wrinkles, even body aches. I sometimes get lower back pain, so I massage in she butter, and within five minutes I feel better.

beauty uniform: minaa

Do you wear makeup everyday?
Most days, I apply only a light amount of makeup — I work with infants and toddlers all day, so I don’t need too much! I wear bareMinerals Original Foundation Broad Spectrum SPF 15 in Warm Tan to protect and even out my skin. Thankfully, I was blessed with great eyebrows like my dad. They’re naturally thin and arched, but I do brush the Elf Eyebrow Kit (the dark shade) along the curve of my eyebrow — it darkens them and makes them pop.

beauty uniform: minaa

What about for special occasions?
Since I work long hours, any time I get to go out feels like a special occasion. Even if I’m just going to brunch or a museum, I’ll still put on a dress and red lipstick. If I get a night out, I love to go dancing on Thursdays at Arlene’s Grocery in the Lower East Side. It’s free admission, and the music is always a surprise, it could be soul, jazz, rap… Lately I’ve been using lip pencil instead of lipstick. I cover my entire lip with MAC Cherry liner, and it’s surprisingly more moisturizing than the matte MAC Ruby Woo I was using — and it never smudges.

beauty uniform: minaa

Minaa and her mother at her graduation from NYU; she got her master’s degree in social work.

Can you tell us about your job?
Since graduating last year, I have been working as a mental health consultant in the Head Start program. I work alongside pre-school teachers with children who are having a harder time understanding social cues, learning spacial boundaries or verbalizing their needs. I love helping people, especially at this tender age. I also volunteer for the First Lady of New York Chirlane Mccray’s Thrive NYC campaign, which is a plan to overhaul the city’s mental health system; and I founded Respect Your Struggle, a digital magazine that aims to help people manage mental illnesses.

beauty uniform: minaa

Why did you decide to get into mental health?
I struggled with depression as a young child, through adolescence and into adulthood. When I was 16, things got so bad I broke down in the hallway of my high school. A teacher I was close to saw me and suggested I go to counseling, and I remained in therapy for five years. I was the youngest of 13 kids and was very introverted growing up. My family was really loving, but there was just so much going on in our house that I was in my head a lot. I was bullied and teased at school — I felt like an outcast. When I was in college, I realized I wanted to be in a profession where I could help people struggling with similar things. I come from a community where mental health is often overlooked; as an African American woman, I feel like it is not really talked about. I actually hid my struggle with depression from my family. I didn’t tell my mom until I was 23 years old.

How did she react when you told her?
She was shocked. I think her response said a lot about the misinformation of mental health. She said, ‘I tried my best to do everything for you and you seemed really happy. With all the great things in your life, how could you not be?’ But at the end of the day, regardless of how much someone accomplishes, or how much they get in life, they can still struggle with depression. My mother was very open to learn more once I talked to her more about it, which also made me realize even how important it is to discuss openly.

beauty uniform: minaa

What was your household like with 13 kids?
We grew up in Rockaway, Queens. My older siblings were in and out of the house, but there were always at least eight or nine of us staying there — my uncle and cousins lived there for periods of time, too. The kids all shared rooms. My dad loved cooking, so he made dinner for everyone no matter how many people there were. Sometimes we couldn’t all fit around the table, and some people would just eat on the couch. My parents are originally from Panama, so we had lots of Caribbean food — rice and beans, jerk chicken. Despite my struggles, I have very fond memories of growing up with everyone there.

Is there any feature that you weren’t into growing up that you’ve now grown to like?
As a child, I was bullied for my my height and looks. I was always the tallest in the class, and have terrible memories of having to line up by height. Kids also called me ‘Bugs Bunny’ because my teeth protruded and I had a really large gap. It used to agitate the heck out of me. But through therapy and evolving into womanhood, I learned to not let such trivial things bother me or to care about how others define beauty. I love my smile now, I love my gap! I also love my height. I’m 5’10″. It makes me feel sexy — which means a lot now, since once upon a time my height played such a huge factor in my low self-esteem.

beauty uniform: minaa

How do you care for your hair?
My hair is natural, so shampooing can strip the natural oils and make it brittle and dry. So, I shampoo once to twice a month, alternating between Aussie Mega Moist shampoo and By Nature From New Zealand shampoo — which has no parabens, sulfates or silicones. They’re both great for dry hair. Then, on a weekly basis, I wash with just the conditioner that goes with my shampoos.

What about styling?
For a curly look, I use the LOC Method. I apply water as my liquid, I use refined coconut oil to moisturize my hair, and then cream from Aunt Jackie’s Curl La La. Every few months, when the mood strikes, I flat iron my hair. I spray a bit of L’Oreal Sleek It heat protectant, followed by coconut oil, and then I straighten it out with my CHI ceramic flat iron. It lasts about a week.

beauty uniform: minaa

Are you into any new beauty finds for the summer?
Nail polish! Normally, I stick to a simple manicure — I love Covergirl, and my favorite summer colors are Coral Silk and Nuclear Green. But lately, out of nowhere, I’ve found myself wanting something more dramatic. So my new thing is press-on nails by KISS. I apply them with KISS Maximum Speed Nail Glue, file them and apply polish. I’m done in 15 minutes. They last more than a week, and I always carry the glue with me, so if one pops off, I can put it back on!

beauty uniform: minaa

Are there any little luxuries you love in your home?
I’ve had insomnia over the last three years, lying in bed awake for hours before I fall asleep. So now I start winding down two hours before bed — no TV, laptop or phone (that’s a tough one). I always burn a candle to help keep my space safe, sacred and calm. I’m currently burning Zen White Camomile by Colonial Candle, which soothes the soul. I play the Lucid Dreamer playlist on Spotify as my sleep soundtrack, or I use the sleep monitor Sense by Hello, which plays music and tracks my sleep. I apply Vitamin A&D ointment to my eyelids to help with bags and sleep with a silk eye mask so that everything is dark.

beauty uniform: minaa

Are there any scents you love in general?
My signature scent would be a hand and body cream called Milk & Honey by formulary55. For perfume, Prada Milano is my favorite. It’s soft and flowery and lasts all day.

beauty uniform: minaa

Do you have any other major beauty inspirations?
I love Tracee Ellis Ross and her character Joan in Girlfriends. I still watch an episode most nights. Joan is very quirky, very intellectual, and also has this internal battle where she wants more but fails to realize that she’s getting in her own way. I feel like that is me at times. When it comes to her style, I related to her because she has small boobs like me! She always talked about them and always embraced them. I used to want to get a boob job, but she inspired me to accept them. I also looked to her for styling tips for women with small breasts; she taught me that I can still look sexy.

beauty uniform: minaa

What’s the most drastic thing you’ve ever done with your overall look?
When I was younger, I damaged my hair with relaxers, dye and heating tools. My hairstylist told me I had to cut it off. At the time, Rihanna had short hair, so I went for her look. Eventually I kept cutting it shorter and shorter and when Rihanna got a Mohawk, I did too. I occasionally think about chopping it again, but being able to finally put it in a bun on top of my head feels like such an accomplishment!

beauty uniform: minaa

Do you have any other rituals that help you feel great?
I believe in the power of prayer. I have been going to church since I was five and being a part of that community played huge part in getting through my depression. Now, I go to a Christian church in Bed Stuy called Epiphany BK every Sunday and pray every morning. I have an open conversation with God. There is no specific way of doing it — I don’t get on my knees, or do anything ritualistically, I just talk to God like I am talking to anybody.

beauty uniform: minaa

Do you have an overall beauty philosophy? 
I see beauty in kindness, grace, compassion, love, effort, adventure, ideas, community and connection. Living as your most authentic self is the ultimate prize in life. What you look like or how you dress is the last thing on the list.

Thank you, Minaa!

P.S. More women share their beauty uniforms, and the case for snail masks.

(Photos courtesy of Minaa B. Interview by Megan Cahn.)