Michelle Peterson is an eighth grade humanities teacher, who lives in San Francisco with her husband, Mike, and their 11-year-old son, Mika. She loves riding bikes with her family (she and her husband co-own the bicycle brand MASH) and creating naturally dyed textiles and beauty products to give to friends. Her D.I.Y. take on beauty is so inspiring, it makes us want to roll up our sleeves and make our own cheek tints. Ahead, she talks about her former punk self, her puffy-eye savior and the part of her body she has grown to love…
When did you first get into beauty?
My background is Korean-Immigrant-American. The reason I include “immigrant” is because it has shaped me. I moved from Korea to Northern California with my single mom and her extended family when I was three years old. My first beauty memory is my grandmother powdering my neck with Coty’s Loose Powder. We both loved the sweet smell. I also remember not feeling beautiful at a young age. We lived in a predominately white neighborhood, so when I was younger, I thought that beauty meant you had to have blonde hair and blue eyes. That was what I saw on TV and around me. It wasn’t until I got into high school and fell into a more diverse group of friends, who were mostly mixed race, that I began to feel beautiful. They all had their own style, so it gave me license and freedom to explore the way I looked. That’s when I finally accepted who I was.
What was your style like in high school?
I am a product of the late ’80s and early ’90s, and my style was based on the music I was listening to at that time. I was really into The Smiths and Siouxsie and the Banshees, so it was pretty mod punk. We gave each other piercings and did all sorts of crazy things to our hair — we shaved half our heads, we’d bleach our hair and then dye it with red Kool-Aid. One time, I decided I wanted silver hair so I used peroxide over and over again until half my head was translucent. I thought it looked cool, but it actually looked like a mop of fishing line. It was definitely an exploration of extremes, but I found a lot of beauty in that. Being on the fringe and rebelling against what was considered beautiful was beautiful to me.
What did your mom think?
My mom did not like it. But I was really good at school and got a full academic scholarship to college, so she accepted that I was not the cheerleader type.
Do you still hold onto anything from this time in your life?
Now I try not to use anything with chemicals, since I had my fair share of them when I was younger. But the way that we live as a family — most of our friends are professional skaters, they’re in hard-core bands — our son is surrounded by a lot of people who do what they want and never try to fit into a mold. I have tattoos, I still hold onto all my old band tees, but I definitely don’t do anything with my hair anymore. I’m over that.
Tell us about your tattoos.
I have two. My first is kind of embarrassing: When I was 16, my friend’s older brother was learning how to tattoo and said, “Come in, I’ll tattoo you guys.” The caveat was that he could only do a dove with a rose in its mouth or a circle with dolphins. So I got the dolphins on my lower back. It’s the one thing that I’m self-conscious about, so I try to not wear bathing suits that are super low-cut in the back. I love my second tattoo, though. When my son was two, he drew a picture of a bird and wrote my name on it. He said, “Mama, I want you to get this tattooed.” So I said, “Let’s go.” I’m going to get another one when we visit our friend in Kansas City this Christmas. I’m going to do either a crocodile or a dragon that my son drew.
What’s your daily skincare routine?
Every morning I splash warm water on my face, then apply a mixture of argan oil and baking soda gently in small circles, then rinse it off. This cleanses and gives my skin a gentle exfoliation. Then I moisturize with a few drops of argan oil and condition the tips of my hair with whatever oil that’s left on my fingertips. Finally, I put on Clinique sunscreen. At night, I cleanse with Boscia black cleanser — it warms with friction, so when you rub it in your hands, it gets pretty hot. The ingredients are all natural and gently remove dirt from the day without drying out my skin. Then I moisturize with argan oil again.
What is your makeup routine?
I don’t wear makeup everyday, mainly because of time and not wanting to feel like I have a mask on. I used to, though. The other day, I found some old makeup, so I decided to try it on. I put on eyeliner, filled my brows in, and put on red lipstick. I didn’t recognize myself and felt so uncomfortable. My eyebrows made me look mean! Going makeup free is almost like a reminder to be yourself each day.
But if I have five spare minutes in the morning, I will curl my eyelashes and put a dab of HAN Skincare Golden Glow over my lower lid. It’s like a little fairy dust. Then I’ll put on a dab of my homemade lip and cheek stain. I make a lip balm with coconut oil, beeswax, shea butter, and peppermint essential oil, but then I’ll add powdered beet root, cochineal or alkanet to turn it into a dewy lip and cheek stain.
Do you do any treatments?
A couple nights a week I’ll do a mask. I mix together about a tablespoon of the cheapest organic yogurt I can get and a teaspoon of honey, put a thin layer on my face until it dries (about fifteen to twenty minutes), then rinse it off with warm water. The lactic acid in the yogurt helps eat away dead skin cells and the honey is antibacterial, so it’s great for pimples. It’s basically the cheapest mask you can do and makes my skin feel incredible — and if you get some in your mouth, it’s delicious!
What is the most game-changing skincare product you’ve discovered?
Using oil as moisturizer. Since I started, my skin has never felt more even. I used to have dark spots from old pimples and they have started to fade. I don’t have many wrinkles; I feel like it’s keeping me younger. I also think it’s super empowering — knowing I can do this on my own. I don’t have to depend on anyone else, or any business or corporation to feel healthy and good about myself. A great online option is Olie Biologique. I also swear by shea butter. I carry it with me all the time and have some in the kitchen and the living room. I use it in my hair, on my hands, I put it everywhere I can — my ankles, my knees, my heels. It’s great for not getting ashy or cracked feet.
When did you decide to start using natural beauty products?
About two years ago, I got vertigo and it triggered a bunch of anxiety. Until this time I thought I was taking care of myself, but I was so stressed. There’s a lot of pressure to be the best mom, the best partner, to exercise, to have a career, to have hobbies. It’s intense. All that combined with not ever really giving myself the time to deal with the transition to motherhood came to a head. I went into self-cure mode. I started going to therapy and eating better. I stopped drinking coffee and alcohol. I decided that I was going to get rid of everything that I have that has more than three ingredients and that I was going to try to make things myself. In the past year, I’ve felt the healthiest I’ve ever felt in my entire life.
How did you learn to make these products?
My younger sister Christine is super into health food and products, so we would see things and ask, “What is it made out of?” We’d realize “Oh my god, we can make this.” So we read a lot and started making things together. I love giving them away as gifts to friends and family, and I encourage others to make their own concoctions.
How do you find the time for all your projects?
Ha! Yes, time is the most precious and limited resource. I love dyeing textiles, and my son and I will do it together — he makes his own dyeing projects with crushed flowers, turmeric and alkanet. I’ve also taught my students how to dye silk and eggs using ingredients from our school garden, which allows me to incorporate my passions all in one day.
What products do you actually buy?
Recently I splurged on Murad Professional Eyelift Firming Cream. It’s like having a face mask, but just for your eyes. If you have puffy or tired eyes, using this once a week totally helps. Neutrogena’s Sesame body lotion is one of my favorite lotions. It has a subtle scent of toasted sesame.
How do you take care of your hair?
I use Alba Coconut shampoo and conditioner. I never blow dry my hair and love how unpredictable it can be based on the weather. I also love to let my hair air dry when I am riding my bike; it dries with windswept volume after just a couple of miles. Sometimes I’ll ask a few of the elementary kids at school to braid my hair during recess that I’ll later unravel for an evening wavy look. They’ll often line up to do it!
Do you have any more biking tips?
Yes! Always wear a good sunscreen and be sure to cover the back of your neck. Clinique’s City Block does wonders without feeling greasy. Wearing sunglasses will protect your eyes from watering and possibly messing with eye makeup. I also never wear anything super glossy on my lips since it can be a natural magnet for bugs, dirt and loose hair while cruising.
Is there any feature you weren’t into when you were growing up that you’ve grown to like?
I used to be really self-conscience about having big cheeks. I would always try to hide them with my hair. When I got pregnant I gained 50 pounds and my cheeks got even rounder. People kept saying they were so cute, so I was like, I’m just going to embrace this. But after I had my son, I had some postpartum depression. I was 27 when I had Mika, which felt young by city standards. I didn’t know anyone with a baby, none of my friends had kids, I had no idea how to adjust. So I would just walk for miles through Golden Gate park on my own — to the point where we had to replace the stroller wheels after two months because they had gotten so dull. I lost so much weight, and it showed in my face. I remember looking in the mirror and thinking I didn’t look like myself anymore. I realized I loved my big cheeks and was so happy when I gained the weight back.
Are there any rituals that make you feel good?
When I was going through that rough time a few years ago, I knew I had to try everything I could to get better. My friend who is a psychiatrist suggested meditation, but it was hard because I felt like I couldn’t find the time or space to focus. But then I discovered the Chopra Center site, which has guided meditations that use pranayama (breathing techniques). I got hooked. Now I do it in the morning and afternoon for 15 minutes, and at night I’ll do a body scan in bed. I used to only be able to do it in a quiet place, but now I can meditate in a meeting, waiting in line at the grocery store, or at my office desk. My favorite spot is in the garden of my school where I’m surrounded by the sounds of children and honeybees.
I’ll also do it with my students — I open and close my classes with breathing exercises. I tell them that when things feel out of control, you can always go back to your breath as an anchor. It’s really simple: Inhale very slowly for four seconds, hold it for four seconds, exhale for four seconds. That’s an amazing power we all have. Breathing reminds you to take care of yourself, and that you have the key to do it. It’s pretty cool.
Last but not least, do you have an overall beauty philosophy?
The more we are connected to the universe, the more beautiful we are. Also, you should be able to eat what you put on your face.
Thank you, Michelle!
(Photos courtesy of Michelle. Interview by Megan Cahn.)