You can usually find Moriel Zelikowsky in a lab or on a mountain. A neuroscientist, she was just awarded the L’Oréal USA For Women in Science fellowship, and she also loves to rock climb in her free time. Here, she talks about what it’s like to be a woman in a male-dominated field, the best beauty splurge in L.A. and her secret to gorgeous hair…
Do you wear makeup every day at work?
Not really. I’m a chapstick kind of girl. My Australian friends got me hooked on Papaw. You can also use it on cracks on your heels or hands.
What about when you’re going out?
I like getting dressed up to go to dinner. I am pretty feminine when going out. I like wearing hippie dresses, especially from Mara Hoffman. They’re so beautiful and you don’t even have to think about anything else. I’ll also put on a little makeup: Maybelline mascara, Stila eyeliner (they have a thin marker-like tip that makes application easy), a Tarte cheek stain, and my Papaw lip gloss.
How did you get into science?
It was kind of an accident. I started out as a film major, but then I took a few metaphysics classes. I loved asking questions like, “What is the brain?” or, “How do we think?” But I really wanted more concrete answers than philosophy provides. Also, there’s mental illness in my family and was itching to do something that could help people. So, I ended up taking a few neuropsychiatry classes and decided to apply for Ph.D. programs. I’m very interested in psychiatric disorders and how the brain responds to stress, anxiety and fear.
So, you didn’t always see yourself going in this direction?
Most of my family didn’t go to college! For a long time, they were like, “What are you doing?” But I think they’re pretty proud. Now I’m at Caltech for my post doc.
What’s a regular day like for you?
Every day is different. Some days I go into the laboratory and spend my time pipetting and staining brain sections with antibodies. Other days I’m on the microscope. Some days I’m teaching and mentoring, and other days I’m writing grants or putting together papers for publication. I love the diversity! Science is always an adventure.
What’s it like being a woman in neuroscience?
At every stage, there seem to be fewer and fewer women. In my undergrad neuroscience classes, there were tons of women; during my Ph.D., there were some other women. During my post doc, though, for the first three years in a lab of 20 people, I was the only woman. But recently, the industry has been trying to increase the representation of women and other minorities. So, it’s a great time to be here.
Are you treated differently from the men?
The main thing is that you feel like you’re pretty alone. Science has its hard moments for everyone, but, as a woman, you can’t cry, you definitely can’t look weak. Whenever I give a talk, I think that if I do badly it will not just affect me, but reflect negatively on the whole sex. I try to remind myself how much fun my job actually is and how lucky I am to have the opportunity to make a real difference in the world.
What did the women in your family teach you about beauty?
My mom is very natural, so we all are, too. She was always all about henna, coconut oil and even olive oil! She grew up in Morocco, where using olive oil is how you hydrate your dry desert skin. My grandma used it, and my mom still uses it all over her face and body. She uses the same olive oil she uses for cooking, and it always smells nice and grassy.
Were you always into the natural look?
In high school, I was a raver. I wore light blue eyeliner from MAC, three different colors of glitter and hot pink lipstick. It was a pretty bad look, but raving was a way for my friends and me to express our creativity through dancing, wild makeup and sparkles. Once I started college and taking academics seriously, I didn’t have time anymore. I’m more about skincare and self-care now.
What is your skincare routine?
My most important thing is keeping my face hydrated and protected from the sun. I usually alternate between a Alba Botanica’s exfoliating cleanser and Kiehl’s clay cleanser, which is is great for minimizing pores. For moisturizing, I go with one of the amazing creams or oils from Aesop (my absolute favorite). I like their parsley seed line because it feels light and lets my skin breathe, but also makes it glow. It’s like juice for your face. I use La Roche-Posay sunblock every day, which protects against UVA and UVB rays. I also love masks!
Which masks do you use?
I like Tata Harper’s deep moisturizing and resurfacing masks. They make my skin look fresh and don’t have crazy chemicals. I also use a beautiful honey mud mask from May Lindstrom. May is a friend and she gave me it as a gift because she knows how much I LOVE honey. Literally, I eat a full jar of honey a week. On the face, it leaves everything soooo silky and it smells amazing. Finally, if my skin is acting up I use Murad’s sulfer mask and Paul Thomas Roth’s 24K Gold mask. After I had a bad breakout from stress, my friend told me to put the Murad mask on at night, followed by a moisturizing lotion, and then the next day the gold mask — and then I was cured. The first one completely dries out all the blemishes, and the second one builds a layer of clean sheen on your face. It’s the magic duo!
What products do you use on your body?
I use Dr. Bronner’s soap. I change them up depending on the season — lavender in the spring, rose in the summer, and almond or eucalyptus in the fall and winter.
What do you do to care for your hair?
I usually use a simple tea tree oil shampoo and then I alternate conditioners so that my hair doesn’t adjust to a single one. Something may be moisturizing at first, but if I use it every night for two weeks, it loses that property. If you change it up, you don’t give your body enough time to rebalance and that’s good.
Is there any feature you weren’t always into that you’ve now made peace with?
When I was younger, I was self-conscious about being strong. I was always naturally pretty strong, but I danced ballet seriously, where elegance was prioritized. You have to use your strength to appear fluid and soft. It wasn’t until I started rock climbing a few years ago that I felt really proud of it. My back and arms look pretty crazy with muscles now! Being toned is a reflection of what a badass climber you are. I’ve definitely learned that it makes me feel really good, both in sports and science.
Tell us more about rock climbing!
I go to an indoor rock-climbing gym three times a week, and three weekends a month I go outside with a group of girlfriends. My dog, Pica, comes climbing with us, too. Echo Cliffs in Santa Monica is great, and we also travel to Red Rock Canyon, Joshua Tree and Yosemite. Rock climbing is similar to ballet in the sense you use your body in a graceful way, but the atmosphere is so much better. Rock climbing has this great community and everybody is encouraging. Even when you’re first starting out and aren’t great, people are excited for you.
What do you love about it?
You have to have brains and brawn. Some climbing routes are like puzzles. You need to spend time analyzing them and figuring out how to do them “clean” (without falling). There is also a sense of fearlessness, which makes me feel empowered. After I finish a hard route, all the little things I was sweating at my job or in my personal life don’t seem that hard after all.
Have you ever freaked out?
When I’m climbing, even if I’m far from my last bolt, I keep a pretty clear head. It’s always about looking ahead, rather then freaking out about what’s behind — or below. Climbing, much like science, is about being mentally strong. I just try to be brave, even if I have to fake it. In the end, even the illusion of bravery really does translate to strength and you can usually push past a difficult moment.
Do you have any other non-beauty rituals that help you feel great?
Body scrubs and massages definitely help me feel amazing. I go to the Korean Health Spa with my friends. It’s amazing, they literally scrub you like you’re an animal. I feel like massaging your body is almost as good as a full exercise routine. I need them to feel sane!
Thank you so much, Moriel!