Clare Lyons is a labor and delivery nurse, she’s studying for her master’s in midwifery at NYU and she’s an advocate for reproductive rights. “I am a busy lady,” she says with a laugh. Yet, the Harlem resident still manages to find time for horseback riding and her 20-minute skincare regimen both morning and night…
Do you have any beauty inspirations?
My friend Shana has a shop called Decatindex, where you can order a sample from her personal collection of rare, interesting fragrances. I went on a trip this January, and she made me a perfume care package. She was like, ‘This is for when you’re walking on the beach, this is for dinner…’ I now wear L’Artisan Nuit de Tubéreuse because it reminds of that trip. I also got really inspired by her 10-step Korean skincare routine, which has been getting popular in the U.S. over the last few years.
I’ve always had really dry skin and everything I tried seemed to strip it and make it worse. It was dull and lackluster. I used to smoke (yuck, I know) and I was starting to develop fine lines, too. Shana has amazing glowing skin, so one night over a glass of wine I said, ‘You have to tell me what you’re doing!’ She said ‘Oh, it’s long and intense.’ But I told her, ‘I don’t care, I’ll do anything.’ So she taught me her routine and I noticed a huge difference. The moisture was immediate, my face was glowy all the time, and the fine lines have basically disappeared.
So, what is it?
It’s a long process, and I’ve adapted my routine to work for my skin. I generally go from the lightest to the thickest products in order to keep moisture in. First, I cleanse with CosRx low pH Good Morning gel cleanser, then I spritz on CosRx AHA/BHA clarifying treatment spray toner. AHA and BHA are the ass kickers of my skincare routine. They are exfoliants (not the scrub kind) that get rid of the top layer of dead skin cells. They have reduced my fine lines, made my pores smaller, and improved the smoothness and texture of my skin. BHA also helps open up and clear out clogged pores. Afterward, I use a little Missha Time Revolution First Treatment essence and Aesop Lucent facial concentrate, followed by Deciem the Ordinary’s hyaluronic acid 2% + b5, Niacinamide 10% + zinc 1%, and 100% plant derived squalane. Niacinamide is a form of vitamin B3 that helps lessen fine lines, blemishes, and dull skin. The squalane oil prevents loss of moisture (you can use it in your hair for shine, too!). Finally, I use some CeraVe eye repair cream and CosRx Oil-Free ultra moisturizing lotion with birch sap. In the morning, I will put on some eltaMD broad spectrum SPF 46 after everything and if it’s night, I also use a retinoid cream from Curology.
Why do you love these products?
Because I’ve seen results in real time. I’ve found ways to buy them as individual ingredients on places like The Ordinary and from Amazon K-beauty stores, which keeps it more affordable. I try to stay away from anything with fragrance because it irritates my skin, and the expensive stuff usually has added scent.
How long does it all take?
Twenty minutes. I listen to Slate’s Political Gabfest, NPR politics, Left Right & Center and sometimes This American Life. But sometimes I just listen to music because by the end of the day I have taken in enough content. Devoting 20 minutes to my skin every morning and night can be a pain, especially if I’m tired and want to go to bed, but overall I really like the ritual — and I see the results in real time.
Tell us about your job.
I’m a labor and delivery nurse at Mt. Sinai. I triage women in labor with straightforward issues or more complex medical conditions like pre-eclampsia. I assist in the delivery room, work with neonatologists and pediatricians to resuscitate babies, help women recover after C-sections and circulate in the operating room. It’s never dull! I am also in graduate school studying to become a midwife.
Is there anything you tell new moms to encourage them?
To trust their bodies and themselves, and they are strong and capable of anything. I always tell moms that as long as I am with them I will hold space for them and get them through whatever they need. Fear is something that has become inextricably linked with birth in our culture, and it doesn’t have to be. I try to create an environment of complete trust and calm. A few weeks ago, a patient recognized me from her first delivery, which unfortunately was very stressful. She told me she never forgot how much I had helped her, and that now the name Clare was at the top of her list for her new baby girl. I’d never been more honored.
What do you do to style and care for your hair?
I’m lucky to have hair that air dries pretty nicely by itself. I use the Hairdresser’s Oil Primer with the Don’t Blow It Hair Styler.
What about makeup?
Diorshow has been my go-to mascaras for years. After a lot of trial and error, I found that this one accentuates my lashes the most. (Maybelline Colossal Volume mascara is the best drugstore version I’ve found.) I also always curl my lashes. In the winter, I add NARS tinted moisturizer, a little Bobbi Brown bronzer and NARS blush in Desire. The blush color looks bright and clown-like when you open it, but it’s much softer and more delicate once you put it on.
I love a red lip. My favorites are NARS Cruella and YSL Rouge Gouache. I’ll wear red lipstick to work sometimes — my coworkers always make fun of me but my patients love it. One woman said, ‘I knew the second you walked in the room you were totally confident because of your lipstick.’
Do you switch it up for special occasions?
I usually stick to classic looks like a red lip and a cat eye when it comes to my makeup. I tried every liquid eyeliner at Sephora, but I ended up loving Revlon liquid liner from the drugstore the best. It lasts my entire 12-hour shift. Now and again, I like to go for it, though. I just went to the Lady Gaga concert and tried to recreate a look of hers. I wore a turquoise wig with dark eyebrows, mascara and red lipstick — which actually isn’t that far off from what I normally wear, minus the wig!
Why did you decide to go back to school?
I’ve wanted to be a midwife ever since I went to nursing school. The women who taught my obstetrics rotations were midwives, and they were incredible. Their philosophy about birth and labor was so women-centric. Obstetrics and midwifery give me an opportunity to be an advocate for women and educator. As a nurse, I’ve been surprised by the deficit of knowledge when it comes to women and their bodies. So, I’m excited to be able to educate women further about reproductive health, and also be a provider.
What kind of advocacy work do you do?
I focus most on women’s health and reproductive rights. I support and donate to Planned Parenthood and grassroots organizations; I go to protests in the city; and I speak out and educate people. The night of the election, I tweeted encouraging people to talk to their providers right away about long-term birth control options, if they didn’t want to get pregnant. We didn’t know what the state of our health care system was going to be or how much birth control was going to cost in the future. People responded to me in droves, retweeting and asking me questions. The BBC reached out to me and I did interviews talking about IUDs and other long-term birth control options. The experience definitely inspired me to be more vocal.
Do you have any advice for people who want to get involved?
Planned Parenthood has an organization called the Planned Parenthood Defenders. You can sign up, and someone will teach you how to be a leader of a community group. Nowadays, a group of us get together once a month and discuss about ways we can better our communities, raise money for certain causes and contribute more to society. You can also volunteer to be a clinic escort. This is someone who walks anyone seeking family planning services into the facility, since there are always protesters and it can be dangerous. There is a huge need for escorts right now in NYC. I am on the waiting list to be trained.
What do you think of the intersection between feminism and beauty?
I don’t think that beauty and feminism are mutually exclusive. You’re not a bad feminist if you care about the way you look. I dress up, wear makeup and take care of my skin — and I do it for myself.
How do you decompress?
I am an anxious, neurotic person, and horseback riding has always been my way of relaxing. I’ve ridden since I was five, but right before I moved to New York about four years ago, I got thrown and broke my back. I didn’t start riding again until recently. Now I go once a week to the Riverdale Stables.
What made you decide to start again?
I kept having bad dreams about desperately wanting to ride. So I was like, I can either keep having these dreams or I can find a facility and tell them I need a calm horse who’s going to be gentle with me. I quite literally got back on the horse, and by the second or third lesson my fear had calmed. Riding has done wonders for my psyche and my body; it makes me so happy. When I ride, I can’t focus on anything but the moment; it’s like meditation.
What has your family taught you about beauty?
My mom’s emphasis was always on inner beauty. My Sicilian grandmother on the other hand, was very clear about the fact that I shouldn’t be leaving the house without lipstick and properly tweezed eyebrows! She was the family matriarch, so people paid attention to what she said. She felt it was sinful for her not to look absolutely perfect; putting that pressure on yourself can be hard.
What is the craziest thing you’ve ever done beauty wise?
I had thick eyebrows, which my grandmother hated. When I was 11, she told me it was time to do something about them. It wasn’t malicious; it was just the way she grew up. I tried tweezing them but it hurt, so I just shaved the bottom off. When my mom found out, she said, ‘You’re beautiful no matter what.’
What do you love most about your look?
I like my big brown eyes and freckles, but it took me a long time to appreciate the way I look. I think this is something a lot of people struggle with, but the more you love what you can do and what is within, the easier it is to love the rest of yourself. Beauty becomes a sidenote when you’re proud of yourself for other reasons.
Thank you so much, Clare!
P.S. More women share their beauty uniforms, including a poet and a neuroscientist.
(Photos courtesy of Clare Lyons. Interview by Megan Cahn.)