Nadia Zaidi, a mother of two and immigration lawyer with her own Manhattan practice, loves all things beauty. “Makeup makes me feel fresh,” she says. “When I put it on every morning, I get an energy boost.” Ahead, she talks about dressing up for tea as a child in Pakistan, her go-to workwear and the drugstore finds she can’t live without…
Do you remember the first time you felt interested in beauty?
I grew up between Pakistan and Kuwait, and moved to the U.S. when I was 18. I watched a lot of Bollywood movies as a kid, so my first ideas of beauty came from those. They’re so colorful! I’m Pakistani, not Indian, but in our culture, many people also enjoy color, nice makeup, skincare products and treatments, as well as getting dressed up to go out. There’s a ritual of ‘getting dressed’ for tea every evening — not in a pretentious way, but a warm, inviting way.
Tell us more about tea time.
Back in Pakistan, my grandmother lived with us, my aunt, uncle and cousins lived below us and my other grandparents and extended family lived close by. We saw each other every day — people were always coming and going. We all took a siesta in the afternoon because it would get so hot. Then, after everyone rested, around 5 o’clock, we would put on dresses for tea. My mom would put out the pretty china and serve samosas, chaat and warm buttery pastries from the hole-in-the-wall baker around the corner. Everyone would come over; that’s the major way we socialized.
What did the women in your family teach you about beauty?
My mother and grandmother are both very confident women, so you never hear any self deprecation from them! When hosting guests or going to an event, I was taught that it shows respect to make an effort with your appearance. If I look tired or grey, my mom and grandmother won’t say I need lipstick, but instead that I need to drink more water and juice or eat more protein. Culturally, many of our skincare products come from food and spices, so it’s all tied together.
Do they have any skincare recipes?
My relatives are all about making yogurt and turmeric masks! It’s super easy: just mix together two tablespoons of full-fat yogurt, one teaspoon of turmeric and one teaspoon of honey. Also, just eating yogurt to help your skin and digestion.
Do you wear makeup every day?
Definitely. When I wake up in the morning, my first thought is usually, ‘Ugh, I’m so tired,’ especially with a baby. But putting on makeup boosts my energy. I do the same routine seven days a week. I wear a creamy under-eye concealer (which has become even more crucial since my second was born), Urban Decay Easy Baked eyeshadow, thickening mascara and NARS Orgasm blush. For lipstick, I wear a light pink on a day-to-day basis. I really love NYX gloss in Napoleon, which is the only gloss that doesn’t dry out my lips in the winter. If I’m going out, I’ll wear a brighter color, but I never do red; it’s just not my thing. I’ll wear pinky-purples, like MAC Mehr or Up the Amp. I’ll also swipe on some Boy Brow.
How does being a lawyer affect your beauty routine?
I wear my usual makeup to work, but I pay close attention to my clothes because I tend to look younger than I am. I dress as professionally as possible, while still finding pieces that work if I’m meeting up with friends. My favorite shops are Madewell, ASOS, Zara and Aritzia. And my go-to work outfit is a dress with a blazer. When I’m done working, I just take off the blazer, change my shoes and am ready to take my daughter to the park!
What kind of law do you do?
As an immigration lawyer, I assist people applying for a special extraordinary visa to work in the U.S. I mostly work with small businesses, but also people in the arts, such as painters, technologists and designers. I do pro-bono work, too.
What kind of pro-bono work?
I get lots of phone calls from people who need advice about their immigration status. I also volunteered at JFK after the Muslim ban; I was so proud to be a lawyer at that moment. I chose immigration law because I’ve always felt connected to people who are migrants or immigrants or who feel displaced. I often talk to my older daughter about my work. She’s full of questions when I say, ‘I need to send a work email really quickly.’ When she is playing make believe, I’ll hear her telling her dolls, ‘I have to help my client!’
What’s your daily facial skincare routine?
I don’t like a skincare routine that has too many steps. I have dry sensitive skin, so I use Cetaphil to wash my face every morning and night. It’s neutral, doesn’t dry my skin and does its job without any fuss. I’ve also been exfoliating this winter. I use Aesop Exfoliant Paste at least once a week. Moisturizing is a big part of my routine; I use Natura Bisse Oxygen Cream and Serum at night.
How did you get turned onto Natura Bisse?
With all the hormones during my pregnancy, my skin got terrible. There’s a Bluemercury on the Upper West Side, so I decided to go in for a facial. Facials are new to me, but now I love them. The aestheticians are so helpful, and they used Nature Bisse products, which worked really well. Since I started using them, I have noticed a huge difference in the texture of my skin. It’s so much clearer and smoother; the splurge is worth it.
Do you have any drugstore products you love?
I get blemishes around certain times of the month, but Burt’s Bees Spot Treatment makes them disappear instantly. I also never leave the house without Smith’s Rosebud Salve. I use it mostly as lip balm, but it’s great for anything — ashy elbows and knees included. Also, Swedish Dream Hand Cream. I apply it constantly throughout the day, and also right before I go to sleep. I love how it smells.
How do you care for your hair?
My hair tends to get very oily, so I wash it almost every day. I use Sachajuan shampoo and conditioner. Since I have fine hair, I’ve been highlighting it every five months since I was 16 to add dimension and texture. Then I just blow it dry and use Oribe Dry Texturing Spray to add volume and movement.
Do you have a signature scent?
I love the scent of a flower we have in Pakistan — it’s called Motia or Chameli in Urdu, and Arabian Jasmine in English. My grandmother kept dried Motia flowers in her books, and her whole room smelled like them! I wish I could bottle that scent, but I’m yet to find it anywhere except from the fresh flowers sold on the sidewalks in Pakistan. Jo Malone makes a White Jasmine and Mint fragrance that is pretty close.
What’s your nighttime routine?
I usually listen to a podcast, like The Lively Show or On Being with Krista Tippet. I also like reading poetry. At night, it’s nice to think about something bigger than yourself. You can read a bit, think about what it means, then drift off to sleep. This year, I’ve discovered great contemporary female poets, like Nayyirah Waheed and Clementine von Radics.
Do you have any other rituals that help you feel great?
I feel my best when I have an exercise routine. I am all about Refine Method and Pure Yoga. I had postpartum depression with my first child, Yasmina, but thankfully regular exercise helped me recover more quickly the second time around.
How do you teach your daughters about Pakistani culture while growing up in America?
At bedtime, I’ll tell Yasmina and Samar stories from my childhood in Pakistan and Kuwait. My mother and grandmother live in the U.S., too, so we spend a lot of time with them. Their homes are always filled with delicious Pakistani food. Everyone speaks Urdu, and we celebrate milestones and holidays dressed in Pakistani clothing. If there’s a Pakistani wedding, it’s an explosion of culture and so much fun! I try to speak to Yasmina in Urdu 85 percent of the time. She understands almost every word, but she doesn’t speak it as much. I hope one day it comes rushing out of her.
Thank you so much, Nadia!
(Portraits by Christine Han for Cup of Jo. Other photos courtesy of Nadia Zaidi.)