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My Beauty Uniform: Felicity Aston

My Beauty Uniform: Felicity Aston

Felicity Aston is a polar explorer and Antarctic scientist. In 2012 she became the first woman to ski across Antarctica alone (!) and now travels the world leading expeditions and speaking about her work in the polar regions. When she’s not on expedition, she lives between Kent, England, and Reykjavik, Iceland, with her husband and toddler son. Here, she shares what she’s learned about fear, the strongest lip balm, and the old-school drugstore moisturizer she brings on every trip…

Felicity Aston's beauty uniform

So, what IS a typical day like for a modern-day polar explorer?
If I’m on an expedition, my day starts by waking up in a tent, in a sleeping bag next to someone who starts out a total stranger but very quickly becomes not so. Then you spend an hour getting dressed, melting snow for water to make breakfast, and getting your stuff sorted for the day. Then you pack up your camp and supplies onto a sledge, and move on. Then about 12 hours later, you unpack, build your home, make food and do everything as quickly as possible so you can get to sleep before doing it all over again the next day. You spend some time looking after yourself — your feet in particular. Your feet are the most important part of your kit.

That makes sense. How do you take care of them?
It’s amazing how many people arrive with their feet in a pair of socks and don’t see them again until the end of the expedition. But it’s so important to have a good look at your feet every day, to see if you’re getting sore patches or blisters, what’s going on with your nails, etc. If they’re in socks, they’re always going to be a bit damp, and won’t be able to heal properly. Some people spend a lot of time putting creams on their feet, but I just make sure I give them time in the open air each day.

Felicity Aston's beauty uniform

I have to admit, I feel slightly ridiculous asking about your “beauty routine” on a polar expedition. But then again, skin care must take on a whole new meaning in that environment.
Yeah, it’s really important! In the morning, I slap on generous amounts of the highest factor sunblock that I can find. Doesn’t matter what brand, but I often wind up using children’s sunblock because it has the highest SPF, and it’s thicker on your skin (so it also helps protect from the cold, wind and extreme dryness). You have to remember, in places like Antarctica, there is no ozone protection. You’re under the hole in the ozone layer, so you burn quickly and severely. I’m constantly putting on lip balm because you wouldn’t believe how quickly your lips suffer. I like Labello with a high SPF.

Felicity Aston's beauty uniform

Okay, your skin is amazing. Let’s talk moisturizer.
In the evening, I clean my face with my luxury item: a wet wipe. I give it a good rub to get off all the excess sunblock, snot, and god knows what else I’ve got on my face by the end of the day. It’s always a little bit frozen — everything is — so it’s a bit like using a cold compress on my face. Then I put on a generous dollop of the thickest, strongest moisturizer I can get.

What kind?!
You know the old-fashioned Nivea? That comes in a tin? It’s BRILLIANT. I slather it on and it really moisturizes my skin overnight. On many expeditions, I’m the only woman, or one of just a few, and the guys tend to laugh when I get out my big pot of moisturizer. But when you’re in a really dry environment like Antarctica, if your skin is sore and your lips are cracking, you’re much more susceptible to cold injuries and serious problems. Sometimes I’ll convince the guys to try some and they’ll dip a tentative finger in and dab some on their forehead — and I’m like, ‘No no no, you’ve gotta get a good handful and rub it in until your face can take no more.’ And then at the end of the trip, they come back looking like they’ve been dipped in a vat of acid, with skin peeling off and lips massively swollen and cracked — and my skin’s generally all right. I feel vindicated!

Felicity Aston's beauty uniform

As an explorer, what drew you to the polar regions, specifically?
I’ve been on expeditions in desert and jungle environments, and they were wonderful, immensely rewarding experiences. But there’s something about the polar environment that keeps pulling me back. I wonder if it’s something to do with where I grew up, in southeast England. Snow was a very rare, exciting event. School was canceled, we went sledding, and this world that I knew was transformed into a different place. Perhaps that’s when I started equating snowy places with adventure. I think it’s also something to do with the fact that these environments are at the edges of the globe. Looking at a map, my eyes always wander toward the fringes — the places I don’t know anything about. I’ve always been driven by that strong sense of curiosity: Who’s there? What would it feel like to be there? And then you suddenly realize the only way to answer these questions is to go there and find out.

You’ve spent much of your career in Antarctica — a place most of us can only imagine. What did you learn about that place that you’d want others to know?
People tend to think of Antarctica as this tiny place on the bottom of the map. But it’s enormous (twice the size of Australia!), and it has a huge impact on our daily lives. Whether it’s the temperature in New York today or the fact that it’s snowing here in Reykjavik — that can be linked back to what’s going on in Antarctica.

Felicity Aston

I bet your hands need a lot of TLC, too.
The main issue I have with my hands in wintertime — not just on expedition — is that the skin around my nails cracks. I feel like such a wuss when I come back from a trip and people are expecting to hear about terrible injuries and gore, and I’m saying, ‘The skin on my fingers cracked and it was really sore!’ But, you know, it’s like that paper-cut agony. The best thing is zinc oxide. There are a million different brand names, but any zinc oxide cream will do. You rub it into the skin around your fingers and it works wonderfully.

Felicity Aston's beauty uniform

Okay, this may be super obvious but I’m guessing you can’t wash your hair on expedition, right?
No, you can’t. It stays under a hat. But you know, when I come back from an expedition, my hair is in the GREATEST shape. That whole thing about washing your hair less frequently? It’s true. My hair obviously gets super greasy and horrible when I’m on the trip, but when I do come back and wash it, it’s shiny and thick and amazing. So, even when I’m at home, I try to cut down on washes.

Felicity Aston's beauty uniform

I imagine your beauty routine — and all your routines — are very different when you’re at home.
While I spend part of my life in the outdoors, I’m often home in front of the laptop. It can take years of planning before you get to do the exciting stuff. I also do a lot of speaking around the world, so I’m often working on that (or driving to or from the airport). And I have an eighteen-month-old little boy now, so like most new parents, my days at home are structured around him.

Felicity Aston's beauty uniform

What does your bedtime regimen look like?
I’m actually making the switch to organic products. When I was pregnant, I started looking at the ingredients in products and it freaked me out. So, now I use Dr. Organic for everything: shampoo, deodorant, hand cream. It just makes me personally feel more secure. And I love all their varieties — argan oil, aloe vera, tea tree, etc. I’m a total convert.

Felicity Aston's beauty uniform

In 2012, you became the first woman to ski across Antarctica alone — a 59-day, 1,000-mile journey. Among other things, that’s a long time to be alone. What was that like?
Yes, that part — the being on my own part — was the hardest thing I’ve experienced in my entire life. It hit me immediately. Those first few seconds after the plane left me, I was struck by the full weight of my aloneness, and the responsibility that came with it. That was the most frightening part of the expedition. People often ask how I conquered the fear — but honestly, I don’t think I did. I found a way to keep going in spite of it, but the fear was always there. I learned a lot about myself during that expedition.

Felicity Aston's beauty uniform

Like what?
Well, I learned that although I’m very grateful for the experience, it’s not something I ever want to do again. With no other people around, every single emotion I had would be immediately, intensely expressed. So, if I felt upset, I would be bawling my eyes out in catastrophic sadness. If I was irritated by something, I would be furious, throwing my poles on the ground and shouting to the sky. If I was scared, I’d be shaking and petrified. My emotions swung so hard and fast that it made me feel as though I was going mad. It did teach me about myself — and about people in general. The human body and brain are capable of infinite resilience. You see that, when people survive huge traumas, and yet go on to lead fulfilling, rewarding lives. You see people in survival situations, going beyond what seems humanly possible, both mentally and physically. The difference with my trip was that it wasn’t survival. It was my choice to be out there. I learned my limit.

Felicity Aston's beauty uniform

What was it like, transitioning back to regular life?
Some things were strangely difficult — like going to the grocery store. After living in a tent with what I needed and nothing more, I was overwhelmed by all the choices. I’d be standing in the bread aisle staring at a million different kinds of loaves and literally couldn’t make a decision! The energy of all those tiny decisions sapped my strength. Social interactions were strange, too. Although I was going through the motions of regular social behavior, it felt like the real me was actually sitting in the back of my brain somewhere, totally disconnected. It took a year before these two parts of me came back together as one, before I felt truly present again.

So, you felt like different versions of yourself?
Before that expedition, I had always assumed that I was intrinsically me. I thought Felicity was a specific, definite thing: this is who I am, these are my values, this is how I react. But out there, I realized that me, my character, is the space between all the people that have huge influence in my life. When those people and outside influences were taken away, suddenly my character didn’t have a form anymore. I felt fluid. It made me realize just how much the people in our lives help shape who we are — and how absolutely essential it is to surround yourself with others that reflect the values and the character that you want to have. People who are good for you.

Felicity Aston's beauty uniform

Thank you so much, Felicity! Her book, Alone in Antartica, came out in 2014.

P.S. More women share their beauty uniforms, including an HBO writer and a transgender advocate.

(Fifth photo by Katrina Jane Perry. All other photos courtesy of Felicity Aston.)

  1. Claire says...

    Such a fascinating interview, thank you! Outdoor adventures combined with practical beauty – my favourite!

  2. Carly says...

    This was so beyond interesting! Thank you COJ, literally my favorite site for the past 8 years.

  3. laurel hammond says...

    Yes Yes Yes. More of this!!

  4. Monica says...

    This was so interesting! Thank you! It added a book to my to read list and the tip about using zinc oxide to heal skin cracks is amazing! My hands are a mess from living under the Polar Vortex and it really works toheal up those stubborn, painful cracks!

  5. Emily says...

    I never comment but love her story and this is why I’m a loyal reader! You profile such interesting women and her line of work, especially her being in such a male-dominated field, is fascinating and admirable.

  6. TC says...

    One of the most fascinating things I’ve read on COJ.

  7. Joy says...

    What an extraordinary interview. I think her comments about who you really are as a function of who you choose to surround yourself with will be chasing around in my head for a good long while. Thank you!

  8. Carolin says...

    WOW! This is actually the type of content that has made a loyal reader of Cup of Jo for the past 5+ years. What a fascinating portrait! I love that you portray this fantastic woman and through the accessible “beauty uniform” format has me contemplating who I really am as a person and what impact the people around me have. Excellent post!

  9. Liz says...

    I want to be her when I grow up!

  10. Sasha says...

    Wow, what a great interview! I really love the people you have profiled recently like Samin Nosrat. And if may suggest a blogger I really admire in many ways to profile for a beauty uniform- check out Annie from https://everydayannie.com or Deb from Smitten Kitchen.

  11. Ainara says...

    Yes please, more interviews from women in male dominated fields! With streamlined, sensible, and few beauty products to define them

  12. Katie says...

    Just requested her book from my library. As a grad student I don’t have time to read non academic books but I think I will have to make an exception! Great interview and what an inspiration.

  13. Kimberly says...

    This is by far the best in the series! What an inspiration. I love her less is more mentality and her beauty shines!

  14. Melissa says...

    She is remarkable! A true beauty. Aside from admiring her character & accomplishments, I love the reminder that beautiful skin does not require expensive products.

  15. I want to say so much more, but one little thing this reminded me of when she was talking about feeling like her personality was formless reminded me of my first real shroom trip. It was so terrifying yet thought-provoking, the similar feeling of having to reign in my emotions, and feeling totally alone and having to deal with myself (even though a friend was right next to me, they were on their own trip). I felt stronger for having overcame it, and although half the time I want to do it again, half the time I never, ever want to do it again. Similarly, it was an adventure fully of my own choice. And while I feel silly comparing it to a trek across Antarctica, the mental gymnastics of conquering your emotions and not going mad I can totally relate to.

    This was a big deal for a wimp like me who will maybe probably never go bungee jumping in my lifetime.

  16. Such a wonderful profile! Felicity has also been featured on Apiece Apart’s Woman series (which I think most COJ readers would enjoy, if not already familiar). Thank you for always promoting many different ways of being a woman in the world.

  17. Thank you! Amazing story of amazing woman. Very touching, especially the part about spending time alone.

  18. Martha Ivy says...

    I loved this! What an inspiring and brave woman. Can’t wait to read her book.

  19. Love this! My favorite beauty uniform yet, because it’s so much about what she’s made of.

  20. Gabi says...

    I never miss My Beauty Uniform posts but this is my absolute favorite one. Such an amazing woman!

  21. Katie says...

    Coolest beauty uniform, coolest woman, ever! Cup of Jo, you never cease to amaze me with the diversity of your content.

    PS. That lavender knit sweater Felicity is wearing with the skirt is so beautiful.

  22. Karli says...

    I loved this. Adding Felicity’s book to my to-read list!

  23. Callie says...

    This was definitely the best beauty uniform ever. I am blown away by her experiences and perspective. And, a beauty routine of chapstick and Nivea moisturiser and not much else is one that I can wholeheartedly get behind!

  24. Anna says...

    What a great read! I came for the moisturizer tips, but left with so much more

  25. Lauren says...

    What a cool and inspiring woman!!! Thank you for featuring someone in a field outside the arts/fashion/journalism.

  26. Heather says...

    You know how there are some articles that you remember forever, that imprint themselves on your brain and you paraphrase them to friends for years after? This is going to be one of those. Brava.

  27. Carla says...

    This is by far my favourite Beauty Uniform! I religiously read your website and I was EXCITED to come home and read this on my laptop vs my phone. What an outstanding person and life! I am going to show my daughter….

  28. Whitney Olson says...

    I started crying while reading her response to the “As an explorer, what drew you to the polar regions, specifically?” I am a mother of 3 girls and I am raising them with an appreciation for the earth and adventures.

    I felt everything this woman spoke and also felt such encouragement to keep planning more adventures for myself and with my girls.

    This is the best beauty uniform you’ve every presented. This is true beauty. Beauty is what makes up who you are, not how you dress yourself up . Figure out what that is about yourself and there you will find your confidence.

  29. Ceciel says...

    So beautiful.

  30. Becka says...

    Best beauty uniform ever.

  31. Leanne says...

    Hands down the best beauty uniform yet. What an inspiring woman! And now I’m off to buy some of that Nivea in a tin:)

    • Andrea says...

      Just make sure to get the Nivea made in Germany! Not Mexico!! Learned this from my German mother, Nivea is the cure all!

  32. Elizabeth says...

    My favorite beauty uniform I’ve read!!! Thank you so much for sharing!

  33. Theresa says...

    Loved this one!! Keep ones like this coming!

  34. Mara says...

    This feature was next level!! An amazing, inspiring woman. I could read a whole book on her story! Thank you for featuring her!

  35. Elizabeth says...

    Easily the coolest beauty uniform post ever!!!

    I’d love to see one of these about an astronaut.

  36. Laura says...

    Definitely my favourite – thank you for featuring Felicity!

  37. florence says...

    She’s so cool! Pun intended… love this gem: “People often ask how I conquered the fear — but honestly, I don’t think I did. I found a way to keep going in spite of it, but the fear was always there. I learned a lot about myself during that expedition.”

  38. Loved reading what she learned about herself in her time alone. I think about these things a lot. Thanks for sharing.

  39. Mags says...

    Oh thank god for this. As a woman that works in the outdoor field, this lit me up like a Christmas tree! I’m a daily CoJ reader, but don’t alwat relate to the professions and traditional ‘office attire’. This was an INSPIRATION in so many ways.

    • Christa Marie says...

      SAME!

      I love the idea of exploring knowing women in ALL aspects of life, not just the corporate world.

      YES to all the women movers and shakers in the outdoor industry!!

    • Amie says...

      Same! While I’ve loved all the beauty uniforms, here is one I can really relate to. SPF and lip balm are so key for me as an Arctic field biologist.

  40. Aaah I loved this! Such an inspiring woman. Plus, as someone living in Montreal, where our winters can get down to -40, I really appreciated the cold-weather skin care tips!

  41. Woah, what a great post! Felicity, you have a new fan! I might even have a slight girl crush <3
    Also: What a great reminder to use the lip balm more often when out and about. I always think "Yeah, once a day in the morning is enough" and then two days later I hate myself.

    If you are looking for an organic alternative for Nivea, maybe try Weleda's Cold Cream.

  42. Quinn says...

    THANK YOU for this wonderful piece! What a lovely, inspirational woman. This is exactly the kind of beauty uniform I want to read.

  43. Emily says...

    Love reading when you feature women in more stereotypically male roles/professions — scientists, explorers, engineers, etc. — on the site. Thanks Felicity and Kelsey for the interview!

  44. Nade says...

    This uniforms are a true lessons of how many angles the true beauty has

  45. Mariah says...

    This is one of the best interviews in a long time — thank you!! Her adventures and insights on being alone in Antartica are fascinating. More like this please!

  46. Twyla says...

    Truly amazing. I have goosebumps!

  47. Laura says...

    Calling this post a “Beauty Uniform” really doesn’t do it justice. I almost didn’t click because reading about makeup just does not interest me, but what a fascinating interview with an inspiring woman! I’d love to hear more from Felicity.

  48. megs283 says...

    Wow. I have a 3-year-old Felicity, and I hope she grows up to be as wonderful as the one you featured today!

  49. Jojo says...

    Please, more like this one! This was out of control amazing. Thank you for publishing this piece.

  50. Nykayla says...

    I just so thoroughly enjoyed this read!! Possibly my favourite beauty uniform ever!! *audible gasp* and I am a beauty juuuunnnnkkkiiie! But wow my admiration for her personal strength and determination, what an inspiration!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      So glad xoxoxo

  51. Jillian says...

    I LOVED that this was a part of the uniform series – beauty is something that takes many forms. We all need more beauty articles like this for a good dose of reality. And hey, everyone needs to wash their hair occasionally and use sunblock! That’s about as product-y as this one got.

    My other favourite from this series that immediately comes to mind is this one: https://cupofjo.com/2018/09/lydia-sohn-beauty-uniform/ I still think about this one a lot.

    Thank you CoJ! Keep it up!

  52. Allyson says...

    Wow. I held my breath while I read this. She’s incredible. THANK YOU, Cup of Jo for all your great work. This in particular was a gem.

  53. bee says...

    Loved this post. Such a thoughtful person.

  54. Rachel Hauge says...

    Agree with other comments, THIS was engaging and inspiring content. Please keep following this path and telling these types of stories.

    I think most of us have seen a few dozen stories about a barefoot thin white woman in Kamm pants calling something ‘dreamy’…

    • Nicole says...

      Haha. That last sentence! So true

    • Stella says...

      haha yes! I completely agree with this, especially your last point.

    • Nykayla says...

      What Rachel said 👆

  55. Samantha says...

    Totally brilliant, all of it. And I had forgotten about Nivea cream!

  56. Meghan says...

    What a lovely interview. Her answers are so thoughtful – how beautiful to stumble upon this brilliance. Thank you!

  57. Jenny says...

    YES! Thank you, Joanna, for sharing this inspiring woman’s story through the context of beauty… just awesome. So glad you are profiling all kinds of beauty. Too often I see other beauty/fashion platforms default to the traditional formula of glorifying the urban white female making six figures and donning designer clothing labels. It just gets so tiresome after a while. There are so many other ways to be in this world. More stories like this one please.

  58. Loved this profile. Thank you for something a bit different, and truly inspiring!

  59. Robin S. says...

    I’ve got to applaud this post. I was hoping to get lip gloss recommendations, and now I’m contemplating the fluidity or my identity and the influence of those with whom I’ve chosen to surround myself… Ha! I always think of being present in regard to time spent with others, but now I’m thinking about the importance of being present when it’s just me.

  60. MB says...

    Wowza – how inspiring! What a week of content. There are so many exceptional women out there and thank you to COJ to featuring them and bringing them to our attention. I just read a fascinating article about how women are leading the field in extreme endurance sports and was blown away by Jasmin Paris, who recently won the Montane Spine Race, a 268 mile race while stopping to express and breastfeed her baby along the way! She won by such a margin that the next person to finish (a man) was 15 hours behind her – holy cow.

  61. Ms Nina G says...

    Great article! The skin care tips are invaluable!

  62. Am says...

    Fascinating woman/interview, but I wish fewer of the questions revolved around her “beauty routine”. Maybe start a feature on here where you highlight women doing amazing things that’s not mainly focused on their clothes or makeup? (I love, love, love Weird Wonderful Women on Instagram – so something more like that please!)

  63. Nina says...

    wow. (I am suddenly massively invested in anything Felicia is doing, please convince her to write some guest posts.)

  64. Valeria says...

    Way to go, Cup of Jo! Great article. But maybe it’s time to stop focusing on the beauty and start focusing on the strength. I couldn’t care less if she used Nivea or some expensive moisturizer; I’m more interested in all the stories she has to tell.

    • Annie says...

      I think you’re missing the point, which is that beauty is a million different things, depending on who you talk to! I also find the lens of ‘beauty’ to be exquisitely revealing when it comes to people telling their stories. If you just go up to someone and say, ‘Tell me a story about your life!’ it can be stifling and make it extremely difficult to choose among your stories. Using the ‘Beauty Uniform’ as a foundation seems actually rather genius to me, because it opens up all kinds of topics without forcing anything.

  65. Danica says...

    This is my favourite beauty uniform so far! More like this please!!!

  66. Janice O'Kane says...

    Favorite Beauty Uniform…EVER! Many, many more like this please featuring amazing inspiring women!

  67. Fascinating!! She’s a badass.

    As far as the beauty side goes – the second ingredient in that Nivea cream is mineral oil. Most beauty products have mineral oil as a main ingredient, but it actually acts as a barrier between your skin and the air, so your skin can’t breathe while the mineral oil is sitting on top. I would suggest anyone who is interested in that sort of thing to take a look at your beauty products and do some research about the ingredients in them. Keep your skin – and your body – healthy! :)

  68. KATIE MCKINLAY says...

    What an inspiring woman! She is radiant and confirms my belief that true beauty comes from chasing your dreams and living a life which fulfills you in a deep and meaningful way. I sense her intellect, her curiosity, her love, her courage and she is exactly the type of person I would like my young daughter to aspire to become. Thank you for featuring her. xx

  69. Betty says...

    What an awesome person and what fantastic skin!

  70. Aisha says...

    First comment. I LOVED this feature.