The wonderful Kelsey Miller is a frequent contributor to Cup of Jo, and today we’re thrilled to share her beauty routine. She’s an author and journalist who writes about everything from pop culture to body positivity. “I am also a die-hard beauty fan, so I’m bouncing-off-the-walls excited to share my finds,” she says. Here, she reveal her love of Japanese scrub towels, why she puts donkey milk on her skin, and the perfect lipstick she finally found…
What is your morning routine?
I’m usually up between 7 and 8 a.m., and once I can confirm my husband Harry is awake, I tell Alexa to play WNYC. While the coffee water is boiling, I splash warm water on my face, then down some psyllium (I love fiber — it is the unsung hero of nutrients — key for digestion and keeping your blood sugar steady) with lemon water (because it tastes good) and make breakfast (usually eggs scrambled with whatever vegetables need to be eaten ASAP). I work from home about half the time, and on those days, I take advantage of not having to worry about sun exposure or human contact. This means no makeup, only skincare.
To that end, what products are part of your daily skincare regimen?
I start with a vitamin C serum — SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic, which is expensive but works. I tend to get melasma (brownish spots usually caused by hormones) under my eyes, and per my dermatologist, I started trying various vitamin C products a few years ago. This is the one that really helped. After that, I put on Vicco, a turmeric-based Indian moisturizer, which I am NEVER without. I started using Vicco for mild rosacea a few years ago — my skin is both very sensitive and very cranky — and not only did it instantly zap the redness, it calmed my face the hell down. Vicco was a miracle find (for me, an American, but not for many Indian people, who’ve been loving it since the 1950s!). It’s great for acne and unevenness, and is so soothing I’ll even use it on a sunburn.
Any other miracle finds?
After the Vicco, I finish with a dab of donkey milk eye cream — which is a thing. I picked it up on my honeymoon in Greece, because the first thing I do before traveling to another country is google the skincare products I can find there. Donkey milk is a rising star of skincare ingredients, full of fatty acids and other skin-soothing properties. I bought it because I thought it was fun, but turns out, it really is a great, gentle moisturizer! It does a great job of keeping my eye area soft and hydrated, and never causes irritation.
How about body products?
I always put on some deodorant, because I will leave the house at some point. I started using Schmidt’s a year ago, and holy cow, that stuff is good. Natural deodorant has come a long way since that salt-crystal thing my mom used in the ’90s. I usually stick to Geranium from their sensitive skin line. Then, right before sitting down to work, I apply a good squeeze of Weleda Skin Food on my hands. Like Caroline, I am a Skin Food evangelist. It works so many wonders, but the best, in my opinion, is how little I actually have to use. I use it once in the morning, and once before bed, and my hands are always soft, no matter how often I wash them.
What about the days when you’re not working from home? Do you wear makeup?
I always put on makeup for meetings, not because I feel obligated but because I really enjoy makeup. I start with Dr. Jart+ Premium Beauty Balm, another product in my anti-brown spot arsenal. My dermatologist told me to always use a zinc-based sunscreen with no less than 45 SPF, and this product is both those things, plus a perfect base. The coverage isn’t as heavy as foundation but it’s enough for me. I use Glossier’s Cloud Paint, which is the only blush I’ve ever been able to apply without looking like Marie Antoinette. I finish my face with Laura Mercier’s translucent setting powder, which is just as good as they say.
And now for a very important question: Do you have a favorite lipstick?
I’ve spent my life looking for a lip product that, A) will subtly enhance my natural lip color, B) won’t make my hypersensitive lips peel, C) does not require my looking in a mirror to apply, and D) doesn’t need a lot of touching up. As it turns out, this unicorn product exists! They’re usually called “mood balms” because they go on fairly clear, then pigment up after a minute on your lips. The first one I got was Dior Lip Glow. I’ve since added Kaja Mood Balm and Buxom Powerplump to the mix, and I switch it up depending on the occasion. They all have slightly different colors and levels of pigmenting, but all of them are easy to apply without a mirror.
Let’s talk hair. How do you typically style it?
My go-to hairstyle is, um, down. I’m lucky to have pretty low-maintenance hair, which I never blow dry. The only downside is that I never learned how to style it. The most I do is throw a dash of Bumble and Bumble Prêt-à-Powder (fancy talk for dry shampoo) onto my roots and rub it in for a little lift. Then I rub a tiny dab of Ouai Finishing Cream between my hands, rake it through my hair, press it on my ends, then run out the door.
Do you have a favorite shampoo and conditioner?
I mix it up with shampoo and conditioner, but honestly, the one I always default to is good old Pantene — usually the Smooth & Sleek line. It just works with my hair! After towel-drying my hair, I use a Wet Brush to get tangles out. Ideally, I’d do this before I shower, to prevent breakage, but I forget at least half the time. The good news is the Wet Brush works: You can use it on wet hair with minimal damage. I asked my hairstylist about it and she confirmed it’s the best. Woo!
What is your shower routine?
I tend to work out in the evenings, so I am a shower-at-night person. In the shower, I’ve used Boscia’s charcoal cleanser for years because it’s gentle but super effective. It warms up a little, which helps get all the excess gunk and makeup totally off.
What’s your current workout routine?
I used to have a really disordered relationship with exercise, thinking of it exclusively as a means of undoing eating. I went through a huge shift with that in my late twenties, when I quit dieting and started intuitive eating (something I’ve written a LOT about). I’ve now become one of those people who actually LIKES exercising. It’s a way of treating my body well, not abusing it. I normally do basic stuff like StairMaster and resistance training, but this summer I had the brilliant idea of joining an outdoor pool in Brooklyn, so now I do laps 3 to 4 days a week. I love it so much because it’s a wonderful, fun workout — but also because getting in a bathing suit every day is a GREAT way to reinforce my sense of body acceptance. It’s kind of a scene-y pool too, and there’s always people hanging out and looking glam. Then I turn up in my goggles and swim cap looking utterly dorky, and I don’t even care! I’m so happy to be the pool dork.
Do you use anything to exfoliate?
I am a major exfoliation enthusiast, and for years I used something called the Baiden Mitten. It makes the dead skin come off in rolls, which is sooo satisfying — but you have to soak in a tub for like 20 minutes to make it work. I gave up on it when I learned about magical Japanese scrub towels from my pal Connie’s beauty uniform. They’re the best, they last forever, and you can get a super-fast full-body exfoliation in the shower. I try to use mine at least once a week.
You are very loyal to your hair removal method. Can you tell us about it?
Years ago, when working on a story about hair-removal, I tried epilating (a device that grasps and pulls out the hairs) and got totally hooked. Yes, it hurts a bit, but it’s not wax-level pain. Plus, your hair gets finer over time, making it easier and easier the more you do it. The perks far outweigh the discomfort: I only do it once a month or so, I never have stubble or razor cuts, and it’s so much easier on my skin. Plus, I’m not throwing out disposable razor heads all the time! I use the Braun Silk-épil, but they’re all pretty good and last for several years.
Do you do any other treatments, like masks or facials?
When it comes to masks, I get ansty sitting around waiting for them to dry, so if I’m gonna do one, it’s gotta be GOOD. Enter the Glamglow Supermud mask. Every glowing review is true. It took me years to try it because it’s pricey, and I didn’t cave until the week my first book came out. With my first-time author nerves, I somehow found myself at Sephora late one night with a basket full of anxiety purchases. I topped it off with a travel-size Glamglow mask, which was one of the best impulse-buys ever. It calms and evens your skin tone, and seems to dig out crap from your pores that you didn’t know was there. It’s almost as good as getting a professional facial.
Do you have any rituals before you go to sleep?
The last thing I do before bed, once I’ve spent the requisite 20 to 45 minutes looking at my phone, is kiss my husband goodnight, move the cat off my feet, and apply a layer of Dermophil lip balm. In 2011, I was visiting my friend in Switzerland and took a day trip to the mountains — which was so cold and windy that my lips just about fell off. I went into a pharmacy and pointed at my hideous mouth in desperation. They handed me a small green and white tube, which I immediately rubbed all over my lips, and within hours I was FINE. No reaction whatsoever, just miraculous soothing. I bought half a dozen before flying home. You can’t get the original formula outside of Europe (PLEASE correct me if I’m wrong), but you can get other types of Dermophil on Amazon.
Thank you so much for sharing so many wonderful tips and recommendations! Do you have any parting words?
I remind myself that beauty stuff is for fun, and none of it is obligatory. I spent so much of my life in a toxic relationship with my physical appearance — my body shape and size, in particular. What I love about doing skincare and makeup is that it never felt motivated by the self-loathing and panic that drove my disordered behavior with food and exercise (which I’m now thankfully recovered from). If anything, beauty rituals affirm my self-acceptance. It’s a habit that puts me face-to-face with myself in the mirror every day, urging me to look on my 35-year-old face, with all its divots and freckles and slowly but surely emerging laugh lines. I don’t feel the need to fix that girl — she’s a real lady, after all. But it feels good to take care of her.
Thank you so much, Kelsey!
(Photos courtesy of Kelsey Miller, including many shot by her husband Harry Tanielyan.)