Skin, Deep: My Family Tree Is A Beautiful, Exotic Mess

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Skin, Deep is a series that explores the ways in which our heritage, culture, upbringing, and life experiences impact the relationship we have with our skin.

I’m Natalie Harris. I am half African, mainly West African, and the other half is a mix of Native American, Greek, and European. My family tree is a beautiful, exotic mess.

I now live in Los Angeles with my husband, but I grew up in Washington state. My family is very American so I didn't grow up with any practices geared around my older culture or heritage. My mom however, was a cosmetologist and stylist, so that affected my life hugely as far as beauty routines and maintenance. She had a passion for beauty and skincare and that was also a natural interest for me, too, so I never fought the standards that were put on me growing up (or all the time it took up to maintain it all!).

My Relationship With My Skin

I've always had a great relationship with my skin and I've been complimented on it pretty much my whole life. I love my complexion! It's so bright and glowy and I appreciate it a lot more now as I enter my late 30s than I did when I was a teen and wore tons of makeup. I hardly wear any makeup now, and I'm so grateful that I feel like I don't need to. That being said — my skin definitely requires discipline. Since I was young, if I had too much dairy or sugar, my face would break out in teeny clusters of bumps around my entire hair line and forehead. They looked like acne, but were actually rashes due to candida, which is a bacteria that grows from an overgrowth of yeast due to a high sugar and dairy diet. It was never too noticeable, but I couldn't wear makeup to cover it because it made it worse, and no amount of acne soap or product can get rid of them. When it happens, I just have to eat better and drink lots of water. I also have to keep my skin extremely clean. Moving to L.A., I've had to triple my exfoliation due to the heat and dirty air.

I was 13 when my mom set me on seven-step face care system from a fabulous (and underrated amongst youths) face care company called Erno Laszlo. Expensive stuff though, especially for a pre-teen to use, but it worked so well for me and I used it for almost 20 years. Its directions were very detailed, too. It started with oil application to remove all makeup and dirt. Then a black charcoal soap bar was applied directly to my face in Ayurvedic motions. Then I had to fill my sink with scalding hot water and splash my face 15 times. Then empty the sink and splash my face again with clean running water another 20 times. Pat my face dry (never rubbing) with a designated towel that's only used for my face. Then I had to apply a toner, then a moisturizer — and at night, after my moisturizer, I applied a powder-mixed toner all over my face for overnight acne-care. It took about 20 minutes and I definitely ditched the routine during sleepovers. But man, I had the best skin!

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I've always been able to find products that do the trick for me — my skin is pretty easy to understand and has common characteristics so I'm lucky in that sense. But for my skin, products have never made a huge difference for me (with one exception being peels). Erno Laszlo was a unique brand that knew oily-prone skin very very well. But as I got older and couldn't afford their products all the time, I maintained the same seven-step routine but just did it with less expensive soap, oil, and moisturizers.

It’s Less About Products, More About Health

For my face, it's not necessarily the products that make the difference but the technique and the importance of keeping my skin really clean all the time and eating healthy. With that information, I can pretty much use anything and be good. Beauty and skincare brands are just like every other industry out there: 90% are trying to be trendy with the "new thing" and don't know (or care about) what they're doing. And then there’s the other 10% who've put in the work, the research, and are quietly making a superior product for those discerning customers who are paying attention and don't mind the investment. Those are the companies that tend to understand skincare much more acutely, and usually have a niche market that they hone into and specialize in. For those brands, I will shell out money for specific treatments like enzyme peels and anti-aging serums.

My Morning and Nighttime Routine

My morning and night routines used to be the same, with the exception of moisturizers. But for the past couple years, my morning ritual is just massaging my face with coconut oil first thing and then steaming it with a super hot towel until all the oil is off. Then applying my toner and moisturizer. Talk about glowing skin afterward. It's amazing!

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For extra indulgence, if I have enough time, I'll sit in my living room window and do it all there with my portable face steamer and I watch the sun come up. It's such a nice way to start the morning. My nightly routine is a full wash with 35 splashes, etc., and usually entails a peel or exfoliator — but honestly, it's the last thing I want to do because it takes so long and I'm frickin’ tired.

My Favorite Products and Practices

My go-to practices are coconut oil and steam. Dare I say, this combination works better than any products I've ever used. I also swear by splashing your face 20-40 times with hot water. It revives your skin and gets it super clean and bright. For skincare products, my go-tos are Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Daily Peel Extra Strength. Wowza! I only recommend this if you're needing to really clear up your complexion and you've got a lot of dead skin buildup. I can never run out of Obaji-C Exfoliating Day Lotion (super skin brightener for acne-prone skin) I use it everyday. And Dr. Roebuck's Boost & Tighten Serum (recently rebranded as Perky Serum). It says to apply it at night but I actually apply it in the morning before I put on any light makeup and it give my complexion an extra oomph of tightness and clarity.

What I Love Most About My Skin

I love that my skin is super oily! It has always been oily and hasn't changed with age at all. And yes, I do keep a pack of blotters with me at all times — but that's okay because it's always bright and it's easy to make it look dewy. Plus, the oiliness of my skin has probably kept me from looking my age. No wrinkles!

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As told to ILLUUM.
For more from Natalie, follow her
on Instagram and check out her handmade, minimalist clothing line, The Tiny Closet.

Images via The Tiny Closet.