Skin, Deep: Why I Love My Sensitive Polish-Italian Skin

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 Jessica (the founder of ILLUUM), and I’m Italian on my dad’s side and Polish on my mom’s side. My brother inherited that olive-toned Italian skin, but I took after the Polish side. My skin is very pale–I usually wear “Shade 001” no matter what makeup brand I use–but I do have the thick, dark Italian hair.

Growing up, we never really talked about our culture or heritage in my family. My parents were very into the idea of being “American.” The only beauty practice that I picked up that’s even somewhat related to my culture would be bleaching my thick, dark Italian mustache! I remember being 11 or 12 and finally getting to treat my lil’ ‘stache with Jolene bleach. I felt very adult.

Oh, and my other brother discovered that cleansing and moisturizing with olive oil completely cleared his skin of cystic acne, way before oil cleansing or face oils were big. I use this now, too. Olive oil is huge in Italian culture; our skin soaks it up!


My relationship to my skin is very much love-hate. I’ve dealt with so many skin issues in the past…I remember getting my first (giant) whitehead in middle school, right in the middle of my forehead, and this one boy in my class kept making jokes that used the word “pop.” Like, “I’m so full from lunch I think I might just POP” as a way to point out my whitehead. That’s my first memory of my skin.

In high school I was on antibiotics for acne, and went on birth control to clear up my skin, too. They kind of worked. In college, my skin got way worse–I even went to the emergency room once because a pustule on my cheek was so inflamed I swore it was infected–so I went on Accutane. That kept things clear for a few years.


Then, after developing dermatitis in my 20s, I started using topical steroids that my dermatologists prescribed. They ruined my skin and left me with chronic dermatitis around my eyes and mouth; this is what kickstarted my obsession with natural skincare.


Now that I know more about how to heal my skin naturally, I love my skin. I feel like I’ve developed a better relationship to it by experimenting with different natural ingredients, different foods, different vitamins and supplements and seeing what works. I almost feel like a caretaker for my skin; like, Oh, are you not feeling well? Let me get you some bone broth, let me massage you with jojoba oil.

I think my skin is too sensitive for the majority of beauty and skincare brands out there right now. A lot of their products don’t cater to me–they’re filled with fragrance and fillers and otherwise irritating ingredients, even a lot of the “natural” products. I wish the beauty industry cared more about how the ingredients they use can affect the skin and the body long-term. It’s just dangerous to be putting some of these chemicals on our skin on a daily basis; it all gets absorbed into the bloodstream within 30 seconds.

One thing I’m really lucky about, though, is that I never have a problem finding makeup that matches my skin tone. When I do have pimples or blemishes, it’s very easy for me to cover up.


I have a morning ritual and a nighttime ritual when it comes to my skincare. In the morning, I wake up and cleanse my face with water, that’s it. Then I’ll use my Moon Water Magic Tea Tree Face Mist and follow it with this Morning Ritual Skin Soothing Oil, which is made with sage and violet leaves. All natural, all easy. Most days I’ll follow that with a lymphatic massage with my Kansa wand to de-puff my face and support the body’s natural detox function.

At night, it’s pretty much the same. I cleanse with Manuka honey, use the Tea Tree Face Mist, and switch out my oil for Luminous Overnight Oil, made with rosebuds and frankincense to reduce inflammation and brighten/tighten the skin. The best part is that rose and frankincense both have really calming aromatherapy benefits, so it’s perfect before bed.


Besides those products, I like using Vitamin E oil all over my face when my skin is particularly dry, and if I’m wearing makeup I set it and refresh it with Heritage Rose Water Spray. When my skin is in need of a little extra love, I’ll make my own face masks by mixing Manuka honey with different ground-up herbs and flowers–right now, I’m loving the calming mixture of dried chamomile and dried lavender.

The thing I love most about my skin is how communicative it is. In other words, it’s really sensitive and reactive–but I get so much information out of those reactions. It’s always telling me what my body needs and what my body doesn’t like. The second I see a pimple pop up, I’ll know it’s because I ate dairy or had a lot of bread that day or something. I can almost always pinpoint the cause. My skin doesn’t let me off the hook!

Jessica DeFino
ILLUUM Founder