I have these vivid memories of my mom getting ready for work each morning. She would turn on music, wrap herself up in a bathrobe, fresh out of the shower, and go through her skincare and makeup routine. To me, she was always the most beautiful woman in the world. She’d put a little makeup on me here and there and a little spritz of her Oscar de la Renta perfume, and I loved watching her sing along to the radio as she drank her coffee and “put on her face.”
As I grew into a teenager, she was the first one to teach me about washing my face and applying moisturizer and mascara. When I edged closer to my mid-20s, she encouraged me to start using an eye cream — and was the first to suggest I give “baby Botox” a try. She’s always been my biggest supporter, and she’s played a significant role in how I approach my skin and appearance. I think of her often when I prepare for the day ahead. In a few short weeks, I’m due with my first child, a daughter, and I’m thrilled for the opportunity to be the same role model for her.
In honor of Mother’s Day, we spoke with eight women about how their mothers impacted their beauty routines — both good and bad — and what we can learn from their experiences.
“Olive oil can be part of your skincare routine.”
“Growing up, sitting at the kitchen counter, whenever my mom was cooking with olive oil, she would always drizzle a little extra into her hands. She would rub the oil into her hands, arms, and sometimes even her lips if the winter air was particularly drying that day. ‘It’s hydrating,”’ she would tell me, followed by ‘Italian and Greek women do this all the time!’ I can’t verify if Italian or Greek women rub olive oil into their skin all the time, but my mother was onto something. Extra Virgin Olive Oil is hypoallergenic and friendly to sensitive skin and full of vitamin E, antioxidants, and compounds such as squalene.
When I went off to college and was too broke to afford good skincare, I would lather on the olive oil from our kitchen, which worked like a charm. I still use olive oil in my daily skincare routine, especially in the winter when my dry skin needs an extra boost. It sounds weird, but it works.”
—Kara Harms, founder of Whimsy Soul, on her mom, Dorothy
“Always stay true to yourself — not trends.”
“My mom has always had a significant impact on my beauty routine, particularly as she has worked in the industry for as long as I can remember. Even though she went to work in different industries later in her career, my earliest memories are of her taking me to the salon where she worked as a hairdresser and testing out nail polishes.
Her main point of advice was always to stay true to yourself and not rely too much on trends when it comes to a beauty routine. She always encouraged experimentation if it felt right (though I’m not sure she was a huge fan of my 1997 pre-teen glitter years) but was always of the mind that if there was a particular haircut, lipstick shade, or perfume that felt right to you, don’t change it just because a new trend comes along.”
—Lindsey Smolan, founder of VLIV Communications, on her mom, Linda
“Show off your natural beauty.”
“My mom has always encouraged me to show off my natural beauty and focused more on skincare than makeup products while I was growing up. She has always worn minimal makeup but always seems to be glowing. I credit that to her love of sunscreen, which I still incorporate into my daily skincare routine. Like my mom, I also wear minimal daily makeup and prioritize my skincare, but I love to add a pop of color to my lips before leaving the house! While my mom may not have taught me how to contour like a pro, she showed me that my natural beauty is always enough. That knowledge may be the most important step of my daily beauty routine.”
—Sophie Reynolds, a pediatric occupational therapist and digital creator, on her mom, Beth
“Keep your routine low-maintenance.”
“My mother and I are both the middle of three children, and I have always felt we are similar in many ways. My mom had a reasonably low-maintenance routine with most products purchased from a drugstore or Clinique, and on special occasions, she would step it up a bit. Growing up, she would sometimes comment on her crow’s feet or under-eye circles, and I would tell her she was silly; no one noticed those but her.
As I reflect on my beauty routine, I realize that I started to purchase night creams and serums to keep the wrinkles away and the skin under my eyes bright in my late twenties. To this day, I still follow a similar beauty routine to my mom: I wash my face daily, purchase most of the products I use from CVS or Ulta, and I keep my makeup routine pretty simple, typically only wearing a little foundation, face powder, blush, eye shadow, and mascara. And for those special occasions… I add a little eyeliner to step it up a bit.”
—Hillary Brewer, director of communication for the North American Interfraternity Conference, on her mom, Lisha
“Rock what you have.”
“My mother is the all-natural type. The one who now has peppered hair and wears only mascara during special events. Somehow, she is always perfect, even without brushed hair or makeup. She always told me that I was prettier without makeup from a young age. Of course, I still had to go through the experimental phase with my makeup and hair in 8th, 9th, and 10th grade. Since 10th grade, however, I stopped worrying about my hair and makeup and have gone all-natural. It’s only for special events that I put on some mascara — in the same fashion as my mother. I also just had my first gray hair at 29, which I plan on keeping because my mom rocks that salt and pepper.”
—Allie Cunningham, the founder of Set It Down, on her mom, CC
“Take care of your skin first.”
“I remember stealing her face roller from the fridge and her lip gloss from her purse as a child. But she had a strict rule about not wearing makeup until I turned 15; she wanted me first to learn how to embrace the skin I’m in and take good care of it before enhancing it with makeup. That stuck with me because I always remember to take care of my skin first as much as I love playing around with full glam makeup.”
—Sarah Cheung, the founder of SACHEU Beauty, on her mom Ching Mon Yee
“Feel comfortable and confident in your own skin.”
“It’s safe to say my mom’s lack of beauty routine was the most impactful. I did not wear makeup growing up, but she taught me to nourish from the inside, so I’ve always taken tons of vitamins that are great for your skin and health. All this contributed to going light on makeup while feeling comfortable and confident in my skin. She instilled in me that I didn’t always need to wear makeup, which is reflected in my routine today.”
—Ellen Bennett, founder and CEO of Hedley & Bennett, on her mom, Angela
“It’s okay to go against your mom’s routine.”
“My mom wore a ton of makeup: eyeliner, lipstick, blush — a full face of Mary Kay every day. I have a very clear memory of her inviting our ‘Mary Kay lady’ to the house when I was in 7th grade to ‘do my color.’ She bought me a full set of all the products that day, and I, too, wore a full face of makeup from then until I was 33 years old. There were some real positives about this. It was something my mom and I could connect over. She taught me to wash my face every night and instilled it in me so strongly that no matter how tired or sick (or, in later years, drunk), I would always get up and wash my face before bed. When I went to college, she kept up with what products I needed and shipped them to my dorm. It was her way of taking care of me — and I know she meant well.
I also have memories that mom wouldn’t go out of the house without her makeup on. And so I did the same. I wouldn’t go anywhere without makeup. Wake up at 5:30 a.m. as a summer camp counselor to do a full face of makeup before the kids get up? Sure! Do your whole face just to be put to sleep for dental work and then spend the rest of the day on the couch? Absolutely. Going to the pool? Don’t get your face wet, so your mascara doesn’t run. There was not a scenario that didn’t require makeup.
I continued to do this until I started working in my current job, where I plan service trips for college students. On the first trip I chaperoned, I challenged myself to focus on being of service to others and not myself — not to do my full hair and make-up every day. I still wore foundation and mascara, but I let my hair air-dry and didn’t do a complete eye and lip. It was liberating. It took so much less time. And I felt proud of myself. Of course, as soon as we got home, I was right back to full face, but I tried it again two years later on another service trip. I went full bare face all week, which changed my life. I felt so light and clean. I could rub my eyes whenever I wanted to without smearing my eyeliner. I didn’t have to worry about getting makeup on my clothes as I got dressed. And I could sleep in even longer!
When I got home, I never looked back. It’s been a little over two years now, and I’m so happy not to wear makeup anymore. I save so much money and time. But most importantly, I’ve gotten used to my face without it — and I like it. When I occasionally get dressed up for a big event, I look a little weird to myself, wearing as much makeup as I used to. I even get zits and just let them sit on my face, uncovered!
All this is to say, makeup was so important to my mom and me for so long, and I don’t begrudge folks who still love it. I get it. But I feel so much freer without it. Now that I have a daughter, I am super conscious of how my attitudes about my looks will affect her. I want to make sure that all she hears from me is that you’re perfect, exactly as you are today. If she grows up and wants to wear makeup for fun, we’ll talk about that. But she’ll never get the message from me that she needs it.”
—Summer Wisdom, on her mom, Robin, and her daughter, Decker
Table of Contents
- "Olive oil can be part of your skincare routine."
- “Always stay true to yourself — not trends.”
- “Show off your natural beauty.”
- “Keep your routine low-maintenance."
- “Rock what you have.”
- “Take care of your skin first.”
- “Feel comfortable and confident in your own skin.”
- “It’s okay to go against your mom’s routine.”