"I grew up between the States and South Africa, mainly Durban and Cape Town. My dad’s a doctor with a focus on HIV/AIDS research, so we moved down there for that. I didn’t really know I would end up doing the work I’m doing now. Most of my life has felt pretty fractious—when I finished high school I went to culinary school and got a chef-ing degree. Then I was like, ‘Eh, that’s not really my thing…’ So I went to college and studied art history and communications. This was all in South Africa. Then I had a stint in the fashion PR world. I began working as birth and postpartum doula when I moved to San Francisco after training with a midwife there. It was the first time things felt less fractious, because I was able to build in my communication skills through educating my clients about the pregnancy and birth process, then I could pull in my culinary skills by making nourishing food for my clients after they had their babies. I wasn’t sure how all these pieces were going to fit together, but now that I’m on the other side of everything, it all makes sense that exists. As a company we offer community classes and individual coaching on reproductive empowerment, sex, fertility, pregnancy, and parenting. We basically provide health education and community around those things. There really isn’t anyone out there doing what we’re doing in this space, which is also the biggest challenge in the business—helping people understand what we do.
The reason combining health education and community is so important is because a lot of times, if you have trouble with your periods, if you have endometriosis or if you’re going through your pregnancy, there isn’t really a space to meet other people and talk about that. There is a thin line where people tend to divorce sexual and reproductive health and parenting from each other. If they’re talking about sex, they’re not talking about parenting, or if they’re talking about periods, they’re not talking about pregnancy. If can’t talk about sex then you can’t talk about consent, you can’t talk about body politics, and you can’t talk about pleasure. I’m interested in creating this longer line through all of those experiences. Once you get more information about how your reproductive system works, you can make more empowered choices, you can have more control, you can have more mobility.
I talk a lot about the 70/30 rule, which is kind of how I navigate beauty. So many products that have a ton of fragrance and fixatives have the capability of increasing our estrogen levels and impacting our reproductive hormones. So, 70% of the time I try to lean towards non-toxic, kind of food-grade ingredients, and then 30% of the time I’m like, ‘This is the thing that I need, even though it has perfume and plastic.’
My day starts with . I’m really into it because it totally strips my skin down, like completely. What I’ve learned about my skin is that it has trouble turning over. I get a lot of skin cell buildup, so I need to really strip my skin down. That’s why a lot of facial oils don’t work for me—my skin likes acids. After cleansing I do the situation. I like the 1970 version that has the phenol in it because it really burns. My aesthetician’s name is Dr. Jen Kramer of Corrective Skin Care, and she has two offices here in LA. She has these that have a blend of glycolic acid and salicylic acid in them, and those have literally changed my skin. Oh my god—so good! I didn’t know! So, I use that in the morning and evening. Then, I started using this . It’s really good for blemishes, and it’s good for that first bit of moisture after doing all this stripping. The from Biologique is what I do after that. In the morning I also use . I like it because it goes on matte, but then my natural oils come through and it’s canceled. [Laughs]
I tend to dial up my skincare around ovulation because that's when there is a huge flux in estrogen and progesterone. That swing can cause breakouts, so I make sure to double down on correction pads and vitamin A gel to keep my skin cells turning over. Otherwise, my morning and evening routines are kind of the same. The only thing that really switches out in the evening is that I have two masks that I like to use. I use the from Biologique—I obviously have a thing with Biologique. That’s my 30% because I don’t really know what’s going on in these products, and I don’t care. They work. Then is good under the eyes at night. For exfoliating, I really like . It’s very, very fine. I probably use that like twice a week. Or sometimes I switch it out for . I will use oils around my eyes because that area always gets a little dried out. If I was not doing this routine, my skin would not look like this—I have acne, eczema, and hyperpigmentation in my family. I’ve always struggled, and this is the first time I haven’t needed medication for my skin to feel normal. I get peels once a month from the same aesthetician. She’s an acne specialist—she studied with this doctor in Chicago who also happened to be Nigerian, so she got really, really good at working with people with high melanin in their skin, which was a selling point for me. You just don’t know what’s going to happen when you go to see these people—you don’t know if they’re going to figure out what your skin really needs.
This is probably the most makeup you’ll see me wear—maybe I'd do a little bit more on the eyes. I do Kjaer Weis for in Flawless. I love the packaging—that’s where I fell first—but they actually have the largest assortment of colors for black and brown girls out there. My friend is a makeup artist, and she taught me this trick of taking a really small brush, and then taking the foundation and just going in for the marks, like a concealer. It’s been such a big game-changer. Because this color matches so well, I don’t even put it all over my face. The foundation is really smooth and creamy, and my skin just absorbs it. And then I use their too—in Joyful. They’re one of the lowest toxicity brands out there, and you just buy one of the boxes and keep refilling your color. Also for cheeks, I got introduced to , which is another non-toxic line. I have it on my cheeks and lips and eyes right now. Sometimes I’ll blend in a little bit of under my eyes if I don’t feel like using the Kjaer foundation. I don’t use setting powder or anything like that. And then I really like W3ll People, another non-toxic line, for their .
I only got into lip stuff in my 20s. Before then I was like, ‘My lips are so big! I’m not going to put anything on them because they feel too conspicuous.’ I really like —they’ve figured it out. They have good pigments for darker skin tones, and I like their matte lipsticks the best. Their is good because it’s super matte and just blanks out my lips, which is fun. My friend got me a lipstick from this brand called , and it’s super pigmented. For reds, I really like . It’s a black-owned matte lip line, and I just feel like they’re really, really nice. —the name always makes me laugh. It’s ‘Boss Lady’ but it’s spelled B-A-W-S-E. That Bawse Lady red is one of my favorites. Then is another kind of day-to-day red. I also really like Earth Tu Face—Jenni Kayne and Earth Tu Face did this really great collab which has tea tree and rosewood, and rosewood is one of my favorite essential oils. I’ve got three of the , and I have one in each bag to use as needed. I’m really into. And I like too. I don’t use lip liner because I’m still just starting to lean into lips. I don’t know if I’m using it right!
Now I have locs. They’re inter-locked—it’s the best and easiest hairstyle I’ve ever had. Prior to having locs I had my hair loose and natural, and I hated it. My hair is probably 4C—as thick and curly and tight as possible. When my hair was out, it just took too much effort. The twist-up, the co-wash, the wash-out—all the things, I just couldn’t really keep up with that. I just wanted something, not a wig, where I just wouldn’t have to think about my hair. So this is great. The only thing is, I have so many locs—there’s like a hundred and something, which is unusual. When I get my hair loc'd, or 'retightened,' it takes four or five hours. I use these two shampoos—one is . Then there’s one from this other line called Sisters that I really like. really changed my scalp, which was always the issue before. I probably wash my hair every two weeks. Here’s something I will add—usually before I go to bed at night or in the morning, I will wet my hair a little bit, and then I’ll put some of the in there. I have a silk scarf that I’ll wrap around my hair to sort of lay it down. I’m very into the silk scarf—it just helps smooth it out.
My shower curtain is from a store in Brooklyn called , and it’s PVC and non-toxic. That’s the thing about shower curtains—you’re putting in heat, and heat obviously warms the plastic and makes pollution. In the shower, is my go-to. Sometimes I’ll fold in a bit of , even though it says it’s more for face. I kind of like it as an extra little thing on the body. Then, for oil, I usually am going between and . I like things that have palo santo in them. Sometimes if I’m needing a little more, I’ll use . I come out of the shower dripping wet and go to the oil to seal all the moisture in. In terms of body scrub, I’m super obsessed with this from . And just to finish off a bath, I really like . It’s a CBD and THC soap that you can scrub on in the bath. It’s really relaxing. I’m a big fan of baths and a big fan of sweating. My favorite thing to do is . I’ll just dump like half of this in the bath and get into it. Magnesium is so good for sleep, grounding, anxiety, all the things. Transdermal magnesium can be really good especially if you feel like oral magnesium loosens your bowels too much. My favorite sleeping trick is to take 300mg of magnesium, and then I will get into a bath mixed with three cups of the magnesium flakes. I’ll soak for 20 minutes and put the on after, and then I will have 'dead to the world, goodnight' sleep.
My deodorant is a vibe. I’m super sweaty and super fragrant. That’s the positive way that I spin that. [Laughs] So it’s these two things together—my father-in-law put me on to , which is like this cream deodorant. I will usually layer on Lavalin and then spray . The combo of this has made me no longer smell. It’s funny, in Nigeria there’s this saying, ‘You smell like a village girl.’ If I wasn’t always using these two, that’s what I would smell like. [Laughs] And I don’t shave my armpits, so it’s a whole thing.
In terms of scent, I usually mix rosewood, rose geranium, and sandalwood together, and put that on my neck, armpits, underneath my boobs—and sometimes I rub it in my hair a little bit. I met this guy who has a . His whole thing is that he makes custom solid perfumes. He made me a blend that has tobacco, neroli, some other rose as well—I really love his stuff.
FITNESS AND WELLNESS
I’ve done classical Pilates for like 10 years. I go to a studio called , and I go there two times a week. The other thing I love is infared saunas. There’s this place downtown called and you just go into your own individual sauna and sweat it out—it’s been incredible for my skin. I also really like , which is this versa climber class. It’s like a 20-minute class, but you really sweat. But that’s also why I like Pilates, because even though it’s longer, you’re doing a lot of different, short motions.
For supplements, really shifted my skin game, primarily because it’s hormone balancing and anti-inflammatory. It has the seven nutrients that most women are typically deficient in, so I always recommend it to my period coaching clients as a starter supplement. My next go-to is magnesium. I take it daily 30 minutes before bed because it’s amazing for sleep, stress, and it fights inflammation. Also, a daily cup of red raspberry leaf tea has also been a lifesaver for my hormones and skin."
—as told to ITG
Erica Chidi Cohen photographed by in Los Angeles on July 30, 2018.