Growing up in Nigeria, the skincare scene was pretty much nonexistent. Aside from commercials that advertised bars of soap for head-to-toe beautiful skin, I can’t remember much else. The focus, rather, was on cosmetics like foundation, eyebrow pencils, and blush from brands such as Fashion Fair and Estée Lauder. I’m not even going to get into the struggle that was the lack of a decent shade range, leaving a lot of mothers and aunties with faces that didn’t match the rest of their bodies. Can you even imagine what it must have been like in the ’80s and ’90s when we have only just recently seen adequate skin tone representation thanks to brands like Fenty Beauty?
I attribute the absence of a dedicated skincare regimen to the fact that people who are of African descent, thanks to the amount of melanin present, are fortunate to have the kind of skin that ages well, and does not seem to need much in the way of daily care. I mean, look at Angela Bassett or Naomi Campbell. Yes, they undoubtedly have access to effective skincare, but compared to their peers of other races, physically, they’re aging much better. The top cause of visible aging, like wrinkles and lines, is sun exposure and UV damage. People with more melanin in their skin have greater protection from the effects of the sun, and therefore, do not present as much damage. Of course, as with everything, it can vary from person to person and also does not mean that skincare should be neglected.
I checked in with a bunch of Nigerian friends and acquaintances as well as people from other African countries, and the answers I got were pretty much the same. We all remember a day-to-day routine that hardly qualified as skincare. It comprised solely of two steps: bathing with popular soaps like Imperial Leather, and then slathering on some Vaseline or lotion of choice. The only other notable skincare products we all remember were the alcohol-laden astringent toners and, of course, bleaching creams.
For my mother who spent her early years in rural Eastern Nigeria, there was not much of an experience skincare-wise. Swap out the Imperial Leather for local soap made with palm oil (or whatever was popular at the time) and the Vaseline for shea butter, and our daily ablutions were pretty much the same. As she got older, she started to take better care of her skin in general, buying moisturizers and soaps with specific properties, but like most of the unenlightened masses, there was a lack of a specific set of products and practices dedicated to the face. And so when she visited last summer, I made it my mission to give her the 411 on all things beauty.
It was rather interesting to be the one imparting knowledge instead of having them handed down. I have no stories about watching my mum wash her face with Clinique bar soap or watching from the bed as she sat at her vanity, massaging fancy oils onto her cheeks in circular motions. Instead, I have a summer filled with little tutorials about using the right cleansers, the miracle of snail mucin, and the importance of daily sunscreen use. By the end of her visit, she was loaded up on enough Mizon Snail Recovery Gel Cream to last through the next few months. Another convert for Snesus!
The most challenging part of this project was curating a routine for her that had minimal steps and didn’t involve any complicated products. She’s got gorgeous, flawless skin, her only issue being that it’s on the oily side. That said, I didn’t see the need for any skin resurfacing actives like AHAs or vitamin C, and so I built her a simple 5-step routine of oil + foam cleansers, toner, anti-aging serum, moisturizer, and sunscreen. It was simple and effortless enough that she completed her AM and PM routines without reminders or prodding. I loved watching her excitement as she began to notice the positive changes in her skin’s texture and hydration.
There’s so much more that I can’t wait to teach her and a lot of products I’d like her to try. I guess it’s an extension of the natural evolution of the relationship between parents and children. They took care of us, and as we age together, it’s our turn to take care of them and keep them informed of all the ways in which the world has changed since they were young.
What have you taught your mother about skincare? What are some lessons she’s passed down to you? Let me know in the comments below!