black beauty matters

How This Beauty Curator Gets Her Skin So Good

Photo: Courtesy of Cassandra Cadwell

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Cassandra Cadwell had been straightening her hair for nine years when she realized she couldn’t continue much longer. “I never liked my hair growing up,” she admits. “I never wore it down. I didn’t know how to style it. There weren’t a lot of resources; there weren’t a lot of products. I couldn’t stand my hair being curly, so I straightened it every day. I wore extensions. I dyed my hair. And by the end of it, my hair was fried. I had bald spots, and it was just so unhealthy.”

Luckily, Cadwell says, this was around the time the natural-hair movement took off in 2015. According to Refinery29, “In 2011, the dollar share for natural hair was only six percent. In four short years, that number spiked to 35 percent in 2015.” Cadwell dove into YouTube videos — and started her own account — and slowly and painstakingly rehabbed her hair to its original curl pattern. “Going natural is liberating for so many people,” she says. “I mean, when I think back on the amount of time I spent straightening my hair, it’s actually really concerning.”

The shift also forced her to look at her career a few years later. Cadwell felt burnt out after working in social media, and she had always loved beauty. She turned to her favorite beauty retailer, Violet Grey, which happened to have an open position. Fast-forward three years and Cadwell is now managing community and curation at the company. Translation? She sorts through hundreds — if not thousands — of beauty products to find the best of the best.

In the process, Cadwell has built a formidable routine for her hyperpigmentation-prone combination skin, but she’s not adamant about “clean” beauty or anything that’s overly prescriptive. If a product works, she’s going to use it — except when it comes to her melasma. The name of the game is avoidance with this condition. “I live in San Diego, but I’m up in Los Angeles all of the time. In Southern California in general, the sun is something you have to be almost psychotic about, so a big part of my beauty routine is hats. [Laughs.] I really try to stay away from using any chemical sunscreen on my face. My dermatologist, Sonia Batra, who’s so smart and amazing, was really adamant about that,” she says. “And I try to stay away from anything that’s going to be drying, so I try not to use anything with essential oils or alcohol.”

Cadwell doesn’t shy away from Botox. “I have been doing it once a year since I was 25. I don’t do my elevens (the vertical lines that appear between your eyebrows); it’s just on my forehead — I’ve never had it anywhere else. I know you’re technically supposed to get it every three months, but this has worked for me as a preventative measure,” she says. Her go-to spot is Alchemy 43. “I was apprehensive about going to a chain for something that’s so specific, but every time I’ve gone, they’ve been amazing. Now I have a girl that I specifically go to, and they have such a good balance between knowing what you need and listening to what you want, which can be hard to find.”

Below, the beauty curator shares her go-to skin-care rotation, including the face mask she buys in bulk, the serum worth its hefty price tag, and the lip treatment that plumps without any stinging.

The Cleanser

“I definitely discovered this face wash through working at Violet Grey. My whole philosophy on a cleanser is that cleansers don’t need to have a lot of bells and whistles. You’re putting them on your face for a couple of seconds, so all they need to do is effectively remove everything that’s on your skin. Doctor Rogers’s is very basic in terms of ingredients. It doesn’t have a lot going on, but it gets everything off. It does its job. And a small plus: It’s really aesthetic, too. I love the packaging. If everything in my life could be black and white, I’d be thrilled.”

The Facial Kit

“This facial kit is unreal. I have gotten so many people obsessed with it. It comes with a little pot and a little solution; you mix them together and then you put the mix on your face to dry. It sucks your face supertight — Drew Barrymore’s photo with it on went super-viral a while back — and it leaves your skin so glowing and clear. It even tightens the skin, too, which is wild.

“I know that a lot of people like to use these facial kits on the day of red-carpet events, but I like using it the day before. When I wake up the next day after using one, my skin is even more unreal. I always have at least like three on hand — I buy it in bulk.”

The Face Masks

“I haven’t had a facial with Joanna Vargas, but I’ve met her and she’s so sweet. She’s so charismatic and magnetic and has great style — every time I see her, she always looks so good. Her sheet masks are my favorite. Similar to the Doctor Rogers Restore Face Wash [above], it’s a quintessential sheet mask. It’s hydrating. It’s soothing. It leaves you glowy. It doesn’t have a ton of crazy bells and whistles. It’s just giving you what you want from a sheet mask.”

The Mist

“This is one of my favorite products ever. It doesn’t have a lot of crazy ingredients in it — it doesn’t have something like lactic acid, for example — so it’s not one of the very hard workers in my routine, but I’m obsessed with it. I always have one at my desk. What I really love about it is that it doesn’t have oils in it. I really can’t stand mists with oil because you can’t use them that often. You can maybe use them once or twice during the day and then your skin looks oily. Rosewater is super-hydrating, and it smells amazing — the scent is so uplifting and calming. Truly, I think it’s one of the factors that keep me sane throughout the day. It also has vitamin C, and antioxidants are so important. You’re constantly getting UV rays and need to fight oxidative stress, and you can use this mist over and over throughout the day.”

The Serum

“I always think about why this product is worth the investment, and when it comes down to it, one of my big skin-care philosophies is to use skin-care intuitively. If you put something on and you like how it feels or you’re drawn to it, then continue using it. Dr. Sturm’s hyaluronic is one of those things for me. I’ve tried so many hyaluronic acids, and hers feels the best in terms of the texture, the weight, the way it absorbs into my skin, and the way it sits with other products. You really do feel the quality. It also has long- and short-chain hyaluronic molecules in it, so the product is going deep into the skin and sitting on top to keep it hydrated, too. In terms of the darker-skin-tones version versus the regular, this one has more ingredients that are better for excessive pigmentation, which is my biggest beauty concern.”

The Face Oils

“African Botanics is one of my absolute favorite brands. I’ve never used a product from it that I haven’t liked. The finish of its oil, the feel of it, the scent — everything about it is really beautiful. I really love that it sits under makeup really nicely, too.

“I know there’s a debate about the order you should apply face oils in your skin-care routine, but I think it depends on the finish that you want, honestly. If you want less of a dewy finish, I would do oil before moisturizer. If you want a more dewy look, I would do oil after moisturizing. Personally, I don’t always use both every day. Overall, my body loves oils. My hair loves oils, my face loves oils, so I pretty much never go without oil.”

“I am obsessed with this brand. Everything about it is fantastic, and the bottom line is that the technology is amazing — it has the TFC8 trigger-factor complex, which is a combination of more than 40 ingredients. When it first launched with The Cream back in 2018, it was one of the major things that transformed my skin. The oil has an unbelievable finish. If I know I’m not going to wear makeup for the day, if I’m gonna go barefaced and I just want to use one product, it would be this one because you don’t need to add anything on top of it, which is rare for face oils — sometimes they make you a little too glowy, a little too oily, but this one soaks into the skin and then, of course, you’re getting a lot of the high-yield technologies that are really working on your skin, too.”

The Two-in-One Lip Mask

“This pen immediately plumps up your lips without any stinging — your lips instantly look fuller and more hydrated. I’ve used a lot of overnight lip masks, and this one works unlike anything I’ve ever used before; I think it’s the peptides in here working overtime. It’s definitely one of those things that are expensive but worth it. I’m really big on lip care. Lips are often a neglected aspect of skin care, so this is always the first step of my makeup routine and I always keep it in my makeup bag.”

The Body Butter

“Mutha Body Butter is my favorite body product. It’s so hydrating, and it truly makes your skin feel like absolute butter. What I love about Mutha products is that the brand uses a really high percentage of the ingredients it’s listing. With a lot of products, especially body products, you’ll see an ingredient like rose-hip oil listed, but there’s only a very, very small amount of it actually in there. Hope Smith, Mutha’s founder, puts high quantities of the ingredients in her products, which is what makes them so high-quality. I’ve gifted this butter to my pregnant friends to use throughout their pregnancy because it’s also pregnancy safe, which is amazing since you’re putting it on from head to toe.”

The Vulva Drops

“Like I said, I think a lot of people neglect their lips, but even more so, people neglect their intimate area and don’t really pay attention to it. I’m also big into sexual wellness, and I believe skin care applies to every area of your body. I know it can be controversial to talk about the aging of the vulva, but all of our skin ages — that’s how the body works — so personally, I think it’s important to use skin care everywhere. Most of the skin care for the vulva that I’ve tried has been oils, and I like that Dr. Sturm’s is a water-based serum. It feels nicer, and it has lactic acid to help to encourage cell turnover.”

The Sunscreen

“Whenever I tell people that I work in the beauty industry, they always ask what they should do for their skin. My answer is always sunscreen. That’s No. 1. If you’re not going to do anything else — I mean, please wash your face and hydrate — at the very least, take the extra step of applying sunscreen. What I always try to communicate to people is that prevention is significantly more important than trying to reverse sun damage.”

How This Beauty Curator Gets Her Skin So Good